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

ASI Orlando: Big Crowds, Balmy Weather & Beaucoup Bon Temps!

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Fun, Travel

Hey Everybody!

Try not to drop your jaws like Nutcracker dolls, as I’m actually posting two blogs in one week! 

The last one regaled you with all the delicious details of the fabulous PSI Dusseldorf Show; this one is way closer to home — ASI’s Orlando Show, which was off-the-charts crazy busy and tons of fun, with the weather sunshine-filled and in the mid-70s (which those of us on the East Coast just covet at this time of year…).  My favorite part? The optimistic, forward-thinking, sunny mood everyone was in — drastically different (and much better) than shows three years ago.

So, without further delay, take a moment to scroll down and peruse my fairly extensive Rogues Gallery of industry raconteurs, luminaries, superstars and hurricane force hell-raisers (aka, All My Favorite People). Sometimes, as is the case here, the photos tell the story far better than I could. ; )

Cheers, and more soon from my upcoming trip to France on February 5th, for the CTCO promo products show (www.salon-ctco.com/en ) in Lyon.

Can. Not. Wait.

— M

A word about the BrandFuel boys: Robert Fiveash and Danny Rosin (shown here, doing their signature move, the “Tebow Plank”), co-owners of the NC- and VA-based distributorship, have been friends since they were kids — which makes them similar both in origin story and capacity for cocktail-fueled fun to The Stones’ own Glimmer Twins, Keith and Mick. As stunningly talented (I worship at the altar of their self-promo campaigns) as they are humble and gracious, I just think the world of them. Click here to see a mini-profile on Robert and his workspace from ASI’s supplier magazine that I edit, Supplier Global Resource.


(From left): I don’t use the word “beloved” often, but truly, that’s how her clients and industry friends feel about Kellie Claudio, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 supplier Sweda, shown here with Paige Millard (fact: if you’re really a show road warrior, who doesn’t know and love Paige???), Sweda’s trade show manager, and the lovely Lauren Anselmo, Sweda’s sales operations coordinator. 
(From left): Here’s my colleague (hence, much-beleaguered) Joe Haley, managing editor of our magazines and star of ASI’s The Joe Show, with the always-delightful Kathleen Milbier, who heads up the sales efforts for the CA-based supplier Skinit (check out their awesome items here: www.promo.skinit.com) and one of my industry faves, Brad White, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 distributor Boundless Network. I’ve branded the extroverted Brad with the moniker “Captain Loudmouth,” which is ironic, of course, since the level of audio coming out of my trap at any given time is a fearsome thing that could make one’s ears bleed.


(From left): The vivacious Candace Hershey, shown here with my pal Vicky Tirpack, Midwest regional manager for Promo Marketing magazine, and her hilarious and awesome colleague, Meredith Edelman, Northeast regional manager for Promo Marketing. Is it me, or do they — a redhead, a blonde and a brunette — look like the industry’s own Charlie’s Angels?


I’d like to tell you that this photo of my editorial colleagues (from left) C.J. Mittica (Wearables‘ editor), Larry Basinait (ASI’s research director), Melinda Ligos (senior vice president/editor-in-chief) and Joe Haley was taken in this blurred fashion to be aesthetically edgy. In fact, I think I still had the shakes from all the Riesling I drank at the PSI Düsseldorf Show.


Why do I love this photo? Not only because it features one of the nicest guys in the industry — Mark Graham (center), owner of the Canada-based distributorship Right Sleeve Marketing (winner of last year’s Counselor Distributor Entrepreneur of the Year award!) — but it just cracks me up that Dana Zezzo (left), ProTowels’ marketing guru and industry gadabout, and ASI’s Joe Haley (right) were clearly Separated at Birth!


Here’s Scott Anderson (left), national sales manager for Counselor Top 40 supplier Polyconcept North America, with One of My Favorite People Ever, PCNA’s Steve Gelernter, known the world over as “Stevie G.”


PromoKitchen, a group of whip-smart and very marketing/social media-savvy suppliers and distributors (the “Chefs”), held a slammin’ soiree at a Greek restaurant in Orlando called “Taverna Opa,” which was fabulous! This is one of the sultry sirens who greeted guests at the door. Learn more about PromoKitchen at www.promokitchen.com.


