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

ASI Chicago After Dark: Putting the “She” in Shennanigans…

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Fun, Travel

Hello, Everyone!

Hope you’re all having a sizzling summer and finding time to enjoy some joie de vivre!

I’m just back from the ASI Chicago Show, where, as I’ve done for the past few years, I went in early to spend the weekend at my pal Sharon Biernat’s house in the city, along with my girls Jilly Albers from Shumsky and PPAI board member Natalie Townes. To say we have a time is putting it mildly, and we always seem drawn — no matter which swanky bars at which we start our evening — to the dual divey wonders that are The Lodge and Shennanigans. It’s like being pulled by some unseen magnetic force into ribald mayhem.

As always with this blog, I’m focusing on what happened after show hours, which is evidenced in the photo array below.

More next week and hope to see you all soon! (ASI’s Power Summit in Park City? I’ll be there! www.asicentral.com/powersummit).



(From left to right): Oh good God, it’s Mitch Mounger (all hail Mitch!), one of my favorite people ever, with my girls Jilly Albers from Shumsky and Natalie Townes. Hand to God: Mitch has the same affect on me as nitrous: the minute I’m in his presence, I start giggling. The lovely Natalie Townes with the 2013 Counselor Person of the Year, my friend and yours, David Nicholson, president of Polyconcept North America. For those of you who know me, you’re aware that I bestow my nearest and dearest with nicknames… David’s is Don Draper, after the suave, charming — yet utterly mysterious and enigmatic — creative director on Mad Men.
At the Counselor Awards banquet, held at the Art Institute of Chicago, here are some key ASI staffers involved in the event’s planning and execution. The hot color of the evening at the Counselor Awards banquet — as evidenced on the most stylish dresses, was tomato red — as shown here on ASI editor-in-chief/SVP Melinda Ligos (left) and Natalie Townes.
There are dive bars, and then there are Dive Bars… This one, found by my pal Joe Haley, ASI’s managing editor and star of The Joe Show, is called The Billy Goat Tavern and is located under (like catacombs!) Michigan Ave. Curiously missing from the Zagat’s Guide of Chicago’s five-star establishments, this gem serves Schlitz on tap in a bar that resembles a row home basement from the 50s. Some of my favorite ASI characters felt right at home. Here’s me and my pal Tim O’Boyle — who runs the PCNA company JournalBooks — with David Nicholson and Melinda Ligos photobombing us.
You know how fan-freaking-tastic when two of your favorite people — who’ve heard so much about each other — finally meet? That’s a little what it was like when ASI’s creative director, Jake Krolick (“Jakey” to you and I) met my beloved Michael Bernstein, CEO of Polyconcept. The two of them have such a deep adoration of music that it was like watching Lester Bangs converse with David Fricke. Have you met the Fabulous Biernats, Sharon and Bob? One of the best couples I know, Sharon and Bob (All Hail Bob!) live right in downtown Chicago and graciously open their home to myself, Natalie Townes and Jilly Albers, the weekend before the ASI Chicago Show every year — which is akin to opening the doors of your home to three hyperactive ferrets who run around in circles and have a taste for vodka.
Oh Holy Hell, it’s the effin’ Lodge. Yes, I know it’s a hole in the wall, and yes, I know it smells like old Schaffer (“the beer to have when you’re having more than one!”) and that peanut shells stick to your shoes and the clientele is hardly the beautiful people, but I’m here to tell ya: I always — and I do mean always — have an epic time at the Lodge… Right down to the “Sweet Caroline” singalongs with the guys who look like they belong to my Pop-Pop’s VFW hall. My girls Natalie Townes and Sharon Biernat, at the Chicago landmark that is The Lodge.
Two of my favorites at ASI — Jakey Krolick (far right), our creative director, and Andy Cohen, editor of Counselor — with their two BFFs, BrandFuel’s co-owner Danny Rosin — this year’s winner of the Bess Cohn Award winner for humanitarian and charitable works — and Mitch Mounger, owner of Sunrise Identity. Sharon Biernat, sales rep extraordinaire with the Skokie-based distributor Creative Promos (left), shown here with PPAI board member Natalie Townes, at the rooftop bar of the Ritz in downtown Chicago. Along with Shumsky’s Jilly Albers, these ladies make my world a much more fun place to be.
One of the many things I love about Sharon Biernat is that at the townhouse in downtown Chicago that she and her husband, Bob (All Hail Bob!), own, she keeps a box of musical instruments so her party guests can indulge in all their rhythmic impulses. Here’s Joe Haley playing a tambourine in the courtyard of Sharon’s house, though from the expression on his face, you’d think he’d just been stung by 1,000 bees. Here’s ASI’s creative director Jake (“Jakey” to you and I) Krolick (right), with Yann Perrin, who oversees ASICentral.com, expertly hiding from my camera like a celebrity shunning the paparazzi.
I would put Sharon Biernat’s skills as a hostess right up there with Martha Stewart’s any day of the week — though Sharon’s even better because she makes treats like “Booze Pops” (frozen Sangria on a stick) for her lucky house guests. Here’s ASI’s Joe Haley (left) and Jakey Krolick enjoying a taste test. ASI’s Jake Krolick (left) with BrandFuel’s Danny Rosin. Everyone in our industry has that one person who they Can Not WAIT to see at events, and to whom they feel a special connection and bond. Well, Jakey and Danny — drawn together by their rabid love of music — are like two teenagers when they’re together, eagerly sharing bands and songs they want the other to know about.
