March, 2015 Issue

In This Issue

8 online articles from this issue. Next

Random Thoughts and Other Mindless Dribble


As you get older, you will find out that life has its little twists and turns - some we can avoid and others that were meant to be. If you read Elaine Pasqua's "Real Life" column this month, you will get a head start on not only being a better person but finding a career track.

When I went to college, I had no idea what I wanted to do or who I wanted to become. It was a complete new world of freedom that I had never been exposed to before. So I partied that whole first year because that seemed to be what everyone else was doing - at least to me. I had a rude awakening at the end of the spring semester because I was on academic probation and I had to spend my entire summer in summer school studying and had to make at least two "B's" each session to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam. It was not a pretty picture. While everyone else was at the lake or the beach having a good time, I was at home studying my ass off.

What seemed impossible to me, became possible because I made it so. I ended up with strong "B's" in each course and amazingly I was invited back for my Sophomore year. I would like to tell you that the struggle was over, but that would be a lie. I remember going to a biology class that was in what looked like a concert hall with some 500 students. The professor appeared on a stage like a performance was going to begin and she instructed each student to look at the person on each side of them and understand that at the end of the semester, one of them would no longer be a student at that university. Just when I thought this was the only "hell class" I had, I found History was the same way - almost an identical situation except the professor was a lot more likeable and the class was a lot more interesting.

Long story - short, I made it through the first two years and things settled down after that. The classes got smaller, some with only 20 or so students. I started out majoring in education to become a teacher, but after what I saw happening in local schools that became less of an option. I considered business law and political science, but I had an uncle who was a South Carolina senator and I visited the state house and those guys didn't even show up half the time and when they did, not one paid any attention to what was going on. It was demoralizing to find out that it took less than one year for a politician to become tainted by the power of lobbyists. So I ended up with the one subject I really enjoyed: English. I was infatuated by not only some of the early novelists but got to enjoy some of the better writers for the short story and columnists of local and national acclaim.

I graduated without even a clue where I would work and for months after graduation it seemed that jobs just did not exist. Nobody in high school had helped me plan for college and no one in college had helped me prepare for real life. I was on my own.

I took a job at the local Sears store (just so you know Sears was a big thing in the early 70s) doing something I had never done before, designing newspaper ads and writing copy for radio and television. But amazingly enough, I found I had a hidden talent for it. I liked the creativity and the Sears team liked the concepts I came up with. But when my manager left about a year later to move up the hierarchy in the Sears world, I was left facing a move to Chicago to remain with the company. I had only been out of the state of South Carolina a few times. We are close to the Smoky Mountains so of course, I visited North Carolina but the only lengthy trip I had taken was to Orlando to see friends that were going to school there. I was NOT going to Chicago (though,I found out later that it was not a bad city). So as a home town boy, I took various jobs that I really had no interest in: like working as an Allied Van Lines estimator giving clients the cost of moving. I was stunned to find in moving some of the ministers for various churches that we boxed up porn mags among other unmentionable things. Who would have thought?

Finally I tied down a job with the Aiken Standard, a newspaper in a mid-sized, wealthy South Carolina city known for horses.It was owned by The Charleston News & Courier franchise. Not only did I design ads but I sold them too. I became pretty successful because smaller clients could not afford to pay advertising agencies to design ads for them and I sold the ads based on designs I created.

After my dad got sick, I was forced to return to Columbia and got the job of publications Director for a major Apparel Manufacturing Trade Magazine that published in both English and Spanish. Not only did the company have the largest trade show in the world for the sewn products industry but I got to handle the agencies who contracted the ads. It was nothing for an issue to run some 400 pages and they published monthly. The trade show was the largest of its kind in the world and it was the first show that was contracted at Atlanta's World Congress Center.

