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Making a Case to Congress

Filed under: Community, Guest Blog, Industry Initiatives, Members

Perseverantia Vintia is a Latin motto that translates into “Perseverance Conquers.”  This sentiment is a perfect description of the fifth annual Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.) hosted by the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) in our nation’s capital April 9 and 10.  Throughout the trip to Washington D.C., the 70 industry volunteers who participated shared a common refrain: “They remember who we are and what we are here for.”  To me, this refrain sums up our mission, which was to educate members of Congress about the value of advertising specialties and the legislative issues most important to suppliers and distributors.

This year, the L.E.A.D volunteers came from all 50 states, including my home state of Pennsylvania, where ASI is based.  Over two days, our group made over 200 Congressional office visits, the culmination of months of preparation that included contacting Congressional staff to arrange meetings and participating in numerous conference calls and webinars to coordinate activities and hone our “lobbying” skills.

As in the past, one of the primary message points is that low-cost, high-impact ad specialties, which still cost as little as half a penny per impression, work. We also wanted to remind our lawmakers of the important part a $20.5 billion industry that employs over 400,000 people plays in the national economy.

Invariably, every Congressional office we visited had numerous advertising specialties, which helped us make our case while providing tangible proof of the importance of using ad specialties for public awareness programs such as organ donation and health-care awareness. Naturally, we always bring promotional products with us to reinforce our message. This year, Jim Socci of Artistic Toy (asi/37122) designed a really clever and effective product to use during our pitch – an elephant-shaped hand puppet that turned inside out to become a donkey (pictured).  Needless to say, the message was not lost on our audience and, whether they were Republican or Democrat, the puppet never failed to make them smile.

In addition to industry awareness, we also focused on preserving the ability of suppliers and distributors to hire independent contractors in lieu of employees, maintaining the full deductibility of advertising costs and the need to be mindful of small businesses in any proposed tax reform.  Each team was prepared with position papers on each topic that concisely set forth the issues at hand, which we left behind as a resource for future reference.

Throughout our trip, the group met over meals to compare notes and share success stories.  At the breakfast meeting on the final day, PPAI recognized Congresswoman Renee Ellmers of North Carolina as its Legislator of the Year in recognition of her commitment to small business interests and success, willingness to meet with industry professionals and support of issues critical to the promotional products industry.

Kudos must go to the folks at PPAI who worked so hard on the event, especially Paul Bellantone, president and CEO; Anne Lardner-Stone, director of public affairs; and Seth Barnett, government relations manager. Their diligence and enthusiasm was evident from the start and I’m confident Congressional leaders left our 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

In the photo at top, Chuck, at far left, is pictured with PA Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, center, and Jim Socci.


PR for Promos

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Media Coverage, Members, News About ASI

ASI scored some major PR for the industry recently, thanks to a national story that aired on the MSNBC Sunday morning program, Your Business, which exclusively covers small businesses and entrepreneurs. Host J.J. Ramberg and her crew spent hours at ASI’s New York show interviewing exhibitors and the end result is a serious look at a fun industry and the proven power of promotional products.

You can check out the fact-packed MSNBC segment on ASI’s press page by clicking here. You can also access it at on the show’s webpage by clicking here. Don’t forget to share the link on your social media pages – like Facebook and LinkedIn – and also internally among your own teams.

Overall, I think the MSNBC segment really captured some key points about advertising specialties while also relaying the energy and fun of what we all do every day. In the “Business War Chest” part of the program, host J.J. described the cool items she saw as “promos with a purpose” (which I love!) and said ad specialties “can’t be beat.”

Producer Dawn Stackhouse spent a total of about seven hours on the show floor over two days, interviewing exhibitors and learning all about the industry. Even though it looks easy once it makes it to air, it’s unbelievable how much work goes into reporting a single 4-minute segment – and appearing on TV. I bet every exhibitor featured on the show has a newfound respect for on-air talent now that they’ve experienced the “bright lights” themselves.

