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

My Kinda Town, Chicago Is!

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Fun, Travel

Hi Everyone!

I’m just back from the ASI Chicago Show, which was awesome on a multitude of levels. It was fabulous seeing old industry friends (Windbrella’s Bob Hechler, JournalBooks’ Tim O’Boyle & Jamie Raynor and R.S. Owens’ Scott Siegel, I’m looking at you… ; ) ) and meeting some amazing new ones like industry veteran Lisa Bennett.

That Lisa and I have never met is perplexing. Lisa, who lives in Chicago, is a multiline rep who handles companies like Counselor Top 40 supplier Ash City, my friend Leigh’s company, Say Thank You with Coffee, and some others. She is sassy, hilariously wry and we share many of the same friends. She also has the distinction of being the person to convince me to stop being such an old-school whiner and join the Twitter flock. (Though I still maintain, as I routinely tell SnugZ’s Charley Johnson, it will be easier to raise the dead than to get me on Facebook … that so isn’t happening.) Stay tuned for next week’s blog which will have my Twitter info.

The show itself was well-attended and steadily crowded, and participation in ASI’s educational offerings was up nearly 10% from last year. I myself moderated two panels, which turned out well — mainly because I am so lucky to be friends with such talented people. On my panel for suppliers, which offered the chance to gain insights into how to win a distributor’s business and loyalty, I had Deluxe Corp.’s Sheila Johnshoy, Touchstone’s Tad Webster, Brown & Bigelow’s Cindy Jorgenson and WorkflowOne’s Mike Riddle. On my “Secrets to Wildly Successful Self-Promotions” panel, I had industry speaker and veteran Cliff Quicksell, OnTime Promotions’ Sharon Biernat and PromoShop’s Kris Robinson. I’d like to thank all my panelists for being so gracious and giving with their time and expertise.

Lastly, my favorite event of the Chicago Show is always the Counselor awards banquet, where we recognize the Person of the Year, as well as the Top 40 suppliers and distributors (for a list of winners, click here). It was an exciting night for me because my girl Bonni Shevin-Sandy, executive vice president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Dard, won the very well-deserved International Person of the Year award. I adore Bonni, and when it comes to doing business in a global marketplace, my girl has skills!!!

The funniest line of the evening came from Chuck Fandos (“Chuckles,” as I call him), who took one look at the group of hooting and hollering rowdy rummies — PromoShop’s Kris Robinson and Memo & Sabrina Kahan, Chuck’s business partner Conrad Franey, Sweda’s Jim Hagan and Scott Pearson, BIC’s Dave Saracino, in addition to myself and ASI’s publisher Rich Fairfield — at our very prominently placed (dead center in the front of the room) table and looked at me with dread. “What the hell are you doing putting us up so far in the front, Michele??? Look at us — we’re back-of-the-bus kind of people!!!” But hey, that’s my way — I love surrounding myself with excessive rock stars and charismatic wackos. ; )

Enjoy some photos below from the show and look for more next week!