Me with BrandFuel’s Danny Rosin (left) and Jakey Krolick. A word now, about Mr. Rosin: I’ve long adored him for his prolific ability to party, but he won my heart with the acceptance speech he gave at this year’s Counselor banquet in Chicago when he was presented with the Bess Cohn Award for charitable and humanitarian efforts. “The two most important days in your life,” he said to the guests in attendance, “are the day you’re born and the day you realize why you were born.” For Danny, who received a standing ovation and is simply beloved by the industry, that day came when he founded Band Together, his Raleigh-based charity which stages a huge music festival every year and donates the proceeds — $3 million to date — to local causes. Click here to read my Counselor article about him and click here to read more about Band Together. (From left): Jonathan Irvin, a super, super guy who — along with Roger Burnett — is spearheading iClick’s initiative for decorators; the lovely Natalie Townes and Danny Rosin at the Zebra Lounge in Chicago. The bar was fabulous, but way too small for the likes of our loud and loony ever-growing merry band of misfits and libertines.
ASI’s Yann Perrin (left) and RightSleeve’s Mark Graham, at the Zebra Lounge in Chicago. As Yann (who’s French… J’adore!) oversees the team who handles ASICentral and Mark, a founding member of PromoKitchen, chatted incessantly about all things social media, I nearly gave myself a brain injury from all the eye-rolls. “You are my favorite Luddite, Michele,” Mr. Graham often tells me, laughing. He’s not wrong… Alistair Mylchreest, CEO of the UK-based company Sourcing City — a member of PromoAlliance along with ASI and PSI — and Shumsky’s Jill Albers at the Zebra Lounge. We are always so thrilled when Alistair makes the trip across the pond to one of ASI’s events because he’s enthusiasm, knowledge of the European promo marketplace and sheer sense of fun add so much. And truly, without question, he wears the Best. Shirts. Ever.
Here’s me and the stunning Cindy Jorgenson, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 distributor Brown & Bigelow. This show was an anniversary of sorts for Cindy and I, as it was about eight years ago when she cornered me outside of Shenanigans, introduced herself and pointed her finger in my face, saying, “You’re Michele Bell… I love your shoes and we’ve got lots of mutual friends, so let’s go drink!” And with that, we’ve been dear friends ever since… She is as whip-smart and talented as she is hilarious and gorgeous. Let’s call these three lovely ladies, all ASI staffers, “Michele’s Angels” because without their help, the seating and prep for the Counselor banquet wouldn’t have gone nearly as smoothly and I would have been hiding under a table rocking in the fetal position. (From left): Kim McCunney, Erica Matus and Tricia Walter.
Polyconcept chairman Michael Bernstein, shown here with PCNA COO Sharon Willochell, who was named the 2012 Counselor Woman of Distinction. The more time I spend with Sharon (code name “Wonder Woman” for her ability to do it all with grace and equanimity) the more I like and respect her. Young girls should be required to meet Sharon as an example of how they can “lean in” and be anything they want to be. Michael Bernstein (left) and Patrick Tornqvist, the president of OSML. I’ve met Patrick a few times over the years at international shows like PSI Dusseldorf and the Hong Kong Gift Fair, and he delighted me by accepting my offer to come visit ASI’s Chicago show and attend the Counselor banquet. He is just awesome, and his other company, Xindao, has some of the most beautifully-designed promo products I’ve ever seen. Check them out here.
(From left): JournalBooks’ Tim O’Boyle (am I the only one who misses the longer, Ringo-esque hair?), left, and Will Andrew, CEO of PCNA’s apparel company, Trimark. (From left to right): PCNA is known for its stellar sales team and here are two reasons why that is: Rick French (left) and Scott Anderson (who does a killer impersonation of Gateway/CDI’s Conrad Franey, BTW… Go ahead, ask him the next time you see him…), with their colleague Kim Daugherty, a partner development representative at Leed’s.
Do you know Larry Cohen, owner of Counselor Top 40 distributor Axis Promotions, based in New York? Of course you do. There is precisely nothing that I don’t find endearing and charming about Larry, and his trademark smirks (and there’s quite a menu of them — snarky, mischievous, exasperated, ponderous) amuse me to no end. Here he is with Amanda Novelline, one of his Chicago-based reps, at the Wit Hotel’s rooftop bar in Chicago. Sigh… I just love, love, love these two… Sweda’s president/CEO Jim Hagan (left) and his consigliere, Scott Pearson, Sweda’s vice president of marketing, sourcing and being fan-freaking-tastic.
There’s a reason I look so gloriously happy in this photo with the ever-elusive, semi-reclusive Mr. Michael Bernstein. When I do get to see him throughout the year, I’m reminded of why he truly is like the brother I never had. Unequivocally, Favorite. Person. Ever. Here’s me and ASI’s president/CEO Tim Andrews at the Wit Hotel’s trendy rooftop bar in Chicago after the Counselor awards. Love, love, love this photo as my utter delight to be with him is so genuine… And not just because he bought me a margarita maker for my office.

