Category Archives: Business

A Pulitzer for Charleston, more staff reductions at The State

From our media watch beat…

Doug Pardue just wrote the first line of his obituary, and I mean that in a good way. The Post and Courier just won the holy of holies among journalism prizes, the Pulitzer Public Service gold medal, for their “Till Death Do Us Part” series, which told “tales of domestic abuse survivors and of the 300 women in the Palmetto State who have been shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, bludgeoned or burned to death by men during the past decade while legislators did little to quell the bloodshed.” Not only only did the paper address a critical, urgent issue that has long brought shame upon their state, but the series was followed by serious action in the Legislature.

The series was written by Doug Pardue, Glenn Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes and Natalie Caula Hauff. But I mention Doug in particular because I know him — he used to be in charge of investigative reporting at The State, a couple of decades back.

So way to go, Doug! And the rest of y’all, too.

As that news was spreading yesterday, my friends and colleagues at The State received another kind of news — more staff reductions are coming. The process will begin with voluntary buyouts. My sources say staffers will have the opportunity to volunteer to leave in exchange for a severance package. There’s no stated goal in terms of number of people who will lose their jobs, but there is apparently a monetary goal in mind.

What happens if the total salaries of those volunteering don’t add up to the goal? That apparently has not been stated. But we know what has happened in the past. I was laid off in one of several waves over the last few years.

I’m very sorry to hear this on a number of levels. I care not only because The State continues to be my newspaper, but because South Carolina desperately needs a vital, vibrant, dynamic capital city newspaper. Here’s hoping the reductions will be minimal.

(I learned of this when a respected colleague called me this morning. And no, that source probably isn’t one of the first ones you would guess, so there’s no point in guessing.)

The long-awaited collapse of the ‘bundle’

Sopranos

This is me in the past, wondering why I couldn’t just pay for the channels, or specific shows, that I actually wanted to see.

Back when I was editorial page editor, Bud Tibshrany used to ask me out to lunch about once a year. That’s because he was doing PR for Time Warner Cable, and his job required that he check in with me periodically, and going to lunch with him was less of an interruption to operations that a full editorial board meeting. I had to eat anyway.

Each year, he’d ask me if I had any questions about Time-Warner or the industry. And I always had just one question: When will I be able to buy channels a la carte instead of having to pay for scores of channels I didn’t want just to get AMC? It was really all I wanted to know.

I knew I was being a pain, but he asked.

The answer was always the same: Not in the foreseeable future. The cable providers’ hands were tied by the contractual demands of the content providers, and so forth. Which was true.

True then, that is. Times are a-changin’:

Web streaming is upending the neat arrangement long enjoyed between TV channels and cable providers such as Verizon and Comcast. Verizon pays ESPN and other channels a certain amount to carry their programming, a cost that gets factored into customers’ monthly bills. But with consumers complaining about paying for too many channels and switching to online streaming alternatives such as Netflix, cable firms are feeling the pressure to cut costs — and even drop channels, especially those with plummeting ratings.

The swift decline in cable has been particularly harmful for Viacom, which typically presses cable distributors to run all of its channels — including MTV, VH1, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon — or none of them. The company announced this week that it will cancel some shows and lay off staff as part of a broad restructuring plan….

Talk about creative destruction.

Just last night, in response to an invitation via my Apple TV, I signed up for a free one-month trial of HBO NOW, which markets itself with the pithy tagline, “Now, all you need is the Internet.”

Well, that and $14.99 a month, which I probably will not spring for when the free month is up.

But in the meantime, it’s pretty awesome. We watched “Jersey Boys” last night, and enjoyed it. I see that I can catch up completely on “Game of Thrones” if I care to binge, starting with the first season. Or watch “The Sopranos” again all the way through, or any other series that has ever been on HBO. And I can send back that DVD from Netflix with the first episodes of “True Detective” on it. The whole series lies before me now.

Anyway, whatever I do going forward, I appreciate this brave new world…

Remembering the late Marvin Chernoff

Photo from Charles Pulliam's Facebook page.

