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

Life (at ASI) is a Cabaret…

Filed under: Fun, Personal

Hi Everyone —

I’m leaving tomorrow morning to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family, who have a home in Sanibel, Florida. While I will be reveling in the warm weather and limiting my mother, Judge Judye (again, she doesn’t preside over trials, but she is judgemental, in that special way moms can be… ; ) ) to three nags per day, I wanted to share with you photos from ASI’s first annual “Roaring ’20s” Cabaret night. An aside: I really don’t know if this will be a yearly event — it’s more just me being hopeful in case the Powers that Be (that’s you, Tim Andrews!) are reading…

With “bootleg” cocktails, gangster hats, feather boas and flappers in abundance, I can tell you that this event — hosted by president/CEO Tim Andrews and ASI’s “Fun Committee,” was one for the books. Now, for those of you who know me, I’m not the type of girl to be overly-effusive, but I had a BLAST! (And not just because wine was involved…). 

The evening was hosted by American Idol finalist Justin Guarini, who could not have been a more gracious, engaging host, and featured some of ASI’s best in-house “talent” singing karaoke. Justin, incidentally, is the spokesperson for industry supplier BamBam’s (asi/38228) trademarked “Rollabana” so he’s already “in the know” about the ad specialty business.

Here, then, are a wide variety of photos — the good, the bad and the disturbing (you’ll know it when you see it, but it involves my tongue hanging out of my mouth like a hungry basset hound). It will definitely explain why people truly enjoy working at ASI, and why many — including myself — stayed for so many years.

Happy Thanksgiving and more next week!


— M

With hundreds of ASI employees in attendance, the company’s first-ever Cabaret Night was a “roaring” awesome time.
(From left): Web designer Steve Hawk, the man working the soundboard for ASI Radio with the skill of Brian Eno, and Craig Veltri, senior Web designer for ASICentral.com, get their gangster on.
Sometimes, the quiet ones are the best surprises… Jason Cissorsky, whom I’ve had the pleasure of seeing sing karaoke to the elegant and refined, “I’m Too Sexy for Your Hat, Too Sexy for Your Cat,” wowed the crowd with his rollicking rendition of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” And for his fabulous efforts — which included a festive jig during the song’s famed instrumental segues — he won “Best Solo” for the night.
Mike Morris leads a bevy of back-up singers to a rousing rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”
(From left): ASI Show advertising coordinator, the one and only Karen Wynn and exhibitor accounts manager Kristen Metzner showing off their miles of smiles.
If there was a prize for snappiest attire, this guy would have won it, hands down.
Amanda Swartz belts out “Black Velvet,” which garnered her the Grand Prize.

Here’s Rich, rocking out to “Addicted to Love.” Just so you know, this is exactly the expression he has on his face when he tries to locate me at shows and has to bellow my name in random bars… ; )

Rich Fairfield, ASI’s senior vice president, publisher and my beloved boss [read: He has a high-tolerance for my bulls**t and antics], emulating the best-dressed man in rock, Robert Palmer, doing “Addicted to Love.” Behind him, as the ever-stoic though supremely sexy chorus line, are (from left): managing editor Joan Chaykin, editor-in-chief Melinda Ligos, director of ESPOnline Candace Hershey and my girl Dana Reaume (LOVE her!!!), ASI’s professional development coordinator. Rich wanted me up on stage, though I declined because I have legs like a corgi.

I love the composition of this shot, taken by my pal Jason Kuttner, of managing editor Joan Chaykin and my boss, ASI publisher Rich Fairfield, during his karaoke rendition of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love.”

Tim Andrews, making a definitive point — which is not always easy to do while donning a boa… LOL).

ASI president, CEO and kissing bandit Tim Andrews, shown here with the lovely and talented Jessica Fletcher, ASI’s electronic communications coordinator.

One of ASI’s newer charismatic personalities, meet Lori Cohen, shown here on the left, singing a bringing-down-the-house performance of “Nine to Five.”

Michelle Motz and Rob Fiorello took the prize for “Keep Your Day Job” (they had a lot of competition).

