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Counselor Senior Editor Michele Bell's slanted view of the world.

Moments that Make Me Ask, “WTF?”

Filed under: Fun, Personal

Hey from Philly, where it’s chilly today but everyone’s on fire reveling in our first World Series win in 28 years! Lots of people are taking the day off to enjoy the celebration parade through downtown Philly, but I’m here, applying red lipstick to my work BFF Joe Haley and brushing his bouffant. (Here he is, in all his glory, with editor-in-chief Melinda Ligos as Daphne from Scooby Doo.) Let me just say this: Joe is not a pretty little lady… .



I’ve only dressed in a Halloween costume at ASI once — last year — and it was so ironic in a disturbing, unnerving way that I don’t think I could ever top it. See photo below…


Exemplifying the concept of “irony at its finest,” this was my costume for last year’s ASI Editorial Department Halloween Contest. And yes, “Sister Sacrilicious” unnerved the hell out of countless colleagues… Christian Brandt, my pal who’s the executive director of distributor services, wouldn’t even stand next to me for fear of lightening striking and, well, eternal damnation.

I’m going to do a blog posting early next week featuring my favorite products of 2008, which I’m gathering now, so stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, though, can I have a moment of your time to regale you with some of the “WTF?” (“What the Frak?”) moments I’ve encountered lately? And yes, I’m well aware that I spend WAY too much time mulling over this nonsense…

1. Recently, my friend Jeremy Young and I went out for cocktails. Jeremy is the one who keeps our e-mails and server functioning at optimum capacity here at ASI and the one I whine to first when something’s wrong with my beloved Blackberry. We’re also big Sci-Fi dorks and political junkies, so our conversations vacillate between the substantive (how and why the next president’s Supreme Court choices will have a monumental impact on our society) and the weapons-grade wacky (who’s the fifth Cylon on Battlestar Galactica and the brilliance of Jean-Luc Picard as a starship commander…). As I’d had one wine over my limit the night we went out, I curled up in the back of my car, wrapped in my fur coat like a cat, to take a nap. Upon waking up, all refreshed, alert and looking fabulous with a nickel stuck to my cheek, I drove to the nearest 24-hour convenience store to get coffee. First, they had no coffee, because second, they had just opened. Twenty-four hour convenience? I think not… Teases.

2. I bought one of GE’s eco-friendly “Energy Smart” lightbulbs last week — you know, the squiggly ones shaped like fusilli pasta — that are supposed to be more efficient and do less harm to the environment. All well and good, except… the decidedly not so eco-friendly over-sized plastic packaging that was so difficult to open, I broke a nail and cut my finger. Consequently, my blue language offset my green efforts. So while I applaud GE’s new lightbulbs and am fascinated by their shape, does the plastic packaging encasing the bulb have to be twice the size? Really?

3. I’m a big fan of Panera for a quick lunch — their broccoli & cheese soup is delish! However, when you order a sandwich — made on their famous thick, crusty bread — they give you a choice of two sides: potato chips or… bread. So I’ll have a side of bread with my bread, please? You gotta love a company that so flagrantly ignores the nutritional pyramid chart.

4. In case you didn’t know, Pennsylvania, a state founded on Quaker ethics and beliefs, has really odd and restrictive laws for selling alcoholic beverages. For example, you can’t buy beer and liquor in the same place, and certainly not in some convenient establishment like a grocery store, where you’re buying other staples. If you want beer you have to go to a beer distributor, where you can only buy beer by the case or keg — no six-packs unless you go to a deli or pizza place; if you want liquor, you go to a liquor store — or “Spirits Shoppe” as some, like my pal Jeremy, call them in an effort to sound less heathen-like. Got it? Now you know why we all drink so much in PA — we’re annoyed and confused…

So, one would naturally think that a PA liquor store would be the model of buttoned-up, conservative propriety. Apparently not. On my weekly pilgrimage (as Jeremy calls it) for supplies, a very nice lady who looked as if she should be presiding over a PTA meeting stood behind a fold-out card table offering patrons samples of Patrone tequila shots and margaritas. “Would you like a couple of shots and a margarita or two, hun?,” she asked me. Two things: First, she served up the sauce under a large sign that said, “Never Drink and Drive.” Now, unless you live in the back room of the liquor store (tempting…), don’t the majority of customers drive?

Second, I had to explain to her that while the offer to throw some tequila back with her was enticing, the chances that she would have to bundle me up in a shopping cart and wheel me home were quite high.

