May 2, 2013
I’m writing this at noon from Pennsylvania. But although it’s bright and sunny outside, to my travel-weary self, it’s actually midnight in Hong Kong – and I’m more than ready for bed. I’m topsy-turvy because I’ve just returned from a week-long business trip to attend the Hong Kong Gifts & Premiums Show, 8,000 miles away and 12 hours ahead of the East Coast where I live.
The show is one of the largest in the world for promotional products, attracting over 4,000 exhibitors from 37 countries. Lucky for me, I got to attend alongside veterans like Supplier Global Resource™ editor Michele Bell, publisher Rich Fairfield and Ed Koehler, VP and associate publisher of magazines and catalogs. We were joined during part of the trip by ASI’s China-based SGR sales team (pictured with us at right: Melar Wang, Tony Tian, Alan Lee and Tammy Jing), who travel throughout Shanghai, Ningbo, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong selling our new SGR memberships.
The new, strictly exclusive membership connects non-North American manufacturers and agents with ASI’s North American suppliers. During the show, we celebrated at a cocktail party for ASI® suppliers that was sponsored and attended by SGR members who are Hong Kong and Chinese manufacturers. And, as much as we love our distributors, ASI believes they are most successful by sourcing from trusted ASI suppliers, so we may as well have hung a “No Distributors Allowed” sign outside the reception. (I wish I had a photo of Rich shooing two distributors away who wanted to crash our event!)
As reported on our website, the show’s traffic was noticeably slower than in previous years, despite growth in the Hong Kong gift market of 6% in 2012. Still, the show floor was huge, crowded and packed with a ton of Bluetooth-capable items, tech gadgets, smartphone accessories and eco-friendly products.
In the photos, you can see one of the many colorful displays from the show, along with Hong Kong Harbor.
I’ve traveled to Asia a number of times, and it’s always equally strange and thrilling. While I decided against trying the still-wiggling shrimp served up at one of our dinners, I gladly seized the chance to visit a local friend of an ASI member at his art-filled home, situated on Hong Kong island with a spectacular view of the South China Sea. He’s 72 – and recently became a new father! (Maybe it’s the shrimp?)
Hong Kong, which is a “special administrative region” of the People’s Republic of China, is on China’s south coast, bordered by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea. The city is 426 square miles and home to about 7 million people. To put that into perspective, New York City (including all the boroughs) is 469 square miles and has 8.2 million residents.
And, while I’m always happy to explore the far corners of the Earth, there really is no place like home and garden. (I’m throwing a pic from my garden up in this blog for fun.) Happily, my next trip is less than 100 miles away – to our New York show, taking place Wednesday and Thursday at the Javits Convention Center, and featuring a special keynote by TLC’s “Cake Boss,” Buddy Valastro Jr., who’s dishing up business advice and handing out cake samples from Carlo’s famous Hoboken bakery.
P.S. If you’re wondering about the blog title, it’s a play on the 1969 film, “If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium,” about a 9-country, 18-day bus trip.
April 18, 2013
We all know how important it is to get your voice heard in Washington. Given the state of the economy and numerous legislative initiatives concerning taxes and expenditures, that importance cannot be overstated.
That’s why for the last four years, the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) has sent a contingent of “volunteer lobbyists” to our nation’s capital to speak on behalf of the industry as part of its Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.).
On April 10 and 11, as a member of PPAI’s Government Relations Action Council (GRAC), I joined over 70 volunteers who invaded Washington, D.C. on a mission to educate members of Congress about the value of advertising specialties and the legislative issues most important to suppliers and distributors. The group represented all 50 states and made over 300 Congressional office visits during the two-day period.
Prior to arrival, we contacted our respective senators and representatives to schedule 30-minute visits. In preparation, volunteers also attended a webinar on key issues we later discussed with our representatives and/or their staff. Everyone became well-versed on the promotional products economic engine and its impact on the national economy, e.g., a $19.4 billion industry that employs over 430,000 people.
Here’s a tip: If you want to get a representative’s or senator’s ear, just tell them what your industry does for the economy!
