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Evolve To Succeed

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, News About ASI

ASI enjoyed a history-making 2016 Counselor® Awards at the amazing Field Museum during our recent show in Chicago. We broke attendance records by hosting over 500 members at the black-tie event – and in another first, posted a ton of the speeches via live feeds on ASI’s Facebook page.

Here’s why I know livestreams will be huge: The family of Dave Saracino, the VP of field sales for BIC Graphic (asi/40480), who was honored with the 2016 Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award, discovered video of his acceptance speech online that night, and by morning, it had already gotten 1,200 views and 12 shares. A few days later, it had earned over 2,000 livestream views.

We’re using this latest social media innovation more and more, including during our coverage of the Republican and Democrat national conventions.

(Visit our Facebook page to view archived videos of many of the speeches as well as our interviews with vendors at the convention. I also urge you to read Counselor’s stories on the winning leaders and companies – they offer some great advice on making it big in this always-changing industry. And click here for an album of photos from the Counselor Awards).

The night’s biggest winners included Brand Addition U.S. CEO Chuck Fandos as Person of the Year and BDA (asi/137616) Senior Director of Sourcing LeeAnn Schumacher as International Person of the Year.

The awards, chosen by the editors of ASI’s award­-winning Counselor magazine, recognize outstanding individuals and companies in seven categories. The winners represent the best and brightest entrepreneurs, small­-business leaders and CEOs in the $22 billion promotional products industry.

In addition, Counselor announced the Top 40 Distributor and Top 40 Supplier rankings – the largest companies in the industry based upon 2015 revenue.

Among suppliers, alphabroder was No. 1, setting a record in the industry with $1 billion in North American ad specialty sales. Yup, that’s not a typo: $1 billion.

For distributors, Staples Promotional Products (asi/120601) remains the largest firm in the industry, with 4imprint (asi/197045) and Proforma (asi/300094) rounding out the top three spots on the list.

Our 2016 Person of the Year, Chuck Fandos, is founder of multimillion-dollar distributor firm Gateway CDI. In January, Brand Addition, the largest distributor firm in Europe, acquired Gateway CDI. The St. Louis-based distributor now operates under the Brand Addition name while maintaining its operations and management structure, including Fandos as U.S. CEO.

Below is part of what I said when introducing Chuck:

“Chuck Fandos shuns complacency and refuses to stand still while the world around him evolves…As a result, his career continues to be nothing short of phenomenal. And when it came time to make the tough decision to sell the company he built from the ground up – along with his loyal wife and long-time business partner – he negotiated the smartest possible deal, giving him license to succeed internationally.

I really stand by those words: We must evolve to succeed.

The 2016 Counselor Awards took place during ASI Show® Chicago July 12-14 at McCormick Place. Below are the rest of the year’s winners. My hearty congrats to each and every one of them. Remember these names – and please read all about them in the special State of the Industry issue of ASI’s Counselor magazine.

  • Supplier Entrepreneur of the Year: Eddie Blau, CEO of Innovation Line (asi/62660).
  • Distributor Entrepreneur of the Year: Brian Abrams, founder of Corporate Imaging Concepts (asi/168962).
  • Supplier Family Business of the Year: Fey Promotional Products Group (asi/54040).
  • Distributor Family Business of the Year: Williams & Associates (asi/360450).
  • Distributor Woman of Distinction: Vicki Clayman, president of Partners N Promotion (asi/350153).
  • Supplier Woman of Distinction: Kathy Cheng, president of Redwood Classics Apparel (asi/81627).
  • Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award: Dave Saracino, vice president of field sales for BIC Graphic (asi/40480).
  • Bess Cohn Memorial Humanitarian Award: Art Livingston, president of Marlo Plastic Products (asi/68873).


Tribute to a Friend, a Mentor, a Father

Filed under: Community

I am mourning the passing of Everett Groseclose, who was more like a father to me than my own. I met Ev 33 years ago when I was working as an intern at Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

He was the “big boss,” one of the first and best writers of the off-beat stories that appear on the front page of the Journal, and I spoke with him only in passing that summer. The next winter, I answered a blind ad – to a PO box – and my resume ended up on his desk.