Photo from Charles Pulliam’s Facebook page.

I thought it was great to see the letter remembering Marvin Chernoff in The State today — and good initiative on Cindi and Warren’s parts, getting that in in spite of their new, earlier deadlines.

I especially liked that it was from Tim Kelly — one of a number of then-bloggers who encouraged me when I was first starting a blog myself in 2005, and the man who singlehandedly talked me into getting into social media in 2009, after which I promptly became a Twitter addict. But I like Tim anyway.

I had wanted to write something about Marvin myself yesterday, but didn’t feel like I had enough material at hand. Marvin had told me stories about himself, while he was working on his memoirs, but I had just enjoyed the stories without taking notes.

Tim’s letter encourages me to just plunge ahead…

I knew Marvin first as one of the people, along with his partner Rick Silver, Bud Ferillo and Bob McAlister, who would bring clients in to the editorial board to pitch their points of view (something I occasionally do now).

I remember him as the “idea man” — the gently mocking title Neil White gave him — who came up with “It’s Happening Now.” Which didn’t catch on the way “Famously Hot” has (shameless plug for ADCO, competitor of Chernoff Newman), although I actually thought it was better than most people did.

I even worked with Marvin, very briefly, right after leaving The State. He had just started his new virtual agency, MC2, and he had a client who needed help writing an op-ed piece. I got my first taste of the communications/PR side of life taking a lunch with him and the client, and listening to Marvin speak expansively about all the great things he could do for the client. So this was what it was like outside the editorial boardroom, I thought. Which for me at the time was a little like being under deep cover behind enemy lines…

Marvin was originally a political consultant, and he came to South Carolina to promote the legendary campaign of Pug Ravenel. After that campaign — the last really exciting one in SC, according to those who were there — crashed and burned on a technicality, Marvin stayed on, contributing to the community in many highly visible ways.

I’m sorry I won’t have the chance to hear those stories again, and write them down. The last couple of times I talked with Marvin, he was working on his memoir. According to The State, he completed it, although the book remains unpublished. I’d like to get ahold of a copy…

A somewhat belated Top Ten Super Bowl ads list

blue pill

I mentioned earlier in the week that I was working, off-and-on, on an item for the ADCO blog about best Super Bowl ads of 2015.

Well, it took me until Friday, because not only did I have a lot of much-higher-priority client work to do, but just to do this one thing meant finding time to track down and watch 54 TV adverts.

Yes, 54 of them. And I’m still not sure that I saw them all.

Anyway, here’s what I posted. Wherever it says “we,” substitute “I,” because these are all actually my opinions. As you can probably tell. Of course, I have extensive experience with the royal, I mean editorial, “we”…

After extensive research, we are ready to release our list of favorite ads from Super Bowl XLIX. (That is to say, the one that was played on Feb. 1, 2015, for those of you who don’t want to have to interpret Roman numerals and then add the number onto 1966 to figure out which one we’re talking about.)

This of course is an entirely subjective list, and you’ll have your own favorites, but hey — a list like this is just meant to be a conversation-starter, not a Final Judgment From On High.

Here are our top 10 — out of the 54 we saw:

  1. Esurance “Say My Name” — For a brief, shining moment, Walter White was back among us. And he hadn’t changed a bit. “You’ll thank me later.”
  2. Fiat “Blue Pill” — OK, so it’s a bit off-color. But it was funny, and we liked it. There weren’t enough this year that fit that description.
  3. Dove “Men+Care” — We forced ourselves to choose just one of the three ads that promoted positive images of fathers. We picked this one because all those kids calling “Daddy” really got to us.
  4. Turbo Tax “Boston Tea Party” — Surely there was a more peaceful way to settle this dispute over taxes. Or maybe not. All right, then…
  5. Carnival “Return to the Sea” — So, it’s kind of cheating to play on our emotions with an inspiring voiceover from JFK. But it worked. Especially with that reverb.
  6. Snickers “The Brady Bunch” — Because Steve Buscemi, that’s why!
  7. Supercell “Clash of Clans” — Just Liam Neeson doing what he does, but he does it so well.
  8. BMW “Newfangled Idea” — We expect a sequel in which Katie shows us that she can twerk, too.
  9. Bud Light “Real Life PacMan” — OK, so we’re prejudiced on this one, but we really did think it was good.
  10. Budweiser “Lost Dog” — Yes, this was the annual obligatory cute-puppy ad, which really doesn’t have a lot to do with making beer, but we were torn between this and the other fairly-good Bud ad, and chose this one. We also liked the slow cover version of the Proclaimers song.

