For a couple of years, I’ve been waiting for a very special upcoming anniversary. My column this May should have marked my 20th anniversary as a published columnist. The reason I’ve been looking forward to it for so long is because it changes my status as a ‘Columnist for almost 20 years’, to a ‘Columnist for over 20 years’. Yeah, I know it’s kind of dumb, but it has just been something I’ve been looking forward too.
I’ve thought many times about how I would celebrate, and what I would write about. Well, as it turns out, I wrote that very special 20th anniversary column about the economic situation that was occurring in May of 2022. In that 20th anniversary column, I compared the economic and housing crash of 2008 to the economic and potential housing crash of 2022. Yep, last year was my 20th anniversary, not this year. I was a year late and a dollar short – again!
Although I’ve told parts of the story a few times, I thought I’d tell all of my readers about how this crazy train started, and how it’s going. A story you should have read last year – on my actual 20th anniversary.
To understand this story, you have to first understand what a ‘masthead’ is, and what it is used for. If you turn to the first 2-3 pages of most publications, you’ll see a box that lists the editor, publisher, national sales manager, etc. for that publication. And for the record, myself and the team listed in this newspaper’s masthead is almost the same today as it was 21 years ago. We’ve all been together as a team for a long time.
In 1987, I moved to Nashville seeking fame and fortune in the entertainment industry. During those years, I attended countless Chamber of Commerce breakfasts and lunches, countless charity events, and countless entertainment industry parties. After every one of those events, I’d see pictures from the party in the newspaper, and I was never in any of them. That’s when I learned about ‘the masthead’.
I found out that you didn’t have to know the people at the party to get your picture in the paper. You just had to know the people listed in the masthead. If you make friends with them, your picture gets published – a lot!
Befriend the photographer that’s listed in the masthead. Pick up their bar tab on a regular basis and they will seek you out to take your picture because you’re the only person they actually know at the event.
Befriend the editor and publisher and take them out to lunch every so often. While they are putting the next issue together, and they see your picture mixed in with the other 200 or so pictures of the event, they’ll pick your picture to put in their publication on a regular basis. So, now that I’ve spilled my secret, fast forward to 1999.
I was working with a designer on a new line of jewelry, and we had no budget for marketing and promotion. Around that time, I started getting a magazine mailed to me called, ‘Bench Magazine’. It was advertised as a magazine for bench jewelers, written by bench jewelers. Then one day, just out of habit, I looked at the masthead and saw that the same person, Brad Simon, was listed as doing every job at the magazine. It was then and there that the proverbial light bulb went off in my head that started this whole thing.
Since Brad was doing all of the work himself, surely he could use some outside content to fill his pages. Since I couldn’t afford to advertise, what if I wrote about how we went about designing and building the pieces for our new jewelry line? That alone would give us some free marketing and promotion right there. And as an added bonus, I was able teach other jewelers how to do certain things that they may not know how to do. Bonus!
Brad and I (and Jurgen Maerz) worked together for years and traveled all over the United States hosting in-person seminars for bench jewelers. It was a lot of fun. Now, let’s fast forward a few years to early 2002.
Once a month, when my copy of Southern Jewelry News arrived, I’d eat lunch at my front counter and read Martha Williams’ column. I always enjoyed reading about Martha and her husband RB, and the things that happened to them at their jewelry store. It was like she had a hidden camera in my store, and she was writing about what she was seeing in my store, not hers. Then, one month, the paper came, and Martha’s column wasn’t in it. EGAD! Then it happened again the next month, and then the month after that. Something must be done to right this wrong. So, guess what I did? Yep, you guessed it. I went right to the masthead.
I called the phone number listed and Bill Newnam, the editor, answered the phone. He told me that he and his partner Chris Smith had recently purchased the paper from the original owner. He told me that Martha had retired a while back, and since the paper was changing ownership she thought that would be a good time to retire from her writing side gig as well. I was bummed! I understood the situation, but I was still bummed.
The next day, that damned proverbial light bulb went off in my head again, and I called Bill back and asked him if he needed someone to write a replacement column to fill that space in his new newspaper. He said yes. I said I’d throw something together in the next couple of days and send it to him to see if he liked it. I don’t know why I did that because I had never had the desire to become a writer.
Over the course of a week or so, I hobbled together 3 columns and sent them over to see if he liked one of them. He liked all three, and that covered the first 3 months of me being a published columnist with Southern Jewelry News. Then that pesky 4th month rolled around and I had to create that magic again. I didn’t think I had it in me, but I pooped out something, and I’ve been pooping out something new every month for the last 21 years and have never once ran a repeat column. During the ensuing years, the paper has grown into new markets, added a sister edition, Mid-America Jewelry News, and expanded readership and distribution beyond anyone’s imagination. It’s been a fun ride. So, that was how it started, here’s how it’s going.
Asa I write this, I’m sitting on the balcony of my hotel room on Jekyll Island, Georgia. My view is absolutely gorgeous. I’m overlooking palm trees, the swimming pool, and the Atlantic Ocean because I’m right on the beach. I’m here to speak at the Georgia Jeweler’s Association this weekend. I’ve got my laptop on my lap and I’m writing a column about how this whole thing started and how it’s going. Based upon my view, I’d say it’s going pretty good! I’ve had the honor and privilege to travel the country to meet and speak to other jewelers for over 20 years now (I finally get to say it!) And if you want to know the truth, I think I’ve got another 21 years’ worth of columns left in me. I look forward to seeing everyone here next month, or out on the road somewhere if your group needs a mediocre speaker to speak at your next conference or convention.
To my editor Bill Newnam, my publisher Chris Smith, my National Sales Manager Elesa Dillon, and all of my readers throughout the years, I love you all! This has been a lot of fun, and I couldn’t have done it without each and every one of you. I look forward to the next 21 years!