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An Inspiring Story, From Hospital to Hollywood

Filed under: ASI Shows, Media Coverage

Imagine this: You’re the 19-year-old son of a single mother. Low on money, and unsure of your direction in life, you join the U.S. Army in the hope it’ll help pay for college. While on a routine mission driving a Humvee in war-torn Iraq, you hit a roadside bomb and suffer disfiguring third-degree burns.

In a flash of fire, your entire life changes. Do you drown in self pity? Put your scarred face down and hide? If it was me, boy, I’m not sure if I’d have the strength to carry on. Not J.R. Martinez. He not only carried on – he soared to new heights, inspiring other vets and carving out a stellar career as a motivational speaker, daytime TV star and winner of TV’s Dancing with the Stars competition.

This week, J.R. shared his awe-inspiring journey from hospital bed to Hollywood with a rapt audience at ASI Show® Dallas, in a one-hour speech that moved people to tears – and earned him two standing ovations.

After hearing him speak, I swore I’d never complain about my middling problems again.

“You can control your attitude, your willingness to learn, your willingness to grow,” said J.R., who refused to let his injuries define or defy him, choosing instead to forge an entirely new path, spurred on by simple mantras like “Get through the day. Be positive. Have faith.”

While waiting backstage before his speech, J.R. quizzed us on the industry, promotional products and even Norman Cohn’s signature red hat. He has an insatiable curiosity about anything and everything. After the initial shock of meeting him, I stopped seeing his burns and saw only a smart, friendly guy with a sweet smile – and a driving ambition to be the best he can at whatever he tackles.

Now 32 and the father of a 3 ½-year-old daughter (as well as a best-selling author), J.R. (@iamjrmartinez) is just getting started – he’s finally starting college and says he might study psychology. I’m betting he’ll succeed no matter what he does. For more, click here for J.R’s interview with Counselor’s Andy Cohen and click here to read Chris Ruvo’s PromoGram story.

The keynote was a great way to kick off the final day of the three-day ASI Show Dallas (#asidallas) at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

The show attracted over 3,000 distributors and 466 suppliers (including 75 new this year). All told, 22 distributor companies chose Dallas to host meetings, a 10% increase over 2015. I was delighted ASI also partnered with three large regional associations at Dallas – the Promotional Products Association of the Southwest, Houston Promotional Products Association and the Sunbelt Promotional Products Association.

The show – and the latest, greatest promotional products in our industry – was such a hit it even drew the attention of Emmy Award-winning consumer reporter Steve Noviello, from the Fox 4 TV news station in Dallas, which aired a 4-minute segment on its morning show. Kudos to Steve for smartly reporting on the low cost and high value of cool, unique promo products that go far beyond the usual T-shirt or pen (although he featured them, too!). If you haven’t already, take a look at his report.

As always, we enjoyed a fun night out at the Gala Celebration at Eddie Deen’s ranch (see pics at right) among many other networking opportunities.

For complete coverage of the show, including blogs and videos, visit www.asicentral.com and www.asishow.com. And, for more on the most sought-after promotional products for 2016, check out ASI Product Editor Joe Haley’s “The Joe Show” videos.

I hope to see all of you at our next large-scale trade show, ASI Show Chicago, Tuesday, July 12 through Thursday, July 14 at McCormick Place. And, don’t forget about the brand-new Engage, a new hybrid event that combines the best of traditional trade shows, intimate hosted buyer events and roadshows. Engage West takes place Monday, March 14 through Wednesday, March 16 at the Anaheim Marriott, in Anaheim, CA and Engage East is Monday, May 9 through Wednesday, May 11, at the Marriott Marquis in New York City.

If you see me on the show floor, be sure to say hello.


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.”


Swimming with the Sharks

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

Shark Tank judge Daymond John blew the crowd away at ASI’s New York show. His rapid-fire presentation – chock full of personal stories, funny anecdotes and frank business advice – engrossed an overflow crowd of over 500. There were so many people that, for the first time ever, we had to set up chairs outside in the hallway.

Audience member Albert Galimidi, of Allegra Print & Imaging (asi/372155), put it best: “Daymond lit the stage on fire. He shared so many important points and inspirational stories. The best advice he gave was ‘just keep swimming. Times get hard for all of us, but if you keep swimming you’ll get there.’ ”

Unfortunately, I grew up in Indiana and never learned to swim, but so far so good! What I liked best about John (pictured at right) is how down to earth he is – just like so many people in our industry who also grew a successful business from nothing.

In a word, The ASI ShowNew York rocked.  The two-day show took place at the Javits Convention Center, Thursday, April 3 and Friday, April 4. The show was so hot, it attracted a ton of media attention, including MSNBC’s Your Business program and Fox 5 News, which interviewed ASI’s own Matthew Cohn.

Friday, ASI’s products expert, Joe “The Joe Show” Haley, took boxes of the industry’s coolest products to Fox TV’s Good Day New York morning show studios, where he held his own on camera alongside anchors Rosanna Scotto and Greg Kelly (pictured with Joe). Greg liked the tee shirt cannon Joe brought to demo so much he shot tee shirts all over the studio. ASI will post links to all TV coverage on its website next week so be sure to check back.

The “hot” theme continued through to Counselor magazine’s annual Hot 25 party, held this year at the very swanky, uber cool rooftop club at the Gansevoort Meatpacking hotel, featuring a jamming DJ along with stunning views of New York City landmarks like the Empire State Building. Click here for Counselor magazine’s list of the industry’s hottest, most innovative game-changers.

And for more coverage of ASI New York, visit www.asicentral.com and the ASI Show Facebook page.

