November 19, 2008

Birthday Cards

Filed under: Family,Life Stories — schroder @ 11:17 pm

I usually plan a low-key birthday. Two years ago today, I drifted in my office on my 50th birthday and no one – thankfully – remembered or noticed. I escaped all the black balloons and crepe paper. This year, my staff posted birthdays on the office calendar, so there was no escaping it. So Jan and I scheduled pizza and a cake in the office – deliberately low key. I received all the normal calls from my siblings and mom and kids and closest friends, which is what I really look forward to. 

Tonight, coincidentally, was a busy night for scheduled events. Many nights, nothing is on the calendar. Some nights, we get invites to a number of business or social events. Tonight, we were invited to four or five business events and/or restaurant openings, so we postposed any evening birthday dinner to this weekend, when my kids, Sally and Thomas, (both who have jobs for more than a year – yea!), will be in town. 

But after I parked the car and headed inside tonight, I decided to check the mailbox one last time. There was a handmade card waiting for me. It was a “cover” card of two James Taylor albums with my face transposed on JT’s – continuing the great scam I enjoy of being his lookalike. This card goes in my birthday card hall of fame for creativity. I showed it around all week. 

I have several folks to thank: Jae Stephenson Robbins, who is a friend and neighbor and owns a marketing firm with which we collaborate, called Resource Real Estate. Seems a young staff member there, Jessica Younglove, who interned with us a couple of summers ago, found out from her boyfriend, Reid, who happens to be on our staff, that today was my birthday. Jae later told me that Jessica went to her and teammate Leslie Wright and said, “We should do something.” They let Jessica do the rest, except for Jae, who smuggled it to our mailbox while we were out. 

Okay, marking my birthday is not such a painful thing. Particularly when people have such a good time celebrating it with me. Thanks, all!

November 17, 2008

Mississippi moment, exactly 30 years later

I walked around the Buckhead bar at one of the many trade group networking meetings I attend, this one with SMPS. I walked up to a group of one man and several women I didn’t know, but they were laughing, a good sign. As I shook hands with the man, I could feel my hand being nearly crushed. 

“Where did you learn to shake hands like that?” I asked him.

“From squeezing cow teats in Mississippi,” he said to the delight of the women who knew him.

“Mississippi,” I asked. “Where?”

“I’m sure you’ve never been there or heard of it,” he said. “A small town named Okolona.”

I knew this was going to be good. “I’ve been to Okolona,” I said. “Just south of Tupelo, where Elvis was born.”

“What were you there for?”

“I went there on my first day as a reporter, right out of college. I went to cover a march by the Ku Klux Klan, which was marching against some group … the United League or something. It was a crazy first day as a reporter. I remember Geraldo Rivera of ABC’s 20/20 flew in on a helicopter to film the whole thing.” 

“I was there,” he said. 

“We went first to hang out in the yard of one of the local residents who was organizing the march,” I said. “I remember they had a big barbecue before they went off to start the march and to face the Klan. It was kind of tense.”

“I was there too,” he said.

His name is Melvin Buchanan and that same weekend when I was a wide-eyed 21-year-old reporter for the Delta Democrat-Times in Greenville, Mississippi, Melvin was a wide-eyed 17-year-old just getting started in the civil rights movement. We agreed to have lunch soon.

The morning Melvin was to come to my office, I went to the garage and opened up an old trunk full of junk I have saved – much to the chagrin of my family. It’s not just the trunk. I have many of the newspapers for which I wrote front page stories in boxes piled up to the rafters. One time I was having lunch with Ga. Court of Appeals Judge Jack Ruffin, about whom I had written one of my more interesting profiles as a reporter for the Augusta Chronicle when he was a controversial civil rights attorney there. I had made the same trek to the garage that morning and found a copy of the full-page spread. The judge was very pleased to see it 25 years later.

I was telling my staff at our “huddle” that morning about Melvin coming to join me for lunch that day. I told them how I had met him and how he was there for the Ku Klux Klan march and how he was coming in to our office in a few minutes and that I would introduce him. I noticed Devin, our employee who happens to be African-American, getting nervous. Her eyebrows went up and she looked across the table at her office-mate, Amber. I realized I had left out one important detail: Melvin was black and he was marching against the Klan. Everyone broke out in nervous laughter.

