Enter your email for updates:
Counselor Senior Editor Michele Bell's slanted view of the world.

Oh, Canada…

Filed under: Editorial, Travel

Hi Everyone!

I just returned from another fabulous PPPC Toronto Show, the association’s annual convention and trade event. As usual, our friends to the North do an amazing job with their show. With informative education sessions, fun special events and an always-well attended show, this event is one that’s consistently good. Though the industry may be small to compared to the U.S. (Canada’s estimated annual sales hover around $3 billion; Promogram announced last week that the U.S. market is on track to report $20 billion in sales for 2008), it is a vibrant and sophisticated market.

For example, there is a lot of multicultural and ethnic diversity in the Canadian market, which adds various and layered perspectives and creativity. Also, just having returned from the PSI Dusseldorf Show, it struck me that the PPPC Show is more like that one — the booths are designed for consultative meetings with distributors, and distributors come into exhibiutors’ booth with specific promotional campaigns for their clients in mind. Also, this is one of the few shows I attend that is always still crowded in the afternoon on the last day of the show — attendees are very loyal to this event.

“This week’s PPPC show and strong attendance was a good indication that distributors are forging ahead with business as usual in what will be a challenging start to the year,” says Marc Giroux, vice president of sales for Spector and Co., one of Canada’s most prominent suppliers. “It was really reassuring to see our customers getting past the ‘gloom and doom’ talk of the economy and sharing their strategies to double their marketing efforts, be even more creative and working hard to provide solutions to meet the needs of budget conscious end-users.”

At PPPC’s “Go for the Gold” Image Awards recognizing the best distributor campaigns and the top three suppliers – as voted on by distributors – in the Canadian marketplace, Leed’s Canada took the top Gold prize, followed by second-place Silver winner Debco and ESP Wholesale garnering the third-place Bronze award.

Toronto itself is one of the great, cosmopolitan metropolitan areas to which I get to travel. Yes, it’s cold, but Philly isn’t exactly balmy this time of year either. I only had one “issue” (if you know me, you know there’s always an issue… ): Despite the fact that it’s only a 90 minute flight from Philly to Toronto, and despite the fact that I have “Preferred” status on USAir, the airline lost my luggage for 24 hours. Consequently, I had to attend PPPC’s “Spring Break” networking event in the jeans and snow boots in which I traveled (again, if you me, being without my fancy clothes and stilettos is like having my vital organs removed with a shrimp fork). And, because I packed my fur coat, I had to walk around in a heavy, long white robe the Hilton graciously lent me — like a wandering patient let loose from the mental facility.  Other than that, however, the trip was a blast — as evidenced by the photos below.

More next week when I talk about a feature I wrote in the upcoming February issue of Counselor, titled “The Fall & Rise of Sweda,” and what went on behind the scenes. Those guys rock!


