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

The SAAC Show: Sunny Days, Wild Nights in Long Beach, CA…

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, Travel

Hi Everyone,

I’m just back from the 33rd annual SAAC Show in Long Beach, CA, and it showed, yet again, why it’s one of my favorite shows of the year. I haven’t been able to attend for the past three years due to the schedule of my magazine deadlines, but decided, to hell with it — this year I was going, not only because I love the overall vibe so much, but to support my pal Craig Reese, this year’s SAAC president and a partner at Counselor Top 40 distributor Jack Nadel Int’l. I had the good fortune of celebrating my birthday during the show, and I couldn’t have picked a better place, surrounded by my wild, wacky, loony, libertine friends in the industy. Next I’m off to New Orleans (Wow. Za.) for the PPAI North American Leadership Conference. More next week from there… For now, enjoy these photos below and a big congratulations to Nancy Phillips, SAAC’s excutive director, and the entire SAAC team for an amazing job. Next year’s SAAC Show will be held from August 7-8 (www.thesaacshow.org).


— Michele

Look at my pretty girls! On Monday night, Missy Kilpatrick (left), Candace Hershey and I went to dinner at the fabulous Italian restaurant L’Opera. Good food, great wine, fantastic friends and a waiter with a personality large enough to stop traffic. What more could you ask for in a night? Missy, who has traveled many, many times to Italy, brought home these little ampules of Grappa, packaged in a compact, cigarette-like case. Trust me: What they lacked in size they made up for in punch. I happily threw one back, and then another. Soon after, my eyes began to water and I swear that my frontal lobe collapsed. Lesson? If anyone offers you Grappa in tubes that look like amyl nitrates, politely decline with a “No, grazie.”
Following PPAI’s insightful and informative Supplier Forum, held during the SAAC Show, SAAC president Craig Reese (left) joined suppliers Murray Siegel (center) from Towel Specialties and Rich Carollo from Lion Circle at a cocktail reception. Murray has a special place in my heart because we both share an almost obsessive love of the Barry Levinson movie, Diner. Rich Carollo and I had just met for the first time, but proceeded to go on a bender of epic proportions later that evening (scroll down for that tale …). And Craig Reese? Well, he and I go way back. True story: One time many years ago at a show overseas, Craig and I were having drinks with some other people from the U.S. industry when I noticed that a woman – let’s call her Sparrow – was eyeing Mr. Reese up and down in a, shall we say, lascivious way. I leaned over to Craig and imparted this insight to him: “Sweetie, that lady is looking at you like she’s just come off a hunger strike and you’re a goddamn porkchop!” From that day on, Mr. Reese’s nickname became, and remains to this day, “The Porkchop.” Two of my favorites, the always-connected Dana Zezzo from Jetline (left) and Harris Cohen, owner of the just-certified “Made in the US” supplier All in One. When I’m close to throwing a hissy fit in an airport due to some snafu, I think of Dana’s tweets about his traveling travails and take a deep breath. He gives “road warriors” a good name.
(From left): Matt Malone and Fred Antonini with Flexible Innovations, shown here with The Fabulous Natinsky Boys, SAGE’s David and Eric. You’d be hard-pressed to find two nicer guys … Here he is, the Godzilla to my Mothra. Bay State Specialties’ Michael Moore is, hands down, one of my favorite industry characters. Though we see each other at many shows over the course of the year, we limit our revelry together to precisely one night annually, at the ASI Orlando Show. Why? Because our consumption is so copious, our antics so Rolling Stones-esque, we’re convinced we’d have to check ourselves into a Betty Ford-like facility if we made it a regular occurrence. Want proof? At the Palm restaurant in Orlando this past January, we may or may not have stolen a golf cart, jumped into a fountain and drank $300 worth of tequila. Allegedly.
Me and my bevy of blondes! (Clockwise from bottom): 99centPromos’ Kim Horton; ASI’s Karen DiTomasso; me; Dard’s Stacey Horton and Dard Design’s Bonni Shevin-Sandy. At each show I attend, I try to meet three new people. At this year’s SAAC Show, I exceeded my goal – and how lucky am I that two of the people I met were these cuties, brothers Keven and Jason Azevedo, decorators extraordinaire who own Matteo Studios. Take my word for it: You’ll be hearing a lot more about these guys! (www.matteostudios.com).
The always-gracious and gregarious Stacey Horton (left), with my beloved friend, Bonni Sandy. I stand in awe of Bonni’s wit, wisdom and ability to be the voice of calm in a sea of industry kooks. And as if I didn’t need another reason to love her, we just discovered that we share a favorite song: “Winning,” by Carlos Santana. Every time I hear it now, I’ll think of her. My Bravo Boys!!! If you’re on the hip social circuit in the industry, then you’ve been lucky enough to be invited to my boys’ super swanky, ultra-elite party during the PPAI Show in Vegas. Or, you know them from their uncanny talent for being friends with all the best, most fun people in the business, or their presence by the pool at the Hyatt in Long Beach, for “Greyhounds by the Pool Day” (FYI: A Greyhound is a mix of Grey Goose and grapefruit juice – the perfectly refreshing summer cocktail!) or their jobs as de facto ambassadors at the PPPC Show in Toronto in January, welcoming all the U.S. out-of-towners. Either way, to know Brian Starke (left) and Greg Livings, owners of the Toronto-based awards supplier Bravo, is to love them, as I have for years. I’ve been lucky enough to stay at their cottages in Canada and to have had some of the best meals of my life with them. Perhaps more importantly, they taught about the sublime joy of visiting Tim Hortons. They are, quite simply, the best.
