Yes, that’s what I did.  Because of a huge raise and a return to an advertising agency position.  I cannot remember the name of the advertising agency, but I was hired as Account Manager for a 1000-store regional convenience store chain.

I only worked there for two months and impressed the client enough that they hired me.  It wasn’t great for the agency, but they had taken that business for granted, which resulted in a lower servicing level.  Great for me, because of an additional raise, bonus and more job security (seemingly).

The company had decided to handle their advertising internally, but gave me no staff.  I was a one-woman operation / not even an assistant?  In my opinion, a six-million-dollar budget would have warranted some staff.  But problem-solver that I am, I threw myself into figuring out a way to make it happen.

My first goal was to find vendors, with fair prices, who had staffs and distribution capability.  These vendors became my staff.  Our advertising primarily consisted of printing – window signs, gas-island signs, and in-store signs.   Secondarily, we also did some radio and TV.  Another big part of the job was planning in-store promotions to attempt to increase the average transaction amount.  When I worked there, the average transaction, other than gas, was $2.00 with approximately 1000 people per day.  If we could increase that by a few pennies, our revenue would soar.  That seemed insurmountable, because convenience-store customer behavior was very rigid during the 80’s.  Wonder if it has changed any?

I worked more hours per day, in this job, than any other one I’d had.   Working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. was common.  There were so many details that I couldn’t ever turn my brain off, so didn’t sleep well.  Sleepless nights, over time, wear a person down.

But, it was also one of the most fun jobs I had ever had.  I became friends with a group of people there, and we had a blast.  We had parties at each others’ homes, attended various events and even went on a couple of trips together.  We all worked in the Marketing Department, but I remained the only advertising person.

One of our trips is worth telling you about.

One day I received a casual phone call from our CEO (it took me awhile to figure out who it was).  Here’s kind of how it went:  “Hi, this is Pete.  I am sending someone to talk to you about a sponsorship that I think would be good.  Just handle it, OK?”  I, of course, said, “Yes, absolutely.”

So I met with quite an interesting woman named, Dancy, writing her a check for $10,000 to sponsor a float in the Galveston Mardi Gras parade.

When my fun friend, Roxanne, heard about this, she said to me, “I think we need to ride that float and choose our favorite people to ride it with us.”   I didn’t especially want to ride on the float, but also didn’t have a good reason to say no.  12 people could ride, so Roxanne chose 8 people and we did an in-store, regional promotion for the other 4 spots.

The 8 of us rented a condo for the weekend in Galveston.   We needed to arrive at the float several hours before the parade started.  None of us knew what to expect.  Our first surprise was the float was quite elaborate.  Here’s a picture of a similar float:

Mardi Gras Float

It seemed like a small molded, house on wheels.  It had a bathroom and two levels.  Once we were on the float, we were not getting off until the parade was over.

Then we were given costumes to wear and lessons on bead-throwing.   There were hundreds of plastic bags with those cheap, colorful plastic beads in them.  Our most important task was to get rid of all those beads, by the end of the parade, but not to run out of beads.  We also needed to throw them in such a way, so as not to hurt anyone in the crowd.  Our teacher also told us that, if the float stopped moving, we were to lay down on the floor of the float, for our own safety.

Since our float was toward the end of the parade, we were on the float for a couple of hours before we started moving.  When we did get to the parade route, it was amazing to see the huge crowds of people lining the streets.  I had not known that the Galveston parade is the second largest to the one in New Orleans.

It was also quite surprising to me that the crowds begged for the beads, like they were worth a lot of money.  We learned very quickly why we needed to drop to the floor, and stop throwing beads when the float stopped.  People in the crowd actually threw stuff at us, if we were not forking over the coveted beads.  A couple of times, people actually tried to attack the float – but security took care of that in short order.

We did run out of beads toward the end of the route, but I thought we were safe, because there weren’t very many people left at the end of the route.  However, I did get hit in the face with a sharp-edged beer bottle cap.  Bled a little bit and it hurt, but no permanent damage.

Roxanne told me that she had never had so much fun in her entire life and one other guy told me that he had never felt so powerful.  He thought it was so great to make the people “beg” for his beads.  I have to say it was definitely interesting, but the most fun was because we shared the experience as friends.

I learned that Roxanne had not ever lived anywhere else and had not traveled very much.  One day I told her that I had seen a billboard advertising plane tickets to New York City for $49 each way.  She jumped right on that and got us booked for Mother’s Day weekend.  I asked her if that was a good time for her to be away from her family and she said, “This is the best gift my husband has ever given me.”

One of my vendors had a corporate apartment that was available, so our lodging was free.  That was my very cheapest trip ever to New York City, and one of the most fun.  I made sure that Roxanne got to do most of the touristy things, including lunch at Tavern on the Green with a carriage ride in Central Park.  We packed a lot of activity into that weekend.  Unforgettable!

Another byproduct of that job was that our company was a corporate sponsor of Houston’s annual Walkamerica, to raise money for the March of Dimes.  I was put in charge of planning that entire event in 1986.  Thank goodness, I had a staff of about 50 people to help!  It was still a lot of work, but I enjoyed it a lot and was determined to break all previous records for money raised.

By this time, I had lots of vendors, so it was easy for me to call them and ask them to contribute money, manhours or services.  Our committee decided on a circus/carnival theme.  I cannot tell you whether we broke records, but everyone had fun, and I know it was successful.

We had approximately 20,000 walkers, who were sent on their way with a 1000-balloon liftoff to the theme music from the movie, “2001, a Space Odyssey.”  (I was told later that people could hear that song from miles away.)  At the end of the walk was a carnival, with rides and games for anyone who had any energy left.

I had dressed up like a clown, complete with makeup and pink, metallic hair.  I emceed the event, which I thought was great fun.  I think I would have had too much stage fright without the costume, but for some reason, I performed like a veteran emcee and stand-up comedian.

After the walk began, I walked down the steps of the stage and passed out.  My boss, standing nearby, saw this happen and called the onsite paramedics over.  I remember an oxygen mask, riding in an ambulance with my pink wig sitting on my chest (embarrassed to the max!), and spending an entire day in the emergency room of a hospital, being poked and monitored.  The diagnosis was that I had a flu virus and needed to rest, take aspirin and drink plenty of fluids.  (Sound familiar?)

I had obviously been working too hard, between the stressful job, the extra volunteer hours and the lack of sleep…  My boss told me to take a week off and get better.  My friends brought me chicken soup and checked on me frequently, but I just slept most of the time.

A couple of days into this, I learned that a new boss had been hired for me – Vern.  Vern called me and said that if I didn’t show up for work the next day, I would be fired.

to be continued in part 2…




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