Mark Messner, a former pro football player with the L.A. Rams and now with Canon Printing, and my girl Jilly Albers, sales chica extraordinairre with WorkflowOne. Jilly’s cocktail of choice is the “Skinny Pirate” (Captain Morgan and Diet Coke), which she has Mark hooked on as well. Between the two of them, they drank Kitty O’Shea’s — the bar at the Hilton Hotel where all the industry partiers gather before heading off to Shenanigan’s — dry of Captain Morgan’s. Seriously. The place actually ran out! Rock on, my little revelers. ; )
Jilly and I on Monday evening at Kitty O’Shea’s. There has not been one night Jilly and I have hung since we met that we haven’t had an EPIC time (even if we need a timeline and photographs to remember all details).
Here’s my pal Samantha Tucker, who oversees programming ASICentral.com and is one of the coolest tech nerds I know, at the Counselor Top 40 banquet. If you received Tweets from ASI broadcasting the names of each award-winner in real time, that was Sam Twittering like crazy.
Shall I count the ways that I adore Jim Hagan (left), the president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Sweda? He’s funny, he’s whip-smart, he’s charming as hell and he can drink shots like a rock star. Love, love, love him! Here, Jim’s looking suave at the black tie Counselor awards banquet, with my boss, the ever-patient and tolerant Rich Fairfield, ASI’s senior vice president and publisher. It’s mystifying that Rich doesn’t drink more to dull the pain of dealing with me. ; )
Could there be a more glamorous couple? With Sabrina and Memo Kahan, the owner of Counselor Top 40 distributor PromoShop, let it never be said that this industry is devoid of The Beautiful People.
Kris Robinson, my pal and vice president of Counselor Top 40 distributor PromoShop, is the God of Green (and he’s no slouch when it comes to self-promos; many of his win awards and garner double-digit ROI). Want someone to give you a tutorial on how to successfully integrate eco into your business? Kris is the go-to guy. Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson … ; )
Jake Krolick, ASI marketing manager and rock journalist/videomaker on the side, is ASI’s version of illustrious, iconoclastic and famously wacko music writer Lester Bangs — reporter of all the best degenerate musicians of the ’70s.
Here’s Jakey with ASI’s marketing manager for suppliers, Colin Graf. When Jakey and Colin are out on the party circuit at a show, they always remind me of the Night at the Roxbury guys.
My girls, the gorgeous Sharon Biernat (left), a 20-year distributor sales veteran, and the luminous and svelte Natalie Townes, enjoying cocktails and conversation at Kitty O’Sheas.
My editorial colleauges, Counselor editor Andy Cohen (a.k.a., Captain Killjoy) and Managing Editor & star of The Joe Show, Joe Haley (a.k.a., my reluctant “handler”) partying after the Counselor awards banquet.
ASI’s advertising director Dan Dienna, ASICentral’s dominatrix Samantha Tucker and Marketing Manager Colin Graf, exemplifying the old adage, “A rose between two thorns.” ; )
Sharon Biernat and Ira Neaman, owner of Counselor Top 40 supplier Vantage. I met Ira about 11 years ago, and since that time, I have always referred to him as the “Yoda of Wearables.” A phenomenal teacher on the topic of apparel, he is.
Industry favorite Jay Donlin, vice president of sales & marketing for Counselor Top 40 distributor Newton Manufacturing, shown here with the super-sweet and fun Angie Gibbons, formerly with Visions Awards, now a distributor client.
The editors out in force. From left, Counselor editor Andy Cohen; ASI Show education coordinator (and one of my favorites!) Dana Reaume; Editor-in-Chief & Vice President of Education, Melinda Ligos; Staff Writer Dave Vagnoni and Executive Director, Research Services Larry Basinait.
So how cool is this? Jim Hagan, president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Sweda and Scott Pearson (“Giggles” to you and I…), its super-talented vice president of merchandising, were out and about on the town after the Counselor banquet and ran into football superstar Peyton Manning. They asked him to sign their Counselor Top 40 award, and hot Mr. Manning happily obliged.

The Weirdness of Me…

Filed under: Fun, Personal

Hi Everyone!

I hope you’re all having a fun summer and finding ways to chill (literally and figuratively) and enjoy yourselves.

We’ve been busy in ASI’s editorial department, closing our special annual Counselor “State of the Industry” issue (due out later this month), in addition to our other magazines and preparing for the upcoming ASI Chicago Show.

It is for these reasons that I’ve been more than a little stressed — which, for those of you who know me, makes me so much more of a delight than I usually am. Let’s just say that some of my eccentricities really start to shine under certain circumstances. For example, I have a tendency when I’m in a mood like this and want something, to write it in verse — usually rhyme, sometimes iambic pentameter — because it sounds sweet and whimsical, and makes me seem (I  think) less like the demanding diva I can be.

Recently, I wanted my BFF Jeremy Young (one of ASI’s tech geeks) to bring me some chicken salad (one of my favorite things!) that his mother, a fabulous cook who knows her way around a skillet*, had made. To avoid sounding petulant and Veruca Salt-ish (“I want, I want, I want…!!!”), this is what I sent Jeremy to convey my request:

Ode to Chicken Salad

Though not a fan of salad,


There is another on which I’m keen,

Often described as “finger-lickin’ “

It’s the kind made of chicken!

