October 19, 2012
Pop quiz: Next time you find yourself in a group of college students who don’t know what you do for a living, ask them about promotional products. Then ask if they’ve heard about the industry in their marketing class, or if they’re considering our industry for a potential lifetime career.
I’m betting you’ll get a lot of blank stares in response.
If recent discussions I’ve had with distributors in Chicago and Los Angeles are any indication, just about everyone is on board with the need for more outreach to colleges and universities. We want to get young people educated and excited about this industry. Hopefully, they’ll give it the ultimate stamp of approval and brand it “cool.”
To that end, ASI® recently announced a unique education initiative designed, in great part, to teach college students ways to become successful entrepreneurs as distributors in our industry. Along the way, they’ll also learn about suppliers, decorators and the ad specialty industry itself.
We think it’s a great way to expand the number of new college graduates who understand the industry and, we hope, become interested in making it a career. Or at least understand the great ROI from using promotional items in the marketing programs they might create in whatever career course they might take.
Right now, our industry is rarely if ever mentioned in marketing, advertising or business courses or textbooks – and I’d like to see that change.
It’s a pilot program so we’ll see how it goes. Right now, it involves a single institution: Babson College, a Massachusetts school that blends top-flight business education coursework with hands-on training, online education and real-world applications.
At Babson, approximately 500 first-year undergraduates enroll in a year-long course to learn how to run a business. Instructor-led groups of about 20 students each receive approximately $3,000 in seed money, which some groups will use to buy, imprint and sell promotional products during the second of two semesters.
As part of our effort to introduce the industry to potential new hires, ASI is donating our time and energy, along with offering access to ESP® and ESP Websites™. Students will also be able to take courses at ASI’s Online Learning Center and further hone their business and networking skills during an on-site guided tour at our New York City show in May (featuring a keynote by Buddy Valastro, Jr., the “Cake Boss” on the hit TLC reality show).
We’ve had positive feedback from several local distributors interested in speaking to or mentoring students during this trial. A couple of other people were worried about “the competition” but I think our active distributors can overcome a few kids as we build a pipeline of future industry leaders.