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Intern Today, CEO Tomorrow

Filed under: Community, News About ASI

One of the biggest concerns distributors have over hiring summer interns is the time and effort it takes to train newcomers about our industry. I get that. To help, we made training a key component of a bold new ASI intern program.

ASI devised a series of training webinars that offer interns hired by industry companies a broad overview of products and their ROI, biggest markets, industry players and more. It’s like taking Promo 101.

I’m such an unabashed cheerleader for the promo industry that I want to keep it flourishing forever, but it’s clear we’re in dire need of more millennials and greater diversity. Interns can provide new energy, ideas, enthusiasm and insights into the new millennial generation – our future buyers as well as future employees.

According to Forbes, there are 80 million millennials in America alone, and they represent about a fourth of the entire population and $200 billion in annual buying power. They are the trendsetters. Take a moment to review your own staff – how many millennials work with you? How many people of color?

As the age and demographics of buyers change, as well as the audiences they’re trying to reach, we need an industry that reflects those demographics so we can better understand preferences, what works and what doesn’t work.

As it stands now, though, the advertising specialty industry is largely invisible to millennials. In school, they learn about buying and using TV, radio and Internet advertising, direct mail and everything else, but marketing programs rarely mention the power of promotional products and their incredible ROI.

That’s why hiring an intern makes good business sense. Even if they don’t enter the industry full-time, they’ll learn why they should include promotional products in whatever future marketing campaigns they create in whatever industry they choose.

So please check out the ASI® Summer Internship Program, which will provide each intern hired by an industry company with:

  • Free ESP® access for distributor interns for the summer (license expires 9/1/2016)
  • An ASI summer gift pack of promotional items
  • An invitation to attend ASI Chicago
  • VIP breakfast at ASI Chicago
  • A 5-week webinar education series and industry overview (beginning June 1)
  • An internship completion certificate

ASI will also award at least one intern with a $1,000 scholarship.

We just announced this program, and already about 60 people have registered. Join the trend! If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at tim.andrews@asicentral.com.


Connect With ESP Chat

Filed under: Community, Guest Blog, Members, News About ASI

A guest blog from ASI CTO Armughan Rafat:

Imagine the business value in obtaining instant access to 50,000 people who understand exactly what you do day in and day out – like-minded people who can answer questions, provide resources and even help you advance in your chosen field.

That’s the potential of ASI’s latest resource – ESP Chat, an online community a click away in ESP Web®. I’m proud to say ASI is the first in the industry to offer supplier-hosted chat rooms.

ESP Chat represents a terrific opportunity for distributors to get quick answers from suppliers and for suppliers to build stronger business relationships with customers. As an added bonus, it’s also a place for anyone in the promotional products industry to get to know each other.

In the meantime, I urge you to learn from each other, share your experiences, suggest hot products and alert others to new industry trends. Spread the buzz throughout the community – the world-wide community. Like Facebook, ESP Chat is a powerful social networking tool.

Let’s say you’re a distributor searching for a product in ESP and have a question. Instead of stopping to make a phone call or shoot off an email, click on “Chat with supplier” and go right into the supplier’s chat room.

I promise – it’s easy. Distributors can click here to download an overview of ESP Chat and here for a growing list of major suppliers already hosting chat rooms.

And suppliers can click here to watch a short video overview of the benefits of hosting. Suppliers savvy enough to host their own chat room will have a leg up on the competition, as numerous studies show most customers prefer chat over email and phone.

What I love most about ESP Chat is its direct integration into ESP. You enter with a single click and can reply, post an ESP product, pic or even an emoji. The first day ESP Chat was available, I scrolled through numerous conversations, watching live as distributors queried suppliers on product availability, color, size and deadline.

But when you want a private chat, simply select that option.

Think about the last time you called a company needing support or answers. How many times have you spent 15 minutes or more on hold only to get cut off? It’s frustrating.

With chat, you shoot off a question and either wait for an immediate response or check back later when you have time.

Maybe it’s because I’m in IT and generally wedded to my computer and device, but I find chatting on the phone more time consuming. With chat, I feel like I’m in my element. Getting quick answers feeds my instant-gratification side.

Right now, we have 24 distributor-only rooms available, plus a general ESP discussion room that’s open to everyone.

Like any online communication tool, there are limitations. Suppliers might not be online when a question is sent, but it’s in their best interest to answer as soon as possible.

Chat is not the communication method of the future – it’s the communication method of now.

 

 


Stirring the Pot

Filed under: Community, Industry Initiatives, News About ASI, Research, Using Ad Specialties

Thanks to social media, reactions to controversial issues hit fast and furious these days. Most recently, a few of you in the promotional products industry posted about ASI’s Advantages® magazine’s mid-April cover featuring a large marijuana leaf.