PCNA’s celebutante, Stevie G, with one of the hostesses at Taverna Opa.


A crowd shot from the rollicking PromoKitchen party at Taverna Opa in Orlando.  


So at one point at Taverna Opa, the exotic Greek hostesses roused the crowd at the PromoKitchen party to join them for some on-the-bar dancing. The first two to leap at the offer? ProTowel’s gregarious Dana Zezzo (right) and ASI’s Jake Krolick. Hands up: Is anyone shocked by that? Anyone? (Crickets… Crickets…). And that’s why I love them!


Two words that describe the looks on the faces of BrandFuel’s Robert Fiveash (left) and ASI’s creative director of our marketing department, Jake (or “Jakey,” as we call him back at the home office) Krolick: Mayhem. Imminent.


Two of my favorite ASI colleagues, Jakey Krolick (left) and Colin Graf, marketing director of supplier services. Love, love, love them! 
Meet Alex McKenzie (left), a distributor salesperson with Masterwork Custom Wholesale Signs — who used to play for the Seattle Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons — here with The Funniest Person in the Industry, Glen Colton, owner of the GA-based distributorship Seville Marketing. Glen and I have known each other for 14 years, and he has the distinction of making me laugh so hard that I cry every time I talk with him. He is a HOWL…


Aakron Rule owner Devin Piscitelli, who was also at the PSI Show in Düsseldorf I attended earlier this month, is someone I’ve only recently gotten to know — we always moved in different circles throughout the industry, though I’d always heard how great he is. And truly, he lives up to the hype. Smart, inquisitive, engaging and slyly sardonic, I enjoy him more every time I see him and look forward to getting to know him better.


Here’s my colleague (and designated “handler”) Joe Haley, modeling two creepy masks: one of Spiderman’s nemesis, the Green Goblin (shout-out to Nerdville!) and one of Gary Busey (see photo to the right), as he poses with ASI’s IT saviors, Jason Cissorsky (left) and Jim Talone. We all agreed, hands down, that Busey is way more shudderingly frightening.


Holla! to Mary Ellen Nichols, one of the most effervescent and bubbly personalities in the industry, shown here with ASI chairman Matthew Cohn (center) and the salesperson everyone loves to love, Bodek and Rhodes’ Marc Held.
Counselor Top 40 supplier SanMar won the Best Booth award for an apparel company, and here’s my friend John Lindgren, marketing manager for SanMar, who was integral in the booth’s snazzy, retail-inspired design.


For the first time, ASI presented Best Booth awards to exhibitors, based on attendee text voting. Spirit Awards’ self-created, stadium-style booth took the prize for Best Booth over 10′ x 10′. A fairly new supplier, Babble Text, won among the booths that were 10′ x 10′.
Hollywood may have Brangelina, but in our industry, we have “Mardine,” the impossibly-attractive industry celebs that are Pacific Coast Golf’s Mark Hobbs and PromoBiz’s Nadine Panetti, two of my favorite pals.
Having dinner with Jamie Raynor, my dear friend from JournalBooks, is like being able to relax with someone you can feel supremely comfortable with — she is the definition of grace and equanimity.


My pal Jason Emery, vice president of sales at Counselor Top 40 supplier Logomark and someone who was on Wearables magazine’s “Best Dressed” list in 2011 — a title he lives up to in spades every time I see him.
I just had to snap this photo of CJ Schmidt, someone I adore, right before his company Hit Promotional Products won the Distributor Choice award for Best Keytags & Luggage Tags.


Rarely do I take a photo of someone that captures their personality as much as this one does, of my BFF Tim O’Boyle (“Ringo,” to his nearest and dearest…) from JournalBooks. Something about the glint in his eye and smirk on his face just makes me giggle.
Ah, my dear friends Pete Gleason (left) and Christopher Duffy, with Counselor Top 40 supplier BagMakers, who won a Distributor Choice award for Best Shopping Bags. I’ve known these gentlemen since my wild heyday in the industry (Yep… I used to be worse. Swear. To. God.), and remember with perfect clarity how Christopher, at a party during the PPAI Show in Dallas one year, carried me around on his back — like an organ grinder with his yappy little pet monkey. Good stuff.