Today is not as great a day in SC as yesterday was: Bose shutting Blythewood plant

Nikki Haley’s is lucky this didn’t break a day earlier. It would have taken some of the shine off her State of the State address…

Ground broken on Bull Street ballpark

This just in from those promoting the Bull Street development:

“Today we break ground; In April of 2016, we’ll play ball!”

This morning, Columbia came together to ceremoniously break ground on Spirit Communications Park.  The park will be a state-of-the-art multi-use sports and entertainment venue home to an affiliated Minor League Baseball team in April, 2016.
 

“This is a milestone day for our entire city,” Mayor Benjamin said. “It’s taken hard work by many to make this possible, and more hard work is still in store, but our vision for a more vibrant Columbia is coming closer and closer to fruition. The countdown is now on to Opening Day in 2016.”
 
“It’s exciting to think about how Spirit Communications Park will add to what is already one of America’s great cities,” said Freier, who was at a similar groundbreaking for Parkview Field in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2007. Parkview Field has since been named the “No. 1 Ballpark Experience” in Minor League Baseball in three of the past four years. 
 
Spirit Communications Park will anchor development at Columbia Common, the new gateway to Downtown Columbia. The 181-acre Columbia Common, under the guidance of master developer Hughes Development, is primed to become the ultimate live-work-play community in the region. 
 

“We’ve seen this kind of development centered around a ballpark work throughout the country, including not so far away from Columbia,” said Bob Hughes, who led a similar project a decade ago around Fluor Field in Greenville. “Folks in Columbia are in for a treat with Spirit Communications Park.” 
 
We can expect more than 900 jobs to be created during the construction of the ballpark. Once complete, Columbia’s professional baseball team will bring on approximately 35 full-time and 550 part-time employees.
 
This park would not be possible with out support from people like you; people who gave their time and energy to support Building Bull Street. Let’s play ball!

What’s WRONG with these poor young women?

poster1

I mentioned earlier about going to the mall today.

While there, I puzzled over this poster in the Victoria’s Secret window: What’s wrong with this young woman? Is she ill? She looks peaked. Does her stomach hurt? Is she wasting away? Is this supposed to be a come-hither look? It seems rather off-putting instead. Has she been bitten by a “walker“? I want to offer her a blanket, and then step away in case it’s catching. It’s not exactly heroin chic, but it’s off in that direction. Are they trying to sell that bra? If so, this is no way to do it. It seems to be a burden to her, causing her shoulders to slump in defeat.

Poor thing…

But wow, she’s not nearly as strange as the one below, from a window a few yards away. What’s her thing? More like Devo chic, or wind-up doll chic?

Are these images supposed to be appealing? If so, to whom? Men? Women? Robots?

The popular aesthetic has taken a strange turn. Again.

poster2

Important business tip: Know your market

vegan

I had to stop and get a picture of this when I was driving down St. Andrews today.

First I saw the vegan sign, and wondered how that business was faring, and whether it was doing better as that than as a Mexican place (going by the facade), then I saw what it was becoming. And let’s just say I was not shocked.

Know your market.