Jim Maratea, ASI’s building operations manager, belts out “Born to Be Wild,” a sentiment both he and I share…

My pal Jessica Fletcher, left, shown here with editorial staff writer (and Joe Haley’s “bromance” BFF) Matt George and managing editor Joan Chaykin.

ASI’s distributor sales manager Stan Fellerman, shown here with the lovely Mary Laycock, Dale Denham’s assistant. And for that reason alone, Mary should have had at least three drinks… ; )

Barbara Ambrose, executive assistant to senior vp/publisher Rich Fairfiled, looking fabulous flapper attire. Barbara rocks, and is one of the people who helped decorate for Cabaret Night… Twenty-three skiddo, Barbara!

ASI’s CEO & president, Tim Andrews — proudly sporting a boa — welcomes everyone to ASI’s first Cabaret Evening.

Dale Denham (right) pulled me up on stage to get a photo of the two of us with Justin Guarini. Look at me in the center… I appear to be from the Land of Lilliput.

(From left): Advantages editor Kathy Huston, editor-in-chief Melinda Ligos and associate editor Jen Zorger, all my super-awesome editorial chickies. Interestingly, they are like an ascending scale of loud — Jen being the quietest and Kathy, well, being Homeric.

ASI’s editor-in-chief Melinda Ligos and president/CEO Tim Andrews raise lit candles in support of an encore from Joe Haley.

(From left) Donna Brauning, Tim Andrews’ executive assistant, Joe “The Crooner” Haley and I. I consider it a personal accomplishment that my tongue remained firmly planted in my head.

Editor-in-chief Melinda Ligos and ASI senior vice president and publisher Rich Fairfield, both of whom I report to and both of whom have compared managing me to “attempting to control the wind.” Next time you see them at a show, buy them a sympathy shot.

The tongue wag that launched a thousand “icks.” Here’s me, on the left, inexplicably looking as though I’m going to lick poor Joe Haley, shown here with Melinda Ligos, like taffy. I think if that keeps up, my little Joe-Joe may slap me with a TRO… ; )

Joe Haley, with his tumbler and cigarette props, could be a founding member of the Rat Pack. If only he had the smooth-as-silk way with the ladies…. ; )

Joe Haley, shown here with his new BFF Justin Guarini. Word has it that Joe plans to let his hair “sprout” just like Justin’s! Can. Not. Wait.

And here, my friends, is where the evening took a decidedly wacky left turn… Joe Haley, ASI’s managing editor, star of The Joe Show and one of the three people at ASI who can tell me to “Shush” without fear of evisceration (the other two — in case you were curious — are Christian Brandt, ASI’s executive director of distributor services and Jeremy Young, our IT “guru” and my cocktailing partner in crime) sashayed on stage, donning full tux, hat, tumbler of scotch and (unlit) cigarette, to croon Sinatra’s “My Way.” Now, you should know, Joe CANNOT sing one note; however it was his bravado — complete with a hat-toss and cigarette flick into the crowd — that brought down the house. If I haven’t told you lately, Joe-Joe, YOU ROCK.

Tim Andrews playfully hides behind his boa and gives me one hell of a come-hither gaze — so much so that I blushed and got weak-kneed. ; )

Karyn Coates (Executive Director of E-Media and Member Benefits), whom I will maintain to my dying day bears a striking resemblance to the hottie Cylon “Six” on Battlestar Galactica, shown here with Dale Denham, the guy who once lamented to me that he had never made an appearance on my blog. Well, Dale, the ship has sailed on your anonymity! ; )

Candace Hershey, director of ESP and Dale Denham, Senior vice President — separately, they’re characters; together, they are pistols!

Here, ASI’s President’s Council — the group of senior vice presidents who lead the company and report directly to Tim Andrews — yucking it up to “YMCA” by the Village People, led by Rich Fairfield (left) and senior vice president Dale Denham, someone who never met a mic he didn’t like. ; )

Oh, let me count the ways that I love these boys. Both Jason Kuttner (left) and Tim Glen are charter members — along with my pal Jeremy Young — of “The Joy Stick Club,” as I call ASI’s LAN technology department (due to their rabid adoration of video games like “Quake”), but they are so much more. Jason is the life-saver I call when I’m in places like Guangzhou and Hong Kong when my Blackberry (and I) are melting down. And though there’s not much he can do to placate my psycho state, he always knows how to fix the Crackberry. And Mr. Glen, this boy is one of those wicked-smart people who has sick computer skills and basically keeps ASI’s entire internal technology network up and running. Succinctly, he is totally bad-ass. Rock on, Mr. Glen… ; )

American Idol finalist Justin Guarini — and his Very Prominent Hair — hosted the evening’s events that featured 15 karaoke events.