Lion Circle’s Rich Carollo (left) and “Jetline Joe” Hoffman. And now, without further ado, some words about Rich Carollo: I always knew who he was, but had never met him in person and was unfamiliar with his company. Not anymore. Anyone who can make me howl with laughter and go drink for drink with me has a special place on my roster of colorful industry crazies. There’s a famous story about the first time Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison – two legendary Dionysian hellraisers – met. After consuming enough cocktails together to drop a horse, Janis hit Jim over the head with a bottle of her beloved Southern Comfort. The Lizard King’s response? “God, I love that girl!” Similarly, as we made our way back to the hotel from the Auld Dubliner, Rich Carollo picked up a green apple and hurled it past me, just missing my head. “You’re the best!,” he giggled as we parted, like boozy ships in the night. And that, my friends, is how Rich Carollo became one of my favorite people ever.  
As my birthday fell during the SAAC Show, some friends got together and threw me the best celebratory dinner ever, spearheaded by Dard’s Stacey Horton and Bonni Sandy. Words can’t express my appreciation for their gracious gesture. The night, filled with excess on a multitude of levels, had a cavalcade of wacky characters in attendance – some old, beloved friends and some new ones – the perfect mix for a birthday soiree. (From left): Matteo Studios’ Jason Azevedo; me; Taylor’s Tommy Donlin (all hail the Donlin Brothers!); ASI’s Meghan Bogarde; Matteo Studios’ Keven Azevedo; Dard Design’s Bonni Shevin-Sandy; 99centPromos’ Kim Horton; awesome multiline rep Daniel Sacks; Bravo’s Brian Starke and Dard’s Stacey Horton. “Jetline Joe” Hoffman (left) and multiline rep Daniel Sacks, from West Coast Branded Solutions, who accompanied me to the Auld Dubliner. A word about Daniel: As two musicians serenaded the bar’s patrons with awesome songs, Daniel danced with a girl and – hand to God – flipped her completely upside down and in the air with such dexterity, someone should give that boy a Mirror Ball trophy. Seriously, ladies: If you see Daniel at a show and feel the overwhelming urge to emulate the scene in Dirty Dancing where Johnny pulls Baby out of the corner and lifts her over his head, Daniel’s your guy.
The Hyatt hotel in Long Beach that’s connected to the convention center was recently renovated, and all the rooms now have this surrealist art and these Dali-esque hands jutting out from the walls, each enticingly holding a green apple, as if to tempt guests – a la Adam, Eve and the Biblical garden of good and evil. It’s a fine idea in theory … The problem is that when you have people from our gimlet-soaked industry wobbling back to their rooms, glass hands get ripped from the walls, and broken and wax apples get hurled at people’s heads — hypothetically. The moral of the story? People in the industry who are out after 2:00 a.m. should roll themselves in bubble wrap as a preventative measure. Just sayin’. Awww. It’s my beloved Craigs! I already gave a shout-out to The Porkchop (Craig Reese, right, this year’s SAAC president and a partner at Jack Nadel Int’l.), but allow me to wax poetic about Craig Nadel, JNI’s president. The second person I met in the industry 15 years ago, Craig and I became friends right away and have stayed so over the years. I always say that if I had to pick three industry people with whom to be stuck on a desert island, Craig would be one of them. But here’s something maybe a lot of people don’t realize: He is, without question, one of the smartest and wittiest people I’ve ever met, and – more importantly – one of the few people I know who literally doesn’t have it in his DNA to bullshit. What you see with Craig is, delightfully, what you get.
The SAAC team did a fantastic job with their cocktail reception and wine-tasting event, held on the lawn outside the Hyatt. The weather in Long Beach is so mild and beautiful it was delightful to be outside.  
The lovely Kim Swanson, an account coordinator with JNI, and Bob Kritzler, the company’s CFO. Think all CFOs are boring numbers wonks? Then you haven’t met Bob … What a howl! Meet Sara Scott (left) and Libby Dubay, two super-cute account execs with JNI.
I love this photo (thanks, Allison!) of me and my BFF Craig Nadel. What do we talk about when we’re together? The validity of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s stance on being a strict Constitutional constructionist, the pros and cons of EBITDA and – lest you think we’re really, really nerdy — which characters on Battlestar Galactica we think are hot. Ross Silverstein (right), president/CEO of Counselor Top 40 distributor iPROMOTEu, and his omnipresent consigliere, Pat Caccamo (love him!). Of Ross’s many talents, “throwing parties that end all parties” may be at the top of the list.
The one and only Stanley Appleman of Get Smart Promotions in Sherman Oaks, with the lovely Melanie Schneider of the distributorship Creative Concepts in Menifee, CA. A new friend, Melanie clued me in to the medicinal secret for never having a hangover again. And for that piece of shared wisdom, she has my undying gratitude. My old friend Michael Bistocchi, who runs Clegg Promos – one of the companies on this year’s Counselor Best Places to Work list – graciously invited me to a party he threw to celebrate the company’s 25-year anniversary. Here he is on the right with company owner, Tim Clegg, who – on the evening I took this photo – was simultaneously celebrating his 50th birthday and waiting for his wife to give birth!
Do you know my pals Dave Leskusky, publisher of Promo Marketing magazine, and his colleague, Meghan Defrancesco? You should – they are too, too fun and just awesome to hang out with. Here’s Michael Amar, Clegg’s senior vice president of finance, and his beautiful wife, Lydia.
Tim Clegg, Michael Bistocchi and Bob Levitt, with BrandSavvy. Michael Bistocchi, with the woman at Clegg who has the dual daunting tasks of keeping him focused and in line, Malia Anderson. She is formidable!
The awesome folks at Jack Nadel Int’l. had a spectacular party on the rooftop of the Hyatt Pike Hotel (awesome job, Debbie Abergel!), and hosted their local employees and top suppliers. My Craigs (Nadel and Reese) each gave speeches that were as sincere as they were heartfelt, thanking everyone for their support.  
iPROMOTEu held its annual Supplier Palooza at the Auld Dubliner bar, which has turned into the party to see and be seen. The reason why half the people in attendance or exhibiting at the SAAC Show on Thursday were hung over was due to their presence at this event the previous night. Here are the lovely Missy Kilpatrick and Dard Design’s Bonni Sandy making an appearance.  
Craig Nadel and Missy Kilpatrick, whom he calls “one of his favorites.”  


