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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.

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.

Business, Canadian-Style

Filed under: Community, Industry Initiatives, News About ASI

I probably qualified for enough frequent flyer miles to get to the moon this week, leap-frogging from ASI® headquarters in Pennsylvania to meetings in California before heading to Banff, Alberta, for the inaugural ASI Power Summit in Canada.

The summit, which takes place Wednesday through Friday at the legendary Fairmont Banff Springs resort, features sessions on emerging markets and breaking business trends impacting the advertising specialty marketplace. I’m really looking forward to an on-stage discussion with our keynote speaker, the multi-talented Dr. Jack Mintz, a world-renowned corporate taxation expert and director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.

While it’s our first Power Summit in Canada, it’s our seventh altogether, with registration already open for the ASI Power Summit 2013, Sunday, September 15 through Tuesday, September 17 at the Montage Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah.

The hallmarks of every ASI Power Summit include an intimate, relaxed setting in a beautiful place, conducive to great conversations and superior networking among the industry’s most knowledgeable and influential people. The list of business leaders speaking at the Canadian Power Summit reads like a “Who’s Who” of ad specialty insiders and representatives of a number of Counselor Top 40 suppliers and distributors.

In addition to a full slate of panel discussions, on Thursday we’ll celebrate the release of our first-ever list of the fastest-growing ad specialty companies in Canada, a list topped by a company that grew an incredible 253% between 2010 and 2012.

I’m sure a high point of that night’s dinner discussion will be Canada highlights from Counselor® magazine’s upcoming “State of the Industry” report. Sneak peek alert: 2012 Canadian distributor ad specialty sales rose to $1.56 billion, up from $1.48 billion in 2011.

The ASI employees working at the event include Editor-in-Chief Melinda Ligos, pictured from left with Glenna Fulks, assistant director of corporate events, marketing guru Colin Graf and Counselor Editor Andy Cohen. They tell me the hotel’s bison served over risotto is not to be missed.

After three action-packed days, I’m looking forward to one day’s worth of hiking in Banff National Park, where “residents” include black bears, grizzlies, wolves, cougars and elk.  I sure hope the hotel gift shop carries bear spray along with their branded gear!

Big News from the Big D

Filed under: ASI Shows, Industry Initiatives, Members, News About ASI

ASI® kicked off its latest show in Dallas Wednesday – the same day we announced the availability of thelatest version of our ESP Mobile app.

The Texas show continues through Friday at the Dallas Convention Center, where thousands of distributors and suppliers will conduct business at a faster, more efficient pace than ever before, thanks to tech innovations like the ESP Mobile apps for iPhone, iPad and Android.

ESP Mobile downloads have already topped 9,000 since launch – and we’re expecting a new surge now that we’ve unveiled over 40 innovative new features, which we’ll demo in Dallas as well as at upcoming shows in Long Beach (March 22-24), New York (May 8-9) and Chicago (July 16-18).

If you haven’t already, give the new mobile app a test drive. Now users can:

-Tap to create virtual samples and generate dynamic on-site sales demos
-Speak to search for products
-Tap to quickly rate a supplier and read other distributor comments
-Search and filter products easily with the same options as ESP Web
-Instantly provide ASI with feedback to improve the user experience

I’m really looking forward to reactions from users at Dallas, which features some Texas-sized action. Just check out the big way the Omni hotel greeted show participants this week. It’s a great “sign” of the enthusiasm and professionalism we’re encountering everywhere.

In addition to demos, networking and a brand-new Gala Celebration at the world-famous Gilley’s, we’ve got 16 distributor sales meetings taking place here in Dallas.

First thing Wednesday morning I welcomed Counselor Top 40 distributor American Solutions for Business (asi/120075), which brought together upwards of 250 sales reps for their winter conference. As I often do, I asked the audience if anyone was from my home state of Indiana – and found a single Hoosier, as well as someone from N.J., where I now live.

After all-day education (which includes new classes for owners), the show floor is open for business Thursday and Friday. We’ll start off the last day with a free keynote by former Dallas Cowboy and three-time Super Bowl champion Emmitt Smith, who might be better known in some circles as the 2006 “Dancing with the Stars” winner.

Keep checking www.asicentral.com and our Twitter feed for the latest show news, blogs and videos. And if you’re with us in Dallas, let me know what you’re looking forward to the most by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

And don’t forget on August 12, ASI returns to Dallas for the inaugural Promotions Southwest show at the state-of-the-art Irving Convention Center. Click here for more info and to register for the new show, timed to help distributors prepare for all-important fourth-quarter sales.

ASI Technology Smackdown

Filed under: Industry Initiatives, News About ASI

ASI® recently announced dozens of technology innovations members will begin benefiting from in a few short weeks. We know you’re excited about what’s ahead because a record number of you tuned into our webinar this week for a sneak peek.

Rob Watson, ASI’s VP of digital user experience, joined me for the big online reveal of incredibly dynamic new features and advancements coming up in ESP MobileESP Websites and ESP Web, designed by our crack tech team to help you work smarter and faster in 2013 and beyond.

We’ll give live demos of everything in ASI Orlando Jan. 5-7, ASI Dallas Feb. 6-8, and ASI Long Beach March 22-24, so if you haven’t already, click here to register for those upcoming shows.