I surprised Melvin when he walked in, pulling out the August 1978 copy of the DDT, with my Klan photograph on the front page and a full-page photo essay just inside. He looked over the photos of all the people in the crowd, naming one after another. I was hoping he would find himself published there, but he wasn’t. I’ll have to return to the garage … I have my roll of negatives from that weekend … somewhere.

Over lunch at Tamarind Seed, Melvin and I talked about the pending election of Barack Obama as president and what a remarkable change that represented since we first crossed paths 30 years earlier. Melvin’s engineering firm recently downsized amidst the economic turmoil and he was left without a job. But he dazzled me with his recall for names of nearly everyone he’s met and his knowledge of the construction and architecture and commercial real estate industry. He talked about the many people with whom he stays in touch and the many he mentors. To the young people who ask him advice about careers, he tells them, “No matter what industry you are in or what job you have, remember one thing: You are always in the people business.” 

Melvin will find a new job soon. People have always told him he should be in the PR business, since he knows and remembers so many names and faces. I told him I’d be happy to help get him started if he ever did want to hang out his own shingle. He would be fabulous at it.

Had I not walked up to Melvin that evening in Buckhead and shook his hand, we’d never have made the connection. Had I not dropped by my new newspaper office that Friday afternoon in August 1978, three days before I was to report to duty on the following Monday, I would never have been invited to go on the weekend trip to Okolona. It all re-confirms my notion that if you talk to anyone long enough, you’ll find a connection you never dreamed you have. 

Turns out that first weekend in Mississippi was a highlight of my time down there. I was so pumped as we drove back through the Delta that hot Sunday morning, back toward the Mississippi River town of Greenville, to what I was then to call home for more than a year. If that was my first weekend, I thought, think what the rest of the time would be like. Well, it was never quite as exciting. I covered police and courts and chased fire engines and car wrecks and followed murder trials and attended Rotary clubs and school board meetings, but they all paled in comparison to that first Saturday on the job.

That day in Okolona was fascinating. Lines of local African-American residents marching down one side of the main street of town, paralleled by a line of Ku Klux Klansmen marching the opposite direction on the other side of the street. TV crews in the midst, Geraldo’s helicopter hovering above, carloads and truckloads of locals shouting to either side.

The DDT photographer, Larry Looper, and I stood by the pay phone near the end of Okolona’s Main Street, while reporter David Saltz called in his story to the Associated Press. Larry and I looked over our rolls of film (back then we had to wait to develop them in the darkroom back at the newsroom). As the afternoon grew into evening and as David finished his dictation, we watched as the entire downtown – which an hour before had been bedlam and high drama – was emptied out of the last car and truck. A lone, white, skinny teenager, perhaps 14 years old, leaned up against the telephone poll across the street and watched the last car pull away. He looked us over and slowly walked toward us. We stood in the still blazing Mississippi sun as he stopped right in front of us.

“Y’all got a reefer?” he asked. 

All that tension from the afternoon drained out of the three of us. We laughed for a long time. 

“No,” Larry said. “We don’t.” The kid wandered away again. 

As the teenager wandered away, Larry said: ”Watching all this shouting and goings-on, I wasn’t too sure about this place. For some reason, I feel a whole lot better about this town.”

November 16, 2008

You Always Remember Your First

Filed under: Media,Public Relations — schroder @ 8:04 am
Chris Schroder

Seven years ago this month my friend Bo Jackson asked me to lunch out of the blue. Well, it was sort of out of the blue. I had actually left him voicemail six months before. The key thing is he actually remembered that he owed me a call. “And,” he said. “I’m buying lunch.

“How’s the newspaper business?” he asked as we sat down at Joey’s near Perimeter Mall. “Wow,” I said. “It has been a while since we last talked.”

Bo, a commercial real estate developer, spent the next 20 minutes talking passionately about a vision he had for the changing workplace. He talked about the coming retirement of the Baby Boomers, about the new generation of employees who were forcing technological and cultural changes in the workforce. He wanted to be on the forefront of the change.