ASI NYC: Up All Night in the City That Never Sleeps…

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Travel

Well Hey There, Sailors!

I’m just back from — in short order — Hong Kong, Omaha and New York City, where I attended ASI’s show. For those of you who know me, you’re quite aware that mornings are not my strong suit as nighttime is when I shine. I’ll let those more disciplined and diligent than I post photos from the actual trade show and am content to highlight what goes down when the sun does… So, without further delay, enjoy some photos from Counselor’s Hot Party, celebrating the 49 people on this year’s list, as well as the dive bar where I, and some select industry libertines, reveled pre-party. The place — the Double Down Saloon — bore more than a passing resemblance to the Cantina bar in Star Wars, where all the three-eyed, lizard-skinned weirdo aliens took up residence in its dank interiors. Of course, we loved it. 

Cheers, and more next week from Expo East in Atlantic City, where I’m excited to see all my pals in town for the event (I’m looking at you, Mr. Bellantone! ; )).

— M

Because I seem to be medically incapable of being in a city and not making my beloved colleague Jake (“Jakey” to his nearest and dearest) Krolick, ASI’s creative director, find me the skeeziest of dive bars to drag my favorite industry celebs, I give you Jetline Joe Hoffman (left) and Michael Legel — someone who’s just awesome to the 10th power — with the five-star, FL-based supplier Continental Plastic Card Co. These two were kind enough to meet Jake and I at the oh-so-swanky (she says sarcastically) Double Down Saloon in New York’s East Village. They are troopers, I tell ya! Here’s my girl Megan Erber (left) and a new friend, Julie Fritsch, both of Jetline, with Jake. As Megan noted when she introduced me to Julie, “she is the wizard behind the scenes who keeps it all together!” And who the hell doesn’t need one of those? Great meeting you, Julie!
Michael Legel with another new friend, Andrew Janosick, the vice president/partner of PROforma Executive Business Services in New York. Some people, when they hang out with me and my merry band of misfits for the first time, get a glazed look of utter (mi)shell shock on their faces. Not Andrew. He fit right in (God help him). Dana Zezzo in the house!!! I shared with the peripatetic Mr. Zezzo that he is the one person I think of when I’m traveling and on the verge of having an epic meltdown in an airport due to some travel SNAFU. I literally take deep breaths, channel everyone’s favorite industry road warrior and think, “WWDD”? Here he is with the lovely and talented Megan Erber and Jetline Joe. Quick note about Joe: His impersonations of people in the industry are spot-on, so next time you’re at a party with him, ask him to break some out. HIL-ARIOUS.
Truly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a sales rep more beloved in the industry than Bodek and Rhodes’ Marc Held (right), shown here with Jetline’s Dana Zezzo. Marc just got married last month, so it was great to see him back on the show circuit. If this industry was high school (and trust me, on a multitude of levels, it really is…) Mr. Held would win “Mr. Congeniality.” Oh Holy Hell. It’s the “Zoint,” Dana Zezzo’s now-famous point. I’m fairly certain that this is the first time so many people dressed so well graced the door of the Double Down Saloon.
Based right in mid-town, Counselor Top 40 distributor Axis Promotions is one of my favorites for many reasons: They produce jaw-dropping self-promo pieces; the company is routinely named one of Counselor‘s Best Places to Work (as voted on by employees); and, oh yes, Miss Katie Smart (left) works there. Katie, a member of this year’s Counselor Hot List, is young, whip-smart talented (the Trend Reports she crafts for the company are on the level of Vogue and W magazines) and just a delight. Here she is with the company’s founder and president, Larry Cohen, and Axis staffer Dana Cappabianca, who I look forward to spending more time with in the future. Dana, you in? ; ) A word, now, about these two — Axis’ Larry Cohen and Sunrise Identity’s Mitch Mounger. Between them, they dominate their respective cities of New York and Seattle, and to say I love and adore them is putting it mildly. They both run successful, smart, innovative companies that value and nurture talent and hard work, and encourage a creative work environment that welcomes canines and cocktails in equal measure. They are as funny as they are charming, but what’s really won me over has been their consistently hilarious late-night performances in whatever dive-bar we find ourselves. They embrace the concept of letting their freak flags fly, and I’m here to tell ya: I pledge allegiance.
Here’s me, Mitch and the stunning Miss Brittany David, national sales manager for SnugZ. Mitch and Brittany are both on this year’s Counselor Hot List and hoo boy, did we choose well. In the relatively short time I’ve known Brittany, she continues to impress me with her professionalism, grace and knowledge of the industry. So much so, that I’ve asked her to be a panelist at this year’s ASI Power Summit in Park City, UT in September, so stay tuned for that! (From left to right): Bodek’s Marc Held, ETS Express’ Jeff Hinds and Axis’ Larry Cohen. “Jersey Jeff” (as I call him) and I have been friends for years, and I’m thrilled that he’s now on the sales team for Counselor Top 40 supplier ETS Express. A member of last year’s Counselor Hot List, Jeff just became a first-time dad, so he’s got lots of awesome things happening, all of which he deserves (slumming it with me in the Double Down Saloon notwithstanding…).
Just. Wowza. Where to start with this one… Well, I’ll repeat what I told Larry Cohen: Perhaps one day, I will invite everyone to join me for a high-brow evening of insightful, introspective discourse and chilled martinis at a respectable establishment like The Palm. Until then, we have Ass Juice shots at the skeezy Double Down Saloon, with cheesy 70s porn on a constant loop for background ambiance. Good Lord.  
Continental Plastic Card’s Michael Legel and Axis Promotions’ Katie Smart. Axis’ Larry Cohen and the vivacious Megan Erber. My girl has a black-belt in multitasking! A mom to five children (and a puppy!), sales rep extraordinaire, MMA fighter (seriously … she could drop you like 5th period French) and bon vivant on the social circuit, she does it all!
Wonder Twin powers activate, in the form of Beautiful Blondes! Say hi to Brittany David (left) and Katie Smart. In what is arguably the Best. Photobomb. Ever., ASI’s director of distributor marketing, Colin Graf (“El Diablo” to his pals here at ASI) pops into the photo with ASI’s Hot Mama (literally… she just had her first child, an adorable little boy … HOLLA, Kyan!), Krista Taylor (left), and Circulation Diva, Deb Brill.
Here’s my colleague Andy Cohen (center), editor of Counselor magazine, at the Counselor Hot Party. Now usually, Andy is the voice of reason among us. But precisely one night a year, at the Hot Party, Degenerate Andy makes an appearance and puts in a performance that would make Keith Richards proud. For the record: I Heart Degenerate Andy. Here he is, with two of his favorites in the industry, Axis’ Larry Cohen (left) and Mitch Mounger. Click below to see a previously-unreleased outtake video from the Hot Party of Andy interviewing the fabulous Marc Giroux, a member of this year’s Hot List and the vice president of sales for Spector & Co., this year’s Supplier of the Year in Canada. At 40 seconds in, Andy gets quite the surprise… ASI managing editor and star of The Joe Show, Joe Haley, shown here with our friend Harry Fotopoulous, sales exec with Ad-N-Art, and one of the coolest guys in the industry.
Michael Legel and his gorgeous gal pal Raina Vangeloff. I love, love, love this photo if for no other reason than the guest appearance of Joe Haley’s big Muppet Mouth. (From left): ASI’s Joe Haley, Harry Fotopoulous, me, Michael Legel and ASI’s senior vice president and editor-in-chief, Melinda Ligos.
ASI’s president and CEO, Tim Andrews — the gracious Hot Party Host With the Most — and Mitch Mounger, CEO of Sunrise Identity. True story, and it involves me, Mitch and a farm animal (for the love of God): As we were literally the last people to leave the Hot Party at 1:30 a.m. but not wanting to call it a night — heaven forefend — Mitch and I jumped into a cab and found ourselves in a bar sporting an “animal” theme — stuffed heads on the walls, pelts on the leather couches, etc. At one point, Mitch graciously went to the bar to get me a Grey Goose when, HAND TO GOD, a goat in a coat trotted by our table. Mitch came back and I looked at him, slack-jawed, and said, “Um… a goat in a tartan coat just walked past us.” And Mitch, ever the master of the deadpan wit, paused and quizzically responded: “What’s ‘tartan’?” Yes, because that was the weirdest part of my statement.  

