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Slow, Steady Growth

Filed under: Community, Research

With the U.S. reporting modest economic gains and a European recovery finally taking hold, the most recent ASI North American sales report on the promotional products industry also shows renewed reason for optimism. First quarter distributor sales were up 6.4% over Q1 2013 sales. And Q1 supplier sales grew 4.8% over Q1 2013, below the growth rate of the last two quarters, but similar to the first two quarters of 2013.

Equally as important, the Q1 2014 Counselor Confidence Index, which measures distributor health, hit 114, equaling a high last seen in 2006.

It’s great to report the year is off to a strong start, with more than half of North American distributors reporting a year-over-year increase in sales and only about one in five reporting a decline.  Historically, Q2 growth numbers have declined from Q1 numbers in each of the last three years, and it’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues.

On the supplier side, more than half told ASI they enjoyed a year-over-year increase (Q1 2014 vs. Q1 2013) in sales, with about 21% reporting a decline.

Nationwide, April was the best month for job growth in a while, and the unemployment rate fell to 6.3%. Wages, however, remained flat, and it doesn’t look like the hoped-for hike in the federal minimum wage is going anywhere anytime soon. A new report by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington offered some pretty dire predictions: it may take the economy nine years to recoup the jobs lost during the recession, plus those needed to employ new workers during the slow recovery.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects growth in Asia to remain steady at 5.4% this year. Last year, the region – home to 60% of the world’s population – grew 5.2%. I just returned from a long trip to China and Hong Kong, where ASI has a half dozen independent reps working to sell SGR memberships and marketing and to help manufacturers there connect with North American suppliers. In the spirit of the ongoing fusion of the global economy, ASI also has one rep working in India reporting contacts who are very interested in ASI suppliers and services.

While things are finally picking up in Europe, according to Reuters, numerous factors could still affect the economy, including ever-broiling tensions with Russia, a prolonged period of low inflation and an unwillingness by European member governments to continue reforms. On the good news front, deficits are down, investment is up and, although unemployment remains around 10%, more Europeans are finding jobs.

What’s happening in your neck of the woods? Let me know by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


Promo Power 101

Filed under: Community, Education, Guest Blog, News About ASI

Tom Athan is a college student who produces and sells a clothing line called Dudz from his dorm room (imagine low-slung, custom-made M.C. Hammer-style lounge pants for guys and girls in a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns). Athan was unsure how to advertise his apparel cost-effectively – until he learned about the power of promotional products. Now, he plans to invest in a small run of screen-printed T-shirts, bumper stickers and magnets to spread the word about his quirky brand.

Athan was among 50 business students who attended a lecture Counselor Senior Editor Dave Vagnoni and I gave at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, N.J. Tammy Dietrich, assistant dean of TCNJ’s School of Business, invited us to discuss the $20.5 billion promotional products industry as part of the school’s Sophomore Colloquium spring seminars, which teach students about different industries to broaden their knowledge about potential internships, future careers and smart business ideas.

Dave and I presented key findings from ASI’s Global Advertising Impressions Study, surprising students who were unaware how much bang for the buck businesses can get from promo products. The most impressive stats? That 86% remember the advertiser on a promo product they receive and that the cost-per-impression is only about half a cent – cheaper and more effective than primetime TV ads, print ads and billboards.

Anthony Paun, a finance major who attended the session, said, “Today I learned that people keep a large quantity of the promotional products that they get, and the return on investment is way better in comparison to TV advertising.”

Our session was informative, fun and interactive – we gave away candy and logoed products to students who shouted out correct answers to our pop quiz questions – and we think our content was a big hit.

“There’s no substitute for students hearing directly from industry experts and realizing the many facets of a business they only knew a fraction about,” Dietrich said. “The School of Business is so grateful to ASI for participating in our spring 2014 series and providing students with global insight into the ad specialties world. Students love getting freebies as well as creating them for their clubs and organizations, but had no idea of the magnitude of this business.”

As it stands now, though, the advertising specialty industry is too invisible to business students. 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 their incredible ROI. That’s why ASI is focused on outreach to colleges and universities to teach students about our industry and the power of advertising specialties in marketing campaigns – as well as explaining how to become a distributor and build your own business.

ASI’s long-term hope is that these future business leaders will look to our industry when embarking on their careers. We plan to continue outreach 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.

Dietrich thanked us with a wonderful compliment: “As a bonus, Nicole Rollender and Dave Vagnoni make an engaging team and we hope to have them back at TCNJ.”

We’d love to return!

– Nicole Rollender is ASI’s executive director of professional development

In top pic, TCNJ students Tom Athan, co-founder of Dudz, and Robert Garavente with ASI’s Executive Director of Professional Development Nicole Rollender, with their new ASI branded tumblers. In bottom pic, TCNJ students Anthony Paun and David Chao are all smiles after winning logoed promo products and candy.


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.


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