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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.


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.


Connect Your Business

Filed under: Guest Blog, News About ASI

The first time I saw ASI’s new Connect tool in action, I felt like a kid on Christmas Day! I’ve been dreaming about a game-changing online resource just like it since Day One at ASI and now it’s finally here.

For suppliers, it’s all about prospecting and analytics. They’re either scouring for new customers or trying to figure out if the ones they found will be reliable enough business partners. And that’s where the one-stop web-based Connect comes in.

To me, it’s the most intelligent prospecting and credit tool on the planet. It’s like having your marketing, sales and credit departments all rolled up into one.

Even better, Connect is easy to use. At a glance, suppliers can now see who’s searching for their products, making direct marketing a snap. The user-friendly dashboard and advanced search features means you’ll use up less of your valuable time trying to figure out which button to tap to get the info you need. And, Connect’s new reporting functionality allows suppliers to easily upload their own information and distributor reviews in a few simple steps and see that info updated faster than ever before.

Here’s a run-down on some of the new features:

  • Instant lead generation. Suppliers can run an advanced search to discover which distributors have searched for their product lines in ASI’s ESP® database in the past 30, 60 or 90 days.
  • Laser-focused marketing. Run targeted searches based on distributors’ total sales, paying habits, company size and more, or search using pre-built lists of distributors, including the Power 50, the Counselor Top 40 and past ASI Show attendees.
  • Superior risk assessment and monitoring. Get alerts on selected distributors to keep up-to-date on payments, collections, write-offs and bankruptcies.
  • Constantly updated info. Use the latest, most accurate info to help make the best business choice possible.
  • Better business intelligence. Research reviews written by other suppliers before signing new clients, and share your own experiences.

If you want to talk about what Connect can do for your business email me today at grahill@asicentral.com or contact a Connect rep at 800-546-1226.

–        Gene Rahill, ASI’s vice president of digital advertising

P.S. Tim Andrews here. I’d just like to add that I know from a reliable source (Gene) that he actually teared up when he saw the first demo of Connect, which says an awful lot about the new service.


I Spy…Happiness

Filed under: ASICentral, Community, News About ASI

Happy employees help a company’s bottom line. Unhappy employees hurt productivity. In the face of research studies proving engaged employees work harder and come up with better ideas, you’d figure companies everywhere would be scrambling to improve the workplace. You’d be wrong.

Even though creating a better work culture doesn’t cost very much, a lot of companies have yet to make the leap. Here’s where we come in: Starting this week, three ASI employees will visit 16 suppliers and distributors doing it right. The best part is that you can tag along – virtually – throughout the eight-day Counselor Best Places to Work Tour to learn what it takes to turn frowns upside down at your company.

But that’s not all.

On Thursday, November 21, you can take another short-cut to improved productivity by attending ASI’s very first Counselor Best Places to Work Conference in Santa Barbara, CA. Our 12 hot-shot speakers will teach you how to quickly and easily pump up your employees and create the kind of work culture that results in happier people – and higher performances.

The first thing you need to do is to start following Melinda Ligos (@ASI_melinda), Andy Cohen (@ASI_andycohen) and Joe Haley (@ASI_joehaley) at www.CounselorMag.com/roadtour or on Twitter (#counselortour). The road trip gang will post videos, pics and blogs every day – and you can help keep them going by posting comments and tweeting about the trip to your followers. As thanks, you’ll be entered to win a $100 gift card, along with cool road tour memorabilia.

This is the third time our Counselor editors have hit the road to visit Best Places to Work honorees and share the many unique ways these companies balance work and fun. Check out the website to browse previous blog posts for ideas from past visits you can implement at your company – and be sure you join Joe, Andy and Melinda on this year’s trip for even more tips and to meet some of the hippest, happiest people in our industry (and that’s saying a lot!).

If past road trips are any indication, there’s sure to be enough morning beer, late-night chili dogs, wacky costumes, cranked-up tunes, crazy car games and roadside attractions to put the antics described in “On the Road” to shame.

And, I’m happy to report, ASI knows all about Best Places to Work because we are one. In a contest sponsored by Greater Philadelphia Media our employees voted ASI “Best Places to Work-Large Company” (among companies with more than 100 employees), “Best Place for Working Moms” and “Best Employer for New Graduates” in 2013. ASI previously won “Best Places to Work” awards in 2012, 2011 and 2010, so I think it’s official: this is a great place to work.

How happy are your employees? What’s the best new morale-boosting idea implemented at your company? Let me know by posting a comment or e-mailing me here. I’m also on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.


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.


Rewind on a Redesign

Filed under: Guest Blog, News About ASI

One of the things I love about working in magazines is that when you work really hard on something and are unabashedly proud of it, you have a finished product you can actually look at and read through. That’s how I feel about the redesigned Wearables® sitting on my desk right now. It takes a lot for me to offer such naked praise for something I helped create, so believe me when I say I really think our September issue looks fantastic.

Not that it was easy. It took months of hard work between myself and our very talented art team: Art Director Hillary Haught, Senior Editorial Designer Glen J. Karpowich and Editorial Photographer Mark Pricskett. They had the jump on me months before our first meeting when they started posting potential fonts on the corkboard in their back office.

