April 25, 2016
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.
December 7, 2015
Every Fall, ASI conducts a corporate gift-giving survey to find out how much companies across the country are spending on client and employee gifts this holiday season. And every year the results confirm that a quality gift is the best way to express appreciation and build relationships.
People from all kinds of industries told us that when they get a corporate thank-you gift it makes them feel appreciated, grateful and valued. And, when we asked about their most memorable gift, they responded with great enthusiasm for everything from a branded umbrella, laptop sleeve and reciprocating saw (yes, really!) to steaks, bourbon truffles and activity trackers – a list that goes to prove that you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot to get a big return.
I’m living proof of that concept, which really is the central tenet of our entire industry. I still have one of the gifts my grandmother received probably 100 years ago from Rose’s Store in St. Louis Crossing, Indiana, the tiny village where I grew up. When she passed away, she left it to me. To this day, I have it displayed in my house as a reminder of grandma, that simple little store, and growing up in Indiana farmland.
More recently, I gave 10 of my closest friends a fleece with a logo designed for a special trip I took with them all to Argentina to celebrate my 50th birthday. The trip and the logoed items I gave everyone were my way of thanking them for the big part they play in my life, each and every day.
Occasionally, three years later, three or four of us will show up at a party wearing that same fleece. Like the best promo products, a fleece – or a plate or a USB, or any one of thousands of branded products – is practical, useful and attractive. It’s why people keep such items around for years – or even decades.
Our annual gift-giving study turned up a ton of useful stats I encourage you to take on sales calls as further proof of the enduring effectiveness of this low-cost, high-ROI advertising medium. Whether you’re thanking loyal clients for their business, courting potential ones or showing your own employees how much they mean to you, you really can’t beat a branded item.
Nate Kucsma, ASI’s marketing research director, said that what struck him the most about the 2015 results is that companies are spending more overall on employee gifts this year than on client gifts. That makes sense in an increasingly tight job market when companies have to work that much harder to retain top talent.
How did you thank your employees this year? At ASI, our employees seemed to really appreciate the turkey or a pie we gave out before Thanksgiving the most.
Click here for our press release on the gift-giving report and look below for some highlights:
Leave a comment to let me know the best gift you’ve ever gotten – or given. Hands down, I vote for my irreplaceable plate. Every time I look at it, I see love. I can’t imagine anything more valuable.
March 4, 2015
I love nothing better than hearing “thank you,” especially from a business that’s acknowledging how much I mean to them as a customer or client. So I’d like to take this opportunity to send out a great big “thanks” of my own to everyone in the industry who’s completed a survey, participated in a focus group or sent me an email. I’d also like to express my appreciation for the over 2,000 ASI members who joined the ASI Marketing Research panel.
I literally could not do my job as ASI’s director of marketing research without help from every one of you.
With the information you so generously provide, ASI is able to prepare and share a ton of important data with the industry. The most important, perhaps, is the input you send us as we prepare for our annual Counselor State of the Industry (SOI) report, a mega-effort we’re kicking off this week.
The SOI study helps shape our understanding of the advertising specialties industry as a whole and provides a forward-looking view into what’s ahead. The results are always widely shared, in Counselor magazine’s special State of the Industry issue, which is dedicated to the study, as well as through numerous citations in newspapers and magazines all year long. In 2013, the issue even won a prestigious Jesse H. Neal Award, considered the Pulitzer Prize of business press – and the 2014 issue (see cover at right) recently was named a finalist for another one.
In addition to loads of stats and graphics, the SOI issue contains info designed to help any sized company plan strategically for the future, grow their business, streamline operations and tap new and emerging markets. Along with winning tips and tactics and growth strategies, the SOI issue also profiles that year’s Counselor Award winners – including the Person of the Year – and publishes the revenue and ranking of Top 40 distributor and supplier companies.
Here’s how you can contribute (and earn my sincere thanks once again!):
Counselor is currently polling professionals in the industry – both distributors and suppliers – to find out how the market did in 2014 and to get their impressions on where the industry is headed in 2015. Your input is invaluable. Please take 10 minutes to click the appropriate link below and complete the State of the Industry survey.
If you haven’t read the 2014 issue yet (available in print and online at www.asicentral.com/soi), please check it out. ASI editorial staffers spend months gathering and analyzing key sales, marketing and operational metrics used by most of you to provide useable info tailor-made for our industry. The accompanying graphics also provide valuable snapshots of what’s up, down and trending.
I’d also love to know if there’s a topic, trend or strategy we might have missed or not given enough attention to, so please either post a comment or email me at email@example.com.