When I was driving back after visiting the thing that has replaced Barnes and Noble on Harbison, and I saw this sign again, I experienced a moment of identification: There was probably someone who really dug having this vegan restaurant here, and hated to see it go. And seeing that it would be replaced by yet another sports bar, he or she must have thought, “Like we need another one of these.” Just like the way I felt at the former B&N

The Quinn sweep

FYI, Richard Quinn and Associates has been celebrating for the past week:

RQ&A Celebrates Election Sweep

(COLUMBIA, S.C.) Richard Quinn & Associates (RQ&A), celebrated another successful election on Tuesday.  Our firm helped lead numerous Republicans to victory in the Nov. 4 General Election.

“It truly is a great honor to work with such talented leaders at every level of government,” said company founder and president Richard Quinn.  “We regard playing a small part in helping them win election as our own special form of public service.”

RQ&A’s roster of winners was led by five successful statewide candidates — a list that included nearly half the state’s Constitutional officers.  RQ&A clients U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, Attorney General Alan Wilson, and State Treasurer Curtis Loftis all won re-election, while clients Henry McMaster and Molly Spearman were elected Lt. Governor and State Superintendent of Education respectively for the first time.

Columbia-based RQ&A also assisted Congressman Joe Wilson, the dean of South Carolina’s Republican federal delegation, in his re-election victory, as well as a group of victorious State legislative races, including Reps. Kenny Bingham, Jenny Horne, Ralph Kennedy and Rick Quinn.

The 2014 elections may be over, but the RQ&A team isn’t taking any time to rest.  We are already planning for next year’s local elections and the upcoming South Carolina GOP Presidential Primary.

 

Of course, it helps to be a Republican consulting firm in a year such as this, and a number of their clients had no, or only token, opposition.

But you can certainly see why they’re celebrating. A year such as this is good for business.

I love the smell of advertising in the morning. It smells like… freedom!

This is a cautionary tale for those of you who gripe about “all the ads” in your daily newspaper. When the truth is that the dramatic decline in advertising revenue over the past decade or so is what has been strangling newspapers.

It’s why Robert Ariail and I, and a bunch of others, got laid off in 2009, at the very low point of the Great Recession.

Greet those ads as friends, because those that remain are all you have to keep the news flowing your way — no matter where you get your news. The few reporters left at mid-sized dailies across the country — and at virtually every other information outlet you can think of — get paid from ad revenues. It was always thus, only in the old days there was a lot more flowing in.

No bucks, no Buck Rogers. Or perhaps I should say, no Clark Kent.

There are readers out there who labor under the delusion that they pay for their paper, so they shouldn’t be assaulted with all these ads. Well, no they don’t — pay for it, that is. Oh, they pay something, but it’s a pittance compared to what it costs to publish a newspaper. The rest comes from advertising.

And contrary to the equally deluded belief of folks who imagine that ads make the news somehow hostage to the interests of advertisers (which just proves they’ve never worked at a general-circulation newspaper in this country), advertising is also what keeps news free and independent. As we’re seeing in Russia:

An advertising ban on Russian cable and satellite TV stations could decimate regional television broadcasting from the suburbs of the capital to the far reaches of Siberia, leaving the country almost entirely dependent on state media for news and information.

The law, which will prohibit commercial advertisements on paid cable and satellite channels starting next year, is one of many measures Russian authorities have adopted in recent months to tighten control over the flow of information, reduce foreign money in Russian media and force journalists to hew closer to a pro-Kremlin line.

But the advertising ban threatens to deliver the most devastating blow to homegrown independent outlets where Russians get most of their news: television….

When newspapers and other news outlets lose their access to advertising in a place like Russia, the news becomes, once again, a wholly owned subsidiary of the government.

So enjoy the ads, folks. They’re better than the alternatives…

So which is it? Is SC economy in the tank, or doing great?

Apparently riffing on a release sent out by the SC Democratic Party, Will Folks writes:

Is it a “great day in South Carolina?”

Not if you live in Cheraw or Bennettsville, S.C.  These two rural towns are reeling after a recent announcement from Bi-Lo – a regional grocery store chain that operates roughly 200 supermarkets in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

According to reporter Mary Edwards of WMBF TV (NBC – Myrtle Beach/ Florence, S.C.), Bi-Lo is shutting down stores in Cheraw and Bennettsville – a move that will leave 130 employees out of work.