Some things we knew from the beginning. We wanted a bold, yet elegant, look that captured the best qualities of today’s leading fashion magazines. We wanted to grab the reader’s attention with the way we presented industry products. And we wanted to consolidate the information in the magazine into a few tightly focused sections.

I look at Wearables as a hybrid: part fashion, part business. We dig into the leading runway trends because they have a significant influence on what our readers’ clients want as well as the products that suppliers bring to market. We want our readers to be ahead of the curve on these trends. That emphasis allows us to take a creative approach in presenting apparel, just like some of the leading style magazines you see on newsstands. (Yes, that was me at the Neshaminy Barnes & Noble grabbing Details, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour and more.)

Throughout the redesign process, it was enjoyable to see the look of the magazine take shape. I spent many afternoons at Glen’s desk trading design ideas, revising mock layouts, debating one decision versus another. Sometimes there were unexpected hurdles. For example, the font we initially chose – Bauer Bodoni – looked great when we mocked it up in our “Trends” section. But later on we discovered that in articles with a lot of copy it was hard to read because of its thin design. That sent us back to the drawing board.

Of course, a new look doesn’t mean much unless it’s tied to meaningful content. That’s partly why we chose to debut it in September, so it can be used in our Style Issue, which always features a stunning photo shoot for our Fall Fashion Preview. Mark always does a great job with it, and we decided to take it to another level this year with colored backgrounds, set props and edgy styling. Each photo shoot always is an adventure; you go in with a plan for the outfits, but then inspiration strikes and you end up with something completely different (and far better) than what you originally planned. We had a Carhartt shirt the model was going to wear to showcase the plaid trend. Midway through, our stylist Conrad Booker thought it would look better backward. I thought he was crazy at first, but it ended up looking fantastic. That outfit became our cover.

I’d like to think a redesign is like a relationship: It’s easy to fall in love with it, then take it for granted once you get used to it. Our goal with Wearables is to avoid falling into that trap. We want to keep pushing the boundaries of what we can do with design – and I know our editorial design team is eager to keep unveiling new tricks. In addition, we want to keep providing what our readers want: spotlights of the latest trends, effective ways to improve their businesses and in-depth information to keep them ahead of the curve. Keep looking for our “Screen-Printing Success” section, too, which features all the latest decoration trends, techniques and products. Decoration is the differentiator in our industry, and the ones who do it well really stand out.

Everyone I’ve talked to really likes the new design, which is comforting to know. I hope you will like it too. Visit www.wearablesmag.com to see the redesign issue, and don’t hesitate to tell me what you think by e-mailing me at cmittica@asicentral.com.

– C.J. Mittica, Wearables editor


Power Summit’s Got Game

Filed under: Community, News About ASI

It’s a no-brainer that Korean superstar Psy and his “Gangnam Style” video is now the most-watched YouTube video, with 1.7 billion views. What’s more interesting to me are sensations like speed demon videographer Devin Graham, whose videos now boast a combined 200 billion views.ASI Power Summit

In a unique marketing twist, Devin recently partnered with Ford to show off its latest high-performance hot hatch. First, check out the stunts he pulled off with the Ford Focus ST, a mountain and a group of pro long boarders. Then, consider what a video master like Devin can show your company about capitalizing on the viral video craze. It’s all about taking your brand for a new ride. Not only does Ford get to look cool to Generation Next, thanks to Devin they get to show off their hottest product to nearly a half-million eyeballs.ASI Power Summit

Such ingenuity is exactly why we picked Devin (@devinsupertramp) as one of our featured speakers for the 2013 ASI Power Summit, coming up fast September 15-17. Where else can you careen down challenging mountain bike trails sporting a GoPro camera like Devin and get a briefcase full of great tips on motivating employees to the max from New York Times bestselling author Adrian Gostick? Just don’t try both at the same time!

ASI’s annual Power Summit, where the best minds in our industry meet for three days of brainstorming, networking and superior learning, is happening at the Montage Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. But act fast to qualify for a special discount of $300 off registration. Visit the 2013 Power Summit website, where you can register and browse the agenda, the speakers and their hard-hitting topics as well as the numerous recreational opportunities in Park City and beyond.ASI Power Summit

Other benefits of attending include a first look at the expanded, 2013 Global Advertising Specialties Impressions Study, the 3rd annual Marketing Smackdown (a real-time showdown with top distributors picked by the audience), a slate of panels and top-drawer speakers like Bruce Money, a Harvard MBA and consultant for Nissan and CSX, with a topic that should be on everyone’s front burner: our changing demographics.ASI Power Summit in Park City

If you have any questions, email powersummit@email.asicentral.com or email me here.

Come for the summit, then take a few days to explore Utah’s vacation paradise, which boasts dramatic mountain vistas, wondrous rock formations, a unique Western culture and even Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute. If you want to shake it up, you can bike, hike, fly in a hot air balloon, ride a roller coaster and go white water rafting. Or, you can just kick back and relax in a hot tub.

Make sure you check out Devin’s view on Utah, in a video featuring pro trail bike rider Jeremy VanSchoonhoven, a finalist on “America’s Got Talent,” riding killer rocks in Maob, named one of America’s best adventure towns by National Geographic.

So what do you say? Power riding at the Power Summit? Move over, Psy. Here we come!


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