I Got Your Back, Marissa Mayer!

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, Personal

Well, hey there!

Hope you’ve all been doing well! For me, it’s been a particularly crazy time in Michele World, what with lots of travel in January (Orlando for the ASI Show, then directly to Dusseldorf for the PSI Show, then on to Paris for, well, nothing — j’adore Paris!) and caring for my Mom, who’s had some health challenges in the past six weeks.

Now that everything has settled down, I’ve watched with perplexed fascination how everyone has fire-hosed their rage and indignation at Marissa Mayer, the adroit CEO of the once-heralded, now beleaguered Yahoo! Mayer and the head of Yahoo!’s HR department, for those of you as out of the loop as I’ve been, dared to ask Yahoo!’s telecommuting employees to start coming into the office every day to, ya know, work (a move soon after adopted by Best Buy’s management, incidentally). The reaction to Mayer’s announcement? Like she took all telecommuters — not just those at Yahoo! — and demanded the marrow be syphoned from their bodies. And to say she’s been vilified in the media is putting it mildly.

At ASI, our telecommuting policy is at the discretion of each department head. Melinda Ligos, who oversees the Editorial and Education departments, takes an extremely tolerant stance towards telecommuting: “As long as people get their work done, it’s fine with me.” Yet even she saw the LOL value in this cartoon she sent my way, whose message is brilliant in its simplicity.

Of the five magazine editors here at ASI, I’m the only one who’s in the office every day. That’s not to say I’m working harder than my four colleagues who work from home a few days a week, as I certainly am not (a point with which CEO Tim Andrews would enthusiastically concur). In fact, the argument could be made that they’re better, more disciplined workers because they can function in a less restrictive environment. Libertines like me don’t fare well without parameters, rules (not that we adhere to them, but we need to bump up against them) and schedules. If I worked from home I’d be well-versed on the daily Law & Order line-up on TNT and rationalize my way towards mid-day naps and drinking (“but Spaniards do it, and they’re lovely people!”).

Here’s the thing, though, which was Mayer’s point: Her decision wasn’t a referendum on the productivity of people who work from home — for sure, they’re just as, if not more, productive than those who work in the office. (Though one of my colleagues who shall remain nameless — *cough* Joe Haley — uses air quotes every time he says someone is “working from home.”) But there’s no doubt that people who work from home are at a distinct disadvantage.Yeah, I said it. Being physically present in the office, able to look colleagues in the eye and engage with them in meetings, makes all the difference over the colleague who’s calling in via speaker phone, Skype or video conference. You can defend your position, advocate for policy changes and influence co-workers with greater effectiveness being in front of them. Working remotely robs you of the critical ability to metabolize colleagues’ reactions in real-time, read social cues and gauge group dynamics; seeing co-workers face-to-face encourages collaboration and adds to the energy level of the group. And in that regard, Mayer is spot-on.

Cheers, and hope to see you all soon!

— M

London Calling: New Friends (& a Cringe-Worthy Faux Pas) at the Sourcing City Show!

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, Travel

Hi Everyone!

I’m back in the country after a phenomenal and memorable trip to the U.K. for the Sourcing City Marketplace event. WOWZA, do those people know how to put on a show!

For those who don’t know, Sourcing City is a top service provider serving the U.K. promotional market and last week held its second annual Marketplace event at the FIVE (Farnborough International Venue & Events) in Farnborough, England, increasing the number of suppliers in attendance by 50%, and scheduling nearly 1,700 appointments with top distributors in the U.K. — a 132% jump from last year’s event.

The premise of Sourcing City’s Marketplace is that select U.K. distributors with sales in excess of 500,000 pounds are invited to the event and are required to set appointments, lasting 30 minutes, with suppliers. This year, the sales of the distributors in attendance made up 43% of the overall ad specialties sales in the U.K. market — 769 million pounds so far in 2012 (about $1.2 billion USD), up 2% from last year, according to a survey of 200 distributors by Sourcing City.

Phil Morgan, CEO of the supplier SPS (EU) Ltd., a U.K. manufacturer of diaries, mouse pads, drinkware, among other items, and the company with the exclusive rights to sell Rubik’s Cube items for the UK promotional market, attended Sourcing City’s Marketplace event last year and was so impressed, he doubled his exhibit area this year. “I think there’s a place for a traditional trade show, but clearly there is for this one as well,” said Morgan, who noted that 60 distributors had booked appointments with the company over the course of the two-day Marketplace event. “What I really like is the quality of customers we’re getting to see, and the amount of one-on-one time we’re spending with them – it’s much more conducive to conducting business and building relationships than at a trade show where there are so many people in your booth, you can’t possibly talk to them all in depth. Here, because distributors pre-schedule their appointments with us online, we’re able to pull their reports and look at the business they’ve done with us so far this year. We can address any problems that may have come up through the year and debut new products so we’re not waiting until January to do so, like most suppliers.”

Sourcing City’s LIVE! event will be held on January 16-17, 2013. For more information go to www.sourcingcity.co.uk.

Finally, some observations on the British: 1) I love how they add Earl Grey to everything — cocktails, shampoo, lotion and cookies. They are obsessed with their tea!; 2) The language barrier is amusing. For example, in the U.S. the word “jaded” means bored or cynical — in the UK it means “hungover,” as in “last night I was in the pub til 4:00 a.m. and now I’m bloody jaded!”; 3) Without question, Brits — and especially those I met at the Sourcing City event — are the nicest, most gracious and fun-loving group of people. And they are hearty drinkers!; 4) And finally, take a lesson from my colossal faux pas: While wearing my stilettos made from pony hair at the Sourcing City dinner, I kept telling admirers of them that they could feel free to “pet the pony.” Yeah. In the U.K., that means something totally different… Oy.

