Recently, I attended the 8th annual reunion of folks who worked at the Nashville (Tenn.) Banner, a storied (no pun meant) afternoon daily that folded in 1998. I left the Banner in 1987 after five years as a reporter and editorﾑI changed careers by going into public relations. As it happened, Rex Hammock hired me at that other company. Aug. 31, was the 19th anniversary of my first day working with Rex (I’m going on 13 years here, so do the math). We worked together for about four years before he started Hammock Publishing, and here are some recollections of that era:
The office was a remodeled car wash on 8th Avenue South. Itﾕs still there. When they opened it, they threw a party with invitations printed on hand-size highly compressed sponges, and everyone who came got a red plastic bucket and a towel. I still have my bucket.
Guys wore suits or coats and ties, except for the designers. Women wore dresses or suits and whatever kinds of shoes they wear with that kind of an outfit.
Our computers were the tiny Apple Classicsﾑif you visit Hammock Publishing today, you will find a couple still going, displaying the vintage black and white aquarium screensaver. In 1987, there was no email, no Internet as we know it today, and no CompuServe, Prodigy or AOL available to us. When I left that company in late 1993, two years after Hammock Publishing started, the company had a CompuServe account, and you had to get permission to use it.
I had left the Nashville Banner newspaper, where we worked on computer terminals that were tied into a mainframe. During the couple of weeks I took off before starting in PR, Rex let me have one of the Apples to play with. It came in a bag that was about the size of a cooler ﾐ you had to carry a keyboard, too, of course. That was all the training I ever had, or needed.
We did have a primitive internal network eventually that let us move files around. There was a rudimentary interoffice email or messaging system, that didnﾕt always work.
Rex, however, was already looking into the Internet. So his interest goes way back, and when he started Hammock Publishing, everyone had access and was encouraged to use it. What we take for granted today in finding images and writers and so on, was heady stuff in those days.
Cell phones were huge and hugely expensive. Our VP drove off one day with the office cell phone ﾐ yes, that is right, the office cell phone ﾐ on top of his car. It was never heard from again.
Of course, no PDAs or Treos or anything like that. Lots of Franklin Covey DayRunners. Those of you who know him, just pause for a moment and imagine, if you can, an unwired Rexﾉ
Our PR clients were mostly also clients of our advertising agency parent company. We did a lot of press release and event stuff, along with custom publishing. Eventually it was about half and half. Advertising, public relations and custom publishing do not all play by the same rules and expectations, which created some tension.
I started out as an account executive. After a while, the editorial director left, and I gratefully accepted the offer to fill that post. I still had to wear coat and tie. I still have some of the ties and two pair of Johnston-Murphy wingtips I bought around 1990 for the job.
Rex and I had met before, when he was the press guy for a former Nashville Congressman. After he started his PR career, I ran into him doing consumer intercepts on the street taste tests for New Coke. When we worked together at the PR firm, we had some unusual uh, opportunities. He and I once visited the Savannah River Nuclear Plant in S.C. (ﾒPrince of Tidesﾓ territory) for a DuPont spinoff company that made a herbicide-laced industrial fabric it claimed could keep roots from invading radioactive waste burial sites for many years. A good thing, unless you want your geraniums to be as tall and mean as Godzilla.
The same fabric was also marketed to the cemetery industry as a protective covering for burial vaults and coffins, thus earning it our internal nickname, ﾒCasket Gasket.ﾓ I sent a story about it to a cemetery mangement trade magazine, and, when I followed up a couple weeks later to see if they would use it, was told the editor had ﾒpassed.ﾓ So, too, did the idea of capturing that market.
Although we no longer do traditional public relations, a lot of what we do in publishing today goes back to that time, in terms of how we think about stories and design and reader relationships. I can’t begin to count the number of times over 19 years I’ve heard Rex quote Osmo Wiio’s commentaries on communication, on how to approach communication. Ultimately, the quality and integrity of our work has to be strong enough to stand on its own, and we have to serve the readers interests.
The Rex we know today is very much the Rex of 19 years ago, with the wisdom (and scars) of building several businesses on a foundation of creativity, inspiration, fun and treating everyone with respect and decency.
He even kept his office at 50 degrees back then.
Posted on September 21, 2006 in Awards, by Lena Anthony
Last night, Hammock Publishing participated in the 13th Annual Corporate Spelling Bee, a fund raiser for the Nashville Adult Literacy Council. As many of you’ll remember, Team Hammock (represented by Carrie Wakeford, Bill Hudgins and me, Lena Basha) took home the big championship trophy last year after an awe-inspiring performance.