  1. Malia Anderson Says:

    Michele! Thanks for stopping by our dinner! We need to talk prank wars soon…

    Monday August 13, 2012
  2. Brian Starke Says:

    Hey birthday girl why is it that the weather is so consistent in Long Beach? The fog clears by noon and the vodka storm comes in by midnight…

    Monday August 13, 2012
  3. President Porkchop Says:

    The President approves of this message but no one else is allowed to call me by my nickname.

    Monday August 13, 2012
  4. Michele Bell Says:

    Settle down and be a good boy, Porkchop. ; )

    Monday August 13, 2012
  5. Jeff Solomon Says:

    Another fine trade show report as only you can deliver it!

    Monday August 13, 2012
  6. Rick Greene Says:

    Porkchop? Classic. Fine, I won’t use your nickname when addressing you, but can I use it in print? How about visually? I can see a Reese body standing next to his SAACTimes column with a big porkchop for a head.

    Tuesday August 14, 2012
  7. Murray Siegel Says:

    Is Long Beach anywhere near the Chisum Trail?

    Tuesday August 14, 2012
  8. Samantha Gotlib Says:

    Great photos and great to meet you finally!

    Tuesday August 14, 2012
  9. SAAC Show 2012 – Octagon Merchandise Blog | Octagon Merchandise Blog Says:

    […] SAAC Show 2012 […]

    Tuesday August 14, 2012
  10. Melanie Schneider Says:

    Glad to hear the medicinal remedy was a success! :)

    Monday August 20, 2012
  11. Erica Lombardo Says:

    Any idea where the rest of the photos from the iPromoteU Supplier Palooza were published?

    Tuesday September 11, 2012

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