Now, without further delay, see below for tons of photos from the Sourcing City Marketplace event and after-hours fun!

More next week when I’ll be attending OH-based distributor Shumsky’s “Up Close and Promotional” event in Dayton.


— M

The charming and charismatic David Long (left), founder of Sourcing City, shown here with ASI’s president/CEO, Tim Andrews, who — by the way — is a hilariously entertaining travel companion. We shared a cab ride in Farnborough with a driver that was right out of a Monty Python skit. Carmine Rauso (left), executive director of major distributor accounts at ASI, shown here with Alistair Mylchreest, CEO of Sourcing City. Alistair is like the Mick Jagger of the British promo industry — everyone knows him and wants to be part of his party!
The lovely Liz Young, supplier services manager for Sourcing City, shown here with Carmine Rauso. The Global Triumvirate! (From left): PSI’s managing director, Michael Freter; Alistair Mylchreest; and Tim Andrews, the heads of the three companies that comprise PromoAlliance, the worldwide marketing, networking and education group: http://www.promoalliance.com/.
(From left): Michael Freter, Tim Andrews and Ritchie Wilson, owner of the U.K. supplier Dunelm. An overview shot of Sourcing City’s Marketplace show. Now in its second year, the event was an unqualified success.
After the first night of the show, the awesome folks at Sourcing City held a dinner for its supplier and distributor members and attendees. Tim Andrews, ASI’s president/CEO, was the guest speaker. ASI’s Carmine Rauso and Susanne Langley from Juniper Trading Ltd., at the Sourcing City dinner. Seriously, we had the Best. Table. Ever.
Why did we have the Best. Table. Ever., you may ask? Meet Gavin Page (left), managing director for Encore Catalogue Group. You know how there’s one person who’s the ringleader, who keeps the table lively and the drinks flowing? That was Gavin at our table who, much to my delight, went to the bar and got us a bottle of Veuve when our table ran out of its allotment of champagne. Love, love, LOVE him! Here he is with Toby Pache (center) from Sharon Lee and David Reid from Promobox. Tim Andrews and Britain’s brightest bon vivant, Gavin Page.
After Tim Andrews gave the keynote address to the guests in attendance at Sourcing City’s dinner, Richard Hope-Jones from High Profile, who was sitting next to me, commented what a great speaker Tim was and jokingly mused about how much his fee was. Here, Richard “pays” Tim for his speaking services. My girls! Here’s Liz Young — so much like me in so many ways I say we’re like the kooky Bronte sisters — and the effervescent Nikki Williams, Sourcing City’s customer support executive. I couldn’t have asked for two more fun ladies to hang out with in Farnborough!
Hands down, the funniest person we met at the Sourcing City Marketplace event was Chris Smith from Dunelm, shown here with his BFF, ASI’s Carmine Rauso. The progression of these photos is priceless, as Chris and Carmine became great pals over some after-dinner cocktails.  
Here she is, the U.S. industry’s favorite globetrotting celeb, the one and only Jo-an Lantz, executive vice president of Counselor Top 40 distributor, Geiger. When I first started in the industry 15+ years ago, Jo-an was kind enough to act as my first female mentor and we’ve been great friends ever since. We laugh now about how we see each other more overseas than in our own country. Awwww, here’s one of my all-time favorites — Steve Levschuk (left), owner of Toronto-based Talbot Marketing, shown here with Jo-an Lantz and Derek Rohde of the French distributor Jordenen S.A. Steve’s, Jo-an’s and Derek’s companies all belong to the World Advertising Gift Exchange (WAGE), a group of premier distributors — one from each country — that get voted into the group after an extensive vetting process. Jo-an is the current president of WAGE (how does this woman do it all???), and the group meets a few times each year around the globe to discuss market and economic trends in their respective countries. Check out their site here: www.wage-organisation.com/
On our last night in Farnborough, Sourcing City’s Alistair Mylchreest and Liz Young — who I just know were so exhausted after a whole week of their show and events — were the most amazing hosts and took Carmine and me to historic Guildford. For those of you who’ve never been, picture in your mind what a quintessential, quaint little British town looks like — that’s Guildford. (Click here to check it out: www.guildford.org.uk/). We had pre-dinner drinks at a classic British pub called The King’s Head, and a to-die-for dinner at the French restaurant Cote, followed by a visit to a local pub called Pews — all “brilliant,” as the Brits would say. Alistair, aside from being wicked smart and supremely gracious, has one of the most rapier wits ever. When Alistair came to visit the U.S. in July for the ASI Chicago Show and brought some Sourcing City clients with him, they loved the show, loved the people and loved the town. The one area where we fell short? The quality of our beer, or lack thereof. (LOL moment: The look of sheer horror on Alistair’s face as the bartender at Kitty O’Sheas put an orange slice in his pint of Blue Moon beer…Fact: Brits do not do fruit in their beer.) Here are some classic British ales that have Alistair’s seal of approval.
Here’s Alistair and ASI’s Carmine Rauso, drinking “Baby Guinesses” at the Pews Pub in Guildford. Upon leaving Farnborough, I headed back to London and had lunch with my new friend Kiran Somaiya, owner of the U.K. supplier Sunray Import Ltd. (Click here to see his amazing crystal 3D USB drives: www.sunrayusb.com/). Kiran was one of the suppliers that made the trek across the pond in July with Alistair to attend the ASI Chicago Show and we’ve kept in touch since then. With him is the vivacious Nicola Grant, sales & marketing star extraordinaire at the U.K. distributor company Premier Promotional Products. Have you ever met people you just click with immediately? That’s how I felt being with Kiran and Nicola.
And last but certainly not least… For my final night in the U.K., I was lucky enough to be in London at the same time as the most beloved of all my industry friends, Polyconcept’s Michael Bernstein, who was in town for a meeting. How giddy with delight was I to spend some fun time with my brother from another mother, with whom I’ve been friends for 15 years? Consider this: Friday nights in London are crazy — vibrant, electrifying and packed with people everywhere; but there are definitely no cabs to be found. If you know me, you know I loathe to walk, especially in my stilettos (I famously hired a rickshaw to take me a block and a half at the ASI San Diego Show last year). When Michael pointed out that the club we wanted to go to was “eight blocks up and four over” and asked me if I minded walking, I smiled and said, “No problem,” knowing that for him, I’d walk to the ends of the earth. No bitching, hissy fits or hiring of limos. Why? Because he’s like my own, personal medicinal panacea — he calms me down, chills me out and makes me infinitely happier than I was before.  