I’d like to offer my congrats to the companies selected for on-air interviews: Debco (asi/48885), Stuffed Tees (asi/79662), Personalized Gift Source (asi/50161) and Brighter Promotions (asi/42016). The MSNBC segment closed with host J.J. hanging out with the ASI Show mascot, Promo, and shooting off a tee shirt shot from a logoed air cannon supplied by Air Cannons Inc. (asi/33252).

My thanks go to everyone who helped during MSNBC’s visit to ASI New York, especially exhibitors like Easy-Doks (asi/51511), Bloomin’ Promotions (asi/40646), Interall Group (asi/63092), See-Sun (asi/88584), Eco-Centric Brands (asi/51443), S&K (asi/84325) and Idol Memory (asi/62222), who graciously gave their time to demo products for the camera, but who may not have made it to air or who appeared only briefly.

Considering that a 30-second commercial could cost a company upwards of $35,000 per spot, such free publicity is golden for any business, which is why we make it a priority at ASI.  We’re continuously courting reporters across North America to gain media coverage showcasing entrepreneurs in our industry, explaining how to use promotional products in marketing campaigns and reinforcing the large return on investment that branded products provide.

The most recent “get” is just one of literally dozens of TV segments ASI has arranged in recent years, including two others that aired on Fox News during ASI New York. Although I’m not crazy about the term “wacky products” and found the Good Day New York anchors a little silly, ASI’s own Joe Haley did a great job representing the industry during a live television show (where anything can happen and it’s very hard to control the messaging).

Click here to watch the Fox nightly news segment and click here to see Joe in action.

Check out the segments and let me know what you think by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn. Hopefully, you’ll react as positively as Chris Seriale, of New World Group (asi/283161) who watched the filming in New York and told us: “I’ve been an ASI member for 20 years and this is so cool. It’s great for the industry.”


Style and Substance in California

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Members, News About ASI

The ASI show in Long Beach, California was as provocative as it was successful. Artist Erik Wahl – one of the most unusual keynoters we’ve ever had – gave a presentation described by more than one person as “awesome.”

Linda Panksy, from PIP Printing (asi/398508) told us Wahl, a best-belling author who uses art as a means of communicating business advice, actually inspired her to think differently: “He made me realize that I need to get out of the box.”

According to Wahl, “You have to find ways to differentiate yourself from the competition, and creativity can do that. The companies that are successful right now are the ones that create unique experiences for their customers.”

If you missed the keynote, check out an interview Counselor Editor Andy Cohen conducted afterward with Wahl, on ways ad specialty companies can become more creative and innovative. Click here to watch.

The two-day California show was attended by more than 1,800 distributors, including sales stars from Million-Dollar Roundtable companies such as Geiger, Brown & Bigelow, Jack Nadel and iPROMOTEu. The show floor attracted 280 exhibitors, including 93 new to Long Beach.

The best part for me were the reviews from attendees like Paul Herzbrum, from BND Corporation (asi/129474), who said: “We’re leaving with many new initiatives that will help us build our business, and that’s what attending a trade show is all about.”

Katharina Pieper of BamBams (asi/38228) told us she most enjoyed the quality of attendees. “We’ve been able to talk in detail with distributors and are being asked for quotes and are getting valuable leads. We are already committed to all The ASI Shows next year, and we will be in New York next week.”

What I liked best about our week in California was all we accomplished, starting with the unique combination of our invitation-only fASIlitate event with an ASI show. Everyone I spoke to who attended both events found the experience worthwhile. Tonia Allen Gould, from TagSource, described fASIlitate as “Absolutely fabulous. It’s a great use of time. I’m sitting down with vendors one-on-one and it’s a very rewarding experience. I would definitely recommend it.”

I hope you’ve been able to catch another new initiative: the live, on-stage version of our ever-popular “Joe Show,” featuring dozens of cool, new products from leading suppliers. Host Joe Haley is earning high praise for the live format. One distributor even told us it was his favorite part of the show.

