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The Other One Percent

Filed under: Community

On my way to the airport a couple of weeks ago, I was picked up by a taxi driver who was the happiest guy I’ve met in years.

Born and raised in Ethiopia, three years ago he won one of about 50,000 “green cards” granted annually through the Diversity Visa Lottery Program to nationals of countries we consider to be under-represented in U.S. immigration.  To qualify to submit an application, people must have either a high school diploma, or two years of work experience within the last five years in an occupation that requires at least two years of training and be otherwise admissible.

Each year, many millions of people from around the world apply for this visa.  Only about 1% of all qualified applicants “win” the lottery, which is just the first step.  Then there’s another selection process, and only about half of the winners actually end up with visas.

With odds like those, it’s no wonder my taxi driver described his visa as “a gift from God.”

In Ethiopia, most people farm in the face of tremendous obstacles like deforestation and drought. Crop failures and famine persists and life expectancy is only 59, compared with 79 here in the U.S. Despite recent gains, the country’s GDP per capita is only about $1,200, compared with $50,000 here.

The driver is thrilled to be in the United States.  “I have a car I drive nice people around in, I can have my Starbucks with me if I want, I dress up every day in clean, nice clothes, and I can do anything here I want to do,” he told me. “Most countries aren’t free, and people here seem to not realize that and how much better it is here.”

I teared up. In a taxi.

This heartfelt story was told by someone who couldn’t speak English when he landed at JFK.  It made me realize all over again how much we need comprehensive immigration reform that will allow us to continue welcoming such wonderful people to the United States. The truth is, most immigrants work long hours for low pay at menial jobs many citizens sneer at – and they want nothing more than to become legal and work without fear of deportation or exploitation.

Whenever I meet someone so clearly appreciative of the chance they’ve been given to change their life for the better, I think about how much, in turn, they can contribute to our understanding of the world at large and to our culture and success. Who’s to say this taxi driver won’t one day contribute as much as many other immigrants have, from Albert Einstein and John Muir to Madeleine Albright and Irving Berlin.

I am thankful today for the friends and family I have, and for all of the comfort and success I share with my colleagues at ASI and throughout our industry.

I am thankful, too, for this young man, his enthusiasm for life and the life he will someday build as a proud citizen of the United States.


The Era of Innovation

Filed under: Community, Members, Research

Thanks to strong Q3 results, distributor and supplier sales in the promotional products industry have now risen for 15 straight quarters, which is solid proof that companies big and small continue to buy what we’re selling: The enduring power of promotional products.

These days, ideas and innovations are what make the world go ’round. Bloomberg Businessweek says we need look no further than Twitter’s $24.9 billion valuation as evidence we’ve officially entered the “ideas economy.” Lucky for us, ideas and innovations are at the heart of this industry, where new products coupled with inventive branding can hit the market – and seize the imagination – faster than ever before.

If we capitalize on innovation, as Bloomberg suggests, our industry will continue to grow. This year alone, if ASI’s indicators are correct, total sales will surpass $20 billion. I know that anything – a political coup in a far-off land or even a devastating weather event – can cause unexpected economic havoc, but I’m pretty comfortable in our predictions.

What’s your take on 2014? ASI’s Counselor magazine recently asked Power 50 members if their companies would hire additional staff in the next year and 63% said they would. I take that as a strong indication of overall industry health. Is your company hiring? Are your clients spending more? Are you?

As Dan Taylor, president of BamBams (asi/38228), which increased sales by 8.5% this year, told ASI: “I think the value factor of promotional products in the marketing space has contributed to this growth. Companies are working hard to expand, so there is a need for advertising in the marketplace.”

Today, promotional products are used by virtually every business and major brand in America, and for good reason: They work! For proof, you need look no further than ASI’s most recent global advertising specialties impressions study, highlighted by tons of easy-to-share stats on everything from the impressive CPI to strong advertiser recall.

It’s clear we have the right products and the right message at the right time. So ask yourself this: What will you be selling in 2014? Products? Or ideas?