You would think this was a dream job- right. The pay was good and it was local. There were just not that many opportunities like this in Columbia. But I soon found the reason there were so many women working for the company. The boss was a terrible womanizer and he would start off each morning telling everyone in a company meeting about his conquests from the night before. He had a beautiful wife and four kids as well as respect in the industry, but soon his reputation with women and his use of drugs became a public issue. He would scream at certain female employees and sometimes offer them more money just to stay. He was a loose cannon and he later decided to sell the trade show to a company in Texas and most of the locals with the company hit the streets.

Lisa Cagan, who I had worked with there had taken a job with NACA (then NECAA) after she became tired of her previous boss' advances. When the job came open for Director of Advertising, she recommended me for the position. I met with Gary English, Executive Director and Steve Slagle, his assistant and I was offered a position and a very nice compensation package based on performance. Gary was not the most understanding guy when it came to employees but he was aggressive in moving NACA forward and was very driven in doing so. He gave me all the freedom I needed to build the publications as well as re-invent the directories by making them profitable. Quite honestly, having a huge portion of my income rely upon sales was scary for me because I had never been really that much sales oriented. But the fact that I was selling advertising made it easier, because no one before me had ever been able to design ads. I based my whole sales technique on customer service. If they needed an ad designed, I would do it. If they needed advice, I would give it. It was about building relationships and I loved it. We moved into the Specialty Advertising market through my friend Sandy Darnell, called NACA Specialities and we started our own T-Shirt manufacturing company (NACA-Ts).

No matter whose side of the story you listen to, the result was that I was making too much money, but probably so was NACA. When Steve Slagle came on board as Executive Director, after a few years I was told I was going to be offered a different contract, one which would put me on salary. Of course, I protested. I was working 60+ hours a week being driven by sales and design.

To make a long story short without dealing with details protected by a court settlement, I was fired.I was not only confused but humiliated and had no clue what I would do next. I had built a reputation of being fair priced and providing excellent quality for print and promotional materials, but soon with the support of many associate members, I was encouraged to start my own magazine. All my suppliers extended me a credit line.

Founded in 1991, the first issue was distributed in February 1992. I had Tom DeLuca on the cover and it looked very rudimentary by today's standards. The whole company was myself and a part-time bookkeeper, Belinda. She was one of the most fascinating people I have ever met. I had been given an office in my attorney's building for the first six months for free and then after that $50/month plus an extra $10/month for a reserved parking spot. We had our own phone lines but used his fax machine. Belinda got on the phone and researched and contacted over 3500 campuses of which 3300 were included in receiving that first issue. That number now exceeds 4,000.

The purpose of this little tale is that sometimes you will not see opportunity when it is staring you right in the face. Had I been given guidance in high school, I may have taken a different track. Had I been given guidance in college, I am sure my career track would have been different. But, you make your own path by working hard and overcoming obstacles.

I have no hard feelings now against NACA. What happened was probably just business. I think they are still the defining course for students in the activities field who need to see and book live entertainment. My goal with this magazine is entirely different. We expose the market to the lives of a large variety of entertainers- some stuff you probably won't find anywhere else. Our awards are legendary. The inside stories on people we have covered over the years, whether national acts or traditional campus performers, gives buyers important information about why they might consider bringing this act to campus. We feature campus programs that have made an impact with students and the activities industry. In our own way, we define the term "campus activities." We are not a publication on procedures. I wanted CAM to be easy to read and understand. While there is some education in our pages, it comes from someone else other than those of us writing and editing the editions. CAM is a resource for the people in the industry- students,leadership, artists and agencies and hopefully it makes it easier for them to communicate and buy talent and it is my job to continue to tweak that aspect every single day. The advertisers support this magazine and I owe them the best customer service possible for that trust. But this has two sides. We have been fortunate, especially through Artist Report Cards, to have a dialog with the campuses themselves and those who represent those schools. Feedback is always good whether you have a gripe or want to pat us on the back. It is for you that we exist: activities boards and directors; artists and agencies. As Boyd would say, "Give yourself a Big High Five!"

W.C. Kirby, Jr.,Publisher