Terre Gorham 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Cynthia Ham archer>malmo Principal/Chief Public relations Officer My father, who was in the Air Force Reserves, was relocated here in 1960 from Columbia, SC, where I was born. I was about to enter the first grade, and like many American families, we moved to the suburbs. I was always a little bored. My mother was an educator. She went back to school to get her master’s degree when I was in sixth grade. Then she got her Ph.D. in English about the time I graduated high school. My father had high aspirations for me. I had the role model of Mother working, too, when I was a teenager, so I was very much drawn to work. In high school, I was more interested in working than I was in joining any clubs or school activities. To me, money meant independence. During my sophomore year at Memphis State, I took an advertising 101 class in the journalism department because I had started dating Jerry Ehrlich, who was an account executive for John Malmo Advertising. It was there that I met John Malmo there when he gave a presentation. Around the same time, an advertising professor asked if I would like to train for the business manager position at the school’s newspaper. So all of this came together just in time for declaring my major, and I chose journalism with an emphasis in advertising and public relations. Jerry and I married in my junior year. My parents were not pleased that I was marrying so young, but I was in love, and marriage also represented independence to me. After graduating in 1976, Libertyland was about to open for the first time, and I became its first director of sales and guest services. Opryland USA recruited me to Nashville in 1977, as a sales rep. Jerry was good enough to move with me. By 1979, I was the park’s advertising and promotions manager. At a 1980 industry conference in Memphis, I was working the Opryland booth, and the city’s Mud Island booth was across from us. The city was hiring managers to facilitate the park’s creation and opening. John Malmo, who was the agency of record for the project, was helping put the booth together. He said, “You would be perfect as the first marketing director at Mud Island. I’m going to put your name in the hat.” Memphis, at that time, was at an all-time low. Downtown was dead and deserted; Beale Street was boarded up; and The Peabody hotel had closed. But I just couldn’t resist marketing such an unusual attraction. Jerry wasn’t pleased. He wasn’t ready to uproot again to move back to Memphis. So I suggested that we commute between Nashville and Memphis, and we did. And that was the beginning of the end of our marriage. Mother was right: I was too young and immature to be married. I started at Mud Island in the fall of 1980. When the park opened on July 3, 1982, I was divorced and, returning to my maiden name, became “Cynthia Ham.” By 1984, I had become Mud Island’s general manager. But although political forces were expecting the park to be operationally self-sustaining, the park was never designed to generate enough revenue to break even. Politics had docked at Mud Island, and I realized it was time to move on. John Elkington had just opened Beale Street, and he asked me to be its first marketing director. The historic district was only about 15 percent leased, and marketing it was a challenge. We developed a lot of events to draw crowds. By 1985, at 32, I had grown restless and weary of working. What else was out there? Was the grass greener elsewhere? One day, my girlfriend Charlotte — who was Tennessee’s assistant commissioner of tourism — and I were at a conference, sitting by a pool. I looked at her and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” She looked at me and said, “Me, either.” We saved our money for about a year, and in 1986, quit our jobs and hit the road, traveling 22 states and more than 10,000 miles, from Florida to California, Canada to Mexico. We were Thelma and Louise without the guns! The highlight was when we went camping with real — and polite — Colorado cowboys. I crossed the threshold of adulthood during this trip because I came to realize that I could find contentment in my own backyard. In 1987, back in Memphis, I sent word among my friends that I could use some help with my move into a Midtown apartment. Jeff Sanford was the only one who showed up! He was so funny, and we laughed all day long — and the next, and the next. We married in 1992. I consulted and freelanced for a while. Jeff was on the Memphis in May board, and 10 weeks before the 1987 festival celebrating China, the executive director resigned. Jeff thought I’d be a good fit, submitted my resume, and then recused himself from the decision process. They hired me as interim director, and I stayed 10 years, with the festival growing every year. In 1996, after the festival’s successful 20th anniversary, I needed to try something new. Ward Archer called and asked me to head up public relations for his advertising and PR firm, archer>malmo. Fourteen years later, I am one of four principals who own the 105-person marketing communications agency that is the largest in the region. I am so very proud of our work, our people, and our culture. We’re very serious, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously! } The biggest challenge facing marketing communications agencies today … evolving with the technological revolution that constantly changes how products can be marketed. } Of all the career challenges I’ve taken on, the most daunting was … memphis in may. It was so multi-faceted: local, state, national, and international government relations; interacting with foreign embassies and different cultures; raising money; and dealing with the risk of weather. And we didn’t have emails — or even fax machines! } Growing up, my parents stressed … independence, self-reliance, and understanding that i should always be able to take care of myself. } I believed in Mud Island despite Downtown’s decay because … i think i understood the vision, the need, and the potential for the memphis riverfront. Memphians had turned their backs on downtown since the ‘60s. So to be a part of something that was so unique to