— M 

(From left): The perpetually chipper Jay Ostrow, ASI’s director of distributor services for Canada, the vivacious Meghan Bogarde, an account rep in ASI’s Distributor Membership department, and D.J. Jungling, from ASI Computer Systems at the Hilton bar in Toronto. D.J. once led a group of funny rummies on an Advantages road show across the border from San Diego into Tijuana for a tequila pilgrimage. Can’t tell you how sorry I am I missed that!
D.J.’s lovely wife Dawn, schmoozing with ASI’s senior vice president Dale Denham. As I’ve said before, at every show, I always spend time with one person who turns out to be a complete revelation to me. On this trip, it was Dale, hand’s down. He tells me that if he were an animal, he’d be an eagle, soaring and majestic. So to him I say, “CA-CAW.” (I incidentally, would be a bear — is there anything more glorious than five months of sleeping?)
Dale and I attended PPPC’s “Spring Break” beach party, which drew quite the crowd and was a blast.
Here are my pals Harry Fotopoulous from Custom HBC Corp. and Melissa Jillett. Mel left the industry last year to pursue another opportunity, but misses the fun and friends in this industry and is dying to come back. I hope she does — we miss her!
Here’s Dale (left), with Michael Woody (third from left) and some friends. Michael is a past recipient of Counselor‘s International Person of the Year award and was at the PPPC show facilitating an education session on the topic of “The Future of Our Industry Structure,” which focused on how technology and globalization are impacting the industry.
Dale “Moondoggie” Denham attempts to hang ten on a mechanical surfboard. If these photos came with soundtrack music, it would be “Wipeout.” ; )
The calypso-style band had everyone dancing… And lest you doubt the level of fun, there was, indeed, a conga line.
Dale, sadist that he is, insisted that I pose in the beach hammock at the party. The only problem? I fell out, wearing a lei no less, with all the grace of a wounded wildebeest. Dale was laughing so hard as he took this photo, he let me lay there like a turtle on my back…
Donald O’Hara, (shown here on the right with Dale), PPPC’s new president, was a gracious host. He is certainly a welcome addition to the association.
One of the many great giveaways PPPC had at their Spring Break beach party was this towel, which Dale hilariously described as “Sham Wow!”
Paul Bellantone, PPAI’s executive vice president, and I in the Hilton bar. Paul, one of my favorite people at PPAI, had just returned from another successful Las Vegas show. He, like myself, is on the traveling show circuit. ; )
ASI senior vice president Dale Denham (second from left) and ASI’s director of distributor services for Canada, Jay Ostrow, selflessly offered to have their photos taken with these two girls, obviously wallflowers in need of warm clothing. Kidding! In fact, these two very cool chicas were Playboy bunnies resting their tails and warming up at the Hilton bar.
I told you that ASI distributor sales rep Meghan Bogarde was vivacious and these photos are evidence of that. Relatively new to ASI, she fits in perfectly with her easy-going nature, fun personality and whip-smart banter. She also, by the way, speaks fluent French… Tres magnifique!
Dale and ASI Canada vice president Fred Oesen, one half (along with his fabulous wife Leslie) of Canada’s bon vivant couple. Freddy is one of my favorites and is definitely a celebutante in the Canadian market. It seems as though everybody in Canada has a “Freddy story” and one is more hilarious than the next. Freddy loves his scotch like I love my Grey Goose… ; )
On Sunday night, I went out with my pals from Counselor Top 40 supplier Sweda. I just wrote a profile on the company for the upcoming February issue of Counselor, so be sure to check it out next week. Here, veteran sales rep Paige Millard (is there anyone who doesn’t know Paige?) and new vice president of sales Suzie Gunsauls enjoy a night out on the Toronto town.
Scott Pearson (left), Sweda’s vice president of product development and the man with the most infectious laugh ever, and Jim Hagan, Sweda’s president. These guys are so awesome, so fun and so genuine, I just think the world of them.
Oh, let me count the ways I adore Jim Hagan, Sweda’s president:
1. A true Irishman, he likes his beer dark and his shots strong.
2. He’s one of those people that the more you spend time with him, the more you like and trust him.
3. He plays hard, but works even harder. He has, as Winston Churchill once said, “all the virtues I like and all the vices I admire…”
4. His team is almost rabidly devoted to him, which speaks volumes to me about what kind of leader — and person — he is.
5. He has seen me at my most rock-star degenerate, and hasn’t fled for cover in a bunker. ; )
Sweda’s Scott Pearson, Jim Hagan and one of my favorite wild chicas, Shauna Feldman, a sales rep with the Quebec-based distributorship Hannah Promotions. Shauna was on Counselor‘s in augural Hot List in the August issue and she lives up to it! Rock on, Girlfriend!
Sweda’s Paige Millard, standing at about 6′ 5″ tall, juxtaposed with the petite, though formidable, Shauna Feldman.
The annual PPPC convention and trade event was well-attended and exhibitors were thrilled with the quality of distributors who came.
Marc Giroux, vice president of sales for Spector and Co., one of Canada’s largest and most respected suppliers, poses in front of their fabulous booth. This booth, more than any other, reminded me of the booths in Europe at the PSI Show — lots of space for clients to come in, sit, and meet with their reps to discuss projects. Spector also gave out Good Humor ice cream to its booth visitors.
Sweda’s trade show manager and industry veteran Paige Millard braved the Toronto snow and freezing temperatures yesterday to pose with a statue of one of his heroes, Winston Churchill. “I ventured out in the snow storm, and this statue was across the street in the park,” Paige says. “My dad is my real hero, but I liked the quote on the statue and am using it throughout my day today to inspire all around me.”