This is my BFF Jeremy Young, one recent night when we went to get cocktails after work. I have often requested, in the form of poetry, samples of leftovers that Jeremy’s mom has whipped up, including, but not limited to: toffee, macaroons, chocolate chip cookies, turkey stuffing and chicken salad. Here, our waitress took one look at Jeremy, and with uncanny talent, knew exactly which brand of beer to suggest for him: Weyerbacher’s “Blithering Idiot.”

I think it’s because this was the last thing I wrote before going to sleep that night, and because I had work on my mind and took two Tylenol PM capsules**, I had a trippy (on a multitude of levels) dream that would have had Freud scratching his head and reaching for a tumbler of scotch.

In it, Tim Andrews, ASI’s president & CEO, announced to the company that Ben Bernanke — the Chairman of the Fed — was coming to ASI and that I would be the one to make a presentation to him on the company’s behalf***. Walking through ASI on my way to address the Chairman, Joe Haley — my tortured managing editor and the star of The Joe Show — followed me with a little red wagon, handing out seashells to every ASI staffer we passed****.  As we got to the auditorium, I took the stage, turned to the Chairman of the Fed, 500 ASI employees, Tim Andrews and the Cohn Family and did the entire presentation in haiku. The last thing I remember before waking in a cold sweat was the look of shocked horror on Tim’s face.

The next day I mentioned my dream to Tim, who frankly waved it off as me being a weapons-grade weirdo. Fast forward to about a week later when Tim walked in to my office and told me he had just come from a visit to his home state of Indiana, where he stayed at a place called Hotel Indigo. At this boutique hotel, the menus, room advertisements, key card, “Do Not Disturb” door hanger, bar coasters and napkins — everything — had fun little messages that were written in, you guessed it, haiku.

The Hotel Indigo, a boutique establishment with locations in Indiana, has a hippy, Zen, new-agey, eco vibe and gets its creativity on by using haiku to create all of its in-house promotional signage and advertisements. A haiku is a poem written in three lines, usually consisting of five, seven, then five syllables.

Tim shook his head in disbelief. “I swear to you,” he told me, “before staying at this hotel and your wacko dream it had been years since I heard the word ‘haiku’ used in any form. You have to admit — it’s not something that comes up in everyday conversation.”  

How clever is this hotel, though, to tie in the concept of the haiku with all their collateral promotional materials? And how fabulous would it be if they offered some equally cool and inspiring ad specialties to guests as a welcome or in-room gift, or something sent to loyal customers? (Savvy distributors reading out there, I’m talking to you… ; ) ). I love this hotel’s attention to detail and creative ingenuity in employing the under-utilized (though clearly very hip) haiku as a form of communication!

Speaking of communicating, next time I blog it will be from the ASI Chicago Show, starting Tuesday, 7/21 and running ’til Thursday, 7/23. If you’re exhibiting, please be my guest at a free luncheon and panel discussion just for suppliers (held on Tuesday, 7/21 from 12-1:30 p.m. right on the show floor). I’ll be moderating a panel of four top-selling distributors who will share with you what it takes to win their business and their loyalty. If you’re a distributor, join me on Wednesday, 7/22, from 2:45-3:45 p.m. (right behind the Advantages’ New Products pavilion) for a panel discussion on super-successful self-promotion campaigns, featuring some award-winning promos that garnered double- and triple-digit response rates and tens of thousands of dollars in sales for the distributors who created them.

Cheers, and more next week from Chicago!

— M

* I myself cannot cook at all, and once had to ask Jeremy — with a furrowed brow and confused expression, “What the hell is a skillet?”

** I’m also mystified that I, certainly no clean slate when it comes to pharmaceuticals, was sent reeling by two little Tylenol PM capsules. It’s like Keith Richards being leveled by a Flintstones vitamin.   

*** As the majority of my working knowledge of the stock market comes from the movie Trading Places, it should be noted that I’d be the last person at ASI — and that includes the nice high school boy who mows our lawns — Tim Andrews would ask to address the Chairman of the Fed.

**** Joe Haley would like you all to know that despite his guest role in my dream, he is neither my lackey nor my bitch in real life. ; )