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Making a Case to Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kudos must go to the folks at PPAI who worked so hard on the event, especially Paul Bellantone, president and CEO; Anne Lardner-Stone, director of public affairs; and Seth Barnett, government relations manager. Their diligence and enthusiasm was evident from the start and I’m confident Congressional leaders left our meetings with a greater appreciation of our industry and the important role it plays in providing businesses with creative, cost-effective ways to reach their target audiences.

– Chuck Machion is ASI’s senior VP and senior counsel

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


PR for Promos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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.


Horns Up for Dallas

Filed under: ASI Shows, Members, News About ASI

I’m very excited our nation’s 43rd president is sharing his insights and experiences at this week’s ASI Show in Dallas during what is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After all, Bush served two terms during the most tumultuous times in recent history, from 9/11 to the Iraq war and global financial crisis. Love him or leave him, an opportunity to see a president in person is not to be missed, so I hope you’ve signed up for Thursday’s presentation.

Understandably, security will be tight, so if you’re coming be certain to bring your official show-issued badge and photo ID. Otherwise, you won’t get in.

I hope everyone traveling from the snow-packed East Coast, like so many of us from ASI, arrive safely and without too much delay. The president’s talk is just one of the many highlights at the Dallas show, at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, Hall F, Tuesday, February, 4 through Thursday, February. 6.

We’re expecting 515 exhibitors (including 65 suppliers new to Dallas) and over 3,000 attendees. The 18 distributor sales meetings on tap include Counselor Top 40 distributor Staples Promotional Products (asi/120601), which is bringing 125 of their top account executives.

Tuesday’s Education Day features 8 tracks and 51 sessions, with all sessions qualifying for points toward the ASI Certification Program. That day’s free lunch is “Meet the Expects,” which resembles a speed networking session, with designated experts leading discussions among rotating sets of attendees. I’ll be there, and would love to see you. First come, first served.

Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ASI’s own Joe Haley conducts a live version of his popular “Joe Show,” featuring dozens of cool, new products from suppliers. That night, you can kick up your heels at the Gala Celebration at Gilley’s, the honky tonk made famous by the movie “Urban Cowboy.”

And if you haven’t already downloaded it, please stop by an ASI booth for a demo of the visual search feature now available in ESP Web and ESP Mobile. Distributors can upload images to ESP® for an instant scan for similar items in the industry’s largest and most comprehensive product database. As always, the app for Android, iPhone and iPad is available free to authorized distributors who are ESP subscribers.

For complete coverage of the Dallas show, including blogs and videos, visit www.asicentral.com

and the ASI Show Facebook page. And, put the free mobile app on your phone for up-to-the-minute info. Search “ASI Dallas” in your app store.

Upcoming 2014 ASI Shows are Long Beach (March 25-27), New York (April 3-4) and Chicago (July 15-17). To learn more about exhibiting or sponsorship opportunities for 2013, contact sales VP Karen DiTomasso at kditomasso@asicentral.com.


Distributor Sales Hit Record High

Filed under: Members, News About ASI

The U.S. economy is on track to enjoy its best performance since the dark days of the 2008 recession and, I’m happy to report, the promotional products industry is doing even better. ASI just released its latest distributor sales report showing 2013 is going down in the books as the biggest sales year ever, surpassing $20 billion for the first time.

Coming off 16 straight quarters of growth, this news is cause for celebration. It also presents a prime opportunity. Take advantage of the latest technology to save time and boost efficiency. Hire more sales reps (especially those who reflect our increasingly diverse country). Attend conferences to learn the latest sales strategies.

And, if you’re moving into new global markets, learn the lingo – or hire someone who does – and check out PromoAlliance, an international alliance between ASI, Sourcing City and PSI that identifies and introduce best practices and market development concepts benefiting the U.S., U.K. and European markets. Click here for more info.

The best entrepreneurs are like sharks – they need to keep moving ever forward, or their businesses will shrivel and die.

The U.S. GDP expanded 3.1% in 2013’s fourth quarter. ASI’s data shows distributors grew sales by nearly twice that rate, or 5.7%. Meanwhile, the Counselor Confidence Index – a tool that measures distributor health and optimism – improved to 113.2 in the fourth quarter, reaching its highest point since being introduced a year ago.

Other highlights from ASI’s latest sales report include:

  • In 2013, 86% of larger distributors (more than $5 million in annual revenues) reported an increase in sales.
  • 68% of all firms – regardless of size – reported gains.
  • In Q4, 54% of surveyed distributors improved revenues over the same period in 2012, with larger firms again making the biggest sales jump.
  • The 5.7% Q4 increase is the best quarterly sales gain since Q1 of 2013 as firms closed the year strong.

Economists are betting the momentum from the second half of 2013 will continue through 2014. According to a recent Counselor Promogram report, distributors also have high expectations. ASI data shows 74% of distributors anticipate an increase in sales this year, while only 4.5% of distributor firms are expecting a drop in revenues.

“Our overall experience is that we saw growth greater than the industry average,” Jo-an Lantz, executive vice president of Top 40 distributor Geiger (asi/202900), told Counselor. “We anticipate another great sales year in 2014. The industry will have another growth year, and we are expecting the same.”

How did your company fare in 2013 – and what’s your outlook for 2014? Let me know by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.


The Era of Innovation

Filed under: Community, Members, Research

Thanks to strong Q3 results, distributor and supplier sales in the promotional products industry have now risen for 15 straight quarters, which is solid proof that companies big and small continue to buy what we’re selling: The enduring power of promotional products.

These days, ideas and innovations are what make the world go ’round. Bloomberg Businessweek says we need look no further than Twitter’s $24.9 billion valuation as evidence we’ve officially entered the “ideas economy.” Lucky for us, ideas and innovations are at the heart of this industry, where new products coupled with inventive branding can hit the market – and seize the imagination – faster than ever before.

If we capitalize on innovation, as Bloomberg suggests, our industry will continue to grow. This year alone, if ASI’s indicators are correct, total sales will surpass $20 billion. I know that anything – a political coup in a far-off land or even a devastating weather event – can cause unexpected economic havoc, but I’m pretty comfortable in our predictions.

What’s your take on 2014? ASI’s Counselor magazine recently asked Power 50 members if their companies would hire additional staff in the next year and 63% said they would. I take that as a strong indication of overall industry health. Is your company hiring? Are your clients spending more? Are you?

As Dan Taylor, president of BamBams (asi/38228), which increased sales by 8.5% this year, told ASI: “I think the value factor of promotional products in the marketing space has contributed to this growth. Companies are working hard to expand, so there is a need for advertising in the marketplace.”

Today, promotional products are used by virtually every business and major brand in America, and for good reason: They work! For proof, you need look no further than ASI’s most recent global advertising specialties impressions study, highlighted by tons of easy-to-share stats on everything from the impressive CPI to strong advertiser recall.

It’s clear we have the right products and the right message at the right time. So ask yourself this: What will you be selling in 2014? Products? Or ideas?

Let me know by posting a comment or emailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.


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