Our coverage revolved around Advantages’ annual report on promo product growth in 2015 and the big news that sales in Colorado are increasing at a faster rate than in any other state in the country, fueled in large part by the burgeoning legal marijuana industry.

One reader shared her discomfort over the cover (which prompted her son to ask why she was now selling pot-related promo items) and questioned why we didn’t wrap the cover or somehow disguise the pot leaf.

Here’s my take:

So far, 24 states and D.C. have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana, with more surely to come. Some states have stopped jailing users for carrying small amounts and others let adults 21 and older use it for any reason.

This on-going trend toward legalization has promoted celebrated magazines as diverse as National Geographic, Time, The Nation, Newsweek, Fortune and Philadelphia to feature covers similar to ours. Way back in 1969, even world-famous Life magazine put pot on its cover with the headline, “12 million Americans have now tried it…Should it be legalized?”

It was news then – and it’s news now.

As we do with any business subject, ASI is covering the marijuana industry from all angles, even attending a cannabis trade show in New York last summer to report ways companies are using promotional products. The verdict? Cannabis presents a ripe opportunity for distributors.

I’m proud that our talented reporters and editors delve deep into business issues. And I’m proud of our photographers and designers for illustrating those issues with powerful images. That’s their job.

We’re not endorsing marijuana, just as we don’t endorse (or condemn) any political figures. We will, however, invite them to speak at our trade shows. Over the years, ASI has hosted many A-list keynote speakers, including presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Donald Trump, First Lady Laura Bush and Gen. Colin Powell.

We took some heat for inviting Bush in 2014, but I defended our choice because, like all of our speakers, he was engaging and interesting, and offered unique insights into the world of business, recognizing our audience as great marketers and entrepreneurs.

By the same token, we’re very excited about the Mary Matalin and James Carville keynote Thursday, July 14, at 8:30 a.m., during ASI Show® Chicago. Matalin (a celebrated conservative) and Carville (an unabashed liberal) are one of the best-known political couples in the country and are sure to provide insight into this year’s unprecedented presidential campaign.

ASI isn’t telling industry members to vote one way or another, and we’re not telling them to sell marijuana-related items or call on marijuana dispensaries, just as we don’t urge anyone to, say, call on bars or offer logoed condoms (which are available!).

We’re simply presenting business opportunities and educating our audience – online, in print and at our many live shows and events – providing the same sound advice and sales tips we’ve offered the industry since 1962.

In fact, in 1977 ASI’s Counselor magazine also featured pot on its cover (see pic at right), with the headline “Is Specialty Advertising Ready for This? A Report on the New Consumer.”  I imagine that issue prompted a few letters (remember those?) as well.

Then as now, we always listen to our members and accommodate them whenever possible. Once, in response to a request from a distributor, we went so far as to cut out pages of a catalog he disliked, mailing it back to him in edited form.

I am sorry the reader who took issue with our marijuana leaf cover took some online heat for her comments. Maybe she can use the experience as a teaching moment to talk to her son about legalized marijuana, medical marijuana and the many ways our creative, innovative industry seizes opportunities presented by emerging markets.

Will we start censoring our editorial coverage or putting brown paper wrappers on certain covers? No. ASI’s editorial team has won over 150 awards in the last 10 years, including several prestigious Jesse H. Neal awards, considered the Pulitzer Prize of B-to-B journalism.

I’m looking forward to more reporting, more eye-catching graphics and photos, and more awards for excellence.

 


Roll ’Em: Proof That People Love Promos

Filed under: Community, News About ASI, Using Ad Specialties

How many of you check online restaurant reviews before making a reservation? If you’re like me, you rely on them because superlatives (or warnings!) seem more genuine when they come from real people. That’s why ASI hit the streets to speak with people from all over the world about their logoed products for our latest video, “People Love Promos.”

As you can tell from the title, our 2-minute video provides positive proof of what so many of us in the promotional products industry have said for years –logoed items are useful, effective and attractive. It’s what we heard over and over when we visited New York’s Times Square, camera in hand, to record testimonials.

The enthusiastic responses captured in the video support numerous findings in ASI’s 2016 Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study, while providing visual proof that 85% can recall the advertiser that gave them a logoed item, even months later (you can download the study PDF by clicking on the link or visiting www.asicentral.com/research)

Just ask yourself how many advertisers you can remember from the commercials you saw on TV just last night or heard on the radio driving in to work. I’m betting it’s a whole lot less than 85%.

I’m sure every time you meet with a tough sell to discuss a campaign using promo products you come armed with impressive stats like the advertiser recall. To bolster your case even more, I suggest you also show them our video.