All told, the NYC show attracted over 1,900 distributors from as far as Switzerland and Trinidad and Tobago, and 220 suppliers showcasing their newest ad specialty products for the second half of the year. The reviews were rock solid:  “ASI New York has been great,” said Cynthia Weaver, of Polished with Etiquette (asi/296807). “The products I found are going to not only grow my current business but allow me to break into new markets. The ASI Show gives business owners the unique opportunity to find fresh and new ideas to bring back to our clients.”

“The show has been very good,” said Louis Massaro, of Cooler Graphics (asi/80345). “We gathered many great leads and have been able to spend valuable time with our existing clients. The best thing about the show has been the quality of the attendees.” Pete Nutty, of Showdown Displays (asi/87188), added: “ASI New York has been fantastic. Everyone should be at this show.”

We kicked off the action Tuesday and Wednesday at the Javits Center with our invitation-only hosted buyer event, fASIlitate, featuring productive, one-on-one meetings between leading distributors and some of the industry’s most sought-after suppliers. Owen Zibrak, of Ecocentric Brands (asi/51443), said: “We met some great people and made valuable business connections. Each of the individual meetings we had today were a success. We will definitely be doing future fASIlitates!”

There’s still time to get in on the action: The next upcoming 2014 ASI Show is Chicago (July 15-17). To learn more about exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities for 2014, contact sales VP Karen DiTomasso at kditomasso@asicentral.com.

And if you were in New York, please let me know what you thought of the show by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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.


Goody Bags Score Major Points

Filed under: Media Coverage, Using Ad Specialties

No matter who you thought won the first presidential debate, it’s clear the promotional products in the media goody bag really stole the show.

Westword, Denver’s equivalent to the Village Voice, posted a gushing report on the items inside the bags the University of Denver gave out to journalists gathered in Colorado to cover the debate.

The reporter was clearly wowed by the bags’ contents, which included industry staples like water bottles, lip balm, pins, pens, caps and even a gluten-free snack bar. “Upon close inspection – i.e. giddy dumping of contents on the floor – we found all sorts of surprising goods: some edible, some health-oriented and some sure to endure as mementos of another political happening that puts Denver in the spotlight,” the reporter gushed.

All in all, I’m sure the bags provided long-lasting PR for the university – and our industry. Click here to read the post and see photos. (Like many reporters, this one used the word “swag,” which is loved by some in our industry and hated by others!)

Let me know what you thought of the first presidential smackdown by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.


ASI’s Norman Cohn in The Wall Street Journal

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

Tuesday’s front page of The Wall Street Journal which reaches a global audience of over 2 million – features a profile of ASI® Chairman Norman Cohn.

I encourage you to share the story with clients, friends and family via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., using this link: http://webreprints.djreprints.com/45722.html.

This story is part of a multi-year public relations and educational outreach effort ASI has made on behalf of the industry to reinforce the undeniable ROI of ad specialties and the power and reach of a vital industry that employs over 400,000 people across North America. Click here for recent examples of more stories in Bloomberg Businessweek, the Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor and on Fox News.

Norman – who is in his 50th year of leading ASI – is a one-of-a-kind leader: competitive but not a bully, smart but approachable, strong but kind. He absolutely loves the industry he has nurtured since he was 19.

While researching The Wall Street Journal story, the reporter spoke with a number of industry people, including Peter Geiger of Geiger (asi/202900), Bob Stevens of Footprints USA (asi/55030), Barry Hermanson of Aunt Beth’s Cookie Keepers (asi/37465) and Paul Bellantone of PPAI. I’d like to thank them and everyone else who participated.

I think the piece is incredibly positive and, along with all the other coverage we’ve generated, presents enduring evidence of the brand-building business tools at the heart of our industry. I couldn’t be prouder.

Let me know what you think of the story by e-mailing me here.


Lights, Camera, Ad Specialties

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

Scores of reporters were drawn to ASI’s recent San Diego show, resulting in a ton of great press for the industry. One TV reporter called the show “the coolest convention of the year” thanks to the creativity and ingenuity on display.

The TV reports and newspaper stories provided a strong showcase for the power of promotional products, along with terrific exposure for a number of companies, including BamBams (asi/38228), All-In-One (asi/34256), Pingline (asi/78137), Alight Promotional Products (asi/34194), Panther Vision (asi/75825), Outdoor Cap Co. (asi/75420), Yanlee Trading Co. (asi/98766), CleggPromo (asi/45450), PopOut Products (asi/68650) and A Plus Wine Designs (asi/30223).

Reporters interviewed numerous people at the show, including Brett Gent of Openers Plus (asi/63073), Jeff Grippando of WorkflowOne (asi/333647) and Carl VanderSchuit of LiteFx (asi/67740). I hope they enjoyed their time in the media spotlight!

ASI’s Dave Vagnoni was on hand to expertly guide the news crews through the trade show maze, show off products to the viewing audience and discuss the amazing ROI of our $18.5 billion industry – a number that really impressed the media.

If you haven’t already, check out the coverage:

  • KUSI-TV aired a total of six morning show segments from the convention center. Click here and here to watch.

  • KFMB, the CBS affiliate, aired a segment on its evening newscast. Click here to watch.

  • The San Diego Union-Tribune published a detailed story. Click here for the coverage.
  • The San Diego Daily Transcript posted a multimedia package, including a video report. Click here to watch.

For all of ASI’s press coverage, visit our press page here.

FYI, we hate the use of the word “swag” too but we can’t control what the press says – as hard as we try.

Let me know what you think of the coverage by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.


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