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Stirring the Pot

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

Thanks to social media, reactions to controversial issues hit fast and furious these days. Most recently, a few of you in the promotional products industry posted about ASI’s Advantages® magazine’s mid-April cover featuring a large marijuana leaf.

Our coverage revolved around Advantages’ annual report on promo product growth in 2015 and the big news that sales in Colorado are increasing at a faster rate than in any other state in the country, fueled in large part by the burgeoning legal marijuana industry.

One reader shared her discomfort over the cover (which prompted her son to ask why she was now selling pot-related promo items) and questioned why we didn’t wrap the cover or somehow disguise the pot leaf.

Here’s my take:

So far, 24 states and D.C. have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana, with more surely to come. Some states have stopped jailing users for carrying small amounts and others let adults 21 and older use it for any reason.

This on-going trend toward legalization has promoted celebrated magazines as diverse as National Geographic, Time, The Nation, Newsweek, Fortune and Philadelphia to feature covers similar to ours. Way back in 1969, even world-famous Life magazine put pot on its cover with the headline, “12 million Americans have now tried it…Should it be legalized?”

It was news then – and it’s news now.

As we do with any business subject, ASI is covering the marijuana industry from all angles, even attending a cannabis trade show in New York last summer to report ways companies are using promotional products. The verdict? Cannabis presents a ripe opportunity for distributors.

I’m proud that our talented reporters and editors delve deep into business issues. And I’m proud of our photographers and designers for illustrating those issues with powerful images. That’s their job.

We’re not endorsing marijuana, just as we don’t endorse (or condemn) any political figures. We will, however, invite them to speak at our trade shows. Over the years, ASI has hosted many A-list keynote speakers, including presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Donald Trump, First Lady Laura Bush and Gen. Colin Powell.

We took some heat for inviting Bush in 2014, but I defended our choice because, like all of our speakers, he was engaging and interesting, and offered unique insights into the world of business, recognizing our audience as great marketers and entrepreneurs.

By the same token, we’re very excited about the Mary Matalin and James Carville keynote Thursday, July 14, at 8:30 a.m., during ASI Show® Chicago. Matalin (a celebrated conservative) and Carville (an unabashed liberal) are one of the best-known political couples in the country and are sure to provide insight into this year’s unprecedented presidential campaign.

ASI isn’t telling industry members to vote one way or another, and we’re not telling them to sell marijuana-related items or call on marijuana dispensaries, just as we don’t urge anyone to, say, call on bars or offer logoed condoms (which are available!).

We’re simply presenting business opportunities and educating our audience – online, in print and at our many live shows and events – providing the same sound advice and sales tips we’ve offered the industry since 1962.

In fact, in 1977 ASI’s Counselor magazine also featured pot on its cover (see pic at right), with the headline “Is Specialty Advertising Ready for This? A Report on the New Consumer.”  I imagine that issue prompted a few letters (remember those?) as well.

Then as now, we always listen to our members and accommodate them whenever possible. Once, in response to a request from a distributor, we went so far as to cut out pages of a catalog he disliked, mailing it back to him in edited form.

I am sorry the reader who took issue with our marijuana leaf cover took some online heat for her comments. Maybe she can use the experience as a teaching moment to talk to her son about legalized marijuana, medical marijuana and the many ways our creative, innovative industry seizes opportunities presented by emerging markets.

Will we start censoring our editorial coverage or putting brown paper wrappers on certain covers? No. ASI’s editorial team has won over 150 awards in the last 10 years, including several prestigious Jesse H. Neal awards, considered the Pulitzer Prize of B-to-B journalism.

I’m looking forward to more reporting, more eye-catching graphics and photos, and more awards for excellence.

 


Cool, Charismatic and Paying it Forward

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

If you read nothing else this week, I urge you to peruse the stories of the innovators and game changers who made the 2016 Counselor Hot 25 list.

You’ll find entrepreneurs like Bayo Simmonds, the rock-star owner and founder of the apparel company Assertive Creativity (asi/37166), who was born in Brooklyn to a Nigerian father and a mother from St. Thomas. He’s passionate about this industry and determined to succeed.

You’ll also find Dat Dang, president and founder of supplier firm Chao (asi/48102), which brings a truly unique product to the industry: artful, customized pop-up greeting cards. Dat immigrated to the U.S. as a seven-year-old following the Vietnam War, and Chao is now one of Inc.’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies.

Although I could have highlighted any one of the creative business leaders on this year’s Hot 25 list (#CounselorHot25), I’m singling out Bayo and Dat because they represent the future of our industry. They’re young – and they don’t look like everyone else I see on the trade show floor.