memphis, so much a part of how memphis should be defined — the river — really captivated me. } My first real leadership role … was in my junior year as the business manager for my college’s newspaper. I liked being in charge! I liked being accountable and responsible for making sure that the newspaper got out twice a week. And i loved getting paid to do it! } My first event as Beale Street’s marketer … new Year’s eve, 1984, when John malmo and i came up with the idea to “Bury Your Blues on Beale.” we had an open casket that represented the outgoing year. We instructed people to bring whatever they wanted to put behind them, and put it in the coffin. We had a eulogy and funeral parade, and it was unbelievably successful. } As a teenager, I thought I wanted to be … a flight attendant. My father asked me, “why don’t you be the first female commercial pilot?” } One of the achievements I’m especially proud of … memphis 101. I designed it as a new business tool for archer>malmo to reach out to executive newcomers. It’s a crash course in why memphis is the way it is, but we also have a comprehensive, leave-behind textbook. The Leadership Academy integrated it into their curriculum. I think the course has helped engage a lot of people in taking an interest in the city. } During Mud Island’s grand opening, I thought … it was all just dazzling to me. It was so exciting to be a part of something that was such an important amenity for memphis. } I’m not very good at … doing the same thing again and again. } The Beale Street Music Festival almost ceased to exist in 1987 because … in its earlier years, it was not designed in a manner that was self-sustaining. The memphis in may board in 1987 was going to cancel the event, but i suggested the same model that i used when marketing Beale street: i’d get a sponsorship from d. canale; sell $5 wristbands to enjoy the bands in the clubs; and use the proceeds to pay back d. canale. I did that in ‘87, ‘88, and ‘89, enhancing the event each year. Ultimately, in 1990, with help from pitt hyde and mid-south concerts — a concert promoter who shared the risk — we brought it to tom Lee park with multiple stages. The model has been wildly successful since. That’s the kind of economic and cultural impact the festival is intended to have. } In the face of adversity I … summon my inner strength through sheer will. } My yearlong “Thelma and Louise” sabbatical taught me … that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side, that the wanderlust i had was not very satisfying, and that deep down, i was a pretty traditional person who needed roots. } Personally, I thought the name “Mud Island” was … fantastic. It was authentic, differentiating from any other place, and it was uniquely memphis. It was real. } The most challenging Memphis in May production … was when we selected the soviet Union for the honored country in 1993. When the country collapsed, we honored the russian Federation instead. I went to russia twice. The first time, Leningrad was Leningrad. The next year, it was st. petersburg. The government people i worked with had no clue if they were going to have a job the next day. It was such a momentous time! } Traveling to New York City is a several-times-a-year must-do because … we have friends there, and the urban environment is very stimulating to me. I love the walk-ability and accessibility — anything you want, you can get in new York. Once, i had keys made there because it was easier to walk down the street to do it there than it was to get in my car here and drive out east. } My biggest pet peeve … poor use of the language. } People might be surprised to learn … that i was in the r.o.t.c. saberettes, the marching drill team, in high school. I was saber Queen in 1972 and rode in the Veterans’ day parade downtown with my little crown, roses, and red crushed-velvet dress! } As chairman of Central Station’s grand reopening … the biggest challenge was making sure that we really did the event right while making sure we didn’t do it for naught in terms of fundraising. } The number of Opryland shows I watched in the two years I worked there … maybe 10 per week. I can still sing some of those songs! And i enjoyed it every time. } When I decided to quit a successful career in 1986 and hit the road … i asked myself, “what is the worst thing that can happen to me? Starve to death? No. Go to jail? No.” i thought, “i have to take this chance. It’s now or never.” } My biggest fear … Failing. Fear of failure is with me every day throughout my career, but it also drives me. } The Beale Street Music Festival was worth fighting for because … memphis music is such a part of our heritage. Memphis in may had already claimed the food category when the festival’s earlier leaders created the barbecue contest to celebrate our indigenous food. We also had a wonderful event — the sunset symphony — that celebrated culture and the arts and drew attention to the river. I felt that we just couldn’t lose the opportunity to recognize and celebrate our music heritage. } Wine or beer … definitely wine. White. } I wish my parents had … guided me a little bit more vocationally. But they were intent upon my forming my own opinions, coming to my own conclusions, and being independent. } My love of international travel came from … my 10 years at memphis in may. } The greatest satisfaction from my work today comes from … the strength of the archer>malmo partnership, the phenomenal people who represent the agency, and the entrepreneurial opportunities we are exploring by investing our creative capital in digitally driven business. } When I need to clear my mind, I … sit on my porch and watch the river. } My final 2 cents … while memphis and i did a lot of growing and evolving together, i credit memphis with helping me find me. And i realize that memphis and i are really a lot alike: imperfect and restless but fiercely independent. Sam phillips, who discovered elvis, said it best: “if you’re not doing something different, you’re not doing anything.” And that is my mantra — so much so that it is printed on my business card.
Published by Downtowner Magazine. View All Articles.
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