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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.


SOI: Cautiously Optimistic

Filed under: Member Benefits, News About ASI, Research, Using Ad Specialties

Remember the dark days of the Great Recession? We were mired in a subprime mortgage crisis, losing millions of jobs and experiencing 10% unemployment. Nearly every industry took a hit, including ours. Distributor sales dropped to $16 billion in 2009, down from a record high of $19.8 billion the year before.

Today, our industry has almost fully rebounded, with total 2013 distributor sales expected to reach new heights, according to the latest “State of the Industry” report from Counselor magazine. Counting Q2, in which sales rose to $4.9 billion, we’ve now enjoyed 14 straight quarters of growth.

Of course, anything can happen between now and the end of the year. Regime changes, shifts in consumer confidence and even natural disasters could impact profits and sales. And I know we’re all holding our breath to see how the ongoing implementation of the new federal health care law affects our bottom line.

But for now, I’m happy to spread a little good news for a change.

It’s time to capitalize on the gains, increase sales, spend a little more on marketing – and get the word out about the ROI and high rate of advertiser recall of promotional products. With the U.S. economy still struggling to gain a firm foothold, a lot of companies, schools and non-profits continue to count every penny, which makes our message all the more compelling.

ASI makes it easy for you to go on your next sales call armed for bear, with tons of useful stats about the health of our industry and viability of our products. If you haven’t already, read Counselor’s SOI issue cover to cover and cherry pick the stats and info most useful to your business. And be sure to read the growth strategies that are working wonders for industry leaders – and put them to work for you.

Along with tons of sales-generating ideas, this year’s report analyzes 2012 sales to determine the biggest markets and most popular products. This year, health and education kept their grip on the number one and two markets, while manufacturing and construction both rose, providing new opportunities.

Other highlights from the 2013 Counselor “State of the Industry” issue include:

  • Top 3 Products: Shirts, bags and writing instruments, per percentage of total 2012 industry revenue. T-shirts alone represent $2.7 billion of the $19.4 billion in total distributor revenues.
  • Bags Down: For the third year, bags declined in their share of sales, down to 8.7% of the market.
  • Vote for Profits: 2012’s elections helped increase sales of buttons, badges and bumper stickers by 48% over 2011.
  • Green is (Not So) Good: While nearly three-quarters (72.6%) of all distributors indicated sales of eco-friendly items were the same as in 2011, 7.2% more reported a decline than an increase.
  • Electronics Up: As a group, USB drives and other electronic/tech products now represent about 10% of the overall market.
  • Toys and Games Drop: Questions over safety issues have helped drive sales of toys and games down 65% since 2009.

The SOI report, which comes out in print and online, is considered the most important and influential in the industry, for good reason. It’s a definitive analysis of this industry’s most recent past as well as a roadmap to the future. So do yourself and your business a favor and check it out.

And keep an eye out this fall for ASI’s next Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study. We’ve got researchers in the field now – surveying end-buyers from Atlanta to Australia – to give you even more powerful data proving ad specialties are a high-impact, cost-effective ad medium.

In the meantime, you can visit ASI’s customizable End-Buyer Website for even more surefire methods of selling the ROI of promo products to prospects and buyers.

If you’ve used any of ASI’s resources to boost sales at your company, please let me know by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.


Tuesdays with Melinda, Michele, Andy, Kathy and Joe

Filed under: Community, News About ASI, Using Ad Specialties

Here’s the beauty of Internet radio shows like ASI Radio: it’s interactive, it’s mobile and, since there’s no transmitter, anyone anywhere can listen in. Now, you can log on and listen in from the Far East as easily as you can from the East Coast.  Hopefully, no matter where you are Tuesday, you’ll listen to our special 5-year anniversary show.

ASI Radio debuted in 2008 with the same five co-hosts still livening up the airwaves Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. ET. Since then, they’ve done an incredible 275 shows. In an era when the same old, same old is repackaged and sold as new, ASI Radio consistently delivers original business insight, breaking news and the most authoritative research and resources available – along with a fun, weekly dose of awesome.

