The first award of the week

It's been so hectic the last few weeks I've had little time to reflect on an award I won last Friday night–the Ad Club of Buffalo's David I. Levy Award to recognize outstanding achievement and service in the communications industry. It goes to an individual that has amassed a distinguished record of achievement over an extended period of time, which includes contributions to his/her company, the industry and the community.

Back when I was president of this organization's previous incarnation, and helping to run the award show, I used to think this was the award for the establishment suits–the old folks that were influencers and stalwarts in the advertising and publishing industries -- ad agency founders, publishers, media executives. Either I've become one of those, or broke the mold, not sure which.

Most awards, especially in advertising, tend to be self-congratulatory and insdier industry back-slapping. I have dozens of glass, plastic, plexiglass, and plaques for design projects collecting dust. I do have an an advertising club service award that is actually a beautiful sculpture displayed in the living room (it doesn't look like an award!).

No one does what they do for awards (if they did, they'd probably be going for cash awards). But this award has meaning to me–I was nominated by a friend or two and the selection process included friends and acquaintances.

I feel a certain kinship to the award because I worked at Levy, King & White, the agency founded by the award's namesake. I never met Mr. Levy, he died during my second week there. I'm told he had a dry sense of humor, drank loudly (like slurpingly loud), and gave of his time and talents freely with many boards and organizations.

My best man from 24 yeas ago, Gregory P. Meadows, read a shortened version of the following as an intro before handing the award over. He said his challenge was to focus on the garden tourism work I've done, as more people would be familiar with the industry accomplishments. He did the job. Many came up to me afterwards, people I have known for years, that said they had no idea the scale, scope and impact of the garden events I've been involved with.

charlier"To the Ad Club of Buffalo Board and fellow Ad Club of Buffalo members, it is with a great deal of honor and it’s-about-time-enthusiasm that I can say that we’re giving the David I. Levy Award this year to Jim Charlier.  Mr. Fashana has warned me that the new deal around here is brevity, so I will do my best to get to the point. The challenge really is that there isn’t one point. Especially with Jim – or Jimmy as I call him.

You see, Jimmy – and his overwhelming worthiness for this award – is the culmination of twenty eight years of focus, drive, organization, planting the seeds of business relationships, nurturing them, building, connecting – and delivering. Maybe this is my segue? Because Jimmy is starting to sound like some sort of master gardener. Yeah – that works. Those of you who know Jimmy – or have seen his home or his masterfully executed “Art of Gardening” blog – know he is just that – a gardener who displays in vivid color his skill, care, passion and vision. Whatever it is he touches grows, blooms and draws people to its beauty and wonder.

So The David I. Levy Award is not a gardening award, right? Well tonight it is, for the bulk of my case for adding Jim’s name to the list of esteemed recipients, is built around is masterful work on behalf of Garden Walk Buffalo and the National Garden Festival.

The event was held at the Buffalo Museum of Science.
Here are the loves of my life (the two on the right).
I never met the polar bear.
Photo by Robin David Brown.
If I don’t get carried away I might also tell you about Jim’s run as a highly capable art director at EZ Graphics, Ellis Singer and Levy King and White, Eric Mower, Mitchell DeTine, and Eric Mower (again)–all leading to his place at the helm of his own gig– JCharlier Communication Design.

I might also tell you about Jim at the helm of the Buffalo Chapter of The Graphic Artists Guild. Once a month a group would gather in our living room (Jim and I were roomies) to strategize their quest for a heightened level of respect for graphic designers, writers and illustrators.  I was an exhibit designer and didn’t always see the value in what Jim was crusading for. The folks from those living room sessions are leaders in our market today.

I might tell you about Jim’s “run” as three term president of the Art Director's Club of Buffalo – where he co-founded Toolbox, the Mac Users Club; was newsletter designer and editor; organized good events; and ran the Student Portfolio Workshops. He oversaw of The Art Directors Club of Buffalo and the Professional Communicators of Western New York as they combined two award shows and started the streamlining process that eventually would lead to the club we all know and love today. Fueled by Jim’s standards and vision, the club was something to behold. We had regular “name” speakers and events, a magazine dressed in a newsletter’s clothing, membership growth and engagement and a positive reputation The club was well positioned and marketed. Smartly, I should say. There was a grand example of “how-to.”

The  whole fam damily.
Photo by Robin David Brown.

All that said – I want to get back to the gardens–all 29 of them. That was the count 18 years ago when the garden event that would be become the vivid manifestation of one man’s heart, soul and spirit began, to where and what it it today–the single largest garden tour in the country. I am told the latest garden count clocks in at over 380. For you see, while we have all been running around, scrambling to get clients on the local scene to do right by themselves and Western New York, Jim and his associates have been executing a quintessential marketing playbook like they were inventing our craft. 