Retreat to Move Forward

Filed under: Editorial, Travel

Hey there Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well and enjoying the fabulous fall weather. Me? I’m still grasping on to the last remnants of summer, my favorite season, which is why it was so awesome that 100+ ASI staffers from the Editorial and Distributor Sales departments went on a two-day retreat last week to historic, Victorian Cape May, NJ.

Each year, The Powers That Be at ASI (read: Tim Andrews, the president/CEO and Rich Fairfield, the Chief Revenue Office who oversees the Editorial, Marketing, Supplier and Distributor Sales departments) encourage each team to spend a day or two off-site to brainstorm new ideas and participate in team-building and bonding activities. Through these events, each department comes up with creative, innovative concepts to implement during the next 12 months. (One idea from a marketing colleague that didn’t fly, thank God? A Web cam hooked up to my computer so viewers could watch — and listen  to — what goes on in Editorial every day. Trust me. NO ONE deserves that…)

My favorite part of ASI’s retreats is the get-to-know-your-colleagues networking activities. For example, the editors work very closely with the marketing team and supplier sales on a daily basis. The distributor sales folks? No so much. So it was fantastic this time around that Editorial got to spend some quality time with the Distributor Sales & Services teams, who up until this point had never gone on a departmental retreat before.

“It was refreshing to get out of the office and spend a couple days in the beautiful town of Cape May, New Jersey,” says Rachel Bartol, an account executive with ASI’s distributor services team. “Since the retreat was in a relaxed setting, I was able to connect on a more personal level with co-workers and managers through various team-building events, which we don’t always get to do in the hectic workplace. The sessions were interactive, informative, and helpful to better myself and I can’t wait until next year!”

Ironically, I was just having a conversation last month at an industry event with the head of marketing and the head of sales for two Counselor Top 40 suppliers. They were each lamenting that the owners of their companies don’t believe in company retreats. “Listen,” I said. “For sure, they’re not cheap to do and you’re missing two days of work, which can be frustrating, especially when you’re on deadline or trying to close sales. But — make no mistake — the payoff down the road is huge, on a multitude of levels.”

Tim and Rich get that, which is why they rock. (Addendum: Tim also rocks because as the last five of us who closed Cabanas beach bar in Cape May squinted when the dreaded “last call” lights came on, it was Mr. Andrews, I’ll have you know, who cajoled the bartender to give us one last round of shots for the walk back to the hotel. And that, my friends, is why he’s the cat’s meow. ; )) Scroll down for some fun photos from ASI’s retreat!

More next week from the U.K., where I’ll be covering Sourcing City’s Marketplace Event (www.sourcingcityevents.co.uk) in Farnborough, England!


— M

(From left): ASI Awards Editor Karen Akers; Managing Editor Joan Chaykin and Editorial Proofreader Patty Cangelosi. (From left): ASI Vice President of Distributor Services Dan Dienna; ASI Vice President of Distributor Services Rob Spike; and ASI President/CEO Tim Andrews.
Dawn Shurmaitis, ASI’s public relations manager, and Larry Basinait, ASI’s executive director of research services. (From left): Advantages’ magazine staff writer Jenn Vishnevsky; Patty Cangelosi, Stitches Editor & Executive Director of Professional Development Nicole Rollender and Karen Akers.
If you’ve ever wondered why we call Andy Cohen, editor of Counselor magazine, “Captain Killjoy,” just take a look at his expression. No one does misanthropy like Andy… Jenn Vishnevsky and Jack Flohr, director of membership services in ASI’s marketing department.
ASICentral content editor Vinnie Driscoll and senior designer of ASI’s magazines, Hillary Haught. (From left): Pierre Schnog, senior designer of ASI’s magazines; Diane Pizzuto, graphic designer for ASI’s magazines; Mark Pricskett, ASI’s editorial photographer; and Carole Seymour, ASI’s editorial office manager.
(From left): Chuck Zak, ASI’s editorial copywriter and Joan Chaykin. Deb Curtis (left), ASI’s executive director of audience development and analysis, and Jenn Vishnevsky.
(From left): Simone Dorsey, an account executive on ASI’s distributor membership sales team; Tim Cripps, an account executive in ASI’s distributor marketing services team; and Arianna Rigney, an account executive on ASI’s membership sales team. (From left): Pablo Pizzichini, executive director of ASI’s distributor services; Rafael Dosman, manager of ASI’s membership sales team, and my favorite new person I met at the retreat!; and Melissa Dillon, manager of ASI’s membership sales team.
(From left): Andy Cohen; ASI’s marketing director of supplier membership and digital advertising, Colin Graf; Larry Basinait; and ASI senior vice president of professional development & editor-in-chief, Melinda Ligos. Wearables editor C.J. Mittica (“Chaz” to you and I…) and Chuck Zak.
(Clockwise from bottom left): JJ Nese, director of distributor services; Ryan Law, director of distributor services; Dan “The Man” Brown, executive director of distributor services; Matt Beeman, an account executive in ASI’s distributor membership sales department and the lovely Rachel Bartol, an account executive with ASI’s distributor services team. (From left): Anthony Carroll, an account executive in ASI’s distributor services department; Rachel Bartol; Steve Cattau, director of ASI’s distributor services; Pablo Pizzichini; and the woman with one of the most awesome names ever, Joan Miracle, director of ASI’s distributor services.
ASI’s Chief Revenue Officer and publisher of its magazines (and my “handler”), Rich Fairfield (left), and Tim Andrews, ASI’s president/CEO. ASI managing editor and star of The Joe Show, Joe Haley (left), with his ASI BFF Dan Dienna.
Colin Graf (who we call “El Diablo” here in the Editorial Department due to his notable talent of being the euphemistic straw that stirs the cocktail at parties and events) with the fabulous Meghan Bogarde, a director in ASI’s distributor services department.