The job losses are coming sooner rather than later, too, with the store’s regional public relations manager telling Edwards the stores will be closing prior to November 19 of this year.

Happy Thanksgiving, right?…

Remember Colonial Stores?

Remember Colonial Stores?

As a native of Bennettsville, I can remember when it had a thriving retail environment, with a bustling Main Street and several supermarkets in the downtown area — Winn-Dixie, Colonial (anybody remember Colonial Stores?), an A&P, and later, a Harris Teeter.

Not so much anymore. I haven’t counted the grocery stores lately, but it’s been awhile since downtown has been what it was.

But the view can still look pretty good from Columbia, as Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt writes today in The State — and he has plenty of facts on his side:

By any measure, South Carolina is on a roll. Over the past four years, we have been making major gains — gains that are bringing economic stability and opportunity to communities across the state.bobby_hitt_110111

We’ve celebrated big recruitment wins, including announcements by the world’s top automotive and aerospace companies, boosted opportunities for small businesses and created an environment that encourages existing industry to continue expanding in our state.

The facts are clear: Trend lines show unemployment on the decline while the number of South Carolinians working has risen to historic highs. Our economy is humming, and companies around the world are choosing South Carolina as a place where they can succeed….

That team approach starts at the top, with Gov. Nikki Haley personally invested and fully integrated in what we’re doing, meeting and speaking with prospects or our existing companies. As the CEO of the state, she understands the importance of customer service and a personal touch. In fact, one thing we hear from clients all over the world is that she readily gives them her cell phone number and says to call her with any issues….

So which is it? Is our economy in the dumps, or thriving?

Um, yeah… the U.S. Chamber may be (slightly) cooler than I thought it was…

Um, yeahhhh....

Um, yeahhhh….

Or at least, it has a greater sense of irony.

As evidenced by the following Tweet:

Haley really needs you to feel good about SC economy

Dems are heavily pushing the idea that Haley's ecodevo success story is "smoke and mirrors."

Dems are heavily pushing the idea that Haley’s ecodevo success story is “smoke and mirrors.”

Did you see Andy Shain’s piece in The State over the weekend, digging into just how good a job Nikki Haley has really done on economic development? A key excerpt:

Some of Haley’s economic claims and numbers are inflated, The State newspaper found in an analysis of jobs announcements and federal data:

  • While political scientists say most voters think the 57,000 jobs that Haley mentions in speeches have been filled, only a little more than half of the jobs announced in 2011 and 2012 exist, according to a survey by the newspaper of major economic development announcements made during Haley’s first two years in office.
  • Haley’s 57,000 announced-job figure also includes businesses that never opened, or opened and then closed, based on a list provided by the S.C. Department of Commerce this summer. Her tally also includes 4,350 jobs — nearly 8 percent of the total — for stores planned by Wal-Mart. Low-paying retail jobs typically are not part of economic development tallies.
  • And contrary to a Haley claim, South Carolina has not had the East Coast’s fastest-growing economy since 2011, according to revised federal data.

I don’t know, quite honestly, what to think after reading that. I mean, would we have seen the same thing under previous administrations — total jobs not equaling the announced number, two or three years later? Yes, I think so. This has been a constant refrain for a lot more years than Nikki Haley has been in office — boosters make excited predictions, which aren’t always borne out in the end.

Of course, if you want the state’s economy to grow, you do tout announcements and make a big deal of them because you’re trying to create a bandwagon effect — giving the impression that your state is attracting growing businesses, because you want other growing businesses to see SC as a happening place. And you’re not lying, or even exaggerating — you’re passing on the numbers offered by the growing or moving businesses themselves. Big plans don’t always pan out. Doesn’t mean anyone was lying.

But these numbers are particularly important in the case of Nikki Haley, as is pointed out later in the story:

Political observers said they are not surprised Haley is focusing on her economic record as her strong suit for her re-election bid.