“What are you going to do now that you left newspapers?” he asked.

“I have been working in public relations,” I said. “But now I’m starting my own PR firm.”

“I’m looking for a PR guy,” Bo said.

“Hey, that’s great,” I said. “I’m looking for a client!”

And thus, Schroder PR was born.

Today, seven years later, Bo is still passionate about what we now call the High Performance Workplace. And he’s still my client. You know what they say – “you never forget your first.” Thanks Bo. And thanks to the many other clients who have followed since. We’ve now grown to nine full-time employees and five contractors. Next time Bo and I have lunch, it’s on me.

November 15, 2008

Tell it like it is, Ted

Filed under: Media,Public Relations — schroder @ 1:27 pm

Ted Turner

2008 photo by Thomas James
from the Sunday Paper

I love Ted Turner. I’ve never shaken hands with him, but I’ve been in the same room with him numerous times. We even share the same birthday. Two years ago he celebrated his birthday with his family at a table immediately next to my table and my family. Couldn’t help but notice how well they all got along, as did we.

Of the many things I love about Ted, his genius for starting new broadcast concepts is high on my list. Making Channel 17 WTBS the first national cable SuperStation allowed me to watch the Atlanta Braves while I lived in small towns throughout the South. His founding of CNN allowed this news junkie a 24-hour-a-day fix.  I love his personal and substantial financial commitment to the environment, to the United Nations, to bringing back the American Buffalo, an indigenous mammal that we almost hunted to extinction.

But what I really appreciate is his ability to say anything at anytime. They say the worst speechwriting job in America is to be Ted’s writer. He never follows a script, but follows his own wacky mind. I’ve seen him speak a number of times and he’s always entertaining. It’s like watching a car race … you just know there’s going to be a wreck at some point.

I remember being stuck on the floor of London’s Gatwick Airport in 1978 for five days during an air controller strike. We read all the books and magazines our group had, so someone bought a Playboy magazine and there was a wonderful rambling interview with Ted. He had won yachting’s America’s Cup and the writer asked Ted if he wanted to be President. Sure, he said, he’d love to be, “but I think I’d probably have to be Senator first.” Yep.

Yesterday, I hosted a table of clients to see Ted speak to the Atlanta Press Club. I bought my guests an autographed copy of his new book, “Call Me Ted.” But what I really treated them to was another wacky trip through his mind as he answered the audience’s questions. Within the first few minutes of his remarks, moderator and former CNN President Tom Johnson was jumping to his feet, offering apologies to luncheon sponsor General Motors, who Ted had just accused along with the other big two Detroit automakers of driving their companies into the ground, in total disregard of the commanding environmental, energy and economic trends that had been buffeting them for 30 years.

“I’ve been driving small cars like Toyotas since 1978, when Jimmy Carter was president and we had an energy crisis then … I’ve been driving a Toyota (hybrid) Prius for eight years,” Ted heaped on a few minutes later.

Talking about the economy, he said he was on the cover of Time Magazine as its Man of the year, but then was let go a year and a half before his contract with Time Warner was completed. And he was the largest stockholder. “I’m proof that anyone can be let go. Don’t think you have job security.”

For my money, one of his more memorable lines was about the importance of being a father. He said he gave up yachting in 1981 when he was trying to balance work and family and he realized something had to go. Gone went yachting. “My definition of success is … I don’t think you can be called successful, in any phase of life, if you have a dysfunctional child,” he said. Ted’s children were there. “They all have a job,” he said.

A woman seated near our table asked a question at the end. Actually, she never asked a question. She rambled on and on about how she thought this and agreed with that, so Ted interrupted her and said a few words. She persisted, finally starting to ask a question. Tom Johnson was trying to take back control of the program. The woman got five, maybe six words of her question out when Ted interrupted her. “No, you’re done!” he said. The woman sat down and the audience applauded gratefully.

 

Tell it like it is Ted

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — schroder @ 11:45 am

DEAR READER: PLEASE NOTE MY BLOG HAS MOVED TO: www.chrisschroder.com. THIS SITE WILL NO LONGER BE VIEWABLE IN A FEW DAYS.