Do you know the awesome folks at Counselor Top 40 supplier, Broder? You really should, and I’d recommend starting with Ken Seidl (left) and the ever-charming Chris Blakeslee, who are as super-nice as they are whip-smart about industry apparel. Here they are with my editorial colleague C.J. Mittica, editor of Wearables magazine.
Every year at the Orlando Show, two colleagues of mine at ASI on the Supplier Sales team — the very gracious Phyllis Mutnick and Suzanne Rozick — hold a celebratory dinner-to-die-for at The Palm, for their clients who’ve won and were finalists in the Counselor Distributor Choice Awards. They’re kind enough to invite me along to host a table of guests, and each year, I’m lucky enough to have David Byrne (left) and Jason Grindall from Graphco Line sit with me. The antics ensue soon after… ; )


You know you’ve “arrived” when your visage has been drawn on the famed walls of The Palm, alongside legends and luminaries. Here’s ASI’s president/CEO signing his image at The Palm in Orlando.

Love, love, love these two: Vantage’s Ira Neaman and Bodek and Rhodes’ Mary Ellen Nichols.
Back story: At the aforementioned annual dinner at the Palm, I met Michael Moore, whose family owns Bay State Specialties, last year for the first time. Thirty minutes and four martinis between the two of us later, I was in shock and awe. Oh, Holy Hell: He’s the male me. I only get to hang with him once a year, at this dinner in Florida, and when we do, our cocktailing and subsequent antics have been described as “When Godzilla Parties With Mothra.”


Take a good look at this photo: This is your face on Patron shots. Michael Moore and I, cavorting at The Palm (after which, we may or may not have jumped in a hypothetical fountain and then taken a theoretical golf cart for a joyride…).
Here’s the fabulous Dan Jellinek, vice president of Counselor Top 40 supplier (and 2012 Distributor Choice award-winner!) Magnet LLC, with the most fun couple in the industry, this side of Dan & Natalie Townes: Janet & Bill Korowitz, who run Magnet. So awesome are they, that I actually flew to a show once just to hang out with them. They’re like F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, without the darkness. “Hilarity was right up their alley, with pandemonium just around the bend…”


ASI’s creative marketing director, Jake Krolick, posing with the models he hired to tout ASI’s new SmartSales service.
How fitting to end this blog with a photo of my illustrious “work husband,” Ron Ball. Our boss, Rich Fairfield, claims that though he loves us, we are his “two most unmanageable employees.” Really? I just don’t get why… ; )



PSI Dusseldorf: A Divine Time (With Lots of Wine) on the Rhine

Filed under: Editorial, PSI Shows, Travel

Well, hello and welcome to a new year, my little revelers and libertines!

I just returned from two back-to-back shows — PSI Dusseldorf and ASI Orlando — each of which was off-the-charts awesome in its own right. First up, PSI Dusseldorf:

Europe’s largest ad specialty trade show, PSI Dusseldorf welcomed 993 exhibitors — a record number for the show and a 16% increase from last year — and 16,167 visitors to the three-day event.

PSI, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is kind of like the ASI/PPAI of Europe, producing the trade show, publications and analysis of the European marketplace.
“According to the recent forecast by Zenth-Optimedia, one of the world’s largest media agencies, the worldwideadvertising market presents itself in a very robust condition in 2012, in spite of the crisis of the euro and stock exchange slumps, with a predicted 1.8% increase for Western Europe and 2% growth for Germany,” said PSI Managing Director Michael Freter, during the show’s kickoff press conference.

ASI’s president and CEO, Tim Andrews — invited by PSI to speak on behalf of the U.S. market — told the international group of VIPs in attendance at the opening event that ASI’s quarterly surveys of its supplier and distributor members have shown eight consecutive quarters for growth. “We expect 2011 will show an overall increase for the industry in the 5%-7% range – for an expected total of about $18.4 billion – about a billion dollars more than in 2010,” Andrews said.