Let me know by posting a comment or emailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.


Promo Products 101

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

When college students tell you you’ve done something right, you want to share it with the world. That’s how we felt when we heard from Babson College students who recently dipped a toe into the promotional products industry through a unique initiative spear-headed by ASI’s education department.

ASI and Babson College worked together to help instructor-led student groups spend about $3,000 in seed money to buy, imprint and sell promotional products. As part of their immersion into the business world, these budding entrepreneurs were granted access to ASI’s ESP®, where they could source and order products from our suppliers. By using ESP and reputable ASI member companies, students told us they felt confident they were selling quality products.

After the program ended, the college surveyed participating students. Here are a few of their comments:

  • “It was great because it allowed us to have a reputable way to contact a trusted supplier.”
  • “Definitely continue to provide ASI as a resource… ASI helps legitimize the business immediately and gives a group of college kids credibility.”
  • “Without the strong relationship with our supplier that our COO worked on throughout the semester, we would not have been so successful.”
  • “ASI was incredibly valuable in determining a good supplier within the U.S.”

The inaugural program was so successful, during the 2013-2014 school year ASI and Babson will expand it to enable up to 40 student businesses to show and sell their products through an ESP Websites e-commerce company store.

Our long-term hope is that these future business leaders look to their positive experiences with our suppliers and our industry when embarking on their careers. We plan to continue outreach to other colleges and universities to convince other business, marketing, advertising and new media students to join what we all know is an exciting, creative industry, which more people need to discover.

After announcing the program’s results, we received a number of accolades, along with feedback worth sharing.

The owner of an Illinois company that’s sold promotional products since 1975 applauded the program and shared his own story about a paid internship program he offers for marketing and advertising students. He started the program to mentor students and help them gain valuable, real-world business experience – and to help spread the word about our industry.

As he points out, “Wherever they pursue their career, they will have a very strong background in the power of promotional products as well as how to integrate promotional products into a given target market to help build brand awareness, new product intros, etc.”

He added, “The younger generation will become the backbone of our industry in the near future.”

I couldn’t agree more. As I explained to a distributor who is concerned programs like this one could hurt our industry, any worries about possible student competition should be outweighed by the need for greater exposure.

As it stands now, the industry is too invisible to business students who are learning how to make smart marketing decisions once they’re business professionals.  They learn about buying and using TV, radio and internet advertising, direct mail and everything else under the sun, but marketing programs rarely mention the power of promotional products and the incredible return on the investment of marketing dollars.  We need to change that.

In terms of the next generation of leadership in the industry, we need people to understand and be excited about promotional products as a potential career or the industry will wither and die.  As I walk around trade shows and other events, I am very concerned about the aging of our distributor sales population, the invisibility of the profession to anyone who didn’t grow up in the industry or stumble into it by accident, and equally concerned that we have little or no racial diversity.  We are 90% white in a world that isn’t. Exposing our industry to entrepreneurial students from every walk of life has the opportunity to inject new enthusiasm among those who decide to join.

While I appreciate the feedback, my larger concern is about an invisible industry, lacking new youthful entrants and racial diversity. We plan to continue to pursue programs similar to Babson’s at other colleges and universities and hope to have several such programs next year.

We’ll keep everyone apprised moving forward. My hope is that after considering what more exposure, education and diversity can do for our industry in the long run, everyone will become more enthusiastic about our shared future.


I Spy…Happiness

Filed under: ASICentral, Community, News About ASI

Happy employees help a company’s bottom line. Unhappy employees hurt productivity. In the face of research studies proving engaged employees work harder and come up with better ideas, you’d figure companies everywhere would be scrambling to improve the workplace. You’d be wrong.

Even though creating a better work culture doesn’t cost very much, a lot of companies have yet to make the leap. Here’s where we come in: Starting this week, three ASI employees will visit 16 suppliers and distributors doing it right. The best part is that you can tag along – virtually – throughout the eight-day Counselor Best Places to Work Tour to learn what it takes to turn frowns upside down at your company.