J’Adore Paris!

Filed under: Fun, Personal, PSI Shows, Travel

Hi from Philly!

I just returned from Paris, France, where ASI senior vice president and I spent the weekend after the fabulously successful PSI Show in Dusseldorf.

France is my favorite place in the world, and Paris is my favorite city, so the cloud of snark and sass that usually envelopes me dissipated, and I was in my giddy, glorious happy place. The food, the wine, the architecture, the haute fashion and hot guys with those knee-weakening accents… Mon Dieu!

Rich and I stayed in this tres cool boutique place called Mon Hotel www.monhotel.fr, owned by a good friend of my good friend Philippe Varnier, CEO of Polyconcept — the parent company of Leed’s, Bullet Line and Journal Books, and the largest hard goods supplier of ad specialties in the world. Mon Hotel sells out for the French Open and Fashion Week, with the best athletes and top models staying there. The decor is very chic and very French — the walls in the rooms papered in suede and the elevator, lined with red leather. In fact, up until a few years ago, the hotel was the site of Paris’ most well-known — and best — brothel. Giving a whole new meaning to the phrase, “going out with a bang, not a whimper.” ; )

See below for an array of amazing photos from Paris. Next up on Michele’s Amazingly Excellent Adventures is the PPACanada Show in Toronto. Let me know if you’ll be there. And for all my friends at the PPAI Vegas Show who have been calling/texting/e-mailing, I miss you too! More next week…