Also announced at the opening press conference was the first Europe-widestudy on the advertising efficiency of promotional products, conducted by the Association of the German Advertising Industry (GWW). “With total sales of approximately 3.5 billion euro, the promotional products industry in 2011 succeeded once again in increasing from the previous year, when sales of approximately 3.4 billion euro had been generated,” said Patrick Politze, GWW chairman. “Over a period of two years, the promotional products industry recorded an increase of almost 16% compared to the 2009 crisis year.”

In addition to having to-die-for booths and the delicious tradition of serving cocktails and food in each booth, the PSI Dusseldorf Show has become a hallmark for showcasing new design, packaging and color trends, all of which tend to get exfoliated to the North American ad specialty marketplace.

ASI also held a panel discussion on the topic of how European companies can penetrate the U.S. market and vice versa. Tim Andrews asked questions of panelists Michael Bernstein, CEO of Polyconcept’sEuropean supplier group (PFConcept), Michael Nick, CEO of Senator, and Maurizio Castelli, CEO of Lediberg.    

Nick pointed out that, having attended trade shows in the U.S. and Europe, one notable difference is the amount of time distributor attendees spend in exhibitors’ booths. “Here at PSI, visitors to the Senator booth spend approximately 45 minutes discussing business; in the U.S., distributors just wish to be scanned and maybe will spend a minute or two in the booths. It’s a completely different way of doing business.” Bernstein noted that for European companies interested in doing business in the U.S., the two keys are speed of product delivery and avoiding the tendency to “over-promise and under-deliver.” “In Europe, five-day turnaround is considered fast; in the U.S., many of our orders at Polyconcept North America are produced and shipped in a day.” Rod Brown, president of US distributor Made To Order, who was in attendance at the event, said that while the Polyconcept companies in the U.S. — Leed’s, Bullet Line and JournalBooks — have exceptional products, it’s the company’s superior, streamlined operations that he and his company really depend on. “The fact that they do what they say they’re going to makes all the difference,” he said, echoing Bernstein’s point about the advantages of having such streamlined business operations.
Maurizio Castelli, whose leather journals and day planners are sold in the U.S., noted the importance of being true to one’s brand and focusing on the company’s core business. “To concentrate on being a market leader in your niche category is so important,” he said.

The other major news from the show is that for the week of January 9, Germany ran out of Riesling. Why? ‘Cause I drank it all. ; )

Next year’s PSI Dusseldorf Show will be held from January 9-11, 2013. Go to www.reedexpo.de for more information. Will I be there? Check out the photos below and you’ll know the answer. A resounding “Hell to the YEAH!”


Cheers and more on Monday with photos from the ASI Orlando Show (and oh my, were the PromoKitchen peeps in rare form at their party … Love them!).

