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

PSI Dusseldorf: Back & Better Than Ever!

Filed under: Editorial, PSI Shows, Travel

Hi Everyone! 

I’ve just returned from Europe, where I attended my favorite show of the year, PSI Dusseldorf. It is a HUGE event in the European ad specialty marketplace, where you’ll see trends that will have an impact on the North American industry in the coming year. Trust me: No one does packaging, fashion and design better than the Euros. 

Optimism permeated the show floor, with business, sales and moods rebounding after two years of doom and gloom. The German Association of Promotional Products, for example, announced that sales of ad specialties in that country reached 3.43 billion euro ($4.61 billion US) in 2010, up from 2.97 billion euro ($3.99 billion US) in 2009. Another sign of good things to come? The European arm of Polyconcept, the world’s largest ad specialty supplier — PF Concept — once again held its grand party, which had been on hiatus for the past few years. Billed as “Imagine: The Party of the Century,” the fetewas back and better than ever, courtesy of Cees Martens, the Netherlands-based CEO of PF Concept International, with help from the supremely organized and capable Annette de la Rie, the Goddess of PF Concept. (See more on the party with tons of photos, below). 


The PSI Show itself, the 49th annual event, is Europe’s largest ad specialty trade show. Held from 1/12-1/14, it showcased 849 exhibitors from 30 nations, covered 35,000 square meters of floor space in five halls, and drew 17,122 attendees, up from 16,464 last year. Michael Freter, PSI’s managing director, noted that while this year’s show numbers “are by no means record-breaking,” they do allow for “careful optimism.” “PSI is a barometer of public opinion … and reflects the performance of the manufacturers and distributors of promotional products,” Freter said. “The signs are positive that this year’s PSI Show will be carried by the current economic upswing.” 

Taken from the vantage point of the VIP Lounge at the Messe Convention Center in Düsseldorf, the show had yet to open, but Hall 10 — which contained some of the largest suppliers in Europe (PF Concept, MidOcean and Senator) — readied for the crowd of 17,000+ attendees.  
Even the lighting fixtures brought in by the exhibitors to decorate their booths at the PSI Düsseldorf Show are aesthetically amazing, as evidenced by this chandelier made from wine glasses and these multi-colored light-up spheres (right) that alternated blinking lights.  

That sense of optimism for increased industry sales carried through to the show floor, with distributors and the heads of Europe’s largest suppliers, such as Polyconcept’s Chairman Philippe Varnier and Senator’s CEO Michael Nick, indicating increased sales in the second half of 2010 and high indicators for a successful 2011. 


Product trends from the show floor include an emphasis on creative eco-friendly packaging, such as sports drinks in toothpaste-shaped tubes constructed of recycled material and vegan bags constructed from vegetables. Earth-based, rustic colors such as bark brown, pine green and leaf orange were the hues shown most prominently. Additionally, QR (Quick Response) codes are ubiquitous on the show floor, on suppliers’ booths, on attendee badges and exhibitor catalogs. Intermed Asia Ltd. attracted crowds to its booth with a video demonstration of a new application that allows logos to act like QR codes; by merely scanning a company’s logo on a bag or mug, for example, a client can launch additional promotional messages. 