Hear that? It’s me, thanking you in advance for participating.
– Nathaniel Kucsma, ASI’s director of marketing research
October 16, 2014
It’s here: ASI’s groundbreaking global research report packed with stats and graphics to help you convince customers to spend more of their marketing moolah on promo products.
Click here for a quick, catchy YouTube video on the study and here to ASI’s 2014 Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study in its entirety.You’ll also find easy-to-understand graphics to save and share. I encourage you to post the video and the study link (www.asicentral.com/study) on your own business website to further spread the word about the incredible power of promo products.
The strongest number to tout is promo products’ commanding advertiser recall among 85% of consumers surveyed. People really remember the advertiser on logoed items, largely because they see or use them nearly every day. In fact, most people own about 10 items they generally keep for seven months.
Can you remember a single advertiser from the last time you watched TV? I’m betting you can’t. Perform this simple test on your next potential customer and you just might score a sale.
ASI conducted its first comprehensive research study in 2006. In a nod to our increasingly global marketplace, this year’s study contains far greater global reach, and features several differences worth noting. For the first time we:
This year’s data updates prior years’ reports by expanding interviews into two cities in Mexico (Monterrey and Mexico City) and several additional mid-major markets: Tampa, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Denver and San Diego.
Through conversations with real people who get, use and share ad specialties, we gauged the reach of products, consumer’s perceptions, their influence on buying decisions and their influence on the perception of the advertiser.
After thousands of interviews with businesspeople and students in key cities across North America, Canada, Europe and Australia we can say with certainty that ad specialties are one of the most high-impact, cost-effective advertising mediums around.
And, since knowing the likely recipient of products is paramount for an advertiser, we made sure to include demographic information broken down by political affiliation, ethnicity, gender, age and income.
What’s most impressive is that no matter where we polled consumers, we found end-buyers who feel good about the brands on promo products they use day in and day out. When’s the last time an annoying TV or radio commercial made you feel good? I rest my case!
Another conclusion that resonated with me: First and foremost, consumers want products that are useful, like pens and USB drives. In Canada, 82% of consumers polled said that’s why they kept branded items, the highest percentage of any country.
The study is a living document that’s meant to be used – not scanned once and forgotten. It’s powerful data you can, and should, refer to again and again. Cherry-pick graphics that work best for your business and post them, share them and pass them out on sales calls.
September 17, 2014
A major theme of this year’s U.S. Power Summit was helping prepare the promotional products industry for the future. The keynote speaker, Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard, advised business leaders committed to growth to hire more people who can deliver different solutions to the organization, while futurist John Smart encouraged companies to invest in e-commerce and mobile platforms.
And since suppliers and distributors must be prepared to meet the ever-growing demand for faster service and order processing, we also invited industry experts to discuss the “need for speed” during a session highlighted by an actual drone demo. While flying drones (pictured, right) are really cool, our bigger point in bringing them to the power summit was to get industry people to start thinking about ways they can be utilized in in areas like warehouse inventory and Amazon-like delivery.
This year, the 2014 ASI® Power Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, attracted about 200 of the most influential distributors, suppliers and decorators in the industry. From the early feedback I’ve gotten, everyone enjoyed the superior content and business discussions, which were helped along during fun activities like golf and a visit to a nearby ranch for lassoing and skeet shooting. The fine scotch helped too, I’m sure.
Click here for Facebook photos of the action.
We packed a lot into three days. During my Q&A with alphabroder CEO Norman Hullinger, we even broke some news about his plans to double the size of the company in the next five years – and for sales to hit $1.6 billion. In 2013, the number-one supplier on the Counselor® Top 40 list posted sales of $697 million.
Future growth for alphabroder will come from acquisitions and organic growth, especially growth in ad specialty distributorships. But the really big news from alphabroder concerned expanding beyond apparel to a line of hard goods – an expansion that will likely come about through acquisitions as well as internally.
Throughout the power summit, ASI’s editorial staffers provided full coverage of happenings along with video interviews from all major presentations. To read more:
When I say we packed a lot into this year’s U.S. Power Summit, I mean we packed a lot into this gathering. We also released the names of the industry’s most powerful people with the 2014 Counselor Power 50 list. Click here to read our press release with more detail and click here for the full list, topped by Marty Lott and Jeremy Lott of SanMar.
Finally, we also released the 2014 Global Advertising Impressions Study, a cost analysis of promotional products versus other advertising media. For the study, our research team conducted thousands of in-person interviews with businesspeople and students in key cities across North America, Canada, Europe and Australia. This year’s data updates prior years’ reports by expanding interviews into two cities in Mexico (Monterrey and Mexico City) and several additional mid-major markets: Tampa, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Denver and San Diego.