— M

Patrick Politze, CEO of the European Promotional Products Association (EPPA), addresses a crowd of journalists from around the world to signal the opening of the 47th PSI Düsseldorf Show. Second from the left, seated, is Michael Freter, the new managing director of PSI — a super nice and supremely capable guy. The show was fantastic, and at this press conference, survey data was released on the state of the European market. To find more information, go to www.psionline.de.
An example of a booth that does it right: Gildan displayed its new shirts under Plexiglas, making for a very unusual floor in its booth. Not only did that draw attendee attention, but at the end of the first day, they served Italian wine, meats and cheeses to guests. Trust me on this, in Europe, exhibiting is like an art form.
Here, Miranda Rodenburg, Polyconcept’s top-selling salesperson in the Netherlands, spends some time with CEO Philippe Varnier. Philippe tells me that Miranda beats her own sales figures every year (impressive in a down economy), and is so passionate about her customers, that she advocates on their behalf as if they were her own children.
Rich Fairfield, ASI’s senior vice president/publisher and my boss, loved these little chili pepper buttons on this restaurant uniform. Another version had little skulls for buttons.
I loved these designated “Relaxing Zone” signs around the PSI Show floor, which indicated rest areas. The show was so busy, however, they were rarely in use. I should have gotten one for my office back at ASI, which is most definitely a “Procrastinating Zone.”
Some of ASI’s magazines on display in the Relaxing Zone, so people could check them out. Due to ASI’s strategic partnership with PSI, they were so graciously accommodating and welcoming to Rich, Ron Ball and I. To them, I say Danke Soviel!
Some of you have asked about the Polyconcept “hotel boats” on which Rich and I are nicely invited to stay every year. Well, here they are. Because Polyconcept brings so many staff people to work it’s 20,000 square foot (yes, you’re reading that right!) booth, usually between 150-200 people, they bring in these boats on which everyone sleeps and eats, and which is docked right near the convention center. It cuts down on the cost of hotel rooms, meals and taxis, with one boat for the staff and one for top clients, guests and the executive team. With restaurants, bars, an exercise room and a concierge, it has everything you could want — even life jackets should you get tipsy and fall into the Rhine.
Willem van Walt Meijer, the new CEO of MidOcean, the second-largest hard-goods supplier in Europe, after Polyconcept.
As an example of how intricate the booths at the European shows can be, check out this one from Koziol. And I would say this is moderate compared to some…
When Rich and I arrived into Paris on Friday night, we had dinner with my friend Yann Leca, the ever-charming CFO of Polyconcept and his lovely wife Severine, shown here. They took us to a fabulous restaurant called “Les Ombres“, atop the Primitive Art Museum at Quai Branly, on the left bank of the Seine river, next to the Eiffel Tower. The stunning view was only exceeded by the amazing company.
Here’s me, Severine and Yann, on the restaurant’s terrace with the Eiffel Tower as the backdrop. When you’re surrounded by something as spectacular as this, realize just what a sublime place Paris really is.
Rich, me, Severine and Yann… because you just can’t have enough great photos in front of the Eiffel Tower!
On Saturday afternoon, Philippe’s assistant of 14 years, Marie-Francoise Boulenger, took me to the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre. It was an amazing day and Marie-Francoise, who is a fifth-generation Parisian, was the best host one could ask for, but towards the end I was getting a little tired. Right before we left, I turned a corner and came face to face with the Venus de Milo. To which I can only say, thank you, Marie-Francoise, for reintroducing my jaw to the floor.
On Saturday night, Philippe Varnier and his exotic wife Martine (shown here) took Rich and I to a very hip and delicious restaurant called Kube, in which all the food was indeed served in cubed form — except the steak tartar and the chocolate mousse dessert, which were served in little syringes. Literally, you inserted the syringe into your mouth and pushed down on the plunger.
Here’s Rich and I, surrounded by lit bears, to signify the chilly temperature inside the Iced Kube bar, atop the Kube restaurant.
As a special surprise, Philippe took Rich and I to the Ice Kube bar above the Kube restaurant. Once we climbed the stairs, we were each given parkas, gloves and fur hoods, to allow for the below-zero temperatures. You see, the bar was sponsored by Grey Goose (cue the sounds of celestial trumpets and angels singing) vodka, my favorite of all drinks, and everything in it was made of ice — the floors, walls, chairs, cups. Once you were parka’d up, you were given access through an igloo entrance. Here’s Rich, looking shell-shocked…
Philippe Varnier, Polyconcept’s CEO, entering the ice igloo on the way to Grey Goose heaven.
I quickly decided that when I die, I want to be frozen into one of the walls at this bar — like a preserved woolly mammoth — smiling and holding a Grey Goose cosmopolitan, so that will be my image in perpetuity.
Philippe and Rich, getting in touch with their inner-Eskimos.
Rich, holding court in an ice chair, drinking his second Grey Goose cocktail. It should be noted that neither Philippe or Rich are the streamlined drinker I am, so by the time we left, they were “happy,” to say the least. In fact, as we exited the restaurant, we all noticed the luminous full moon… at which Philippe and Rich both HOWLED in unison. And no, I kid you not. Let it never be said that I — and my precious Grey Goose — don’t have a potent affect on men. ; )
Click above to see a video of the Ice Kube bar in Paris, where the temperature is about 10 degrees below zero, the floors, walls, chairs and cups are made of ice and where they give you a parka, gloves and a furry hood to wear before you enter. The bar is sponsored by France’s Grey Goose vodka (my favorite!), and each visitor gets four Goose-based drinks, such as cosmopolitans and lemon drops, while visiting. In this video, Polyconcept’s CEO and industry celeb Philippe Varnier jumps around to stay warm. You’ll understand… I get cold just watching this… ; )

PSI Dusseldorf: Heavy Traffic, Suave Italians and Bare Naked Ladies…

Filed under: Personal, PSI Shows

Hi from the Fabulous PSI Show!