To help prep the “lobbyists,” everyone was given a handbook with each Congressional member’s bio and broken into smaller teams to cover the aggressive meeting schedule. The volunteers gave each Congressional office position papers on the effectiveness and value of promotional products and the role they’ve played in particular in safety recognition programs. We also discussed the importance of maintaining the current independent contractor tax rules under IRS Section 530 and of considering small businesses in any proposed tax changes.
Of course, we also handed out advertising specialties: a notebook imprinted with the PPAI logo and hand sanitizer. Everyone loved the products, which provided the perfect testament to the effectiveness of our industry.
Before we met for dinner that night, we were surprised by an unannounced visit from John Boehner, the House Majority Leader, who commended everyone for their efforts. Clearly, the L.E.A.D. visits were noticed by the powers that be. The next morning, PPAI recognized Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen as its Legislator of the Year. The award recognizes members of Congress who have shown a commitment to small businesses, a willingness to meet with industry professionals and support of issues critical to our industry.
“Congressman Paulsen has championed the cause of small business and met face-to-face with industry leaders,” said Paul Bellantone, PPAI’s president and CEO. “He has established a history of being available and listening to the concerns of promotional products businesses and supporting or opposing legislation that impacts the industry.”
The diligence and enthusiasm of the PPAI L.E.A.D. volunteers was evident from the planning stages through the Congressional visits. I’m sure Congressional leaders left the meetings with a greater appreciation of our industry and the important role it plays in providing businesses with creative, cost-effective ways to reach their target audiences.
– Chuck Machion is ASI’s senior VP and senior counsel and also serves his community as a Newtown, PA borough councilman
In photo above, from left: Art Bustard, president of Cedars Advertising, Inc. (asi/159500); Larry Whitney, compliance manager for Polyconcept North America (asi/66887); Barbara Bustard, of Cedars Advertising, Inc.; Chuck Machion; PA Rep. Tim Murphy; George Jackson, owner of George Jackson Promotions; Bruce Korn, president of Zakback Inc. (asi/365556 )
April 10, 2013
ASI® recently welcomed about 35 members of the Philadelphia Area Promotional Products Association to our headquarters in Pennsylvania for a social media seminar.
PAPPA members (who used to be called Specialty Advertising Counselors of the Delaware Valley) got an eyeful from Jake Krolick, ASI’s rock star creative director, in a fast-moving presentation offering practical, tactical tips for businesses to “go social.” He was joined by special speakers (and former ASI-ers) Jay Ostrow and Dale Denham.
During the seminar, everyone was encouraged to branch out. Share product info with clients through the information corkboard site Pinterest and add more video to your marketing mix. It’s also quick and easy to liven up your company’s YouTube site with something fresh, like a behind-the-scenes tour of your company. Remember to make it fun – and keep it short.
So next time you’re pitching a potential new client, send an infographic on the ROI or CPI of promotional products along with your presentation. Spread the news about a new product by uploading a captioned pic through Quickmeme. And don’t forget about good old blogs, which can help bump up your company’s search engine results while allowing you to better engage with customers and potential customers.
I hope PAPPA members enjoyed their morning at ASI. Several members later told me how much they enjoyed it and thanked ASI for hosting. In return, I’d like to sincerely thank PAPPA for the recent award the organization presented to ESP®, the PAPPA 2013 Liberty Award in the technology category.
The tech award recognized, among other things, proclivity, user friendliness and mobile marketing efforts. ESP, of course, uses world-class search technology to give members and their customers a superior searching experience, and we are delighted to see that recognized. In the photo at left, Heather DiPrato, ASI’s senior VP of distributor services, proudly displays our award.
Let me know what new technology or social media site has made a difference at your company lately by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube – and exploring new possibilities like blogging site Medium (founded by ASI keynoter Biz Stone and his partner Ev Williams), the new iPhone app Whisper (which is taking off like gangbusters on college campuses) and Sina Weibo, billed as China’s Twitter – with twice the number of users.