Let the women, men, millennials, GenXers and baby boomers chatting up their favorite products help close the deal for you.

Click here to see the “People Love Promos” video for yourself. If you enjoy seeing happy people lend credence to the bedrock of our industry – affordable, high-value promotional products – share the link (https://vimeo.com/160951004) in your own circles.

You won’t see any cute cats or embarrassing stunts, but at the end you will see an adorable puppy – wearing a logoed T-shirt.

 


ASI Earns Best Employer Title

Filed under: Community, News About ASI

Validation is wonderful. In the case of corporate culture, it’s assurance you’re on the right track, that the work atmosphere you’ve created results in high productivity and happy employees. Here at ASI, our validation is tangible – a recent award for “Best Employer Overall” in an employee-driven competition recognizing outstanding workplace environments.

It wasn’t our first “Best Places to Work” award, and I’m confident it won’t be our last. Our employees have voted ASI a great place to work every year since 2010.

Some years we win for a workplace that’s most appreciated by new college grads. Other years, we’ve been honored as a “Best Place for Working Moms” for perks like our private nursing room, parking spaces close to the entrance for pregnant women and eight weeks of free day care for new parents at our on-site day care.

This year, we competed with companies throughout the greater Philadelphia area, against large hospitals and other media companies. My favorite part wasn’t the nice plaque we got (see photo above, featuring HR employees Jeannette Rhodunda, at right, and Ashley Locker), but quotes from some of the employees who voted for us, shared by the judges:

  • “We’re encouraged to share our thoughts and ideas on how the company could do better, and often those ideas promote change. It allows me to take ownership of my role within the company.”
  • “I feel like I snatched the golden ticket by working with such friendly and talented folks who welcome and motivate you to achieve the best of your abilities.”
  • “We are on the cutting edge of technology in our industry. The management and employees are great people always pushing forward and it is a great learning experience.”
  • “ASI is an amazing place to work. I am very happy coming into work every day. There are great perks and they treat their employees well.”

As anyone competing to hire the best employees knows, finding top talent is an art and a skill. Lucky for us, we have a seasoned expert leading our recruiting: Carol Albright, ASI senior vice president of human resources. Carol’s been with ASI since 1986 so she knows the value of long-standing employees as well as fresh eyes and ideas.

Sales can be competitive. All the changes in technology can make your head spin. Finding ways to communicate those changes to clients takes real finesse. But when I look around our building, at our IT and user experience experts, ace copywriters and video editors, our sales teams and so many others, I see sharp minds and dedicated people working together to help everyone in the promotional products industry be the best they can possibly be.

It helps, too, to offer employees good salaries and competitive benefits, an array of educational programs, an award-winning Wellness Program and diversity initiatives, along with a fitness center, Starbucks, a café featuring healthy options, casual dress every day and community service events.

I’m proud that we’re an award-winning company and especially proud that we get to claim the “Best Place to Work” title thanks to votes from our employees.

And if you want to join our team, we do have openings in IT, sales, marketing and finance. Click here to visit our careers page for more info on ASI, our community (90 minutes to New York City!) and our current opportunities.


Cool, Charismatic and Paying it Forward

Filed under: Community, Industry Initiatives, Members, News About ASI

If you read nothing else this week, I urge you to peruse the stories of the innovators and game changers who made the 2016 Counselor Hot 25 list.

You’ll find entrepreneurs like Bayo Simmonds, the rock-star owner and founder of the apparel company Assertive Creativity (asi/37166), who was born in Brooklyn to a Nigerian father and a mother from St. Thomas. He’s passionate about this industry and determined to succeed.

You’ll also find Dat Dang, president and founder of supplier firm Chao (asi/48102), which brings a truly unique product to the industry: artful, customized pop-up greeting cards. Dat immigrated to the U.S. as a seven-year-old following the Vietnam War, and Chao is now one of Inc.’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies.

Although I could have highlighted any one of the creative business leaders on this year’s Hot 25 list (#CounselorHot25), I’m singling out Bayo and Dat because they represent the future of our industry. They’re young – and they don’t look like everyone else I see on the trade show floor.

Back in 2012, I challenged the audience at the ASI Power Summit to hire one minority sometime in the next year. “Don’t hire someone like me,” I said. “We don’t need more 50-year-old white males!” If every top distributor heeded my call for greater diversification and hired and trained a minority, in five years we’d have 25,000 experienced representatives courting new business.

We may not be there yet, but I was heartened by the people on our 2016 list, which is a mix of industry veterans and newcomers, children of industry legends and heads of overseas companies. Also of note: our list also includes 13 female business leaders. Considering that women overall currently hold a paltry 4% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies the number on the Hot 25 list is truly impressive.

