HeadWay Virgin Islands

Welcome to HEADWAY, the all-new official publication of 2 Heads Communications.

HEADS UP!, as you know, is dead. For one thing, we both developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome–not from the copious copy we offered, but from repeatedly poking corporate America in the ribs and milking old jokes. Furthermore, we grew weary of cynicism and satire. Heck, even fighting over that silly Employee of the Month trophy began to take its toll!

The fact is, since our move to the islands, we’ve changed: our attitude, our outlook, our office attire. And so, necessarily, has our newsletter. In retrospect–with the clarity and perspective that only a winter in the tropics can provide–we realize that the high-pressure, cutthroat, dog-eat-dog agency world may have turned us into bitter, vindictive creatures. We have since discovered that without the daily pressure, wailing sirens, and obscene phone calls, we have become more earnest, optimistic, and productive. In short, we are a kinder, gentler company.

That said, we are pleased to present to you the first issue of HEADWAY, which we believe to be the verbal and visual embodiment of our where our heads are at these days. But before you dive in, allow us to mention a few facts and features.

We have, in our isolation, been unable to utilize the services of certain graphic arts professionals in the production of this periodical–most notably designers and printers. We trust that the wit and sophistication of the contents will compensate for the rawness of its form. We never claimed to be designers. Now you see why.

We plan (God and technology willing) to publish another issue or two of HEADWAY in the year ahead–from wherever we can pull it off. (See elsewhere for our itinerary for the rest of the year.) However, as our sage writing teacher Carol Bly once said, “There are no guarantees.”

Any resemblance to HEADS UP! or any other newsletter is strictly coincidental.

So there you have it. As always, your comments and insights are welcome.

Lost in Time

Two months into our stay here, we feel at home, and at work. Oh sure, there are too many bug bites, phone problems, and drunk tourists. But home is never perfect, and neither is doing business.

Working long-distance has occasionally proven to be a challenge–we’d be practicing dizzying spin control to say otherwise–but the squalls are calming now. We’ve learned many things about long-distance business and technology, only to conclude that the information highway is passable, but still under construction. Suffice it to say that one learns to hitchhike, try side roads, or whatever it takes to get a job done. The future looks radiant, though; soon we’ll all be travelling together through a macrocosm many call cyberspace.

About 180 degrees from there, the microcosm of St. John could provide an MBA student a fascinating study of an isolated economic environment. Of our relationship to the U.S. despite a severe lack of media and information (and interest). Of our ways of getting by without an office supply store, supermarket, or movie theater. Of the way transactions are made (in person–after waiting patiently and chanting “Good afternoon” to those who line up after you). Of the pace with which things move (or don’t): Mail carriers here–and everyone else–need neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night to stay them from their appointed rounds. “Doitomorrow” is reduced to one word, while “tomorrow” can be expanded by days or weeks. Indeed, the only thing that seems to happen on time is the too-early ringing of the Moravian Church bells on Sunday morning, and the elementary school’s steel drum lessons bright and early on weekdays. Both, of course, lie directly across acoustically perfect Coral Bay.

There are no chain stores here, really. So the promotional gimmickry is decidedly downscale, but rarely uncreative. (See Marketing, Island Style) The big news recently, in fact, was that the only franchise on the island–Wendy’s–bit the big burger, despite their desirable on-the-beach, by-the-ferry-dock location. (They have been replaced by a foo-foo restaurant named Saychelles who should have hired us for naming help.)

It could be that Wendy’s St. John numbers weren’t up to mainland standards, or perhaps that people who just walk off the ferry don’t yet know that it costs twice as much to subsist here. Could be that Wendy’s couldn’t count on the deliveries critical to a fast food business. Indeed, despite that cement blocks and bottled beer arrive by the boatload, it seems that anything contingent on regular and timely shipping won’t make it. Those hamburger buns probably got hung up in the storm out east. Or stuck on St. Thomas during one of that island’s private holidays. You hear it all here. But no doubt Wendy’s sales trainers wouldn’t advocate asking, “You don’t want that on a bun, do you?”