March 15, 2013
ASI had good reason to cheer this week when Counselor® magazine was honored with its fourth Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for its 2012 “State of the Industry” issue.
This award is a really big deal. Considered “the Pulitzer Prize of business media,” the Neal Awards recognize the best in business-to-business editorial achievement and are B-to-B’s most prestigious and sought-after editorial honors. The judging panel, chaired by Diana Henriques of The New York Times, selected a mere 46 Neal Award winners out of 138 finalists from an original 640 entries.
Winning entries were selected for exhibiting journalistic enterprise, service to the field and editorial craftsmanship. As you know, Counselor’s annual State of the Industry issue is packed with statistics, largely compiled and analyzed by our executive research director Larry Basinait. Editor Andy Cohen steers this massive ship from concept to press, which requires the hard work of every Counselor staffer.
It was previously announced that ASI’s Wearables®, Stitches® and Counselor magazines were named finalists for five Neal awards. ASI magazines were recognized among several legacy publications, including Broadcasting and Cable, Architectural Record and The American Lawyer.
Tuesday, a big group of us went to New York City for the awards announcement. In the photo above, editorial staffers Joe Haley, Andy Cohen, C.J. Mittica, Christopher Ruvo, Dave Vagnoni and Larry Basinait celebrate with Melinda Ligos and Rich Fairfield.
When the big moment came and they announced Counselor as a winner, we cheered so loud we couldn’t even hear what the judge’s had to say about our entry. Later, we learned one judge said of Counselor’s SOI package: “The value of the story lies in the data-based reporting.” Judges also praised the story for being comprehensive and well-paced.
In less than 10 years, ASI magazines have been honored with nearly 100 journalism awards and remain the only industry publications to ever win the prestigious Neal Award. What that means is our entire editorial department is world-class – and I couldn’t be more proud.
For members, it means consistently providing top-notch education and educational resources to improve your business and further the professionalism of this entire industry.
Below are the details on our award winner and finalists. If you haven’t already, these stories are well worth the read. The SOI issue in particular contains a ton of practical advice and business strategies you can turn to all year long.
Neal Award winner is:
Neal Award finalists are:
March 1, 2013
Hard to believe, but this week I celebrated my 10-year anniversary with ASI®. Looking back, it’s amazing to consider how the world, the industry and ASI have changed. I remember seeing people walking the halls speaking into dictaphones! Now, we can utter a few words into our mobile phones and, in a flash, see an entire display of the latest products in ESP Mobile™.
One constant: the steadfast commitment of the Cohn family and ASI to this industry. And I’m very proud to say the ASI number is still the number that matters.
I joined ASI on Feb. 24, 2003 (see my first official company photo at right). And what I said at my first real industry gathering still rings true. This is an industry in which many small companies and families are invested – and it’s an industry where everyone always seems to have such a good time.
At that same meeting, I promised you’d always know where I stand and that I’d always want to know where you stand. You can still email me anytime at email@example.com with questions, comments or concerns.
When it comes to our products, I can say with confidence they’re the best in the world. The numbers say it best: in 10 short years, ESP® has increased from 5,000 users all the way to 2012’s record of 38,800. Today, an incredible 72% of all product searches in the industry are conducted in ESP.
When I joined, ASI had 19,000 members. Now, we have over 25,000. And from 5,000 ASI-hosted member websites we’ve grown to over 17,000 – with more coming online every day.
From a handful of live education courses, we’ve developed into the largest educator in the industry, with more than 25,000 people currently enrolled in the ASI Education Certification Program. Our trade show coverage is the largest in the industry, too, with 18,872 attending across five shows in 2012. Exhibitor and flow space numbers are also growing.
And this September 15-17, we’ll host our 7th U.S. Power Summit at the Montage Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. In addition, we’ll launch the very first Canadian Power Summit, taking place June 12-14 at the Fairmont Banff Springs in Alberta.
The industry itself is certainly keeping pace. My first year, industry sales were $16.1 billion. In 2012, we hit $19.4 billion, enjoying 12 straight quarters of growth. In the face of the recent recession, how many other industries can say that?