He invited me back to New York for an interview, and he later called long-distance to hire me for my first full-time job: I took calls all day from Journal reporters, who dictated their stories as I typed as fast as I could and tried to ask questions and edit their stories along the way.

Ev was a constant coach, adviser and mentor. After seven years working for him, Ev helped me move from editorial to the business side, a foreign place and one usually distrusted by editors. But Ev told me I could do it, and he believed in me.

On the 25th anniversary of my first day working for him (June 4, 1984), I flew to his home in Santa Fe and presented him with an engraved Rolex watch: “Thank you for believing. Rgds, TA.” (Ev’s sign-off was always “Rgds, EG,” the origin of my use of TA.)

He gave me advice whenever I asked, most recently about two months ago when he also shared that his cancer had returned. I loved Ev Groseclose and thank him for everything he allowed me to do for myself simply because he believed in me. My prayers are with his daughters, Kirsten Rose and Megan, and all his family and friends.

Securing Your Online Accounts

Filed under: Community, News About ASI

Whether you have a mom-and-pop shop or a huge corporation, online security has never been more important, especially in light of recent criminal data breaches at social media sites LinkedIn, MySpace and Tumblr.

In what is the online equivalent of a superstore break-in, hackers stole and then tried to sell what they claimed were 117 million LinkedIn email addresses and passwords. This is a huge deal because lots of people routinely use the same password on multiple sites, meaning hackers could use one piece of stolen info as a gateway to break into banking websites and other key accounts.

If your LinkedIn info was stolen, LinkedIn was supposed to notify you with instructions to reset your password and consider adding two-step verification. Regularly changing passwords – and using long passwords that are a mix of letters, numbers and symbols – should be routine at every home and office these days.

But I admit, when I first heard about the breaches I had to think, “Did LinkedIn notify me? Do I still have a MySpace account? Did I ever use Tumblr?”

We’re all super busy, and it’s easy to get lazy about personal online security – just as it’s easy to forget to lock your front door or your car. Make no mistake, cybercrime is very real and growing more sophisticated every day. There’s malware, email worms, like-jacking, link-jacking – the threat list goes on.

To alert ASI members to the latest breaches, ASI’s CTO, Armughan Rafat, sent an advisory email I’m sharing in full below. Please note: the LinkedIn, MySpace and Tumblr breaches are not related to your safe, secure ASI accounts and, unfortunately, ASI cannot help you change settings to your personal external accounts.

Here is Armughan’s email:

If you have used LinkedIn, Tumblr or MySpace, I highly recommend you take the following actions to protect your account(s):


If you already changed your password in response to a breach notification from LinkedIn, there’s no need to change it again. But if you wish to change it as a precaution:

  1. Log on to LinkedIn and select a new, unique password only used for LinkedIn. Never use the same password across multiple websites because criminals will use breached data to attempt access to your other accounts. Choose long passwords that are a mix of letters, numbers and symbols.
  1. As added security, enable two-step verification, which protects your account by sending a verification code to your cellphone when you sign on to LinkedIn from a device they don’t recognize. Get directions here: https://www.linkedin.com/help/linkedin/suggested/544.


  1. Log on and click your account “Settings,” located in your footer next to “Messages” and “Notifications.” Click on the “Settings Icon” to open your account menu options and change your password, following the cautions above.


  1. Log on and click “Settings” under the “Account” menu at the top of the dashboard. Update your password in the “Password” section, following the cautions above. Click “Save.”
  1. As added security, enable two-factor authentication. Click “Settings” under the “Account” menu at the top of the dashboard. In the “Security” section, enable “two-factor authentication.” Enter your phone number and continue following steps.

General guidance:

  1. Use unique passwords for each of your accounts.
  1. If the site offers two-step verification or multi-factor authentication, enable it.
  1. Never use your employer-provided email account for your personal activities, as you have no ownership of the account.
  1. Search your email address (es) and usernames on the data-breach search service “Have I Been Pwned?” (victimized, in Internet-speak) at: https://haveibeenpwned.com/. This is a trusted resource that makes many of the publicly disclosed breaches searchable. Register your email address with the site to be notified in case of a breach.

For more information on the data breaches, please visit:











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.


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