— M

Did you ever play that game, “If you could pick three people from the industry to be trapped on a desert island with, who would they be?” Well, meet #1 on my list: Michael Bernstein, PFConcept’s CEO. Michael and I have been friends for 15 years, and he’s like my brother (some people actually see a resemblance). I once flew across four states just to have pizza with Michael; to revel in his sardonic wit and whip-smart banter, I’d fly a lot farther for a lot less. Here’s the uber-bright and super-talented Jo-an Lantz, executive vice president of Counselor Top 40 distributor Geiger. Did you know that she’s been at Geiger since she was 19 years old? She started as a bookkeeper and worked her way up through the ranks. When I first started in the industry 15 years ago, Jo-an was kind enough to mentor me; I’m proud to say over the years that she’s become one of my dearest friends in the industry.
Here’s Michael Woody (left), president of International Marketing Advantages and a past Counselor International Person of the Year, and Bjorn Harenstam, his partner who handles the European market, at the PSI Show, accepting their Oscar for Most Charming Guys Ever! Quite a few people at the PSI Show commented on how much Michael resembles Richard Gere … Rich Fairfield, ASI’s executive vice president and publisher (and, most challenging of his job descriptions, my boss), gamely poses with two gigantic Teddys at the airport in Nuremberg. I like how the bear on the right looks perpetually stunned — similar, ironically, to Rich’s expression when traveling with me.
Hans Jakop Burkens, head of PFConcept’s sales in the Netherlands (left) and Michael Bernstein, CEO of PFConcept, the European arm of Polyconcept. Michael, whose family founded Leed’s and who was, for years, its CEO, recently reentered the industry and moved his family from Pittsburgh to the Netherlands to helm PFConcept. One of the most brilliant, talented and capable people I know, the company could not be in better hands. Please — for the love of God — if you’re ever in Sweden, look up Christian Nystrom, who runs the Swedish office of PFConcept, shown here with Michael Bernstein. In equal measures hilarious, dynamic and super knowledgeable on the European marketplace, he was one of my favorite people to spend time with on this trip to PSI. Also, an as aside, his ability to consume cocktails rivals my own and has earned him this nickname from me: The Swedish Fish. Love him!
(From left): Miranda Rodenberg, one of PFConcept’stop salespeople and a woman with so much personality that her aura has an aura, here with Christian Nystrom and Michael Bernstein. If I lived in Europe and bought ad specialties, I’d want Miranda as my rep, as she is known for her rabid devotion to her clients. ASI’s president and CEO, Tim Andrews, was invited by the management of the PSI Show to address the international press and VIPs at the event’s opening ceremonies. During his speech, Tim discussed the similarities and differences between the U.S. ad specialty market and that of Europe. Similarities? An emphasis on product sustainability; differences? Europe is much more focused on the design elements of a product, while the U.S. concentrates on speed-of-light turnaround time.
This year is the 50th anniversary of PSI, so it was a great honor to have the show’sfounder and industry legend, Walter Jung (left) in attendance with the ever-awesome Hans-Joachim (Hi-Jo) Erbel, who oversees the PSI Show currently. What a fantastic legacy Walter Jung started and nurtured, and what a fabulous caretaker for that vision Hi-Jo is. Walter Jung (left) and ASI’s Tim Andrews, at the opening press conference kicking off the 50th anniversary of PSI and the start to its 2012 show.
Matthew Cohn, ASI’s vice chairman, jumped behind the podium after the press conference, showing that he’s never met a mic he didn’t like. ; ) ASI’s Tim Andrews and Matthew Cohn, overlooking PSI’s trade show floor.
As I was snapping this photo, I remember thinking, “Oh, Holy Hell: Three of my favorites all in one place — how lucky am I???” From left: Sweda president Jim Hagan, PFConcept CEO Michael Bernstein and Sweda’s vice president of merchandising and marketing, Scott Pearson. Did I giggle like a schoolgirl with these three around me? Yep, so much so I should have my own Disney show… The PSI Show doesn’t have education events like our U.S. shows do. However, in conjunction with PSI’s 50th anniversary, ASI put together a panel discussion on how to sell into the U.S. marketplace. Here’s Tim Andrews, moderating that discussion, with panelists Maurizio Castelli, CEO of Lediberg (which sells into the U.S. as Castelli); Michael Nick, CEO of Senator and PFConcept’s Michael Bernstein.
(From left): Michael Nick, CEO of Senator (love, love, love him!); ASI’s Tim Andrews; Lediberg CEO Maurizio Castelli (I could listen to him say my name with his Italian accent for days …) and PFConcept’s Michael Bernstein. Here are two people I’m always happy to see, regardless of the country I’m in — the very charming and fun Paul Bellantone (left), PPAI’s president, and David Natinsky, CEO of SAGE. Two of the smartest cookies in the industry, I always enjoy chatting with both Paul and David. (Note: I think Paul’s eyes were closed in this photo because he was thinking, “Oh God, no… I’m on Michele’s blog again…” LOL!)