5. A very nice industry apparel supplier I know sent me a super-soft and fashionable T-shirt from one of his new lines as a gift. The problem? The size and cut were made for someone with the body of a 12-year-old gymnast. What’s fascinating to me is that the supplier knows me well and has spent time with me, certainly enough to be familiar with my body type. So while I thank him for the gracious gesture, I would ask that wearables suppliers consider that some chicas have curves and spongy girl parts when sending out sample sizes. ; )

Any brow-furrowing “What the Frak?” moments for you? Feel free to share!

More next week when I share my favorite products of the year!

— M

Economics for Rummies

Filed under: Editorial, Personal

Hi Everyone!

First, I’d like to thank ASI managing editor Joan Chaykin for contributing to my blog with her coverage from the AdvantagesRoadshow through Southern California two weeks ago. It was a smart move for the Powers That Be here at ASI to send Joan instead of me — Tijuana is dangerously close to San Diego (one of the show’s stops) and the potential for mayhem involved with me crossing the border into the Tequila hot zone causes the phrase “International Incident” to leap to mind.  

Second, I’m sure you — like me — have been riveted by the daily “breaking news” stories about the economic crisis. The difference is, you probably understand it better than I do, as the depth of what I know about finance could fit into a shot glass. Math (and, by default, economics and finance) was never my strong suit. When I took the college SATs, my verbal scores were off the charts; by contrast, my math scores were so bad that my high school guidance counselor called my mother, Judge Judye (she doesn’t wear a robe or have a gavel, but she is judgemental… ; ) ), expressing concern that I was mentally deficient.

Consequently, when circumstances like the housing debacle, the stock market’s recent nausea-inducing wild ride (“Wall Street’s worst week ever,” financial analysts wailed) and the credit crunch happen in unison, I get that it’s the biggest financial nightmare scenario of our time. What I don’t often get is the whys, the hows, and what it means for consumers and businesses. But thank God, like FDR, I have my own brain trust of industry finance wonks who patiently guide me through the mire. Michael Bernstein, Counselor Top 40 supplier Polyconcept North America’s CEO, is the Annie Sullivan to my Helen Keller when it comes to economics; Jonathan Isaacson, owner of Counselor Top 40 supplier Gemline, has been taking my daily calls, helping me understand the continuously shifting financial landscape in a way that I get (“If Congress doesn’t sign the bailout plan, Michele, head to the nearest bunker and stock up on your Grey Goose because it’s going to get ugly…”); and Craig Nadel, president of Counselor Top 40 distributor Jack Nadel Int’l., who reads Warren Buffet’s shareholder report just for fun and used to schedule his vacations so he could attend Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholder meetings in Omaha. Craig definitely has a man-crush on Warren Buffet… (“But did you read the shareholder report I sent you?,” he’ll ask me. “He’s so funny and gosh, just smart as a whip!”). Between the three of them, it’s like having my own elite advisory board to the Fed.

Michael, Jonathan and Craig all share the same outlook for the economy and the ad specialty industry: If your company’s sales are flat right now, then you’re doing pretty damn good. The fourth quarter is going to be tough, and next year is going to be a rough ride for both the economy and the industry. The National Small Business Association reports that 67% of small-business owners surveyed in August said they’ve been impacted by the credit crunch, and 63% said they’ve been hit by worsening credit card terms. In the upcoming November issue of Counselor, my colleague Andy Cohen (he’s our in-house go-to guy for all financial issues and knows his stuff), the magazine’s editor, tackles these topics in a feature article that offers options, strategies and some surprisingly optimistic views from a few of the industry’s best and brightest on how to shore up your business. Andy also points to some positive economic indicators that show there are areas where things may be looking up.   

Jonathan Isaacson, during one of his tutorials with me last week, made a great observation: “Relief isn’t going to come quickly,” he said. “It took a while for us to get here, and it will take a while for us to get out. However, I’m assuming this economic crisis will end at some point. So while I do think it’s likely we will be in a recession, companies may decide to market their way out of it to get new business and increase sales. This industry would benefit from that and be up again. Once companies feel comfortable that there is an end in sight, the situation will ease and spending will increase.”

For me, I agree with Jonathan’s assessment — it’ll be rough, but we’ll get through it — and will continue to have a glass-half-full outlook. Possibly because the glass is always half-full of vodka.

More later this week!


— Michele

PS: Thanks to all of you who offered names for my two kittens — your suggestions were funny, fabulous and just cracked me up. The kittens are no longer nameless: The male is “Monkey” and the female is “Mouse” (she’s really tiny and she squeaks instead of meowing!). I did notice and appreciate, however, the preponderance of suggestions that I name them after brands of liquor and shoes… ; )