Will hiring more minorities and women automatically boost your bottom line? Of course not. But as study after study tells us, people tend to trust and buy from people who look like them, culturally and ethnically. So it’s good economic sense for every company in this industry to take an aggressive stance on shaking things up.

It may not make a huge difference this year, but it will as soon as the next generation comes of age. More than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group by 2020 – four short years from now – the U.S. Census Bureau reports.

Who will relate to – and sell to – them? Happily, many people on Counselor’s 2016 Hot 25 list. I’m proud of that, and you should be too.

The results and more info on all our winners are in the March issue of ASI’s award-winning Counselor magazine, and profiles and photos of all winners are available online.

Check out their stories. They’re inspiring – and they also contain a ton of smart business advice, like this nugget from industry veteran Jill Stirnkorb, BIC Graphic’s vice president of inside sales: “Email, social media and all the technology in the world does not replace a good phone call or face-to-face meeting.”

When she started at BIC, Jill was only the third female in the sales force. It’s a big part of the reason why she mentors younger women today. She’s paying it forward. And you should too.

 

 


An Inspiring Story, From Hospital to Hollywood

Filed under: ASI Shows, Media Coverage

Imagine this: You’re the 19-year-old son of a single mother. Low on money, and unsure of your direction in life, you join the U.S. Army in the hope it’ll help pay for college. While on a routine mission driving a Humvee in war-torn Iraq, you hit a roadside bomb and suffer disfiguring third-degree burns.

In a flash of fire, your entire life changes. Do you drown in self pity? Put your scarred face down and hide? If it was me, boy, I’m not sure if I’d have the strength to carry on. Not J.R. Martinez. He not only carried on – he soared to new heights, inspiring other vets and carving out a stellar career as a motivational speaker, daytime TV star and winner of TV’s Dancing with the Stars competition.

This week, J.R. shared his awe-inspiring journey from hospital bed to Hollywood with a rapt audience at ASI Show® Dallas, in a one-hour speech that moved people to tears – and earned him two standing ovations.

After hearing him speak, I swore I’d never complain about my middling problems again.

“You can control your attitude, your willingness to learn, your willingness to grow,” said J.R., who refused to let his injuries define or defy him, choosing instead to forge an entirely new path, spurred on by simple mantras like “Get through the day. Be positive. Have faith.”

While waiting backstage before his speech, J.R. quizzed us on the industry, promotional products and even Norman Cohn’s signature red hat. He has an insatiable curiosity about anything and everything. After the initial shock of meeting him, I stopped seeing his burns and saw only a smart, friendly guy with a sweet smile – and a driving ambition to be the best he can at whatever he tackles.

Now 32 and the father of a 3 ½-year-old daughter (as well as a best-selling author), J.R. (@iamjrmartinez) is just getting started – he’s finally starting college and says he might study psychology. I’m betting he’ll succeed no matter what he does. For more, click here for J.R’s interview with Counselor’s Andy Cohen and click here to read Chris Ruvo’s PromoGram story.

The keynote was a great way to kick off the final day of the three-day ASI Show Dallas (#asidallas) at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

The show attracted over 3,000 distributors and 466 suppliers (including 75 new this year). All told, 22 distributor companies chose Dallas to host meetings, a 10% increase over 2015. I was delighted ASI also partnered with three large regional associations at Dallas – the Promotional Products Association of the Southwest, Houston Promotional Products Association and the Sunbelt Promotional Products Association.

The show – and the latest, greatest promotional products in our industry – was such a hit it even drew the attention of Emmy Award-winning consumer reporter Steve Noviello, from the Fox 4 TV news station in Dallas, which aired a 4-minute segment on its morning show. Kudos to Steve for smartly reporting on the low cost and high value of cool, unique promo products that go far beyond the usual T-shirt or pen (although he featured them, too!). If you haven’t already, take a look at his report.

As always, we enjoyed a fun night out at the Gala Celebration at Eddie Deen’s ranch (see pics at right) among many other networking opportunities.

For complete coverage of the show, including blogs and videos, visit www.asicentral.com and www.asishow.com. And, for more on the most sought-after promotional products for 2016, check out ASI Product Editor Joe Haley’s “The Joe Show” videos.

I hope to see all of you at our next large-scale trade show, ASI Show Chicago, Tuesday, July 12 through Thursday, July 14 at McCormick Place. And, don’t forget about the brand-new Engage, a new hybrid event that combines the best of traditional trade shows, intimate hosted buyer events and roadshows. Engage West takes place Monday, March 14 through Wednesday, March 16 at the Anaheim Marriott, in Anaheim, CA and Engage East is Monday, May 9 through Wednesday, May 11, at the Marriott Marquis in New York City.

If you see me on the show floor, be sure to say hello.


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