Elsewhere on the commercial front, the really big news is the arrival of K-Mart on St. Thomas. Definitely K-Mart. They’re talking about it from here to St. Kitts. Finally, somewhere to buy wooden spoons, fishing lures, and furry toilet seat covers–should you want them. You have to pay a quarter for your cart there, but at least they have them; apparently, many stores don’t, or so one is led to believe by the grocery store radio commercials boasting enough carts for everyone (when the station comes in, that is). On our island, there are no grocery carts, simply because there is no grocery (or other) store large enough to accommodate them. Besides, you’d need a home equity loan if you actually filled the cart–although at that point it may be tax deductible; ask your tax advisor.

Speaking of financial services, there does remain at least one chain in a little building with a big franchise on St. John: Chase Bank. We qualified to give them money, we’re proud to report. Now if we could only get it back. These people give a new definition to the term “Banker’s Hours,” and clarify without question the reason they’re named “Chase.”

So after a while here, you adopt the native survival mantra, “Don’t worry about it.” (Not to be confused with, “Don’t worry, be happy.”) The main reason, of course, is that there is typically nothing you can do. When your power goes out. When your Jeep breaks down and Charlie the mechanic is stateside for two weeks. When you want a Wall Street Journal (for $3.50) which requires a trip across the island –if they have it–if they’re open–if the power’s on–if, if, if. (No use calling; the odds of the answer being right are about 50/50. Or they’ll just suggest you come in.) It’s called Island Time; it’s more visible than Minnesota’s Northern lights in August. And it moves more slowly.

It can drive you crazy, of course, and there are many loonies long landed here to prove it. Characters saltier than the Morton’s girl. While frightful at first, they eventually become models in how to chill (and check) out, and take a hike–however temporary–from reality.

Like the Reef Bay Trail, which winds through the rain forest, past Danish ruins from a bygone era, then past even older petroglyphs. You land on a long beach not accessible by car, where Caribbean blue sparkles infinitely before you like the world’s most precious gem. You stare, take your shoes off, squeeze the sand between your toes, and gaze at eternity. Then you do what the pelican does, what YOU must do: Dive in. When you emerge from the water, it’s all still there; this wasn’t a dream.

Hamburger buns? Jeep repairs? Wall Street Journal? You dive in again and hear the ocean (or is it something deeper?) whispering, “Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it.”

Miss/Don’t Miss

Things We Miss

  • Morning without roosters
  • Bowling
  • Sledding
  • Rabbits
  • Porches & pantries
  • Skylines
  • Curbside recycling
  • Kinko’s
  • Wine cellars
  • Driving over 30 mph
  • Friends & family
  • A good steak
  • Pine trees
  • Tap beer
  • The prairie
  • Dependable phones
  • A sense of belonging
  • First Avenue
  • Productive populace
  • Movies on video
  • Seasons
  • CNBC
  • SuperAmerica
  • Talking about the weather
  • Clearance sales
  • Big 10 sports
  • Customer service reps
  • Snowflakes
  • The morning paper
  • Neighborhoods
  • CD stores
  • Visionaries
  • Fresh cranberries
  • Fireplaces
Things We Don’t Miss

  • Alarm clocks
  • Video games
  • Slipping
  • Squirrels
  • Basements & garages
  • Smog
  • Greenpeace at the door
  • Junk mail
  • Wine bars
  • Rush hour gridlock
  • Fundraisers & functions
  • Overpriced steak houses
  • Plaid flannel shirts
  • Sports bars
  • Eden Prairie
  • Endless phone tag
  • Fear for safety
  • The warehouse district
  • People saying, “I’m so busy!”
  • Movie theaters
  • Winter
  • MTV
  • Daily Powerball drawings
  • Meteorologist Paul Douglas
  • Sales tax
  • Timberwolves & Vikings
  • Telemarketers
  • Dandruff
  • Investigative reporting
  • Graffiti
  • Mall of America
  • Politicians
  • Hard tomatoes
  • Furnaces