“What else is she known for?” said Neal Thigpen, a retired Francis Marion University political scientist. “It may be her only biggest suit.”…

Ignore the odd wording in that quote (“her only biggest suit?”) and think about that. Really, what else does Nikki Haley have to point to? I mean, when you hear the idiotic narrative from some of her supporters, you have to laugh — that because she did the books for her parents’ small business (a business that had trouble paying taxes on time) she is some kind of business mogul, with all kinds of real-world experience that a “trial lawyer” lacks. Never mind that through his law practice, Vincent Sheheen has been a considerably more successful businessman than Nikki Haley ever dreamed of being.

She really needs to be seen as an ecodevo powerhouse in office, because her record is otherwise so thin on accomplishments, both before and after she became governor.

This is her main accomplishment, ever. So it’s natural that she would make a big deal about it — and that Democrats would go to such lengths to question it. And while political opponents often pose such questions, such challenges are particularly critical in her case, because the numbers loom so large in her legend.

Arrrggghhh! Sheheen ad appropriates one of Haley’s most clueless tropes

Doug Ross brought this to my attention with the words, “You’re not going to like this… Sheheen using Haley-speak to bash Haley.”

Boy, was he right.

As I said just yesterday in a comment on the importance of civics education:

… I’d like our electorate to be sophisticated enough that no one who says “I want to run government like a business” (which shows a lack of understanding of both government and business) would ever get elected. I’d want every voter to understand the basic, profound ways in which government and business are different and SUPPOSED to be different….

The link was to a previous post that referred to how, even back in the days when we used to endorse her for the House, it drove me nuts to hear Nikki Haley repeat that phrase.

So imagine my dismay to see this ad, in which a Sheheen surrogate says, without a trace of irony or suggestion that he is mocking the opposition:

I think government should run like a business and be accountable.

The addition of “and be accountable” is intriguing, and interesting twist. Because one of the chief differences between a business and government is that government is expected to be accountable in ways that a private business most assuredly is not.

So one is tempted to hear that as, “I think government should be run like a business, but still held accountable, like a government.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t mean it that way.

The speaker cites an incident in which the head of a corporation — Target — stepped down when hackers breached credit-card customers’ information.

Well, that’s not a case of someone in business being HELD accountable by anyone other than himself. In government, it’s different. This election is about whether the present governor will be held accountable by the voters. Government has that mechanism, and business does not. Customers of Target do not get to vote the CEO out of office. See the difference?

The fact that voters don’t always vote wayward politicians out of office is one of the messy facts of democracy that makes business owners — who run their own businesses the way they see fit, and see that as the natural way to run anything (when it most decidedly is not the way to run a government in a republic) — think government should run more like a business.

When it shouldn’t.

Touring USC’s new Darla Moore School of Business

Peggy Binette of the USC media office threw a poor blogger a bone and invited me on the official media tour yesterday of the fancy new ultra-modern, artsy, green, hyper-energy-efficient Darla Moore School of Business.

I’d have posted about it Wednesday, but was tied up the rest of the day.

The tour was like old home week. I ran into, let’s see… six people I used to work with at The State, two of whom actually still work there. So it was nice to catch up with them.

The building was really nice, too, although it will look better when the trees and plants come in, and they get some artwork up on the walls. I’m assured the architects have a plan for decorating the oceans of beige, but they’re not putting anything up until all construction is finished.

And it mostly is, or so it seemed. The building is fully in use, with students coming and going and faculty moved in to offices, but it will probably be awhile before it feels lived in.

In the video above, you hear Dean Peter Brews speak, with his South African accent, about the reaction of students to the new facility. He said they were saying it is “sick… which I gather is a positive thing.” For my part, I didn’t know the kids were still saying that.

For the basics, here’s The State‘s story from the tour. The messages for the day were:

  • This is a banner day for the Moore School, putting business education at USC in an enviable position in terms of facilities and capabilities.
  • The beauty, functionality and energy-efficiency of the building.
  • Collaboration. Over and over, we heard how faculty and students from different disciplines who never saw each other in the old, vertical building are already interacting to an unprecedented extent, which is expected to lead to all sorts of good things.