Tuesday, July 2, we’re celebrating with cake, champagne and a trivia contest, so be sure to join us – and to compete to win prizes for correct answers. Call in at (215) 953-4979 or email us at radio@asicentral.com.

I’ll be a special guest, offering up congratulations along with a sneak peek at Counselor magazine’s  upcoming “State of the Industry” report and some info on ASI®’s next Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study.

Every week, ASI Radio offers something for everyone along with the latest sales and marketing trends and tips. Each show also features an industry news recap by Counselor® Editor Andy Cohen, a product safety minute and a list of each host’s favorite promo product, also available online, complete with images and descriptions.

Above all, ASI Radio is a true reflection of this industry’s sometimes zany, always creative personality. The five hosts know more about this business than just about anyone (except me!). Joe Haley, the host of “The Joe Show,” covers new products; Advantages® Editor Kathy Huston tackles distributor sales; Cohen provides business analysis, SGR Editor Michele Bell reports on the supplier side while ringleader and Editor-in-Chief Melinda Ligos keeps the show moving and the topics flying.

But collective knowledge aside, they’re also true entertainers. Log on for the laughs; log off armed with plenty of news you can use.

And where else in the industry can you get business insight from the likes of economist Steve Forbes and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, who were both interviewed on the show prior to appearing as ASI Show® keynote speakers? Short answer: nowhere. ASI Radio is the first and still the only industry radio show around.

If you miss Tuesday’s live show, don’t worry. You can check archives of previous shows and featured interviews anytime at www.asicentral.com/radio. And, you get credit toward your ASI BASI or MASI certification for listening to the recording of each show later on, when you listen to it as a class in the Online Learning Center.

But try and join the gang on Tuesdays – because you never know what Joe, Andy, Melinda, Michele and Kathy will say!


If it’s Tuesday, This Must be … Philadelphia?

Filed under: Community, Members, News About ASI, Using Ad Specialties

I’m writing this at noon from Pennsylvania. But although it’s bright and sunny outside, to my travel-weary self, it’s actually midnight in Hong Kong – and I’m more than ready for bed. I’m topsy-turvy because I’ve just returned from a week-long business trip to attend the Hong Kong Gifts & Premiums Show, 8,000 miles away and 12 hours ahead of the East Coast where I live.

The show is one of the largest in the world for promotional products, attracting over 4,000 exhibitors from 37 countries. Lucky for me, I got to attend alongside veterans like Supplier Global Resource editor Michele Bell, publisher Rich Fairfield and Ed Koehler, VP and associate publisher of magazines and catalogs. We were joined during part of the trip by ASI’s China-based SGR sales team (pictured with us at right: Melar Wang, Tony Tian, Alan Lee and Tammy Jing), who travel throughout Shanghai, Ningbo, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong selling our new SGR memberships.

The new, strictly exclusive membership connects non-North American manufacturers and agents with ASI’s North American suppliers. During the show, we celebrated at a cocktail party for ASI® suppliers that was sponsored and attended by SGR members who are Hong Kong and Chinese manufacturers. And, as much as we love our distributors, ASI believes they are most successful by sourcing from trusted ASI suppliers, so we may as well have hung a “No Distributors Allowed” sign outside the reception. (I wish I had a photo of Rich shooing two distributors away who wanted to crash our event!)

As reported on our website, the show’s traffic was noticeably slower than in previous years, despite growth in the Hong Kong gift market of 6% in 2012. Still, the show floor was huge, crowded and packed with a ton of Bluetooth-capable items, tech gadgets, smartphone accessories and eco-friendly products.

In the photos, you can see one of the many colorful displays from the show, along with Hong Kong Harbor.

I’ve traveled to Asia a number of times, and it’s always equally strange and thrilling. While I decided against trying the still-wiggling shrimp served up at one of our dinners, I gladly seized the chance to visit a local friend of an ASI member at his art-filled home, situated on Hong Kong island with a spectacular view of the South China Sea. He’s 72 – and recently became a new father! (Maybe it’s the shrimp?)