But that’s not all.

On Thursday, November 21, you can take another short-cut to improved productivity by attending ASI’s very first Counselor Best Places to Work Conference in Santa Barbara, CA. Our 12 hot-shot speakers will teach you how to quickly and easily pump up your employees and create the kind of work culture that results in happier people – and higher performances.

The first thing you need to do is to start following Melinda Ligos (@ASI_melinda), Andy Cohen (@ASI_andycohen) and Joe Haley (@ASI_joehaley) at www.CounselorMag.com/roadtour or on Twitter (#counselortour). The road trip gang will post videos, pics and blogs every day – and you can help keep them going by posting comments and tweeting about the trip to your followers. As thanks, you’ll be entered to win a $100 gift card, along with cool road tour memorabilia.

This is the third time our Counselor editors have hit the road to visit Best Places to Work honorees and share the many unique ways these companies balance work and fun. Check out the website to browse previous blog posts for ideas from past visits you can implement at your company – and be sure you join Joe, Andy and Melinda on this year’s trip for even more tips and to meet some of the hippest, happiest people in our industry (and that’s saying a lot!).

If past road trips are any indication, there’s sure to be enough morning beer, late-night chili dogs, wacky costumes, cranked-up tunes, crazy car games and roadside attractions to put the antics described in “On the Road” to shame.

And, I’m happy to report, ASI knows all about Best Places to Work because we are one. In a contest sponsored by Greater Philadelphia Media our employees voted ASI “Best Places to Work-Large Company” (among companies with more than 100 employees), “Best Place for Working Moms” and “Best Employer for New Graduates” in 2013. ASI previously won “Best Places to Work” awards in 2012, 2011 and 2010, so I think it’s official: this is a great place to work.

How happy are your employees? What’s the best new morale-boosting idea implemented at your company? Let me know by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.


A Mountain of Information and Inspiration

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

This year’s ASI Power Summit in Park City, Utah, had it all: Breaking news, early morning inspiration, late-night camaraderie, tons of expert advice, incredible views and great golf and mountain biking.

Memorable moments included losing power within a 50-mile radius of the resort during the very last panel with members of the 2013 Counselor Power 50. Undeterred, we powered on, first using the light from moderator Matthew Cohn’s iPad to light up the speakers on stage and eventually by relying on several other iPad lights along with lanterns from the hotel. Not a single person left the room and every question got answered. I think there’s an Apple commercial in this!

Here are a few of my other personal highlights:

  • My on-stage interview with Michael Bernstein, CEO and chairman of the board for mega-supplier Polyconcept and No. 3 on the 2013 Power 50 list. I grilled Michael, one of the most powerful people in the industry, about his North American business, expansion into decorated apparel, significant decline in the European business and restructuring of the Asian sourcing business, along with his plans – still in the infancy stage – to become a supplier in Asia to local consumers of promotional products. You should also check out Michele Bell’s interview with Michael.
  • The annual Power 50 dinner and release of ASI’s latest groundbreaking global research, proving promotional products deliver commanding advertiser recall among an average of 82% of recipients in every international city surveyed. Check out our online page to download – and share! – PDFs packed with stats on major product categories, along with the study itself. Share the link (www.asicentral.com/study) across all your social media sites.
  • Awesome social media insight from master videographer Devin Graham, whose YouTube videos now boast a combined 200 billion views – yes, that’s billions with a “b.” As ASI’s Dave Vagnoni (@VagnoniASI ) tweeted from the summit: “Seriously, hire @devinsupertramp before you can’t afford him.” Devin, along with ASI creative guru Jake Krolick (pictured on stage), implored the industry audience to inject excitement into everything they do and to experiment with extreme ideas and videos that will capture the attention of the next generation of promo sellers and buyers.