Seems like we’re barely taking a breath before heading to ASI New York, taking place next Wednesday and Thursday at the Javits Center. After that, it’s on to the ASI show in Chicago July 15-17. (To learn more about exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities for 2014, contact sales VP Karen DiTomasso at kditomasso@asicentral.com).

For photos and more coverage of ASI Long Beach, be sure to visit www.asicentral.com and the ASI Show Facebook page.


Creativity in California

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, News About ASI

ASI Long Beach in California runs through Thursday at the Long Beach Convention Center. This year’s keynote speaker is Eric Wahl, aka the “Warhol of Wall Street,” a former suit who now believes creativity is the key to unlocking success.

Author of a best-selling business book, Wahl is a provocateur with a purpose and promises to help participants tap their inner inventiveness. Afterward, he’ll give away the painting he’ll create during the “Erik Wahl Experience.”

For all vital info on ASI Long Beach, download our free mobile app, which allows you to track all the happenings 24/7 (search “ASI Long Beach” in your app store). You can also get continual updates from ASI staffers on Twitter, www.asicentral.com and the show’s Facebook page.

Education featured a free lunch session, “Sales Success Made Simple: Manage Your Time and Achieve Your Goals,” followed by sales, marketing and social media sessions.

At each show this year, Joe Haley conducts a live version of his popular “Joe Show” featuring suppliers’ hottest products, so be sure to catch it next show you attend.

We’re coming up fast on ASI New York (April 3-4) and then before we know it we’ll be preparing for Chicago (July 15-17). To learn more about exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities for 2014, contact sales VP Karen DiTomasso at kditomasso@asicentral.com

P.S. If you missed Wahl’s ASI Radio interview on Tuesday, or any of our interviews, you can always click on previous shows in our archives at www.asicentral.com/radio


Presidential Memories from ASI Dallas

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Media Coverage, News About ASI

I’m standing in the wings at the Dallas convention center with President George W. Bush, seconds before our interview in front of a packed house of 1,200. The president turns to me, leans in close and says, “This is important to remember. Have fun!”

With that, we were off and running. For over an hour, the president answered every question I had – including what he was thinking right after the planes struck the twin towers on 9/11, when he was in an elementary school classroom.

He got a lot of grief for not leaving immediately, but as he explained to our audience – which was so riveted you could have heard a pin drop – when he got the news, a little girl was reading out loud. He was angry, and his mind was racing, but he couldn’t show it because he knew it wouldn’t be helpful to the American people. As the little girl read on, he realized he was now a war-time president – that he had to protect her and protect America.

Of the many on-the-spot decisions he had to make in the harrowing days, weeks and months after 9/11, the president said, “History will ultimately judge whether I made the right decisions or not.”  Whether you support Bush’s politics or not, being in the same room with any president is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The presentation took place on the last day of the ASI Show in Dallas, which ended Thursday after attracting over 500 suppliers (including 65 new to Dallas) and over 3,300 distributors from 43 states and seven countries. Despite crazy 20-degree weather and snow on the ground, it was a great show and the Bush presentation was definitely the highlight. (For more coverage, including blogs and videos, visit www.asicentral.com and the ASI Show Facebook page. Click here to read the press release. And click here for Fox news coverage of the show.)

Over the years, ASI has hosted many A-list keynote speakers, including President Bill Clinton, First Lady Laura Bush and Gen. Colin Powell. President Bush impressed me and I’d rank him right up there with Clinton. Bush was very charming, incredibly smart and extremely gracious, which shouldn’t surprise anyone since Bush is one of a mere handful of men ever elected U.S. president.

We talked before we went on and he asked a lot of questions about ASI and our industry. Once on stage, Bush thanked ASI’s owners, the Cohn family, and said of Matthew Cohn, who followed his father Norman into ASI, “I love people who follow in their father’s footsteps.” And several times during the Q&A he looked right at me – and winked.

As you can see from the photos, President Bush still works out a lot and still carries himself like a president. He recognized our audience as great marketers and entrepreneurs and said he hopes the government supports small businesses like those represented in the promotional products industry.