Back in 2012, I challenged the audience at the ASI Power Summit to hire one minority sometime in the next year. “Don’t hire someone like me,” I said. “We don’t need more 50-year-old white males!” If every top distributor heeded my call for greater diversification and hired and trained a minority, in five years we’d have 25,000 experienced representatives courting new business.

We may not be there yet, but I was heartened by the people on our 2016 list, which is a mix of industry veterans and newcomers, children of industry legends and heads of overseas companies. Also of note: our list also includes 13 female business leaders. Considering that women overall currently hold a paltry 4% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies the number on the Hot 25 list is truly impressive.

Will hiring more minorities and women automatically boost your bottom line? Of course not. But as study after study tells us, people tend to trust and buy from people who look like them, culturally and ethnically. So it’s good economic sense for every company in this industry to take an aggressive stance on shaking things up.

It may not make a huge difference this year, but it will as soon as the next generation comes of age. More than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group by 2020 – four short years from now – the U.S. Census Bureau reports.

Who will relate to – and sell to – them? Happily, many people on Counselor’s 2016 Hot 25 list. I’m proud of that, and you should be too.

The results and more info on all our winners are in the March issue of ASI’s award-winning Counselor magazine, and profiles and photos of all winners are available online.

Check out their stories. They’re inspiring – and they also contain a ton of smart business advice, like this nugget from industry veteran Jill Stirnkorb, BIC Graphic’s vice president of inside sales: “Email, social media and all the technology in the world does not replace a good phone call or face-to-face meeting.”

When she started at BIC, Jill was only the third female in the sales force. It’s a big part of the reason why she mentors younger women today. She’s paying it forward. And you should too.

 

 


Driving Serious Fun

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

There’s no better time than summer to tackle an offbeat project, all in the name of fun. In that spirit, ASI   created an “ArtCar” that we’re driving over 750 miles from our headquarters outside Philadelphia to display at ASI Chicago. Think of it as our “moving billboard” advertising the promo industry.

The campaign is called “Driving Serious Fun” – a nod to the industry’s creativity and to the wacky idea of gluing dozens of logoed items to a used Mazda in the hopes of attracting attention via social media. The hashtag is #ASIPromocar and we’d love it if you’d follow/share/like us on ASI’s Facebook page and on Pinterest here and here.

To see how we did it, watch our video on YouTube.

At the Chicago show, the Promocar will be on display in registration. If you’re there, please stop by and check it out. I’m betting you’ll be amazed at how long-familiar items like stress balls can be transformed into something wholly unique.

The goals are pretty simple. The Promocar is intended to:

  • Generate buzz through a social media campaign
  • Show off the industry’s creativity in Chicago – a city known for its art
  • Attract media attention
  • Open discussions about the industry and promotional products
  • Make people smile

When we started this project over a month ago, I didn’t know much about ArtCars. Turns out, the ASI Promocar is part of a long, strange tradition, ranging from VW buses decorated by artistic hippies in the ’60s all the way to mutant vehicles on the Playa at the annual Burning Man festival.

As long as sight lines are maintained and vitals like headlights, gas tank and doors remain accessible, there’s no law against painting and decorating your car with pretty much anything you’d like. Who knew?

For our part, we didn’t want to just glue a bunch of stuff to a car. We wanted to maintain the “art” in ArtCar through patterns, color and design.

All told, painting the hood and roof to resemble a road took the better part of a weekend, with the main gluing requiring three days work in our warehouse. The project took nine willing employees, 10 tubes of silicone glue, six rolls of painter’s tape, 50 pairs of gloves, two cases of bottled water, three cans of Rustoleum paint mixed with playground sand to resemble asphalt, a lot of very loud rock and roll, six fans for ventilation, a drill, a sander, a sense of humor and a ton of patience (imagine how long it would take to adhere a pen to the side of your car – then multiply it ten-fold).

To get us started, we put out a call for logoed items to suppliers and the following companies jumped in and donated products like mousepads, key chains, pinwheels, flip-flops and pens:

  • Prime Line, asi/79530
  • Digispec, asi/49716
  • All-In-One, asi/34256
  • Footprints USA, asi/55030
  • PromoMatting, asi/35750
  • IDProductsource, asi/62088
  • Zenith Promotions, asi/98980
  • Nationwide Promotions LLC, asi/73464
  • Chulani Promotional Products Inc., asi/45100

Having never done anything like this before, we had a lot to learn. Although thoroughly researched, every car and every object is different, and there are a ton of variables – not to mention moving parts, high speeds and weather. We road tested the Promocar at 60 mph on I-95 when we finished and so far, so good.

P.S. You’ll have to look close, inside and out, to see how we used the various products. Hint: Inside, look up and in the back seat. You might even see a few familiar “faces.”


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.


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!


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