And, yes, the fact that the building is where it is to act as “a gateway for the University of South Carolina leading into the Innovista district.” Beyond that, I’ll let pictures tell the story…

A little ditty to help get you psyched for your next webinar, yo!

And now, from the genre of comedy that gave you “Dilbert” and “Office Space”…

If you’re all about lead generation (and who isn’t, homey?), you need to check this out, yo.

I found this in my inbox today:

Do you know DJ Dave, the dude who did the Whole Foods Parking Lot song? Well this guy from Workaholics and Dave teamed up on this video that I think your readers are going to go bananas over! B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

It’s one half marketing jargon and one half hip hop, one whole very funny video.

Check it out on the YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXRG0bJt7EA&feature=youtu.be

If you like it, it would be really awesome if you posted it or shared it.

As a bonus, I’ll throw in DJ Dave’s previous hit, “Whole Foods Parking Lot:”

Catching up with Chris Verenes, now a bank CEO

Chris Verenes at lunch today.

Chris Verenes at lunch today.

Some of you — the ones involved in state politics or media at the time — may remember Chris Verenes, the young executive director of the SC Democratic Party back in the late 80s.

I had sort of lost touch with Chris after those days, when I was governmental affairs editor at The State. I knew he had gone to work for Westinghouse at Savannah River, which sort of placed him in that area, but I was totally surprised to run into him at an event several months ago, when Midlands Fatherhood Coalition introduced itself to community leaders in Aiken. (The Coalition would formally open its Aiken office in July.)

Chris was his same genial, unassuming self. I had been feeling bad because I hadn’t worn a tie to the event — the ad game has had that casualizing effect on me, so that I don’t wear one most days now — and most men at the event were better-dressed than I.

Chris made me feel better because he was in a golf shirt, giving the impression that he’s doing something really laid-back these days.

But it turns out he’s a bank president — even though he neither dresses nor acts like Milburn Drysdale. He’s president and CEO of Security Federal Bank. His golf shirt had the bank logo on it. That’s the way executives dress every day at Security Federal, a community institution that started in Aiken back in the 1920s, but has grown and expanded into Richland and Lexington counties over the past decade.

In fact, he had to write a memo to himself to wear a coat and tie today, since I had invited him to lunch at the Capital City Club. As you see in the photo above, he remembered.

I enjoyed hearing from him about Security Federal, which he said differentiates itself by offering very customer-oriented services, from late hours and being open on weekends to offering financial advice that’s more about maximizing financial advantage to the customer than to the bank. The bank also has several employees devoted entirely to providing individualized coaching in financial literacy — a service he made a point of offering to the Dads who are helped by Midlands Fatherhood at the grand opening.

That kind of human-scale, community-oriented approach seems to fit Chris Verenes to a T, and I can see how he has thrived in that environment. As he tells it, he found a great bunch of people to work with.

But what I want to share with y’all is this: As we were heading to our cars in the garage after lunch, Chris was remembering his days in politics, and he shared this: He has been blessed by working with some superlative people in leadership positions at Security Federal, people he admires for their intellect, their community spirit and their selflessness.

But, he remembers, he also got to work with people like that in SC politics. He felt privileged to get to know people like John Spratt and Butler Derrick. And he noted that while, for multiple reasons, he found himself supporting Nick Theodore in his successful bid for the 1994 Democratic nomination for governor, he has the greatest respect for Joe Riley, who just barely lost the runoff to Theodore that year (which to me, is one of the saddest election results in my time covering SC politics, a huge missed opportunity for our state).

Y’all will recall that I tried making that point — that politics features a lot of really admirable people, and that most pols, even the more ordinary ones, are people who sincerely want to do good, according to their notions of “good” — on the radio recently. Only to draw heavy scoffing from Will Folks.