For those who may have been worried about the economy’s affect on the show’s attendance, their fears were allayed quickly, as the event drew a record number of distributors.

If you haven’t been to the PSI Dusseldorf Show, it is the world’s largest ad specialty event, with over 900 suppliers taking up more than 500,000 square feet of exhibit space.

The booths are spectacularly stunning, as Europeans put a heavy emphasis on design, display and presentation. And, because every booth has ample seating and serves food, soft drinks and cocktails, it encourages distributors to stay longer in each booth, and to really take the time to discuss business and build relationships.

As an example, myself, my “work husband” Ron Ball, ASI’s vice president of supplier sales, and Rich Fairfield, ASI’s senior vice president/publisher (the poor soul who’s our boss — he often uses the word “unmanageable” to describe Ron and I) stopped by the Italian Association’s booth to visit my friend Lorenzo, the director. While there (at 11:00 a.m., mind you), we were served the best parmasean cheese, prosciutto and Chianti I’ve ever had. Needless to say, our meeting lasted for an hour, which is about the time most distributors spend in an exhibitor’s booth. For me, it’s just a special thrill to engage in sanctioned drinking before noon — it’s delightfully fun, without that pesky feeling of being a degenerate rummy.

And it was awesome to see friends from the U.S. industry — such as Gemline’s Jonathan Isaacson, Pearl Luck Trading’s Herb Levy, Hit Promotional Products’ Bill Schmidt, JMTek’s Kyu Lee, IMC’s Wendy Simons and Barry Fogel (who exhibited), Ogio’s Nick Wright and Prime Line’s Jeff Lederer — on the show floor and walking around the city.

Rich and I stayed on Polyconcept’s “hotel boat” as guests of my beloved ones, the company’s CEO Philippe Varnier and its CFO, Yann Leca. It was TOO much fun, as was the show itself. Check out the photos below and more soon from Paris, where Rich and I are now heading for the weekend. I’m a total Francophile, so France is my happy place. J’adore Paris!!!

Here’s my lofty goal for the weekend: Have a torrid, steamy affair with a long-haired, inappropriately young French guy, where we smoke cigarettes, drink great wine and sit in cafes debating the madness of Modigliani. Because, as Oscar Wilde (who, like Jim Morrison, is buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris) once said: “To get back my youth, I’d do anything in the world — except exercise, get up early or be respectable.” ; )

— M

I’m not quite sure why this man was in costume, but I give props to any guy with the cojones to sport white tights and a feather plume. He also, for reasons mystifying to me, kept bringing me beer, champagne and chocolate truffles. He was like a jester from heaven…
To reach the oh-so-fabulous Polyconcept boat, which was docked on the river and within walking distance to the show, you had to walk down this steep gang-plank. However, because it had just snowed in Germany and it was 20 degrees, it was icy and dicey. Rich walked in front of me one night, and should I have slipped, we would have both ended up floating down the Rhine.
The Polyconcept boat was truly like a hotel, complete with lounges, restaurants and an exercise room. As I have a visceral aversion to any sort of physical activity, I certainly would never spend time in a gym, Lord knows — nor would I ever own a pair of sneakers. Rich took this photo of me, in my fur coat, stilettos and cigarette on a stationary bike… I pedaled three rotations and thought my lungs had collapsed.
This is me with my friend Lorenzo Mazzucchelli, sales manager for the Italian promotional products association, located in Milan. He is impossibly charming, with that silky Italian accent that makes my knees weak to hear him say my name. “Ah… Me-chele…” I intentionally stalked him at the show so every time he saw me, he would give me the double-kiss on the cheeks, like Euros do. I know… I’m SHAMELESS!
An overview of one of the four halls that housed this year’s PSI Show. The show is so big because the booths are often three times the size of booths in the U.S. The Senator booth, for example, had two floors and encompassed three aisles.
Here’s Philippe Varnier, the CEO of Polyconcept — Europe’s largest supplier and the owner of Leed’s, Bullet Line and Journal Books — and I, in his booth. Have I told you lately that I love him??? My nickname for Philippe is “Mr. Suave” and he lives up to it!
Philippe’s team made these fun rosy pink sunglasses to give away at the show as self-promo pieces. To help attendees stay positive about the economy, the imprint says: “The Outlook for 2009 is rosy”
Bella hosted a fashion show in its booth, starring long, lithe and luscious models. Clearly, Europeans take a less puritanical stance than the U.S. when it comes to nudity, and aren’t offended by it. Which brings me to the next photo…
Yes, you are seeing what you think you’re seeing. This model modeled topless every day of the show, while this artist painted her skin. Needless to say, the traffic this booth generated was of epic proportions. And to quote a famous episode of “Seinfeld” involving a girlfriend of Jerry’s (played by Teri Hatcher) spongy girl parts and the question as to whether or not they were real, this girl’s were and they were spectacular!
One exhibitor at the PSI Show, Machma, actually constructed a 40-foot bar and built walls with embedded fish tanks. Click here to see a slightly surreal, Dali-esque video Rich shot with my camera…