Awareness. Promotion. Feedback. Metrics. Response. Growth. Improvement.  And then all of this over and over again – better – more potent each time. While I’m tossing dogs on the grill for my kids, Jim is entertaining people one heartbeat away from Martha Stewart and the likes, in his expansive backyard “model” garden oasis. But not for show. Well, actually – yeah – for show. He has a plan. The soirée will lead to enthusiastic coverage in national media. The buzz will lead to new and greater attendance at Garden Walk Buffalo – the ­­how do we know where these people have come from? Because blended into the ­­(a reference to the Harry Potter Garden Jim created for the Wizarding faithful) you will find all sorts of mechanisms for data capture, harvesting intel that will lead to strategic tweaks and maneuvers in the festival strategy. 

Jim isn’t just sitting around hoping people like flowers, he’s deploying his stunning skills as leader, director, evangelist, impresario, shepherd, and gardener, to spread the word and grow a major instrument of tourism and economic development.

Garden writer and TV personality Sally Cunningham says, “It isn't difficult to comment on Jim; my challenge is where to stop. Superlatives are the norm in awards ceremonies, and–as "Ad Men" surely know more than most people–they lose their impact as they are overdone. But in Jim's case, I have to use them. I think he's the best possible person who should receive recognition for his contribution to the quality of life in Western New York, and for re-defining our region's image in national media. 

The polar bear made their night.
Photo by Robin David Brown.
As President of Garden Walk Buffalo for (many) years, he started out with the modest challenge of coordinating hundreds of gardeners and building what became the largest garden walk in the country–a two-day event that shows a green and charming city to 60,000 people! But he didn't stick to a typical local event, he used his design, writing, photography and marketing skills to get this phenomenon out to over fifty national magazines and big city newspapers! They have read about us and seen our garden pictures in San Francisco, NYC, Connecticut and Atlanta–and snow wasn't mentioned once!

But it wasn't enough for Jim to do in his spare time–when the tourism bureau invited Jim and me in to talk about making more of this weekend "garden walk," he stepped up and became my partner–sometimes I say my left arm–in developing the six-week National Garden Festival, which is truly an image-changer and garden tourism phenomenon. (Jim is also accepting an award at the Toronto flower show next week, for promotion in Garden Tourism.)  

Photo by Robin David Brown.
I rather worry because Jim always jokes that if I, as Director of the National Garden Festival, get hit by a bus, he is the one to take on the job–and he'd probably also do that in his "spare time." He has done the graphic design work that shapes the look of the National Garden Festival, and organizes components of it beyond a reasonable voluntary effort.

Jim has a flaw, though: If he were more mercenary, and less generous, Jim would be a wealthy guy (and we probably couldn't stand him). As it is, he gives of his time and talent freely, and probably undercharges for services, even when he's actually working to earn his living. That makes us all lucky, and himself–rich only in intangibles.
Finally I would like to comment on Jim's character. He is the friend anyone would want, and I feel fortunate he's become like a brother to me. He is a dedicated husband and father–he and Leslie a model in my mind for what contemporary marriage can be–and he is a delightful co-worker. Men like him. Women like him. Volunteers, even the difficult ones, tend to follow his lead. In short, he's Buffalo's Renaissance Man, and I don't mean just the gardening renaissance!"

Photo by Robin David Brown.
 And Ed Healy, VP of Marketing for Visit Buffalo Niagara says,  "Thanks for the opportunity to pass along a few thoughts about Jim, someone who I have the highest regard for as a communications professional, graphic artist and community volunteer. 

I first got to know Jim through his work as President of Garden Walk Buffalo. In this capacity, Jim took GWB to an unprecedented level of regional visibility and national acclaim, helping to grow the event from a modest neighborhood promotion to one of our community's signature summer festivals. 

Jim's efforts in soliciting sponsors, pitching the media, creating a website, writing an e-newsletter, laying out the map and program guide, hosting writers and photographers, and overseeing the growth of the GWB brand has been nothing short of spectacular. 

Photo by Robin David Brown.
 We used to joke at the CVB that Jim was single handedly creating his own tourism promotion agency–that's how effective he has been–and hoped that he would let us keep our jobs. (We also seriously wondered where the guy found the time and energy!). And all of this was done as an unpaid volunteer, while he was running his own very successful design firm.