We got just as many oohs and aahs from the audience this year, amazed at our precision and cheetah-like reflexes when prompted to spell words like inveigle, colloquy and lornette lorgnette, but fell a touch short of first place. Yeah, we didn’t realize kookaburra was spelled with two Os either, but that’s OK.
Congratulations to the fine folks (and exceptional spellers, I might add) at Waller, Landsen, Dortch and Davis, the winners of this year’s spelling bee, and thank you to the Nashville Adult Literacy Council for their gracious hospitality (and free gifts!) and the opportunity to participate in such a fun event.
Posted on September 20, 2006 in Clients, by Bill Hudgins
Hammock’s Editorial Director Bill Hudgins and Managing Partner John Lavey recently spent several days embedded with the US Marine Corps at its sprawling base in Quantico, VA. John and Bill attended the 26th Annual Modern Day Marine Expo sponsored by Hammock Publishing client, the Marine Corps League, for whom we produce the bimonthly Semper Fi, The Magazine of the Marine Corps Leagueｪ.
The three-day expo is one of three the League sponsors annually to bring together established and emerging suppliers of military goods, ranging from socks to aircraft, with Marines and military procurement personnel, to see whatﾕs new, what works and what could work. The Expos are also attended by invited military guests from other countries, and by everyday Marines and, often, their families.
With more than 300 exhibitors ranging from giants such as Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and Raytheon down to tiny businesses such as Gunzilla (which makes a gun cleaning kit), itﾕs impossible to give a detailed account of the kinds of things we saw.
But there were some themesﾑﾒdefeatingﾓ roadside bombs from destroying vehicles and killing coalition soldiers was a big one. Devices to detect traces of explosives and gunpowder on suspected insurgents and terrorists were another. Electronics such as sophisticated battlefield optics systems, hardened servers, training software and simulators were another.
At the other end of the spectrum were things like T-shirts designed to help warfighters stay comfortably dry and warm or cool depending on the weather. Some were made with yarns that contained silver fiberﾑand could soon be imprinted with integrated circuitry so troops would literally wear their radios and other electronic gear.
Again and again, vendors told us that they had been working with the Corps to develop a needed item, often going back to the drawing board multiple times to get it right. And they heard plenty from the troops who inspected their wares, and who have an immediate and intensely personal reason to want them to work right first time, every time.
But beyond the geewhiz technology and the deadly serious purpose of the products on display, we witnessed first-hand the incredible bond that being a Marine forges among those who have worn the uniform. Two Marines who meet as strangers instantly acknowledge each other as brotherﾑor, increasingly, as sister. The bond transcends age, race, religion, political affiliation. This is a large part of the reason that the Marine Corps League existsﾑto help reunite members of this unique family, and put their talents and their loyalty to continued service to their nation and each other.
Everyone at Hammock Publishing knows what today is. Listed on the company calendar, among the various meetings and we all have today, is this: International Talk Like a Pirate Day. (Yeah, we have a huge Jack Sparrow fan in the office.)
In celebration, we’re taking a few minutes to bring out the swashbucklers in us. I’m not feeling well today, but it hasn’t stopped me from exclaiming the occasional “Aargh!”
Not the least bit surprising, Bill Hudgins, one of Hammock’s editorial directors, is really getting into it. I sent him an e-mail earlier and got this in response: “Arrr, poppet, then ye are doomed!” Thanks, Bill. Jamie Roberts, the aforementioned Jack Sparrow fan and another one of our editorial directors, says she’s too busy for a proper celebration, but did manage to find the time to figure out what her pirate name would be. “It’s Red Jenny Rackhamﾉpassion is a big part of my life,” she says.
As for Production Director Barbara Mathieson, well, she asked if she could sail away with Johnny Depp. I told her she’d have to ask Johnny Depp. And her husband, probably.
Finally, Editorial Director Laura Creekmore, who’s never one to not say something, had this to say: “I dislike made up holidays. I’m also not fond of non-Irish people who celebrate St. Patrick’s day or non-Mexican people who celebrate Cinco de Mayo, particularly since no one seems to know the true meaning of the day and seems to think it’s Mexican Independence Day, which it’s not. I think that’s Sept. 16th, right?”
A simple ‘Aargh!’ would have done just fine, Laura.
So there you have it. From our office (except Laura Creekmore, apparently) to yours, have a happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day!