Who Knew My Bra Would Be Mistaken as a Weapon of Mass Destruction?

Filed under: Personal, PSI Shows, Travel

Gutentagen from Frankfurt, Germany! It’s 6:00 a.m. here and I’m at the airport on my way to Dusseldorf for the PSI Show, Europe’s (and, in fact, the world’s) largest ad specialties show.

Starting tomorrow, the show is set to welcome 21,000 attendees visiting over 500,000 square feet of exhibitors’ booth space. It is huge, it is wildly impressive and it is one of the best-run shows I’ve ever been to, featuring the year’s most innovative and chic product designs on display. It’s here where you see the creativity first, before it gets knocked off in China.

The flight from Philly to Frankfurt lasted almost eight hours, which is a cake walk compared to the 18-hour special brand of airborne hell I’ll be on in April when I fly to Asia for the Canton Show and Hong Kong Gift Fair. Let me know if you’re going… We can plan on medicating together!

The flight was also unexpectedly pleasant… I fly so often that I’ve become a jaded, bitchy traveler, one who sinks sullenly into her own fur coat on the plane rather than interact with anyone, and who listens to her iPod with a distinct “Disturb at Your Own Risk” aura enveloping her.

But on this particular flight, I sat with a 10-year-old German boy named Jannick (his parents were a few rows behind us) who was so precocious he told me he wants to grow up and live at Disneyland, but commute daily via his own plane to Wall Street where he’ll be an investment banker. This child was so self-assured, I have no doubt he’ll do it. Rock on, my little Gordon Gekko!

Next to him was 20-year-old Ryan from Cherry Hill, NJ, who was going to Europe for the first time to attend school in France for five months. He was so enthusiastic and full of optimism, I thought he was adorable. Or, maybe it was the fact that he asked if I was “a grad student.” God bless dim boys and dimmer airplane lighting. If it wouldn’t have bordered on a felony, I would have kissed him on the spot.

The three of us had a delightful time watching movies in sync, so much so that when I disembarked the plane, I had a renewed zeal and zest for travel. Right up until the point when I set off the metal detectors in the security line in Frankfurt. What was the reason, you may wonder? That would be my underwire bra, which — when the security agent waved the wand over me — sent the alarms screeching. Of course after a spectacle like that, the hands-on body search is imminent.

I will tell you: There’s nothing quite like entering a foreign country at 6:00 a.m. and being felt up by a burly German woman. At least she could have sprung for flowers and breakfast… ; )

Cheers and more tomorrow from Dusseldorf, where I will be staying aboard Polyconcept’s floating hotel boat, as a guest of the ever-suave and charming Philippe Varnier, the company’s chairman/CEO, and my favorite dance partner, Yann Leca, its CFO. Can. Not. Wait.

— M