Justin Guarini, breaks out the guitar to accompany marketing manager Kate Malone, a true signing talent who fronts a band. Kate’s choice of karaoke song was Natalie Merchant, one of my favorites.

Powered Up in Palm Beach

Filed under: Editorial, Travel

Hi Everyone —

Having just returned from the amazing Breakers in Palm Beach Florida (click here to see a link of my pal Joe Haley, star of The Joe Show, giving a tour of the property) where ASI held its second annual Power Summit, I can tell you it was not only a fabulously fun time, but one that was incredibly informative as well. Yes, of course there were lots of networking events like golf, tennis, cocktail parties and festive dinners, but the education seminars (click here to see the event’s agenda) definitely took center stage as the over 200 industry professionals in attendance expressed their concerns over the economy and how it will affect our industry in 2009.  Heather DiPrato, ASI’s vice president of distributor sales, and I moderated a breakout session discussion titled “Outlook for 2009.” In it were 32 owners and executives from the Counselor Top 40 suppliers and distributors, and here are some of the most telling responses, determined by a show of hands, to questions Heather posed as I was taking notes:

1. How do you anticipate that your company’s sales will end up in 2008?

Up 0-9%: 2

Up 10% or more: None

Down 0-5%: 21

Down 10% or more: 7

*Two people did not respond

2. What are your sales projections for 2009?

Up 0-9%: 1

Up 10% or more: None

Down 0-5%: 17

Down 5-10%: 14

Down more than 10%: None

3. When do you foresee solid industry growth again?

Anytime in 2009? 4

In 2010? 16

In 2011? 10

In 2012? 2

That said, people are being very strategic and savvy in how they allocate their resources. In the panel I moderated on Monday morning (“Why Marketing Matters: Secrets to Building Buzz”), my panelists (David Nicholson, president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Leed’s, Ross Silverstein, owner of Counselor Top 40 distributor iPROMOTEu, Tom Riordan, CEO of Maple Ridge Farms and Danny Rosin, co-owner of distributor BrandFuel) all said they would not be reducing their marketing efforts (and, in fact, may be increasing them), despite the economy. The reason, as David said, was to spend more on marketing as a competitive strategy to gain market share. Danny, who — with his partner Robert Fiveash — has used online marketing with great success to grow their business, pointed out that there is no cost involved with posting promotional videos on such sites as YouTube to generate buzz for your company (click here to see some hilarious videos BrandFuel has done).

But I think the most illuminating portion of the event was when Melinda Ligos, ASI’s editor-in-chief, announced the results of our exclusive Advertising Specialties Impressions Study, which is a cost analysis of promotional products versus other advertising media. Talk about eye-opening! While we all know how powerful and impactful ad specialties are, these survey results (click here to download a PDF of the survey) really make the case for them being the marketing medium of choice. The one point that blew me away? The average cost per impression (CPI) of an ad specialty item is $0.004! Bags, apparel, writing instruments and desk accessories all rank high on the list of the number of impressions per month.    

And now, lest you think it was ALL business at the Power Summit, here’s a sampling of photos (which in some cases could be called “evidence”) from the event. Incidentally, at every industry function I attend, I try to meet five new people. My favorites from the Power Summit?

* Joyce Johnson-Miller, co-founder of Relativity Capital LLC and chairwoman of the board for Counselor Top 40 supplier Norwood. She is as whip-smart as she is hilarious and gregarious. LOVE her!

* Danny Rosin and Robert Fiveash, co-founders of North Carolina-based BrandFuel (one of ASI’s “Fastest Growing Distributorships”). Not only are they wickedly funny and creative, their partying is on an epic, Dionysian level. Rock on, boys.