Ten years is a long time, but when I look around ASI’s office, I realize I still have a long way to go to catch up with industry veterans like Mel Viers in customer service, who’s been with us 41 years. Jim Lang, our editorial creative director, is right behind Mel with 38 years on the job. These guys make Ron Ball, our VP of supplier sales, who just celebrated his 35th ASI anniversary, almost look like a newbie!
But few come close to ASI’s chairman of the board, Norman Cohn, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday. He and the Cohn family have led ASI for 51 years – and Norman’s been in the industry 61 years. Norman is the second generation involved, with Matthew Cohn and Stephanie Cohn Schaeffer from the third generation both active as well, and grandchildren from the fourth generation have already served as interns.
As it did from the start, ASI’s number-one goal remains helping you become more successful.
With ASI, you’re never alone. On any given day you’ve got over 400 talented designers, developers, writers, trainers, account execs, analysts and brand experts available to help you with every aspect of your business.
One thing that can’t change fast enough, however, is the diversification of our industry. I remember looking out over a sea of older, white males at my very first ASI Show in Chicago. Zip ahead a decade and, sadly, the landscape remains pretty much the same. And that needs to change.
That said, I’d like to thank you all for your advice and counsel and for the patience you’ve shown me over the years. Looking forward, I can honestly say I’m more excited about this industry than ever before. I’m continually impressed by the passion and creativity that power us all – and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
January 7, 2013
We’ve enjoyed one incredible event after another here at ASI Orlando, including a truly fabulous 80th birthday party for ASI® Chairman Norman Cohn, a super-energized crowd at the 2013 Counselor® Distributor Choice Awards and a standing-room-only keynote by expert economist and political commentator Steve Forbes.
Turns out, Forbes – a very thoughtful guy who provided us with tons of solid business advice – is also very funny. “It’s great to see so much energy,” he said after being greeted by thunderous applause. “I wish we had such energy in Washington.”
A conservative Republican who once ran for president, Forbes was optimistic about the future, despite “headwinds” like an antiquated tax code and a weakened American dollar.
“Many amazing things are about to happen,” the Forbes Media chairman told a crowd of about 900 people (so many we had to keep bringing in extra chairs). “We’ll have major advances in health care, and America will become a manufacturing giant again thanks to our brainpower and technology.”
Orlando really has been one great celebration after another. Sunday night, we celebrated suppliers at the 2013Counselor Distributor Choice Awards (sponsored by AIA Corporation, Crystal Sensations, Dunbrooke, and Moderne Glass Company). Taking home the top prize was Top 40 supplier The Magnet Group (asi/68507), which was named Supplier of the Year.
In accepting the award, Magnet CEO Bill Korowitz graciously thanked his employees in a heartfelt speech. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Bill, personally and as a member of the ASI Advisory Board, and have come to really appreciate his calm, thoughtful and reasoned side. If I had to sum him up, I’d say he’s just the kind of guy you’d like to have as your neighbor. In business, he’s always willing to try new approaches and on those rare occasions when he’s wrong, he’s always willing to admit it.
In addition, over many whoops and hollers from a very enthusiastic crowd, we announced supplier winners in 59 different product categories – including three new categories of blankets, coolers and hospitality items. In all, 42 suppliers won awards at the ceremony, which honor suppliers for their service and dedication to their distributor customers.
For more info and a list of all the winners, click here.
Before the ceremony started, ASI’s chairman of the board, Norman Cohn, took a few moments to share his thoughts on another industry icon – former ASI president Marvin Spike, who recently passed away.
“Marvin was an extremely passionate supporter of the advertising specialty industry,” Norman said. “He will have forever left his mark not only on ASI, but on the entire industry. Marvin cared about each ASI member as if they were his own family. He was a loyal friend, leader and contributor to the entire industry. I am proud to have called Marvin a close friend. His life defined integrity and he will be missed.”
Unbelievably, Norman – a very familiar presence at all ASI Shows – just turned 80. On Saturday, we celebrated with a lovely party at the Walt Disney World Resort. While it’s hard to keep anything a secret in this industry, somehow we managed to keep the ultimate destination a secret for weeks.
