A Red Carpet All-Star

A Red Carpet All-Star Samantha Strickland brings fame to Florida Commerce By Daniel Mutter


The TV reality show craze has given viewers the opportunity to see who is fastest at losing weight or racing around the world, how Jon and Kate (now just Kate) can handle eight, and who has the best survival skills. Earlier this year, Samantha Strickland tapped into that fascination to help get Tallahassee families in better financial shape.

Strickland, the director of marketing at Florida Commerce Credit Union, launched an entirely new concept in credit-union marketing with a locally produced reality show featuring seven families trying to get a better grip on their finances.

"I’ve always wanted to produce a reality show, and years and years ago I proposed this idea, but I was a little ahead of my time," she says. "But the timing this year was perfect, because with the economy crash, people were definitely looking at their financial situation with a new eye."

The "We Live Fit Challenge" features families who attempt to live more financially fit through coaching and services offered by Florida Commerce.

In addition to the television and Web episodes, welivefitchallenge.com offers an entire interactive Web portal where fans can read blogs from the families and post their opinions.

"The response has been tremendous, even nationally," says Strickland, explaining that the program has received national recognition on the front page of the Credit Union Times, the industry’s national newsletter. "Although the concept of the family challenge had been done before, it has never been done to the level that we have, with the reality show aspect and the media coverage."

Strickland, 33, grew up in Chipola, about an hour and a half west of Tallahassee. After earning her Associate degree at Chipola Community College, she moved to Tallahassee to attend Florida State University. She received a bachelor’s degree in business communications and finished with a master’s degree in the newly created Interactive Communications Program.

"It was their first foray into online strategies and development," Strickland says. "It was more about being a sort of visionary so that the strategies that we learned really applied to management across the board."

Before obtaining her master’s degree in 1999, Strickland became a communications coordinator at Florida Commerce Credit Union.

"Getting into marketing really happened through my graphic design, and so that’s what got me into the position first at Florida Commerce, in communications, doing layouts and designs of ads and newsletters," she says. After only a year on the job, the previous director of marketing left and Strickland was promoted to the position.

"It was really kind of a unique path that I couldn’t expect everyone to take, but it was good timing, and I think a lot of things in life are about good timing and getting to know people who are supportive, who are going to give you that right environment where you can learn and develop and grow," she says.

The We Live Fit Challenge was not Strickland’s first walk down the red carpet. When the credit union’s Bradfordville Branch was planning its opening day, Strickland brought Hollywood to Tallahassee.

"The new branch had these really cool, large cinema screens; it’s a very high-tech branch," she says. "For the grand opening, we wanted to do something really cool, and so we did it as a film festival. (FSU) gave us their top 10 films of the last 10 years, and we had them playing on the cinema screens with the big red-carpet rollout and everything."

The film festival allowed Strickland to form a strong friendship with the new dean of FSU’s film school, Frank Patterson. Florida Commerce soon began sponsoring a scholarship for the graduating class of the school’s graduate and undergraduate programs. Every year, the top filmmaker from each program receives $5,000.

Strickland went on to become a part of the film school’s community board and ultimately developed the Producers Guild, the school’s main fundraising arm.

"Each year we produce events like an Oscar party, and the gala happens as a big production with the graduating MFA class," she says. "They bring back a lot of the famous alumni from Hollywood; it’s a really cool event."

In addition to her relationship with the film school, Strickland has been active in getting the Tallahassee Film Festival up and running. In fact, Florida Commerce has been the title sponsor of the festival for the past two years.

"We’ve made a large financial contribution to help underwrite the event and get it off the ground," she says.

Strickland, meanwhile, looks forward to the success of the We Live Fit Challenge 2.0, which started in October, as well as the birth of her first baby in January.

"My husband and I were married for 13 years before we took the plunge. So this is a pretty big step in our lives," she says. N


What is your most memorable Hollywood moment? I went to Vegas and got to spend my 30th birthday with Jon Bon Jovi. I got a kiss from him, he wished me a happy 30th birthday, and I drank his champagne and ate his strawberries all night long.


Have you always liked films?

My sister lived in L.A. for eight years as a screenwriter, and that was when I really fell in love with it too.


Are you involved in other organizations? I am a teacher with Junior Achievement, so I go into elementary schools and teach kids about business and finance. They are so amazing and just so enthusiastic, and I love that creativity.


What do you like most about FSU’s film school? I know people in the industry who have said that a lot of the FSU student films are better than the short films they show at Sundance. They just have such an amazing resource pool at Florida State, in terms of the educators they’ve brought in from the industry. Our students get a world-class education.

Do you have anything in your bag of tricks for the future of Florida Commerce? Sneak peak: We are actually going to launch a small-business challenge next year. We will work in conjunction with the universities to build student teams, and we’re going to work on projects with the people who own local businesses. It’ll be a sort of "Apprentice" meets "Survivor."


What is your most effective tool to bring customers to Florida Commerce? We certainly use mass media, but really the best technique is good old-fashioned word of mouth and we believe our mission has resonated really well. That’s the reason we are going to see a customer increase this year. We are really able to give that personal assistance that people are looking for.


Did Florida Commerce feel any fall out from the banking crisis? We decided to stay in the market … to keep our name out there because we really want to grow our institution and we see this as a time to really step out in the spotlight and get our message across that we’re a financial partner.