* Barry Deutsch, vice president of the number one distributor on Counselor’s Top 40 list, BDA. Oh my, where to begin… Not only was my conversation with him about the state — and future — of the industry one of the best I’ve had in a long time, his love and affection for Grey Goose rivals mine. If he wasn’t already engaged, I’d propose.

* And last, but certainly not least, I have a new favorite ASI colleague, Colin Graf. Colin has been with ASI for almost two years and is one of our mah-velous marketing managers. But, because he’s pretty low-key and all stealthy with his partying (and because, let’s face it, I’m self-absorbed and tend to suck the oxygen out of a room when I’m in it) we’ve never really hung out. Not anymore… Colin, my friend, due directly to your scintillating personality at the Power Summit, you and I will be reveling at future events. In the words of one of my favorites, the legendary writer Hunter S. Thompson: “Crazies always find each other.” ; )

Enjoy the photos and more next week!


— M

Ellen and Tom Vann, owner of Target Graphics, on their first night at the Breakers. They also celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary, so congratulations to them! Industry celebs Brandon Mackay and Charley Johnson from SnugZ are number 38 on this year’s Counselor Power 50 list. (To see the complete “Power 50 list,” click here….)
My pal Tim O’Boyle (aka “Ringo”), left, vice president of sales for JournalBooks (ASI’s “Supplier of the Year” for 2008 as voted on by distributors) and the always-charming Kris Robinson, vice president of marketing for Counselor Top 40 distributor PromoShop. A new pal, Keith Simon, vice president of sales for Media Tree, prepares to down a shot of Sambuca with his fingers on fire. For the record, Keith was not the only one to engage in this activity: At the urging of PromoShop’s Kris Robinson (always the instigator!), there were five of us (and yes, I was one of them) who dipped our fingers in the licorice liqueur, lit them on fire, raised them over our heads and declared ourselves to be the “Statues of Liberty.” Being with Kris, I’m always reminded of the famous line uttered by Lady Cardine Lamb about the prodigious partier Lord Byron: “He’s mad, bad and dangerous to know.” Kisses, Kris! ; )
Fred Parker, president of North Carolina-based Bluegrass Promotions, and I have been friends for more than 10 years. In that time, Fred has always stayed just as fun and maintained his youthful verve. It is only a matter of time before I, on the other hand, begin looking “flamboyantly haggard” — like Endorra from Bewitched. Industry luminaries Tad Webster, vice president of CounselorTop 40 distributor PromoShop with Fran “The Man” Ford, an industry consultant and partner in Vaquero Meat and Provisions.
(From left): Ira Neaman, owner of Counselor Top 40 supplier Vantage, Barry Deutsch, executive vice president of Counselor Top 40 distributor BDA and JournalBooks’ Tim O’Boyle with me on Sunday night. Few things make me as happy as having my favorite fun boys sit with me at dinner! My gal pal Bonni Shevin-Sandy, executive vice presence of CounselorTop 40 supplier Dard and a member of this year’s Power 50 list, at dinner on Monday night. Bonni is my go-to chica on the topics of product safety and internationalism — my girl knows her stuff!
Adding to the industry’s “glam factor” are Dard’s Nadia George (left) and my BFF Bonni Sandy — they’re definitely two of the industry’s pretty people! Dard’s Nadia George, shown here with, Craig Calloway, the CEO of Counselor Top 40 distributor eComapnyStore. Craig is #19 on this year’s Power 50 list, which is beyond impressive because it’s his first appearance on the list. Way to go, Craig!
The face that launched a thousand shirtless bar dances… BrandFuel’s Robert Fiveash was one of the straws that stirred the cocktail of mayhem on Monday night, along with my beloved Dan Townes from Shepenco, BrandFuel’s Danny Rosin, my pals Jakey Krolick and Colin Graf from ASI’s marketing department. Stories of Robert and Dan dancing on the bar at an off-site, undisclosed location percolated through the Power Summit on Tuesday morning. Many (myself included) were envious that we missed what sounded like a rollicking good time. (From left): PromoShop’s Tad Webster and Kris Robinson, along with Chuck Fandos, president of Gateway/CDI and Memo Kahan, my Patron Saint of Patrone and the owner of PromoShop. When this group gets together, the good times roll so hard and fast the Earth shifts off its axis.
Shepenco’s Dan Townes (#41 on this year’s Power 50 list), Fields Manufacturing’s Matt Bertram, ASI editor-in-chief Melinda Ligos and Dave Regan from Counselor Top 40 distributor The Vernon Co. enjoy some quiet time after the dinner on Monday night when Counselor’s Power 50 list was announced. Counselor managing editor, star of The Joe Show, one of my “work husbands” (though he perpetually wants a divorce), Joe Haley (right), with Target Graphics’ Tom Vann, one of Joe’s industry BFFs.
Oh, let me count the ways how I love Chuck Fandos, president of Counselor Top 40 distributor Gateway/CDI and a newcomer to this year’s Power 50 list at number 32. Chuck called me not too long ago, and lamented the fact that he was lacking a “nickname from Michele Bell.” Consequently, he is henceforth known as “Chuckles” or “MotherChucker,” depending on the sassiness of my mood. ; ) ASI’s senior vice president Dale Denham, looking visibly nervous that I’m that close to him with a camera, on Sunday afternoon in the Mediterranean courtyard at the Breakers. Dale’s birthday was on Monday so we wish him a belated Happy Birthday!
During one of Joe Haley’s impromptu “talk show” videos (which we immediately destroy afterwards), he interviews ASI’s Dan Dienna (far left), Colin Graf and Gene Rahill (to my right). With the level of discourse among this group, the answer to the question “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” would be a resounding and emphatic “No.” ; ) Because we were in Palm Beach, FL for ASI’s second annual Power Summit, the other senior editors and I hosted this week’s ASI Radio show live from The Breakers (in Kathy Huston’s room, no less). From the left, here are Joe Haley, Andy Cohen, Kathy and Melinda Ligos showing just how close they really are. My favorite part of this photo? The expressions on Joe’s and Andy’s faces that say, “this is amusing, though profoundly unnerving.”