Hong Kong, which is a “special administrative region” of the People’s Republic of China, is on China’s south coast, bordered by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea. The city is 426 square miles and home to about 7 million people. To put that into perspective, New York City (including all the boroughs) is 469 square miles and has 8.2 million residents.

And, while I’m always happy to explore the far corners of the Earth, there really is no place like home and garden. (I’m throwing a pic from my garden up in this blog for fun.) Happily, my next trip is less than 100 miles away – to our New York show, taking place Wednesday and Thursday at the Javits Convention Center, and featuring a special keynote by TLC’s “Cake Boss,” Buddy Valastro Jr., who’s dishing up business advice and handing out cake samples from Carlo’s famous Hoboken bakery.

If you’ve done business in Asia, or attended the Hong Kong show, please let me know what you experienced by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

P.S. If you’re wondering about the blog title, it’s a play on the 1969 film, “If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium,” about a 9-country, 18-day bus trip.


Experience the New ESP Web

Filed under: Member Benefits, News About ASI, Using Ad Specialties

To triumph in today’s supersonic business world, technology must pass a pretty stiff litmus test for speed, ease and intelligence. With that, I say welcome to the new ESP Web® experience.

ASI’s world-class technology is taking a big step forward with a major upgrade that will help distributors increase sales and power up productivity. The best part? It’s already live for all users of ESP. And there’s no fee for the upgrade. Current ESP Web subscribers are automatically upgraded.

Check it out, and if you have any questions, click here for tutorials and more.

From the start, our goal with this upgrade was to make ESP® even more of an online business partner – a partner that intuitively knows what you want and helps you get it, as quickly and easily as possible. So we made it as close to a real-world Google experience as possible – with performance speeds on numerous features increasing a whopping 60%. Put these simple, intuitive tools to work for you to search and source products faster than ever before.

ASI’s technology and user experience teams worked for over a year on design and implementation of the new ESP Web, incorporating critical feedback from numerous industry focus groups in order to transform the ESP experience. The hottest new ESP Web features include:

  • Product Compare: Add up to 10 products for a side-by-side comparative snapshot of select product details that can be added to a Project Folder or ESP Presentation or included in a client-safe version to share with end-buyers.
  • Daily Deals: View up to four deals from today, yesterday and tomorrow all at once, along with a quick view of the product and supplier, and a click-through right to the product page. Today’s deals include a countdown clock ticking off the seconds until deals expire.

  • Search Leading Text: Near-instant delivery of the most relevant terms and topics being searched for, along with hot product recommendations. Search suggestions are updated with each new letter typed. Find products faster and filter searches by price and quantity.
  • Sponsored Presentations: Distributors can open, modify and send supplier presentations showcasing select products.
  • Updates to Presentations: Now, users can upload their own custom product image to a presentation and edit, show or hide the “Price Includes” field on all price grids.
  • Virtual Samples Icon: In a flash, see any virtual sample-ready product available in ESP.

If you’re not already a believer, please demo the new ESP Web at our upcoming ASI Shows® in New York City (Wednesday, May 8 and Thursday, May 9) and Chicago (Tuesday, July 16 through Thursday, July 18).

And if ESP has made a difference in the way you do business, I want to know. Please post a comment or e-mail me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.


Mr. Machion Goes to Washington

Filed under: Community, Members, Using Ad Specialties

We all know how important it is to get your voice heard in Washington. Given the state of the economy and numerous legislative initiatives concerning taxes and expenditures, that importance cannot be overstated.

That’s why for the last four years, the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) has sent a contingent of “volunteer lobbyists” to our nation’s capital to speak on behalf of the industry as part of its Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.).

On April 10 and 11, as a member of PPAI’s Government Relations Action Council (GRAC), I joined over 70 volunteers who invaded Washington, D.C. on a mission to educate members of Congress about the value of advertising specialties and the legislative issues most important to suppliers and distributors. The group represented all 50 states and made over 300 Congressional office visits during the two-day period.

Prior to arrival, we contacted our respective senators and representatives to schedule 30-minute visits. In preparation, volunteers also attended a webinar on key issues we later discussed with our representatives and/or their staff. Everyone became well-versed on the promotional products economic engine and its impact on the national economy, e.g., a $19.4 billion industry that employs over 430,000 people.