I love Ted Turner. I’ve never shaken hands with him, but I’ve been in the same room with him numerous times. We even share the same birthday. Two years ago he celebrated his birthday with his family at a table immediately next to my table and my family. Couldn’t help but notice how well they all got along, as did we.

Of the many things I love about Ted, his genius for starting new broadcast concepts is high on my list. Making Channel 17 WTBS the first national cable SuperStation allowed me to watch the Atlanta Braves while I lived in small towns throughout the South. His founding of CNN allowed this news junkie a 24-hour-a-day fix.  I love his personal and substantial financial commitment to the environment, to the United Nations, to bringing back the American Buffalo, an indigenous mammal that we almost hunted to extinction.

But what I really appreciate is his ability to say anything at anytime. They say the worst speechwriting job in America is to be Ted’s writer. He never follows a script, but follows his own wacky mind. I’ve seen him speak a number of times and he’s always entertaining. It’s like watching a car race … you just know there’s going to be a wreck at some point.

I remember being stuck on the floor of London’s Gatwick Airport in 1978 for five days during an air controller strike. We read all the books and magazines our group had, so someone bought a Playboy magazine and there was a wonderful rambling interview with Ted. He had won yachting’s America’s Cup and the writer asked Ted if he wanted to be President. Sure, he said, he’d love to be, “but I think I’d probably have to be Senator first.” Yep.

Yesterday, I hosted a table of clients to see Ted speak to the Atlanta Press Club. I bought my guests an autographed copy of his new book, “Call Me Ted.” But what I really treated them to was another wacky trip through his mind as he answered the audience’s questions. Within the first few minutes of his remarks, moderator and former CNN President Tom Johnson was jumping to his feet, offering apologies to luncheon sponsor General Motors, who Ted had just accused along with the other big two Detroit automakers of driving their companies into the ground, in total disregard of the commanding environmental, energy and economic trends that had been buffeting them for 30 years.

“I’ve been driving small cars like Toyotas since 1978, when Jimmy Carter was president and we had an energy crisis then … I’ve been driving a Toyota (hybrid) Prius for eight years,” Ted heaped on a few minutes later.

Talking about the economy, he said he was on the cover of Time Magazine as its Man of the year, but then was let go a year and a half before his contract with Time Warner was completed. And he was the largest stockholder. “I’m proof that anyone can be let go. Don’t think you have job security.”

For my money, one of his more memorable lines was about the importance of being a father. He said he gave up yachting in 1981 when he was trying to balance work and family and he realized something had to go. Gone went yachting. “My definition of success is … I don’t think you can be called successful, in any phase of life, if you have a dysfunctional child,” he said. Ted’s children were there. “They all have a job,” he said.

A woman seated near our table asked a question at the end. Actually, she never asked a question. She rambled on and on about how she thought this and agreed with that, so Ted interrupted her and said a few words. She persisted, finally starting to ask a question. Tom Johnson was trying to take back control of the program. The woman got five, maybe six words of her question out when Ted interrupted her. “No, you’re done!” he said. The woman sat down and the audience applauded gratefully.

TO VIEW MY CONTINUED BLOG, YOU WILL NEED TO GO TO www.chrisschroder.com

November 14, 2008

Back to the Blog

Filed under: Life Stories — Tags: — schroder @ 2:37 pm

DEAR READER: PLEASE NOTE MY BLOG HAS MOVED TO: www.chrisschroder.com. THIS SITE WILL NO LONGER BE VIEWABLE IN A FEW DAYS.

Dear Blog:

I know you are upset with me for suddenly abandoning you six months ago. I do hope you will forgive me. And let me just say: It’s not you, it’s me. It really is.

But now I’ve returned and I hope you will accept me back. No, I didn’t leave you for another. Well not exactly. It’s not like I was writing on another blog. But I guess I was writing around, you know, emails, memos, letters and articles. But it didn’t really mean anything. I didn’t have any feelings for them. It’s you I care about.