ASI’s marketing maverick Jake Krolick has the singular talent of either looking like a rock star (left) or a depraved loony (above) in every photo I take of him.

ASI president and CEO Tim Andrews, shown here with ASI’s marketing manager Jake Krolick. At one point during dinner, Tim asked everyone at the table what would be the one karaoke song we’d each sing. Before I could answer, he looked at me and said, “Michele, you’re Cher and you’d be singing ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.’ ” I, of course, take that as the ultimate compliment. ; )
Because we broadcast the ASI Radio show from Kathy Huston’s hotel room, we had to make due with wacky accommodations. Here, ASI managing editor Joe Haley buffers the luggage rack he’s sitting on with Kathy’s pillow.
(From left): ASI editor-in-chief Melinda Ligos, managing editor Joe Haley, senior vice president and publisher Rich Fairfield and Advantages editor Kathy Huston at dinner on our first night at the Breakers. ASI’s Joe Haley (left) and Dan Dienna, two grown men who make each other giggle like 12-year-old girls.
ASI’s senior vice president and publisher Rich Fairfield and ASI’s senior vice president of marketing, Susanne Curry, at a wickedly wacky event hosted by company president and CEO Tim Andrews for ASI staffers who worked the Power Summit, on Saturday evening. Colin Graf, my new favorite character at ASI (center), with Dan Dienna, ASI’s Supplier Internet Sales Manager and our marketing department’s Heather Roberts. ASI’s marketing team is the best I’ve ever worked with and really did a spectacular job working behind the scenes to put the Power Summit together.
ASI’s trade show manager Amber May, our super-special event planner who we’ll call Captain Fabulous (triple-snaps to you for a first-class job, Babycakes!) and Jakey Krolick (again, with the bad boy/rock star face) enjoying some downtime before the start of the Summit. (From left): Joanne Lynch, ASI’s director of education, Chicago-based Hilary Dolphin, who works with the ASI Show team and my colleague Kathy Huston, the “editrix” of Advantages. Kathy’s office is next to mine, and when we both cackle loudly in sync, the windows shatter (and grown men cry) at ASI.
Two of my favorite editorial colleagues, Joe Haley and Kathy Huston. And yes, Joe Haley is as loud as his shirt.