Susan Crichton Martineau, a former advertising director of Gambit Weekly whose uncommon calm and personable demeanor helped guide alternative weeklies nationwide to unprecedented financial successes, died Aug. 14 at her home in Portland, Ore., of cancer. She was 44.
"Sue represented the best of Gambit," says Gambit Weekly publisher Margo DuBos, who appointed the former Susan Elizabeth Crichton as sales director in 1987, a post she held until she left New Orleans for Portland in 1997. "In a lifetime, you can only hope to know someone as wonderful as Sue. I was lucky -- we were roommates and co-workers for many years.
"I think the best way to describe Sue is to say that she was your best friend, mother, sister and fairy godmother all rolled into one. I will miss her dearly."
"She was just so friendly and cheerful it seemed like she lived on the edge of delight," recalls Richard Karpel, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN), a national trade association of which Gambit Weekly is a member.
Nationally, Crichton played a key role in persuading alternative weekly newspaper publishers, a traditionally independent group, to join forces and attract millions of dollars in national advertising to help keep their papers financially sound.
In 1993, while still directing Gambit's sales staff, Crichton helped launch the forerunner of the Alternative Weekly Network (AWN), a regional sales network that attracts national advertising to AAN newspapers. Her efforts paid off. From 1993 to 1996, under the leadership of Crichton and Jeff von Kaenel, publisher of the Sacramento News & Review, AWN grew from 15 papers to 84 publication members and from $260,000 to $2.3 million a year in sales, according to Mark Hanzlik, executive director of AWN.
By 1997, Crichton's last year at both Gambit Weekly and AWN, gross sales revenues for AWN members more than quadrupled to $13.2 million a year. "Putting it together was complicated because getting alternative newspaper publishers to work together is like herding cats," von Kaenel says. "And Sue was one of the few people I met who could herd cats. Very few publishers could get along with each other but everybody could get along with Sue."
The advertising innovation caught the attention of the mainstream press. As volunteer chair, Crichton was thrust into the industry spotlight.
"This network was formed to make it easy for advertisers with multi-market products to place multi-market buys in newsweeklies across the country," Crichton told the trade magazine Editor & Publisher in a 1995 interview. With one phone call, she explained, advertisers could reach up to 13.5 million AAN readers. By 1999, the alternative advertising network captured $25.6 million in gross sales revenues for 96 member papers, before leveling off to $10.4 million last year.
"Susan was always there for all of us in the early days of our network, holding it together," Hanzlik says.
Crichton, a graduate of the University of Tennessee, joined Gambit in 1984. She quickly established herself as a top-performing sales representative and was appointed advertising sales director in 1987. A 1991 company profile noted how Crichton increased sales and "kept personnel changes and turnovers below the industry average by encouraging company loyalty and by providing frequent in-service training programs."
She also baked cookies for her staff. Her former colleagues recall how she sent each sales representative personal cards for Valentine's Day, Christmas and Easter. She also hosted breakfast at her Uptown apartment prior to the staff's participation in the annual NO-AIDS fundraiser walk.
"She provided a family atmosphere like I have never seen in a company," says Kathleen Turpel, a former Gambit Weekly employee who spent much of her 20 years at the newspaper working with Crichton before succeeding her as ad director. Turpel recalls that, before launching the first "Best of New Orleans" issue, Crichton and Margo DuBos took the entire sales staff out to play tourists for a day that included a French Quarter horse and carriage ride.
Unfettered by the hectic pace of the newspaper business, Crichton was the three-time consecutive winner of Gambit's "calm in the eye of the storm award" at an annual company dinner. "I never -- ever -- saw her get angry although she had many occasions to be angry," Turpel says, with a laugh.
"Her way was just to be quiet and still and to listen," says Gisele Cosma, a senior account executive. "You never got the impression she was waiting for her turn to talk."
"She always seemed more concerned about how you felt and how you were doing, rather than the job," says photographer David Richmond. "There was always a look in her eyes, a tone in her voice, that made you feel respected."
Gambit Weekly classifieds manager Eric Coleman recalls how Crichton once gave him important advice about management. "She said, 'Eric, you don't have to have all the answers to a problem immediately. Be fair to yourself. Give yourself time to think about it.' That opened my eyes to management."
Mary Lou Noonan, a classified sales representative, recalls Crichton as a patient, attentive supervisor who collected artistic renderings of pears. "I could always go to Sue, even when she wasn't my manager anymore. She would always listen. She would never turn you away."
By all accounts, Crichton's personal goal was to have a husband and a family. One day in 1993, after the paper had closed, Crichton was seen standing alone in the center of a darkened composing room, contentedly rocking a co-worker's baby in her arms.
For years, she kept an empty picture frame on her desk, though she had a number of suitors. At a 1995 newspaper convention in Nashville, she met Russell Martineau, the advertising director of Willamette Week, an alternative weekly in Portland, Ore. "After she met Russ, his picture went in the frame," Turpel says.
Crichton left Gambit Weekly in December 1997 and joined Martineau in Portland. They married four years ago. Their son, Cooper, is now 16 months old.
On May 1, 2002, after several years as an independent sales consultant, Crichton took a job as the associate publisher and advertising director of the monthly magazine Oregon Business. She was diagnosed with cancer one year later. One month after her diagnosis, near the end of May, she sent her two sales representatives bouquets of flowers congratulating them for making their goals for the magazine's July issue.
"It was so sweet when Russ would come in her office with Cooper," says Noelle Villere McEwen, an account executive for Oregon Business. "And she would have plenty on her plate, but she would always stop for Cooper and carry him around the office."
Gambit Communications Inc. chairman and former Gambit editor Clancy DuBos remembers Crichton as quintessentially professional, yet warm and even nurturing on a personal level. "At many papers, there's a tension between advertising and editorial departments," DuBos says. "It was never that way with Sue. She met her goals consistently, but never by sacrificing her own or the paper's integrity. She cherished the concept of editorial independence as much as anyone in the business, and she lived her life by that same moral and professional code. She was more than a great co-worker; she was a great friend and role model. It's fitting that this issue -- Gambit's annual Best of New Orleans issue -- is dedicated to Sue's memory."