So how cool is this? To tout its new “Verve” pen, the clever folks at Senator built this vending machine into their booth, with each slot housing a brightly colored pen and corresponding descriptive info. Prior to the show, Senator reps send out tokens to select clients and prospects, asking them to stop by the booth and redeem the token for a coin to get a Verve pen from the vending machine. Of course before attendees were give the coin, they got some face time with their Senator rep. Brilliant! Further tying in their promo, the booth’s bar (all the large suppliers have bars built into their booths that serve complimentary coffee, tea, water, soft drinks, champagne, wine and beer… Kid You Not) they had a special cocktail concoction named for the Verve pen that was so potent, I’m convinced it was designed to keep one in the booth as long as possible. If you’ve never met Michael Nick, Senator’s CEO, put getting to know him on your “to do” list.
Each year at the PSI Düsseldorf Show, Philippe Varnier, Chairman of Polyconcept, and his team nicely let Rich Fairfield, ASI’sexecutive vice president and publisher, and I stay on the River Queen, a huge boat (it sleeps over 100 people and has a bar, a restaurant, a workout area, etc.) they bring in and dock on the Rhine outside the convention center in Düsseldorf. It’s very convenient and very, very gracious of them to let us stay aboard with the PF Concept team. Here, everyone’s favorite multiline rep from San Diego, Jodi Friedman-Antonelli, who now lives in Lucca, Italy, and my colleague Ed Koehler, ASI’s associate publisher, yuck it up in my cabin.
At one of the booths on the PSI Show floor, a man was doing caricatures of attendees who stopped by. Witness, then, the truly terrifying drawing of my boss, Rich Fairfield, who in this picture looks like he should be lurking under a bridge with the other trolls, waiting to eat billygoats attempting to pass. Now this, my friends, is how you build buzz for your booth and attract hoards of attendees: Have a mid-day fashion show, as Bella did, with a bevy of Euro beauties strutting their stuff to Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok.”
Another clever way to lure soccer-crazed attendees? Have a pro soccer player do tricks in your booth.
Have you met Ed Koehler? He’s ASI’s associate publisher and a great person with whom to travel. His baritone-rich voice is so deep, it resembles Lurch from The Addams Family. http://www.addamsfamily.com/addams/yourang.wav
My fun group at the PF Concept party at the Sofitel Hotel in Düsseldorf (from left): Rich Fairfield, Jodi Antonelli, Ed Koehler, Polyconcept’s Shanghai-based sourcing director, the lovely Michelle Armstrong and Karen DiTomasso, ASI’s vice president of sales for the ASI Show. Karen is officially my new favorite person to travel with!
Hans-Joachim Erbel, the executive director of PSI, or “Ha-Jo,” as he’s known to his pals. Ha-Jo is one of my favorites, since an infamous night years ago when I threw one of my stilettos at him at a bar in Düsseldorf and he promptly drank champagne from it.
The host with the most, the Chancellor of All Things Suave, Mr. Philippe Varnier, chairman of Polyconcept and personality extraordinaire. Philippe is as comfortable with a mic as I am at a vodka bar.
A few German beers in, and Ed Koehler really lets his hair down, as shown here after he commandeered a bottle of Riesling for our table at the PF Concept party.
If you’ve never been to the PSI Show, or want to know anything about the European marketplace, these two are my top “go-to” guys: Philippe Varnier (left) and Michael Freter, the stunningly knowledgeable and charming managing director of the PSI Show.
Manfred Schlosser, the editor-in-chief of the PSI Journal, the association’s excellent monthly magazine.
One can never have too many “Micheles” in their life! Here, Polyconcept’s Michelle Armstrong, Philippe Varnier and I at the PF Concept “Imagine” party. The party, the entertainment and the atmosphere among guests could best be described as “electrifying.” How much do I adore Yann Leca, the CEO of Polyconcept’s Supplier Group? Let me count the ways… Here, he takes solace in the arms of The Micheles.
Philippe Varnier and one of his favorite clients, Howard Trilling, vice president of international sales for Counselor Top 40 distributor Staples. Howard attends the PSI Show in Düsseldorf each year, and it’s always so nice to see his familiar face.  

Next year’s PSI Dusseldorf Show — which, for the first time in years, won’t overlap with any U.S. show — will be held from January 11-13. I’ll be there, and would be happy to be your guide to the show and all the fun events, including an international reception to be hosted by ASI in the VIP Lounge of the convention center at the close of the first show day! From there, we’ll all go to PSI’s PHENOMENAL party at one of the best nightclubs in Dusseldorf. Trust me, it is quite the time. ;  For more information about next year’s PSI Show, go to www.psi-network.de.