Jim's vision for the growth of Garden Walk and the branding of Buffalo as a great garden destination gained even greater traction in 2010 when he served as one of the founders of the National Garden Festival. Once again, Jim's enthusiasm, energy and commitment to the greater good helped to launch a festival that has served to reinforce a new narrative about Buffalo as a forward thinking, vital and creative place. Jim has been intimately involved with every facet of the festival since its inception. He designed the festival logo and website and established the festival's visual identity, helped to oversee the growth of the festival's programming, and assisted with its promotion to the national media. All while maintaining his commitment to Garden Walk Buffalo, his business and family and seemingly not even breaking a sweat"

The guy's a force of nature and if Buffalo is beginning to bloom, much of the credit should go to Jim.

This is what was written in the show's program:
Lots of agencies. Lots of boards. Lots of events. At one point or another, Jim Charlier has interacted with pretty much everyone in Buffalo associated with advertising, design, and culture.

He was also instrumental in the evolution of The Advertising Club of Buffalo as we know it, guiding the consolidation with ProComm during his three tenures as president of the Art Directors Club of Buffalo.

And, as if that weren’t enough to warrant the Levy right there, he has led the way in turning Buffalo from a snow-related punchline to the nation’s premiere gardening tourism destination.

He has helped transform Garden Walk Buffalo, a small neighborhood garden tour, into the largest garden tour in the U.S., attracting 60,000+ visitors every year.

Thanks to his efforts, Buffalo gardens have ended up in newspapers, books, and magazines like Better Homes & Gardens, Fine Gardening, and Martha Stewart Living. And created annual economic impact of $4.5 million, and doled out $40,000 in beautification grants. And decreased crime–and increased home values on the West Side.

These successes led to the creation of The National Garden Festival, featuring tours, workshops, speakers, and a Landscape Legacy effort for revitalizing public spaces. Next week, he will accept an International Garden Tourism Award in Toronto.

 Jim would like to thank the hundreds of professionals that helped accomplish the above, but mostly his best man Greg, best daughter Margaux and most of all, Leslie.

I'd like to also give a shout out to the other special award winners that night you can find at this link. Alex Osborn Award winner Bill Patterson is one swell guy and a creative dynamo I've worked on a couple projects with in his freelancing past. I worked with (and for) the Odysseus Award winner Becky Farbo back in the mid '80s and she makes dynamos look lazy (sorry Bill). Back when I spent 22 years working on past award shows and 12 years planning student portfolio reviews, I worked with Service Award winner Tina Pastwick. She's a dream partner in event planning and organization. And I only just met Future Star Award winner Lillian Selby, but it would be hard not to be a fan after just meeting her briefly.

And a quick shout out to Aunt Doris and Uncle Ray who drove my mother up from Binghamton, NY to attend the show. You know those occasional relatives you have where you think that they'd still be your friends if they weren't your relatives? That's Aunt Doris and Uncle Ray.

Past winners, of whom I'm privileged to be among, are:
  • 2012: Sue Meaney, SKM Group
  • 2011: Al Klenk, Quinlan & Company
  • 2010: Bob Moody, M&T Bank
  • 2009: Hal Leader, PrintLeader
  • 2008: Ted Johnson, Hadley Exhibits
  • 2007: Jim Hettich, Crowley Webb & Associates
  • 2006: Lawler Quinlan, Quinlan & Company
  • 2005: Stan Lipsey, The Buffalo News
  • 2004: Bob Travers, Travers Collins Partners
  • 2003: Jamie Moses, Artvoice
  • 2002: Mary Lou Littlefield, Canisius College
  • 2001: John DiSchuillo, WKBW
  • 2000: Eric Mower, Eric Mower and Associates
  • 1999: Bill Collins, Travers Collins Partners
  • 1998: Joe Crowley, Crowley Webb & Associates
  • 1997: Dick Day, Schutte & Company
  • 1996: Mike Beato, Beato Enterprises
  • 1995: Sherwin Greenberg
  • 1994: John Webb, Crowley Webb & Associates
  • 1992: Mindy Rich, Bison Baseball, Rich Communications
  • 1991: Jock Mitchell, Mitchell DeTine & Partners


  1. Congrats Jim. So many fine people had such wonderful words to say about you and I agree with all of them. You are a creative talent and a treasure to the City of Buffalo and the region with all your hard work and talent.

    1. Thank you Donna, you're very kind. I may have to use your quote above in my resume, if not in my daily confirmations!

  2. Buffalo is very lucky to have you! It's nice to find out that they know it.

    1. Thank you Becky. A pat on the back and appreciation once in a while is nice -- for anyone who goes the extra mile or two in service to a cause. And everyone should be doing some service, in some form, for their community!

  3. Two Uncle Ray "Thumbs Up" for you!

  4. Jim I concur that Buffalo, New York State and the gardening world are lucky to have you...your talents are amazing and it is wonderful to see you recognized for all your hard work!!


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