It’s not like you were sitting all by yourself with no one messing with you, either. The whole time I was away, people kept walking up to me and telling me they had been visiting you. They told me they really enjoyed their time with you and were having a really good time. I’ll admit I was jealous, but I kept thinking I’d write, but it was just so difficult to return after so long. I thought about you every day, particularly when I had to delete that line at the end of my email signature that read “Check out my new blog!” I mean, I deleted that line on my emails 20 or 30 times a day before I pressed “Send.” You’d think it would have just been easier to post an entry. But I didn’t. What was it? Pride? Sloth? Gluttony? I don’t know.

But then my staff scheduled an intervention last month. They invited me to a seminar on New Media and near the end, they put my last blog entry from May on the screen and they all turned to me and said I need to go back to you. That we were really good together. They noticed I haven’t been myself since I left you and that, try as I might to be totally distracted by watching and reading all I could about Barack Obama and then the Atlanta Falcons – both of which kept winning against all odds – I didn’t seem totally happy. In the end, when the election and the games ended, I got back to thinking about you. After a few drinks I’d start talking about you. Several times I even picked up my laptop and almost … almost began typing again.

And then today, as I was driving my wife Jan to the Atlanta Press Club to hear Ted  Turner speak, she had me all alone in the car. And she told me an extraordinary thing: She said it was okay if I went back to you. She would not be jealous. She knew I wouldn’t return to you unless she gave me permission and today she did. In fact, she told me I couldn’t read the Sunday papers this weekend unless I visited you first.

So here I am. I’m back for good this time. I hope you’ll take me back. I promise to be faithful this time. I’ve learned my lessons.  I’m finished sowing my wild oats. You are the one I really want.  C’mon. Grow old with me. The best is yet to be!

TO VIEW MY CONTINUED BLOG, YOU WILL NEED TO GO TO www.chrisschroder.com

Back to the Blog

Filed under: Life Stories — schroder @ 12:00 pm

Dear Blog:

I know you are upset with me for suddenly abandoning you six months ago. I do hope you will forgive me. And let me just say: It’s not you, it’s me. It really is.

But now I’ve returned and I hope you will accept me back. No, I didn’t leave you for another. Well not exactly. It’s not like I was writing on another blog. But I guess I was writing around, you know, emails, memos, letters and articles. But it didn’t really mean anything. I didn’t have any feelings for them. It’s you I care about.

It’s not like you were sitting all by yourself with no one messing with you, either. The whole time I was away, people kept walking up to me and telling me they had been visiting you. They told me they really enjoyed their time with you and were having a really good time. I’ll admit I was jealous, but I kept thinking I’d write, but it was just so difficult to return after so long. I thought about you every day, particularly when I had to delete that line at the end of my email signature that read “Check out my new blog!” I mean, I deleted that line on my emails 20 or 30 times a day before I pressed “Send.” You’d think it would have just been easier to post an entry. But I didn’t. What was it? Pride? Sloth? Gluttony? I don’t know.

But then my staff scheduled an intervention last month. They invited me to a seminar on New Media and near the end, they put my last blog entry from May on the screen and they all turned to me and said I need to go back to you. That we were really good together. They noticed I haven’t been myself since I left you and that, try as I might to be totally distracted by watching and reading all I could about Barack Obama and then the Atlanta Falcons – both of which kept winning against all odds – I didn’t seem totally happy. In the end, when the election and the games ended, I got back to thinking about you. After a few drinks I’d start talking about you. Several times I even picked up my laptop and almost … almost began typing again.

And then today, as I was driving my wife Jan to the Atlanta Press Club to hear Ted  Turner speak, she had me all alone in the car. And she told me an extraordinary thing: She said it was okay if I went back to you. She would not be jealous. She knew I wouldn’t return to you unless she gave me permission and today she did. In fact, she told me I couldn’t read the Sunday papers this weekend unless I visited you first.

So here I am. I’m back for good this time. I hope you’ll take me back. I promise to be faithful this time. I’ve learned my lessons.  I’m finished sowing my wild oats. You are the one I really want.  C’mon. Grow old with me. The best is yet to be!

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