  PF Concept’s amazing party, attended by nearly 900 people and held at the SofitelHotel (a shot of the room pre-party, to the left) in Düsseldorf, featured gourmet food, alcohol and a surreal and spectacular event that was a mix of kabuki theater and Cirque du Soleil. The riveting theater, told in four acts, regaled us with the story of an Ice Queen who lost her light and the trials she went through to regain it. It was just stunning… And just when you thought it was over, the curtains on the stage parted and a 13-piece disco band, The Boston Tea Party, began playing and didn’t stop until 2:00 a.m.
Cees Martens, the Netherlands-based CEO of PF Concept International, was the mastermind behind PF Concept’s jaw-dropping “Imagine: The Party of the Century.” Kabuki-esque musicians like this one weaved their way through the crowd at PF Concept’s party, rhythmically thumping their tribal drums to signal an especially poignant moment in the four-act play.

Cheers, and more next week from ASI’s Orlando Show! 

— M 

If you’re a supplier who’s attending ASI’s Orlando Show, please join me for a free luncheon panel discussion on Sunday, 1/23, on the show floor from noon til 1:30 p.m. Take a break from setting up your booth to hear my panel of esteemed suppliers who’ve experienced growth in their businesses and are ready to share how they’ve done it: C.J. Schmidt, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 supplier Hit Promotional Products; Kim Newell, president of World Wide Lines Inc.; Rob Watson, president of MediaTree; and Dan Townes, owner of Shepenco.


  1. Jill Albers Says:

    The show pictures are awesome, Michele. Now have fun in Orlando next week!

    Thursday January 20, 2011
  2. Michele Bell Says:

    You would LOVE the PSI Show, Jilly! Next time, you and Shar should come with me for sure! ; )

    Friday January 21, 2011
  3. Sharon Biernat Says:

    Love the Senator “Pen Vending Machine”!
    It looks like you had fun while working hard!

    Friday January 21, 2011
  4. Michele Bell Says:

    Next year, you’re coming with me!!! “Michele & Sharon’s Excellent European Adventure”… ; )

    Friday January 21, 2011
  5. Petra Donkers, Excitement Events Says:

    Hello Michelle,

    Thank you for writing such a great review about the event we organised for PF Concept at the PSI fair. If you’re interested, you can view a 3 minute video on our website http://www.excitementevents.com that was made at the party, especially the crane shots are incredible!

    I hope to meet you in person one day!

    Friday January 28, 2011
  6. Michele Bell Says:

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Petra, and for posting the video – hopefully viewers will get to experience the same AMAZING party I did! You and your team did a FANTASTIC job — thank you so much for such a wonderful, memorable evening! All the best, Michele

    Friday January 28, 2011
  7. Rick French, Polyconcept North America Says:

    Another great event Michelle. The photos of Yann and Philippe with “The Michelle’s” in Dusseldorf have me arranging my 2012 travel plans early. 😉 Thanks for all you do.

    Tuesday February 1, 2011
  8. Michele Bell Says:

    Rick, you would LOVE the PSI Dusseldorf Show, and we’d have a blast there!!! For sure you should come next year — it is just TOO much fun (though you’d have to endure me giggling over Philippe and Yann like a ‘Tween). ; )

    Tuesday February 1, 2011
  9. Volker Schnaars Says:

    Hello to all,

    especially to Michelle with many thanks for her great article about our PSI show in 2011. To my big shame I came across this great blog much too late.
    But beeing already heavily involved in the planning and the preparation for the 50. PSI show 2012 I have to support Michelle in her plans to visit the show. You all should come. This show was allways worth a visit and it will be it even more in 2012. “Great things are coming your way.” That´s what our advertising line is promising and we as the PSI team are doing our very best to make it truly happen. Hope to see you all 2012 in Düsseldorf.

    Sunday September 4, 2011
  10. Volker Schnaars Says:

    One more thing worth to mention: Everyone who wants to visit the PSI Show 2012 and hasn´t visited it in the past (at least for the last 3 years)can apply for Hotel accomodation for free. The accomodation will be sponsored by PSI. Interested parties can contact the PSI Team here: http://www.psi-network.de/contacts_26.html

    Monday September 5, 2011

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