President Bush also didn’t shy away from any topic. When I asked if he’d always known he’d seek public office, and always wanted to be president, he confided that, if he’d known earlier, he would have taken his college years more seriously!  (His GPA and a youthful drinking are well-documented. He hasn’t had alcohol for decades and told our audience he’s also stopping smoking cigars.)

He also talked about the hobby he took up after leaving office: painting. This was a surprising choice because, as he said, he wasn’t an art guy, he was a baseball guy. But he’d read a book by Winston Churchill that addressed taking up painting to smooth the transition from world leader to (almost) ordinary citizen. Today, Bush takes art lessons about once a week and paints nearly every day, largely because it’s relaxing.

One of my favorite moments took place at a meet and greet with industry people, where he spoke to every single person in the room. When Bush learned one man was on active duty with the U.S. military, he personally handed him a medallion

“Thank you for your service,” he said. I later learned he brings a bag of the medallions with him everywhere so they are always available as a way of thanking our military men and women for all they do to protect our nation.

To me, such gratitude is the true mark of a great leader – no matter the politics.


Red Hot Orlando Beats Arctic Cold

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, News About ASI

Despite near-record cold and the lingering effects of a horrific snowstorm that caused numerous flight delays, nearly everyone arrived at ASI Orlando in fine spirits, energized and raring to hit the show floor. Along with the stars of the ABC hit reality TV show competition Shark Tank, the first show of the 2014 show season attracted over 5,600 distributors from 27 countries and nearly every state in the union.

The suppliers, distributors and decorators I spoke to are very bullish on 2014 and heartened by preliminary ASI research showing record industry sales of over $20 billion for 2013.

The crowd included 805 suppliers (with 130 brand new to Orlando!) and numerous Counselor® Top 40, along with 20 distributor sales meetings. Lee Feinstein, from Bodek & Rhodes (asi/40788), described his booth as a “mob scene,” which is the ultimate compliment.

The event, which took place Sunday through Tuesday at the Orange County Convention Center, showcased thousands of the hottest products in the industry and featured a full slate of networking events, all-day education and a jam-packed show floor.

The highlight for me was Tuesday’s live Shark Tank-style “pitch slam” between four innovative entrepreneurs vying for a $5,000 cash prize for the industry’s top new promotional product, with our own vice-chairman Matthew Cohn as co-host. I was impressed by the professionalism of self-made tycoons Barbara Corcoran and Kevin O’Leary, who judged the competition.

Supplier Card Ninja (asi/95026) took home the big check after dazzling the judges with an innovative card-holder that sticks to the back of cell phones. “You have a phenomenal product,” Corcoran said. “I’ll offer you $10,000 right now for 30% of your company.” The winners, pictured at right with Barbara, are company co-founder Sunder Jambunathan (at far right), Rupa Mohan (center) and Christopher Page.

Later, the judges – who bicker onstage like an old married couple – told me they were thrilled to appear before a cheering crowd of genuine entrepreneurs instead of the boring executives they normally speak to during similar corporate events.  Best yet, they loved our industry.

“It definitely works,” Kevin told a reporter from the Orlando Business Journal who interviewed him after the event. “This industry has grown every year. And as a business model, it works.”

The greatest advice he could offer entrepreneurs is to watch cash flow. “The lifeblood of a business is cash,” Kevin said. “People run out of it too quickly and that’s the reason most small businesses fail.”

Judging by the line that started outside the keynote at 7:30 a.m. and the standing-room-only audience of nearly 1,200, the hyper-interactive event was a huge hit for everyone involved. And I’d like to especially thank our other competitors: SSAM Sports, who showed off their “Putterwheel” golf product; BamBams, with “WeLuvABanner”; and Semco/Americraft, with the “Gap Stick.”

I knew this crowd was party hardy when I saw the attendance numbers for our gala celebration at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: 1,900 people braved near-record cold to enjoy thrill rides, a DJ dance party and tons of meeting and greeting. In the pic at right, ASI Show’s new VP and general manager, Rita Ugianskis-Fishman, wards off the chill at a heat lamp with exhibitor and screen printer Jeff Nieball, of N Designs in Fayetteville, TN. Rita really hit the ground running – she started her ASI career this week in Orlando and I’m sure you’ll see her at our upcoming shows so please say hello.