Maurizio Castelli, CEO of Lediberg, and the one and only Missy Kilpatrick, quite the industry celeb in her own right. Missy handles all the sales and operations of Castelli in the NorthAmerican marketplace, and they’re very lucky to have her with them indeed. She is such a luminary in the U.S. marketplace, she practically hauls the sun around with her. At dinner one night aboard the PFConcept ship they bring in for staffers, execs, top clients and friends to stay on at the show each year (seriously, they dock it right on the Rhine, across from the convention center in Düsseldorf), I got to bask in the fabulousness of The Most Suave Man Ever, Philippe Varnier (right), Polyconcept’s chairman of the board, shown here with Polyconcept North America’s Jeff Brown (left) and Rodolphe Normandin (center), PFConcept’s very sweet marketing and product development director. Fact: Sometimes, when Philippe is talking to me with that mesmerizing French accent of his, I have to mentally snap back to attention and focus on what the hell he’s actually saying.
Here’s my pal Missy Kilpatrick– so cute, SO fun — who partied with me one night on the PFConcept boat, with my friend Frank Driessens from the tres cool Netherlands-based supplier company Big Bang International. Truly, the next morning at an 8:00 a.m. breakfast — having just gone to bed at 4:30 a.m. — I was mentally begging for a quick death. Then I remembered something Oscar Wilde was fond of saying: “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast.” And with that, my friends, I have my new mantra. Missy, surrounded by the European cuties from the supplier company Big Bang. Hand to God: That really is the name of their company (www.bigbanginternational.com), and they really are as awesome and fun as they look.
Why did I have a hangover that burned with the intensity of 10,000 suns one morning? Meet Francois Vehoeven (left), who runs Big Bang Int’l., shown here with Serge de Warrimont, who really does look like that (no Photoshop needed for him!). I only see Francois once a year, at the PSI Show aboard the PFConcept boat, but that’s enough for me, because his ability to entice one to excess is downright Dionysian, I tell ya! He should walk around with his own theme music, like the opening chords for “Sympathy for the Devil.” ; ) Meeting Yngve Blomstrom (left) and Michael Englund, from the phenomenal company Sporrong, left me impressed and dying to know more. Their company was founded in — wait for it — 1666 (not a typo!), and it’s been in continual operation since then, crafting custom-made metal products. Click here to learn more about them: www.sporrong.com.
Me, with the stunning Cecile Tall, PFConcept’sgeneral counsel, who’s as smart as she is fascinating. I was fortunate enough to have Cecile seated next to me at dinner one evening, and had a delightful conversation with her. Here’s Jeff Brown, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Polyconcept North America, someone whom I profoundly enjoy because he gets my humor and I get his. Sometimes, when we’re in a group, I look at Jeff and know exactly what he’s thinking …
A new friend, Chris McKee, who heads Geiger’s corporate sales division. A completely engaging conversationalist, Chris is one of those people who makes you feel instantly at ease.
Michael Bernstein and Tim Andrews, at dinner on the PFConcept boat. The PFConcept folks were fabulously gracious hosts to the ASI and Geiger teams.
ASI’s Rich Fairfield, Geiger’s executive vice president Jo-an Lantz and ASI’s Tim Andrews relaxing on the PFConcept boat after a memorable and fantastically fun dinner on the PFConcept boat in Düsseldorf.
Tim Andrews, ASI’s president/CEO, isn’t exactly Michael Phelps in the swimming arena and not so fond of being on water. Consequently, dining on the PFConcept boat, though fabulous, made him a tad twitchy. Cut to the ever-ready Monsieur Varnier, who grabbed one of the ship’s life preservers for Tim to use as an “accessory.” It was, as you can see, the hit of the night.
Geiger’s Jo-an Lantz and Polyconcept’s Philippe Varnier, two of the most fascinating and charismatic people I know in the industry, combining at the PFConcept dinner for some mega-watt star power. Meet my friend John Lynch, an American who owns Lynka, the largest ad specialty company in Poland, where he lives. John is on the editorial advisory board for Supplier Global Resource, ASI’s magazine for industry suppliers that I edit, and is one sharp guy. Love him to death, and not just because he brings me a bottle of Polish vodka every year at the PSI Show. ; )
And winning the prize as my Favorite New Friends are Alistair Mylchreest and Liz Young from the U.K.-based company Sourcing City, with whom ASI just announced a strategic alliance. (Learn more about them here: <a href=”http://www.sourcin