Here’s a tip: If you want to get a representative’s or senator’s ear, just tell them what your industry does for the economy!

To help prep the “lobbyists,” everyone was given a handbook with each Congressional member’s bio and broken into smaller teams to cover the aggressive meeting schedule. The volunteers gave each Congressional office position papers on the effectiveness and value of promotional products and the role they’ve played in particular in safety recognition programs. We also discussed the importance of maintaining the current independent contractor tax rules under IRS Section 530 and of considering small businesses in any proposed tax changes.

Of course, we also handed out advertising specialties: a notebook imprinted with the PPAI logo and hand sanitizer. Everyone loved the products, which provided the perfect testament to the effectiveness of our industry.

Before we met for dinner that night, we were surprised by an unannounced visit from John Boehner, the House Majority Leader, who commended everyone for their efforts. Clearly, the L.E.A.D. visits were noticed by the powers that be. The next morning, PPAI recognized Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen as its Legislator of the Year. The award recognizes members of Congress who have shown a commitment to small businesses, a willingness to meet with industry professionals and support of issues critical to our industry.

“Congressman Paulsen has championed the cause of small business and met face-to-face with industry leaders,” said Paul Bellantone, PPAI’s president and CEO. “He has established a history of being available and listening to the concerns of promotional products businesses and supporting or opposing legislation that impacts the industry.”

The diligence and enthusiasm of the PPAI L.E.A.D. volunteers was evident from the planning stages through the Congressional visits. I’m sure Congressional leaders left the 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 and also serves his community as a Newtown, PA borough councilman

In photo above, from left: Art Bustard, president of Cedars Advertising, Inc. (asi/159500); Larry Whitney, compliance manager for Polyconcept North America (asi/66887); Barbara Bustard, of Cedars Advertising, Inc.; Chuck Machion; PA Rep. Tim Murphy; George Jackson, owner of George Jackson Promotions;  Bruce Korn, president of Zakback Inc. (asi/365556 )


Go Social

Filed under: Community, Members, Research, Using Ad Specialties

ASI® recently welcomed about 35 members of the Philadelphia Area Promotional Products Association to our headquarters in Pennsylvania for a social media seminar.

PAPPA members (who used to be called Specialty Advertising Counselors of the Delaware Valley) got an eyeful from Jake Krolick, ASI’s rock star creative director, in a fast-moving presentation offering practical, tactical tips for businesses to “go social.” He was joined by special speakers (and former ASI-ers) Jay Ostrow and Dale Denham.

During the seminar, everyone was encouraged to branch out. Share product info with clients through the information corkboard site Pinterest and add more video to your marketing mix. It’s also quick and easy to liven up your company’s YouTube site with something fresh, like a behind-the-scenes tour of your company. Remember to make it fun – and keep it short.

With a little imagination, you’ll find the possibilities are endless.

So next time you’re pitching a potential new client, send an infographic on the ROI or CPI of promotional products along with your presentation. Spread the news about a new product by uploading a captioned pic through Quickmeme. And don’t forget about good old blogs, which can help bump up your company’s search engine results while allowing you to better engage with customers and potential customers.

I hope PAPPA members enjoyed their morning at ASI. Several members later told me how much they enjoyed it and thanked ASI for hosting. In return, I’d like to sincerely thank PAPPA for the recent award the organization presented to ESP®,  the PAPPA 2013 Liberty Award in the technology category.

The tech award recognized, among other things, proclivity, user friendliness and mobile marketing efforts. ESP, of course, uses world-class search technology to give members and their customers a superior searching experience, and we are delighted to see that recognized. In the photo at left, Heather DiPrato, ASI’s senior VP of distributor services, proudly displays our award.

Let me know what new technology or social media site has made a difference at your company lately by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube – and exploring new possibilities like blogging site Medium (founded by ASI keynoter Biz Stone and his partner Ev Williams), the new iPhone app Whisper (which is taking off like gangbusters on college campuses) and Sina Weibo, billed as China’s Twitter – with twice the number of users.


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