The celebrations continued during the annual Counselor Distributor Choice Awards, which applauded winners in 60 different product categories. Seattle-based iClick (asi/62124) was named 2014 Supplier of the Year. As I said in my congratulatory speech, “I think the real reason iClick is tonight’s winner has a lot to do with founder Lon McGowan’s mantra: ‘Do whatever makes the distributor look good.’”

To see the complete list of Counselor Distributor Choice Awards winners, click here. And for complete coverage of the show, including blogs and videos, visit www.asicentral.com.

The year is off to a great start. Upcoming 2014 ASI Shows are Dallas (February 4-6), Long Beach (March 25-27), New York (April 3-4) and Chicago (July 15-17).

As always, I’m interested in what you think of our shows, so feel free to post a comment or e-mail me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.


New Year, Big Show

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, News About ASI

We’re kicking off the New Year with a great big three-day show in Orlando, the first of the 2014 show season. In addition to thousands of the hottest products in the industry, we’re showcasing creativity, entrepreneurship and good old-fashioned competitiveness during a very special keynote presentation on Tuesday by the stars of the ABC hit reality TV show, Shark Tank.

The show, taking place at the massive Orange County Convention Center, got off to a great start Sunday, with a full day of classes offering something for everyone – whether you’re already a million-dollar superstar or an industry newbie. And classes continue both Monday and Tuesday, so it’s not too late to attend one.

This show features a ton of “firsts.” Monday morning, ASI’s products expert Joe Haley hosted a live Joe Show on stage with suppliers showing of their coolest items. Monday night, we celebrate suppliers during the annual Counselor Distributor Choice Awards. I love these awards because distributors across North America choose which companies we’ll honor by voting for their most-valued ad specialty suppliers. Winners are selected based on real votes and data from ASI’s Supplier Performance Ratings.

Another first – the ASI CTO Summit, hosted by our Chief Technology Officer Armughan Rafat. We decided to bring together tech leaders from some of the largest distributors and suppliers in the industry to discuss ways a technology culture can influence an organization’s bottom line. I’m sure we’ll enjoy heady discussions of a front-burner topic of keen interest to us all.

In another first, we’re hosting a pitch slam called “Swimming with the Sharks” on Tuesday – with four top suppliers competing for $5,000 to help them launch a cool, new product. The judges are none other than self-made tycoons Barbara Corcoran and Kevin O’Leary, who know just what it takes to run with a million-dollar idea. This presentation should be a lot of fun – and it’s free, so be sure to come and cheer on your favorite supplier.

Before the presentation ASI Chairman of the Board Norman Cohn and Matthew Cohn, the founder of The ASI Show, join me on stage to “pin” the latest recipients of certifications from ASI’s education program. I’m proud to say ASI recently hit a major milestone – awarding over 1,000 industry certifications through our free Online Learning Center since November 2010 alone.

This year’s gala celebration takes place at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, complete with rides, a DJ, dance party and plenty of food and drink. It’s the perfect opportunity to meet new people, have fun with old friends and relax a little in the midst of a very busy show.

I’m also happy ASI Orlando has attracted 20 distributor sales meetings, including American Solutions for Business, which brought 300 of their top sales reps. It’s always a pleasure to attend their events and to say hello to their CEO, Larry Zavadil, who’s celebrating both a birthday and the arrival of a new grand-daughter. Congrats, Larry!

If you see me at the show (I’m the one walking the fastest, though it’s hard to beat the guys on those segways zipping around), please say hello. As always, I’m interested in what you think of the show, so feel free to post a comment or e-mail me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

And be sure to check out our website for complete coverage of the show, including blogs and videos, at www.asicentral.com. And if you haven’t already, register for our upcoming shows in Dallas, Long Beach, New York City and Chicago.


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