PPAI’s NALC in NOLA: Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler!

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, Travel

Well, hey there!

I’m just back from PPAI’s fantastic North American Leadership Conference, held from August 12-14 at the OmniHotel in New Orleans and wowza, was it a time!

With the tagline, “Innovative. Inspirational. Insightful.,” PPAI’s event — panel discussions, keynotes and networking events — scored on all three counts, starting with Bridgeworks’ Seth Mattison, the keynote speaker who opened the event and discussed how to market and sell to four different generations: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials. I thought he was just spectacular, with truly eye-opening insights into each group. (Fact: Gen Xers are difficult to control as employees. Who knew? Well, probably everyone who works with me…).

Another favorite was Great Place to Work’s Sarah Cooke, who offered practical tips about how any company can attract and keep great employees and motivate them to perform at their peak. She then led a panel discussion with Sunrise Identity owner Mitch Mounger, BrandFuel co-owner Robert Fiveash and 4Imprint president Kevin Lyons-Tarr. Most interesting moment? When Mitch Mounger noted that his business got better when he decided to start sharing the company’s financial information with his employees. The transparency, he maintains, makes all the difference.

Unfortunately I had to miss the keynote from economist Loren Scott — who I hear was hilarious — and ending presentation from John Foley because I had to dash off to my room write/edit ASI’s supplier magazine that I handle. As my managing editor, Joe Haley, constantly reminds me when I travel, “deadlines stop for no one, not even you, Michele.”

So, in closing and before we get to the array of photos (aka “the evidence”) taken each night on Bourbon Street, four thoughts:

1. If you’ve never seen my pal Sharon Willochell, COO of Leed’s, speak on operational metrics, do so the next time you have the chance. She kills it.

2. Sitting through just one session on product safety during the NALC, my head was spinning and my brain started to cramp. Distributors, you might consider sending suppliers — who are on the front lines of the product safety issues — flowers and Godivas every week. They deserve it.

3. I’d like to give a special nod to BrandFuel’s Robert Fiveash, who wins the award for person I had The Best conversation with. Just the two of us, at the bar in the Omni Hotel. I could have sat there for hours, basking in his wit and wisdom. He is the cat’s meow.

4. I’d be remiss if didn’t thank PPAI’s president/CEO Paul Bellantone, executive vice president Bob McLean and their fantastic staff at PPAI for not only making Rich and me feel so welcome, but for inviting me to speak at the event. Your hospitality was much appreciated!

And now, without further ado, tons of photos from the event. You know, there’s a famous film called Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa that posits how a group of people who experience the same event together can have a completely different memory of it. That’s a little what a night on Bourbon Street is like … Just sayin’.