If you missed the webinar, here are the highlights:

ESP Mobile for iPhone, iPad and Android

  • Tap to quickly rate a supplier and read other distributor comments
  • Tap to create virtual samples on the fly and generate dynamic on-site sales demos
  • Speak to search for products (just like Siri!)
  • Instantly provide ASI with feedback so we can enhance your experience
  • Search and filter products easily with the same options in ESP Web
  • Plus, more than 40 new features

ESP Websites (now available for suppliers, too)

  • Simple dashboard where you can control the look and feel of your website
  • Enhanced template filtering to find templates faster
  • Ability to feature up to 50 videos
  • Beautiful new website templates, each available in nine colors

ESP Websites: All-New Company Stores

  • One-click branding so you can upload your customer’s logo once and see it applied to every virtual sample-ready product in your store
  • 20 cool store site templates, each available in nine colors
  • Sync store designs with your ESP Website
  • Manage your website and Company Store from the same location
  • Robust eCommerce shopping cart that accepts credit cards, PayPal, ACH and payment terms
  • Coded product numbers unique to your ESP Website prevent competitors from selling the same product to your customer

ESP Web: All-New Presentations

  • Easily find all your presentations in one place with ESP Online sync
  • Sync your clipboard to the Cloud
  • Two layouts, nine designs, nine colors
  • Multiple price grids
  • Easy, one-step product modifications
  • Instant virtual sample applications to one or all products
  • Smart notifications automatically inform you when products are discontinued
  • Export your customizable presentations to PowerPoint or PDF or publish to ESP Website

Our tech team relied on your feedback for many of these advancements – so keep those ideas and suggestions coming, and get more info by contacting your sales rep or emailing us at whatsnew@asicentral.com.


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

Things are happening fast and furious here at ASI Chicago. Wednesday night, we celebrated this year’s Counselor Hot List with a wild party at the downtown hot spot, Crimson Lounge. It’s clear that for the 38 men and women hitting the 2012 list, “the future’s so bright, they gotta wear shades.”

Click here to read all about the star power lighting up the industry. If there’s one thread running through each of their stories, it’s fearlessness. As we learned from this week’s all-day education session with Tony Robbins, true winners have one gear: drive.

Speaking of winners, we kicked off the last day of our three-day Chicago show with a keynote by one of the most successful mayors in our nation’s history – Chicago’s own Richard Daley, considered the nation’s top executive for his deft handling of the machinations of the Windy City during his unprecedented 22-year tenure.

And, continuing ASI’s own winning streak, we just got word that three ASI publications have been recognized for editorial excellence by the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) in a stiff competition that included Bloomberg Businessweek and Computerworld.

The winners are:


Gold: Original Research for “State of the Industry”

Bronze: Feature Article for “Behind Bars”


Gold: Front Cover Photo for “The Style Issue”

Silver: Front Cover Photo for “Head of the Class”

Silver: Feature Article Design for “The Color Issue”


Silver: How-To Article for “One Company, 12 Contacts, Big Bucks”

Bronze: How-To Article for “Social Networking Boot Camp”

If that’s not enough, ASI just announced that nearly 2,000 ESP Websites™ are now live, setting an all-time record high for user adoption in the launch of an ASI product.

Launched in May, ESP Websites continue to gain momentum with thousands more new ESP Websites going live in the weeks ahead. It’s clear the industry has embraced ASI’s latest product offering with gusto.

If you haven’t jumped on the ESP Websites bandwagon yet, click here to climb on board and give your business the online boost it deserves.

We’ve still got a full day of exhibiting left here in Chicago. If you’re at the show, let me know what really caught your eye on the show floor by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

New International Alliance Launched

Filed under: Industry Initiatives, News About ASI

ASI, Sourcing City and PSI just announced the joint formation of PromoAlliance, a new international alliance to identify and introduce best practices and market development concepts benefiting the U.S., U.K. and European markets.

We made the announcement on the first exhibit day of ASI Chicago. Joining me were ASI’s new international partners – Alistair Mylchreest, CEO of Sourcing City, which serves the U.K. promotional merchandise industry, and Michael Freter, director of PSI, the international network of the promotional product industry. You may know PSI from attending its trade show in Düsseldorf each January, which routinely attracts upwards of 20,000.

Through this international alliance we’re ushering in a new era of international cooperation in order to further benefit the industry and our members. The overriding goals are to introduce best practices, develop fresh market concepts, explain new marketplaces and foster education.

It’s important to understand that all PromoAlliance founding members are committed to the efficient and effective distribution model of suppliers providing products and services to distributors and distributors serving as the sales channel to buyers of promotional products.

As Alistair put it, “Having three major players working in alliance, sharing ideas and exploring new concepts will create exciting opportunities for all of our customers.”

We believe that by leveraging the strength of all three organizations we can provide greater insights into new markets. To operate most efficiently in today’s worldwide economy, it pays to form a strategic alliance with respected global partners like Sourcing City and PSI – an alliance that aims to improve and expand the international promotional products marketplace.

I entered into this alliance because I firmly believe ASI’s distributors and suppliers will benefit greatly from greater communication between worldwide partners.

Sourcing City, ASI and PSI are in active discussions with other potential PromoAlliance partners, and we’ll keep all our members apprised as things develop.

In the meantime, for more information and to hear the recorded webinar announcement we made from Chicago, visit www.promoalliance.com.

And let me know what you think of this new alliance by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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