For more advice and tips, check out ASI’s video interviews with:

  1. Lion Circle’s (asi/67620) Rich Carollo, who’s been leading the charge for competitively priced Made-in-the-U.S.A. products.
  2. Tommy Lewis of Bob Lilly Professional Promotions (asi/254138), winner of the Power Summit’s annual “Marketing Smackdown.”
  3. Keynote speaker Adrian Gostick, New York Times bestselling author of The Carrot Principle and an expert on motivating employees.

And don’t forget to check out ASI’s Facebook page, for pics by Jake (@Phillyspread).

The whole point of smaller, more intimate get-togethers like the Power Summit is for people to learn from each other, make new contacts and deepen friendships with people they already know (or think they know).  So I’d like to thank everyone who joined us, and each and every speaker and panelist. Quality ruled!

Throughout the summit I was thrilled. But I was also saddened to hear a young sales star – who sells several million dollars in promo products a year – say he doesn’t think our industry is sexy and that he never tells friends what he does for a living.

In my final address to the Power Summit attendees I shared that story – and really let loose in response. I told our audience I’ve been excited by the industry since the day I started nearly 11 years ago. I’m proud of what I do and of the incredible ROI promotional products provide. Every day, I’m amazed by the continual creativity of our products and the talented people in our industry. I can’t imagine having more fun anywhere else.


Power Summit’s Got Game

Filed under: Community, News About ASI

It’s a no-brainer that Korean superstar Psy and his “Gangnam Style” video is now the most-watched YouTube video, with 1.7 billion views. What’s more interesting to me are sensations like speed demon videographer Devin Graham, whose videos now boast a combined 200 billion views.ASI Power Summit

In a unique marketing twist, Devin recently partnered with Ford to show off its latest high-performance hot hatch. First, check out the stunts he pulled off with the Ford Focus ST, a mountain and a group of pro long boarders. Then, consider what a video master like Devin can show your company about capitalizing on the viral video craze. It’s all about taking your brand for a new ride. Not only does Ford get to look cool to Generation Next, thanks to Devin they get to show off their hottest product to nearly a half-million eyeballs.ASI Power Summit

Such ingenuity is exactly why we picked Devin (@devinsupertramp) as one of our featured speakers for the 2013 ASI Power Summit, coming up fast September 15-17. Where else can you careen down challenging mountain bike trails sporting a GoPro camera like Devin and get a briefcase full of great tips on motivating employees to the max from New York Times bestselling author Adrian Gostick? Just don’t try both at the same time!

ASI’s annual Power Summit, where the best minds in our industry meet for three days of brainstorming, networking and superior learning, is happening at the Montage Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. But act fast to qualify for a special discount of $300 off registration. Visit the 2013 Power Summit website, where you can register and browse the agenda, the speakers and their hard-hitting topics as well as the numerous recreational opportunities in Park City and beyond.ASI Power Summit

Other benefits of attending include a first look at the expanded, 2013 Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study, the 3rd annual Marketing Smackdown (a real-time showdown with top distributors picked by the audience), a slate of panels and top-drawer speakers like Bruce Money, a Harvard MBA and consultant for Nissan and CSX, with a topic that should be on everyone’s front burner: our changing demographics.ASI Power Summit in Park City

If you have any questions, email powersummit@email.asicentral.com or email me here.

Come for the summit, then take a few days to explore Utah’s vacation paradise, which boasts dramatic mountain vistas, wondrous rock formations, a unique Western culture and even Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute. If you want to shake it up, you can bike, hike, fly in a hot air balloon, ride a roller coaster and go white water rafting. Or, you can just kick back and relax in a hot tub.

Make sure you check out Devin’s view on Utah, in a video featuring pro trail bike rider Jeremy VanSchoonhoven, a finalist on “America’s Got Talent,” riding killer rocks in Maob, named one of America’s best adventure towns by National Geographic.

So what do you say? Power riding at the Power Summit? Move over, Psy. Here we come!