After a champagne toast, the invited guests (who still didn’t have a clue where we were headed) were loaded onto three buses and whisked away to a private backstage-access area at the park. After riding in giant clamshells through an amazing 3-D attraction based on the “Finding Nemo” movie, we were treated to four different buffets of Norman’s favorite foods (including ’50s diner food and his very favorite, pigs in a blanket), 12-foot-tall calypso dancers, dueling pianos and even an enormous dolphin viewing tank, complete with an actual deep-sea diver.
As the birthday cake was wheeled out, ASI Vice Chairman Matthew Cohn called the celebration “an intimate evening of things my dad loves. He loves this industry and he loves his family.” As I said in my toast, many of us wouldn’t even be in this industry without Norman Cohn – who really is the sun in our ASI universe.
In my favorite moment of the night, Norman thanked all his guests, making special mention of his “trophy wife of 48 years,” calling Suzanne Cohn “the reason I’m so lucky in life.”
In true Norman fashion, he was wise, funny – and very, very grateful. “I’ve been active in this industry for 60-plus years and I’ve seen a lot of change and growth,” he told us. “But one thing never changes – my family loves this industry and this business … Hug your family, God bless America and thank you all for being here.”
After a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday,” we got all decked out in light-up hats, lanyards, glasses and rings for a final treat: dessert, coffee and front-row seats to a mesmerizing fireworks, laser and water show.
All in all, it was a really special occasion.
January 3, 2013
ASI is kicking off the 2013 show season in a big way, with a major event in Orlando featuring expanded education, a newly redesigned show floor, three specialized pavilions, two networking receptions and a Gala Celebration at Universal CityWalk.
In addition, we’re celebrating the recent 80th birthday of ASI Chairman Norman Cohn, starting with a party held in his honor Saturday night. The only thing Norman asked is we throw a party, “where people will have fun and be glad they came.” A larger celebration with a birthday cake will be held Monday 4-4:30 p.m. during the Closing Celebration, featuring the Passport to Winnings drawing.
We’ll get down to the serious business of the economy Monday morning – with a keynote by Forbes Media Chairman Steve Forbes (co-sponsored by Pepco Poms, asi/77280, and Showdown Displays, asi/87188.) I’m sure Forbes will have some pretty firm opinions on how the last-minute, New Year’s legislation will impact small business tax incentives of particular interest to so many of our members.
ASI Orlando takes place Saturday, Sunday and Monday at the Orange County Convention Center, an enormous complex owned and operated by Orange County government and located in the heart of the area’s tourism district. Thanks to its many conveniences, it’s a great place to host a show.
This year, anyone attending ASI shows will enjoy an expanded slate of ASI Education classes, including a new series of seminars for owners.
Of course, all education sessions are eligible for credits toward BASI (Bachelor of Advertising Specialty Information) and MASI (Master of Advertising Specialty Information) certification. In Orlando, our newest graduates of the free ASI Certification Program will be honored at a special reception and on-stage pinning ceremony before the Forbes keynote.
We’re especially looking forward to the leading companies launching their 2013 sales season with meetings at The ASI Show™ Orlando, including Brown & Bigelow (asi/148500), The Vernon Company (asi/351700), AIA Corporation (asi/109480) and Geiger (asi/202900).
Finally, on Sunday, we’ll honor 270 of the industry’s top-performing suppliers as well as the 2013 Supplier of the Year at the annual Counselor Distributor Choice Awards.
Be sure to check www.asicentral.com for complete coverage of the show, including blogs and videos.
If all that wasn’t enough, I’m personally looking forward to leaving behind the N.J. cold for Florida temps in the 70s!
And if you haven’t registered already, upcoming 2013 ASI Shows are Dallas (February 6-8), Long Beach (March 22-24), New York (May 8-9) and Chicago (July 16-18). To learn more about exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities for 2013, contact Karen DiTomasso, vice president of sales, at firstname.lastname@example.org.