Of course, that’s a point I’ve tried to make fairly regularly, in one way or another, here on this blog, only to hearing multilateral scoffing from our more cynical friends.

But there are, and have always been, a lot of good people in politics. People like Chris Verenes, to name one — a guy many of you may not be familiar with, but who was involved in politics for the right reasons, trying to make a positive difference. And still strives to do the same today.

George W. Bush and the Trivago Guy: Separated at birth?

trivago guy

Can’t you see it? It’s right there — the patented “W” smirk…

Troy Patterson says it well in Slate:

Trivago, the Düsseldorf-based travel search engine, has a most peculiar on-air pitchman—a sallow avatar of middle-aged masculinity, a found object and a cult item, an accidental enigma.

Just look at this guy. The voice is deep with command, round with Shatnerian ham gravity, rich with a Peter Graves graininess. The eyes are beseeching but confidently steady. The clothes have been woken up in. The man is seedily creased, grayly stubbled, distractingly beltless. He may be looking for a hotel after coming home at 3 a.m. to find that his wife changed the locks. These unusual ads have been attracting baffled notice for a while, but now is the season for big travel-industry ad buys, and the Trivago pitchman is, unlike the blades of his rotary shaver, in heavy rotation.

Some viewers find his ubiquity annoying, while others fail to succumb to annoyance because they are entranced by his skeevy vibe. Who is he? Why should I trust his judgment? What is his profession? Record producer? Is his travel-planning wisdom born of bitter experience? Has he got any drugs? How did this oddity come to pass?…

Shatner, yes. Peter Graves, maybe — although neither of them ever displayed this level of seediness. He looks like a bank executive who’s been on a three-day bender.President Bush attends the ceremony to commemorate foreign policy achievements

What were the ad wizards at Trivago thinking when they picked this guy to be their official face?

But there was something that Troy Patterson didn’t pick up on, something that nagged at me through most of this ad. I sensed a presence, once I had not felt since…

Aha! Right at the end, I saw it. This guy stole that smirky half-smile from George W. Bush. This actor could not have tested well among Democrats, whose teeth are always set on edge by that smile…

Nikki Haley’s progression from backbench bomb-thrower to Establishment figure

Kristin Sosanie over at the state Democratic Party resurrects this from the archives today:

Well, this could be awkward. Today Nikki Haley is holding campaign events with the SC Chamber of Commerce, but take a look at how she slammed them less than four years ago:

‘The state Chamber is a big fan of bailouts and corporate welfare, so it’s no surprise that they would prefer a liberal like Vincent Sheheen over a conservative like Nikki Haley,’ Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said earlier this week, according to the AP.”

Question of the day: Do Nikki Haley and her staff still think the state Chamber is “a big fan of bailouts and corporate welfare.”?

Well, we know that she doesn’t. Or at least, wouldn’t say so now. And that has implications that extend far beyond her relationship with business leadership, and point to why the incumbent is a more formidable opponent for Vincent Sheheen than when she barely squeaked by him four years ago.

That petulant statement from Rob Godfrey was standard operating procedure for the Haley team back then. She was all about being the darling of the Tea Party, the Southern answer to Sarah Palin, “going rogue” by slapping at the Establishment as much as at perceived “liberals.”

She’s learned better since then. The successes of Bobby Hitt’s Commerce Department (for which she can legitimately claim credit, since she chose Bobby) has more than persuaded her that embracing the economic development community is her best path to continued electoral success.

Along with that shift from the fringes to the establishment has come a significant shift in communication style.

I touched on this in a post a couple of days ago, one which y’all seem to have utterly ignored (whine, mutter, moan). That mature, professional, focused op-ed piece was a real departure from the style of the Nikki Haley who threw red meat to the Tea Partiers. It stands 180 degrees from that Godfrey quote four years ago, which accurately reflected the attitudes of the Haley camp at the time.

I urge you to go look at it again. Yes, I know I’m reading a lot into style and tone, but that’s what I do. And I’m telling you, this new mode of expression reflects a strategic shift for Nikki Haley. And this is significant…