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

Dogs & Beer Floats & Big Wheels… Oh My!

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, Travel

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

As today is ASI’s annual holiday party, spearheaded by the wildly clever and imaginative Stephanie Cohn-Schaeffer who each year comes up with a different fun theme, during which ASI’s owners and management recognize and laud the accomplishments and contributions of the company’s 500+ employees, I was reminded of the first-ever Counselor Best Places to Work conference, held last month in Santa Barbara.

Staged at the beautiful Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara, the event drew attendees and speakers from the list of winners on this year’s Counselor Best Places to Work contest, many of whom use creative and innovative strategies such as in-office dogs, Friday beer parties, visiting masseuses and cocktail cruises around the Statue of Liberty to motivate their valued staffers.

It was a testament to how savvy theses owners are that they recognize that it just makes smart business sense to continually find ingenious, unique ways to recruit, retain and reward employees. Why? Because study after study shows that businesses that do just that are more successful and have higher profits.

At ASI’s event, Glenna Fulks, our intrepid and uber-efficient event planner, trotted in a dog to hang out with attendees, arranged for a beer tasting of brews local to Southern California, had Big Wheels shipping in for fun CEO-style races. Between those events and the TED Conference-like, rapid-fire 20 minute Q&A sessions with execs from companies on the Best Places to Work list, the agenda was chock-full of valuable information (so attendees told me) to use as employee motivation tools. ASI believes in the concept so much, that they’re doing the event again next year, in Chicago on July 18th, right after the ASI Show.

See below for lots of fun photos from the event, and more in the next few weeks from the Activate! national sales meeting on Amelia Island and the PSI Dusseldorf Show, both in the beginning of January.

Cheers and Merry Christmas!

(From left): The ever-charming Mark Shinn, owner of Incentives West; Glenna Fulks, ASI’s director of events; and Andy Cohen, editor of Counselor magazine enjoy cocktails before dinner at the stunning Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara. Kathy Bistocchi, married to industry character Michael Bistocchi, vice president of CleggPromo, shown here with ASI’s creative director, Jake Krolick.
Dinner at Casa Blanca in Santa Barbara with industry pros who attended, and spoke at, ASI’s first-ever Counselor Best Places to Work conference, featuring top companies in the industry who, as voted on by their employees, were named as one of the industry’s most innovative, inspiring, motivating places to work. One of the reasons I love attending events like this is that I always try to meet new friends. Here are two that were fabulous, on a multitude of levels, Wendy Eiden and Greg Armstrong from Counselor Top 40 distributor AIA Corp.
My old pal Michael Bistocchi (aka, The Mouth that Roared), shown here with my beloved Larry Cohen, CEO of NYC-based Counselor Top 40 Axis Promotions. Larry made the trek across the country to join us for the Best Places to Work conference and we’re thrilled he did because his panel discussions was fantastic. (Ask him sometime why his staff is 99.9% female. Hint: Because he maintains that they’re better collaborators!) Please take a good long look at this photo. This is the precise moment when, in hindsight, I should have put my drink down and head for the hills. But no, no – give me an unlimited supply of cocktails and fun boys and I’m all in til the wee hours of the morning. The consequences? I hangover that could have dropped a rhino the next day… Here’s Mitch Mounger, CEO of Sunrise Identity (All Hail Mitch!) with my two new partners-in-crime, Overture Promotions’ John Pipikos (center) and Tej Shah.
The inimitable Mitch Mounger (love, love, love him!) and my new industry favorite, Tej Shah, who is as hilarious and entertaining as he is whip-smart. Yep, that’s Larry Cohen, and yep, he’s riding a Big Wheel. Few things make me giggle like the sight of the CEO of a multimillion dollar company racing on a toy motorcycle with the gusto of a feisty toddler.
ASI’s Chief Revenue Officer & Publisher, Rich Fairfield and Counselor Editor Andy Cohen give Mark Shinn some support during the Best Places to Work morning Big Wheel races that kicked off the event. The lovely Cathy Sapiro from Catalyst Marketing in Seattle was part of the winning Big Wheel races team.
ASI SVP/editor-in-chief Melinda Ligos, shown here pushing Tim Andrews, ASI’s president/CEO, as Rich Fairfield looks on. Counselor editor Andy Cohen interviews the Best Places to Work keynote speaker, Greg Harris, owner of Quantum Workplace, the independent organization that surveys the employees of industry companies on ASI’s behalf and analyzes the results to create the list of top companies.
Andy Cohen, Allison Robbins from the Las Vegas-based supplier Crystal Impressions by Seaena, and ASI’s Jake Krolick, celebrating Allison’s company being ranked #1 on this year’s Counselor Best Places to Work list. Overture’s Tej Shah, John Pipikos and ASI’s director of distributor sales, Carmine Rauso, at the James Joyce pub in Santa Barbara. At each event I attend, I give my own personal award to the person whose stellar partying performance is, shall we say, Keith Richards-esque. (Mitch Mounger and Larry Cohen are both former winners!) At this event, the Golden Vodka Bottle Award goes to… Tej Shah and John Pipikos, whose charm, wit and epic antics left me in stitches.
(From left to right): The delightful Julie Sessler, with Tina & Keith Ritschard, co-owners of RBS Activewear Inc. in Wisconsin, and Kellye Santos, vice president of customer service & operations, and my new favorite live-wire from Counselor Top 40 distributor Safeguard Business Systems Inc. When I said that I love meeting new industry people, these are exactly the kind of folks I was talking about… So delightful, gracious and too, too much fun. And poor Keith Ritschard had to endure listening to me for 12 hours calling him “Keith Richards.” Here’s me, with my new pals Keith and Kellye.
All Hail the Canadian Contingency! How awesome that Laura Hansen, owner of Image Group Inc., and Mr. Social Media himself, Mark Graham of Right Sleeve Marketing, made the trip all the way from the Great White North to share their insights on running an innovative workplace (tip: Clamato cocktails, free-range pooches and cutting-edge videos are just some of their strategies…). After the Best Places to Work conference, myself, Andy Cohen, Jake Krolick and Carmine Rauso hosted a pub crawl through downtown Santa Barbara. My favorite moment, hands down, was then Mitch Mounger and Larry Cohen just had to try some God-awful clove-flavored (I’ll give you a moment while you gag…) liqueur. After doing a few shots and claiming it was “delicious” – despite the bartender insisting it was “horrifyingly awful,” Larry and Mitch just had to know where it was produced. “I dunno,” the bartender, with a wit as dry as the Serengeti said. “Someplace sad and poor.”
Here’s Andy Cohen and his favorite industry BFF Mitch Mounger, with Melinda Ligos photobombing the bromance moment. The jaw-droppingly beautiful Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara, with stunning views of the Pacific.
Have you met my pal Craig Reese, SVP and partner of Counselor Top 40 distributor Jack Nadel Int’l.? Craig and I have been friends for 15 years and he remains, to this day, the bearer of my favorite nickname I’ve ever bestowed on someone: “The Porkchop.” Why? Because one year in Hong Kong, some lascivious, cougar-esque harpy who used to be in the industry looked at Craig up and down in such a devouring way that it prompted this bon mot from me: “Jesus, Sweetie… That woman is looking at you like she just came off a hunger strike and you’re a goddamn porkchop!” Hence the nickname, which I encourage all of you to use the next time you see Craig presiding at the PPAI Vegas Show or the SAAC Show.