The Summer of ’83

Filed under: Community, News About ASI

Thirty years ago this summer, I worked as a Dow Jones News Fund intern in New York City. I was 21 and it was the first time I’d ever left Indiana for more than a few days. As you can imagine, those few months in the big city changed my life forever.ASI Summer Internship

I flashed back to that summer the moment I met two Dow Jones interns from the very same program: Grace Thompson and Samantha Phillips, who are spending their summer working in our editorial department at ASI headquarters outside Philadelphia.

Grace is on the Dean’s List at Rowan University, majoring in Writing Arts and minoring in Journalism. She plans to pursue a Master of Fine Arts after graduating next year and hopes to write the next Great American Novel. Samantha recently graduated from Elizabethtown College with a B.A. in Professional Writing. Her dream is to become a magazine editor, event planner or film critic. In the photo, Grace is to the left of me and Sam (as she’s known around the office) is to my right.

Every day, Sam, who’s 24, and Grace, 20, tackle everything from researching and writing stories for our award-winning magazines to proofreading and assisting during photo shoots, radio shows and ASI events. Everything they do is hands-on, which adds up to critical experience they can tout on their resumes.

They’re definitely on their way to something great. Click here to read a blog Grace wrote about her intern experience (under the pen name Grace Bennett) and click here to read a post Sam wrote.

ASI interns are paid.  And yet, of  the one million undergraduate interns helping companies throughout the U.S., roughly half earn no salary, working instead for the experience or the college credit.

Here at ASI, we believe that, like everyone else, interns need money for housing, food, gas – and the occasional new cool apps. In return, they perform much-needed jobs while offering all of us fresh perspectives. Interns can be a great resource to any company, but especially to those courting the next generation. Interns know what’s hot before anyone else, and can provide invaluable insight into products and especially social media marketing.

So don’t just delegate them to fetching coffee. Think of them as junior staff members and tap their brains as often as possible. Someday, you might be working for them!

To prepare for entering the full-time working world, both Sam and Grace spent a week in New York City in Dow Jones’ business journalism residency, along with 18 other interns from all over the world. Grace, a Florida native now living in New Jersey, says her favorite part was being in the heart of Manhattan and experiencing all the different cultures, both within the group and out in the city.

After talking to Sam and Grace and comparing notes on our shared experiences in the Dow Jones program, I was moved to contact the managing editor who meant a great deal to me during my own internship: Jim Furlong.

I was an editing intern, assigned to international business and economic news for what was then a joint venture between the Associated Press and Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal.  My job was rewriting WSJ stories so shorter versions could be sent over the wires, to be read across the world. Since I was an economics and journalism major at Ball State University, it was a perfect fit.

The photo at right shows me from around that time, in a college dorm with my friends Cheryl, far left, Melissa and Richard on either side, and Mark, above.   Jim, my boss that summer, was 47 – younger than I am now. We initially reconnected on Facebook, which I was delighted to find he also uses to keep up with friends and family. In an email, I told him how much his honesty and generosity meant to a farm kid like me, living in an apartment in Hoboken I’d found on a bulletin board, working the 7 p.m.-2 a.m. shift.

“I want to thank you so much for everything you did,” I wrote, “and everything that came about as a result. I’ve had a wonderful career, which continues, and a life better than it would have been if I had not met you.”

I ended up working at Dow Jones on the newswire side for seven years before switching, briefly, to public relations at an Ogilvy agency. After six months of hating every minute, I returned, but this time on the business side. All told, I spent 16 years at Dow Jones in a variety of senior management, editorial, marketing, technology and product development roles.

Imagine my surprise when, a few days after I messaged Jim on Facebook, I got an actual letter (remember those?) in return. I couldn’t believe how much he remembered about me, right down to the P.R. job, which he described as donning the “flak jacket.”  I also had to laugh at his description of my younger self as a “live one.”

His letter, at right, was exactly as I remembered him: smart, warm and funny. “Thank you for remembering one of your old editors,” he wrote. “Your comments mean a lot.”

The lesson for all of us is that it’s never too late to thank those who help you when you’re on your way up. If you’re lucky, they’ll remember you. If you’re really lucky, they’ll call you “friend.”


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