Marketing Island Style

When we moved the business here, our intention was not to enter the competitive fray for island clients. And indeed, it quickly became apparent that there is very little demand for our services here. There are no multinational corporations based in St. John. The big bucks resorts (all two of them) use national agencies. And most island business owners long ago gleefully accepted responsibility for their own marketing efforts. (And repairs, and cleaning, and accounting, and on and on.) They tend to favor a low-budget, hands-on, guerilla approach that leaves little room for specialists or professionals. We have, however, amused ourselves by studying the tactics they use to spread the word. To wit:

  • Signs
    Looking for a sign? On St. John, you needn’t go far. Our favorites are crude and hand-painted, and use creative typography (and spelling) to add intrigue. Others win points for their clever positioning, such as this gem, posted at the dead-end turnaround of a scenic road. “The spectacular British Virgin Islands lie just beyond this hill. You can’t drive there, but you can explore them during a day sail on Breath. Call 693-5252.”
  • Ephemera
    Call them posters, handbills, notices, or eyesores, these ubiquitous announcements are stapled onto any and every vertical surface on the island. Want to get your hair braided? Curious about the kite contest? Looking for a pig roast or fish fry? Read all about it on the nearest wall, pole, or palm tree.
  • T-shirts
    On an island where long sleeve shirts are about as common as snowblowers, these walking advertisements are one of the best ways to make a promotional–and a personal–statement. See elsewhere for some of our favorites.
  • Pamphlets
    Nearly every marina, resort, dive shop, restaurant, souvenir stand and boutique has its own version of the low-budget, down-and-dirty #10 brochure–produced in mass quantities to reach the sweaty hands of multitudes of tourists. There are propaganda racks all over the place and people passing them out like communion wafers in the streets.
  • Direct Sales
    We were impressed by the young West Indian entrepreneurs selling Girl Scout cookies on the side of the road in Cruz Bay. A huge pile of the multicolored boxes showed their merchandising savvy; their strategic location by a blind curve near one of just two gas stations on the island was the epitome of a high traffic zone, and the barker who hawked the wares was to be commended for the volume, persistence, and passion of his sales pitch.

Other Bright Ideas

Pusser’s, a popular retail outlet and watering hole, has hooked up with the local ferry company for an unusual–and ingenious–promotional gimmick. On the stub of every ferry ticket (for passage between St. Thomas and St. John) there is a Pusser’s coupon for $1 off a drink in their bar, located just a stone’s throw from the ferry dock. Since thousands of these tickets change hands each day, the rum drinks practically walk out of there.

A few of the local Jeep rental places have copped an edge on the competition by painting their logo, name, and phone number on the canvas cover that protects the spare tire on the back of the vehicle. Others have painted it on the removable canvas roof (marketing for the birds, perhaps?).

One or two management companies representing vacation rental properties decided to splash their name all over the beach chairs their guests schlep to the shore. Meanwhile, other renters (whose houses didn’t provide chairs) sit on their wet, sandy towels and ogle with envy–perhaps noting the agency’s name for their next trip.

Reality Check

Do you envision us lounging on a beach sipping fruit drinks?
Or tethered to our telephone and laptop?
Well, the reality, of course, is somewhere in between.
Here’s the real scoop on what we’ve been up to.

  • listened to reggae, jazz, soca, rock, steel pan and blues at a local music festival
  • penned a few letters and memos for an executive at Carlson Companies
  • wrote the invitation for a major computer company’s party in Germany
  • wrote a marketing brochure for MCC Behavioral Care
  • tooled around Hurricane Hole in the Zodiak
  • helped sign a sponsor for the Guthrie’s special events series
  • hiked out to Ram’s Head at sundown
  • played smashball at Francis Bay
  • finished writing the new menu for Country Kitchen
  • wrote an ad and two direct mail brochures for Conklin
  • took the ferry to Tortola for the weekend
  • completed an announcement mailer for Parallel Productions
  • snorkeled in Leinster Bay and caught (and released) a conch
  • worked on a top-secret project for John Ryan Company
  • ate fresh lobster prepared by our Rasta friend Racon
  • wrote a brochure for Meyers Printing
  • swilled an extremely potent Rum Jumbie at Caneel Bay
  • wrote catalogue copy for a religious publishing house
  • drove on the wrong side of the road for a half-mile or so (and lived to tell about it)
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