Ultimately, the comprehensive study provides buyers and sellers of promo products with powerful data to convince clients worldwide that ad specialties can increase sales and brand exposure.
If you were at the Power Summit, thanks for joining us! I’d love to know what you thought – and any suggestions you may have for next year’s event, which we’re already planning at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, CA in November 2015 (www.asicentral.com/psreg).
August 6, 2014
To most people, summer means family road trips, zeppelin-sized zucchini, backyard barbecues and lightning bugs. Here at ASI, summer means all that and more, since summer is when we produce our annual State of the Industry report.
While it doesn’t yet come with a free umbrella drink, Counselor magazine’s industry MRI does pack a ton of info designed to help any sized company plan strategically for the future, grow their business, streamline operations and tap new and emerging markets.
If you haven’t read the issue yet (available in print and online at www.asicentral.com/soi), take a hard copy with you to the beach or check it out electronically on your device. ASI editorial staffers spent months gathering and analyzing key sales, marketing and operational metrics used by most of you to provide useable info tailor-made for our industry. The accompanying graphics also provide valuable snapshots of what’s up, down and trending.
Click here to read the report in its entirety.
As a whole, 2013 was a good year, with distributors growing sales by 5.7% to reach a record $20.5 billion. The 40 largest distributor companies in the market hit nearly $4.4 billion in sales, accounting for 21.5% of total industry revenues.
It seems that the top 40 suppliers and distributors are exerting growing influence over the marketplace. Counselor’s editor, Andy Cohen, goes so far as to predict apparel suppliers will continue to consolidate and large distributors will create unique partnerships the likes of which the industry hasn’t seen before. As Andy says, “If you can’t beat competitors, join ’em!”
But there’s still room for nimble and innovative distributors and suppliers of all sizes, and obviously our industry is an exciting place for everyone.
The data also shows the profit pressure distributors face and customer trends that include more price shopping, more interest in additional services and more safety and compliance inquiries.
Our predictions for the industry’s future? While product staples like T-shirts and pens will remain strong, sales of branded technology items like USB cards should increase dramatically in the near future as more millennials enter the workforce. The average order time for suppliers will significantly decrease in today’s “need it now” marketplace, and 90% of the top 40 apparel suppliers will offer in-house decoration in five years.
In addition to winning tips and tactics and growth strategies, the SOI issue profiles the 2014 Counselor Award winners – including Person of the Year Norman Hullinger – and includes revenue and ranking of Top 40 distributor and supplier companies.
I’d love to know what you thought of this year’s issue and if there’s a topic, trend or strategy we might have missed or not given enough attention to, so please either post a comment or email me here. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.
May 7, 2014
With the U.S. reporting modest economic gains and a European recovery finally taking hold, the most recent ASI North American sales report on the promotional products industry also shows renewed reason for optimism. First quarter distributor sales were up 6.4% over Q1 2013 sales. And Q1 supplier sales grew 4.8% over Q1 2013, below the growth rate of the last two quarters, but similar to the first two quarters of 2013.
It’s great to report the year is off to a strong start, with more than half of North American distributors reporting a year-over-year increase in sales and only about one in five reporting a decline. Historically, Q2 growth numbers have declined from Q1 numbers in each of the last three years, and it’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues.
On the supplier side, more than half told ASI they enjoyed a year-over-year increase (Q1 2014 vs. Q1 2013) in sales, with about 21% reporting a decline.
Nationwide, April was the best month for job growth in a while, and the unemployment rate fell to 6.3%. Wages, however, remained flat, and it doesn’t look like the hoped-for hike in the federal minimum wage is going anywhere anytime soon. A new report by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington offered some pretty dire predictions: it may take the economy nine years to recoup the jobs lost during the recession, plus those needed to employ new workers during the slow recovery.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects growth in Asia to remain steady at 5.4% this year. Last year, the region – home to 60% of the world’s population – grew 5.2%. I just returned from a long trip to China and Hong Kong, where ASI has a half dozen independent reps working to sell SGR memberships and marketing and to help manufacturers there connect with North American suppliers. In the spirit of the ongoing fusion of the global economy, ASI also has one rep working in India reporting contacts who are very interested in ASI suppliers and services.
While things are finally picking up in Europe, according to Reuters, numerous factors could still affect the economy, including ever-broiling tensions with Russia, a prolonged period of low inflation and an unwillingness by European member governments to continue reforms. On the good news front, deficits are down, investment is up and, although unemployment remains around 10%, more Europeans are finding jobs.