— M

Two of my favorites in the industry, Sweda president Jim Hagan (left) and Activate Promotions + Marketing president – and this year’s Counselor Distributor Entrepreneur of the Year — Fred Parker. From left: The lovely Nikki Stella, editor of Promo Marketing magazine; Rich Fairfield, ASI’s Chief Revenue Officer, publisher and — most importantly — my handler; and the one and only Mary Ellen Nichols, director of marketing at Bodek and Rhodes. Seriously, who’s more vivacious than Mary Ellen???
Trade Only executive vice president Bob Hechler (left), who delightfully calls me his favorite “strumpet,” and Logomark’s Nicholas Rubin. I just met Nicholas for the first time earlier this month at the SAAC Show, and he literally burst into verse upon being introduced to me, serenading me with a song from Grease. Kid. You. Not. (His voice, incidentally, is strikingly good.) (From left): Grapevine Designs’ Janie Gaunce; PPAI president/CEO Paul Bellantone; and Shepenco’s Natalie Townes, who’s also a PPAI board member and one of my BFFs. A word about Mr. Bellantone: We’ve both been in the industry for 15+ years and have always been friendly. But when my Mom was sick two summers ago and I had to take a leave of absence from work for two months to be in Tampa to take care of her, Paul, who follows me on Twitter, would periodically check in with me just to make sure I was okay. And for that simple, classy gesture, he will always have a special place in my heart.
(From left): Activate’s Fred Parker; Sunrise Identity’s Mitch Mounger (more on him later…) and BDA’s Rick Rayl at dinner the first night of PPAI’s NALC. (From left): BDA’s Rick Rayl; Bag Makers’ Christopher Duffy and HALO Branded Solutions’ Jamon Heller.
Oh, my. Look at these three amigos. Where they go, fun and wackiness follow. (From left): Gateway/CDI’s CONRAD FRANEY (in all caps because he is such a larger-than-life presence who’s as loud as I am!), PromoShop’s Memo Kahan (love, love, LOVE him!) and Norwood/BIC’s Dave Saracino, the only man I know who has a drink named for him. Have you ever had a “Saracino”? Trust me: It’s delightfully refreshing yet surprisingly potent…. A lot like its namesake. WorkflowOne’s suave Roger Burnett (left), a member of this year’s Counselor Hot List, with everyone’s favorite frequent flier and social media guru, Jetline’s Dana Zezzo.
The fabulous Natalie Townes and David Nicholson, president of Polyconcept North America, who she refers to as “The Rock Star.” Good Lord, it’s Randy Chen (left), owner of Impex and, as he calls himself – being 6’2” — “the Great Wall of China,” here with PromoShop’s Memo Kahan.
Let me say this with all seriousness and my hand to God: I have never taken a photo as freakin’ funny as the one you’ll see below. Some people, in our wonderful land of freedom and liberty, utilize picket signs to show their support for crucial societal issues affecting us all. So, in the grand tradition of those who choose to exert their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble, BIC’s Dave Saracino and Sunrise Identity’s Mitch Mounger fight for an inherent need we all have, regardless of political party…
Sweda’s Scott Pearson (left) and Logomark’s Nicholas Rubin. I call Scott “Giggles” because he has the Best. Laugh. Ever. It’s downright infectious, I tell ya!
WorkflowOne’s Roger Burnett (left) and Russ Mogell, owner of Seven Sourcing. Russ and I, in our wild, youthful heyday, both used to frequent the beach town of Avalon, NJ, with our friends and would regularly see each other late night out at the bars. One of us now acts like a grown-up and no longer engages in such behavior, while the other is still a weekend libertine in Avalon. Would you like to place bets on which one’s which? Shepenco’s Natalie Townes and the fabulously fun Tiffany Tarr from Distributor Central. After dinner on the first night of PPAI’s NALC, a bunch of us found this awesome bar on Bourbon Street with a rockin’ cover band and – wait for it – a mechanical bull. Of course someone from our group of crazies rode the bull… Any guesses?
Bodek and Rhodes’ Marc Held and the omnipresent Mitch Mounger. Earlier in the evening, Marc was named as one of PPB’s Rising Stars – an honor he truly deserves. Who doesn’t adore Marc Held??? Natalie Townes and Randy Chen… It was at this point in the evening, about four hurricanes in, that Natalie’s and Randy’s shirts started to make me dizzy.
Oy. This may be the least attractive photo of me ever taken– I look swollen and sweaty… like a pasty Snookie. However, I’m posting it because it also contains Mr. Martin Varley, owner of Trade Only, who was delightfully charismatic and made me LOL that evening. My boys!!! (From left): Dave Saracino, Memo Kahan and Gateway/CDI’s Chuck Fandos. A word now, about my pal Chuckles: As the industry volunteer who was the point person behind this year’s PPAI NALC, he had a Herculean and time-consuming task – I know, because I’m very involved in the planning of ASI’s Power Summit. Events like this do not come together overnight and require a lot of organization and hard work. Chuck did it all, including handling speakers who were a pain in the ass and a nervous wreck (read: Me), deftly and with aplomb. To him, I raise a glass on behalf of everyone in attendance and say, thank you for a job so well done. You rock, Chuckles.
I did tell you that someone in our group would have the cojones to ride the bull in the bar in which we all converged on Bourbon Street after dinner the first night of the event, right? Well, meet CJ Schmidt, vice president of sales for Hit Promotional Products and our very own rhinestone cowboy. Not only did CJ manage to stay on the bull for a respectable amount of time, but when he did fall, he landed with the grace of a gymnast dismounting. It was beyond impressive (especially because it was 1:00 a.m.). On day two of the NALC, we were all on our own for dinner, and Rich Fairfield – my boss at ASI – and I were graciously invited to join Natalie Townes, Mary Ellen Nichols and some others. It was fantastic, and Mary Ellen, as only she can, acted as host, asking each dinner guest questions like, “What would your ultimate last meal be?” and “What would you do if you had $10 million?” Here’s Rich with Prime Line’s phenomenal Paula Shulman, who just celebrated 30 years with the company.
Here’s my pal Lauren Fox (left), with the EME Event, posing with Natalie Townes. (From left): SAGE president David Natinsky, Natalie Townes, and Danny Sirmon, president of Zebra Marketing Corp. What do I love about this photo? That David is holding Natalie’s coconut-shaped purse so she can pose pretty. You’re a trooper, David!
Mary Ellen and Rich, and Paula and Natalie, at our dinner at SoBou, a hot, new restaurant Mary Ellen found for us. Full disclosure: During dinner, I chose not to drink because I knew I had some “homework” to do for my NALC presentation on the history and future of the industry with Chuck Fandos the following day. At one point, Natalie, so flummoxed that I was only drinking Coke, declared it “unnerving … like one of the signs of the apocalypse.” Indeed. Fear not, as Natalie can attest, I made up for it the next night…  
Roger Burnett (left) and my beloved Craig Nadel, president of Jack Nadel Int’l. I wrote about Craig in my previous blog from the SAAC Show, and was just thrilled to see him twice in two weeks. For him — one of my quirky, eccentric favorites — I’d walk through fire. Gemline president Jonathan Isaacson (left) and Craig Nadel.
PPAI’s Paul Bellantone, the host with the most, and JNI’s Craig Nadel. Prime Line president Jeff Lederer and Freestyle Marketing’s stunning Caryn Stoll.
Here’s me, with Prime’s Jeff (or “Jeffy,” as I call him) Lederer (left) and Gemline’s Jonathan Isaacson. A moment, now, about Jeff Lederer: Jeff and I are friendly enough, but by no means would I say we know each other well. However, in the span of 30 seconds, Jeff Lederer dissected my personality with such laser-precision that my jaw literally flung open like a nutcracker doll. What did I learn? That still waters do indeed run deep, and Jeff Lederer is one of the most insightful people I’ve ever met. Also, I’m not nearly as mysterious and enigmatic as I’d like to think I am. Kudos to you, Jeffy. At one point, as a bunch of us were standing on a balcony on Bourbon Street throwing beads to passersby, I saw something out of the corner of my eye, at first flying lazy circles and then making a beeline directly for us. It was a bug the size of a pterodactyl, which landed on the leg of CJ Schmidt’s shorts and stayed there for about 45 minutes, just, ya know, hangin’ out. Jeff Lederer tried to flick it off with his card, but CJ admonished him. “Let him stay. He can be our mascot.”
Not convinced I looked appropriately “festive” for Bourbon Street, Gemline’s Jonathan Isaacson cajoled a guy to lend me this boa and then snapped this photo of me. I look possessed by the spirit of Dionysus, and it’s one of my favorites… (From left): PCNA’s David Nicholson, Gemline’s Jonathan Isaacson, Freestyle Marketing’s Caryn Stoll and Hit Promotional Products’ CJ Schmidt, cavorting on a bar’s balcony on Bourbon Street.
(From left): The delightful Caryn Stoll, Jonathan Isaacson and Jessica Hutwelker from Match-Up Promotions. Big congrats to the usually-staid Mr. Isaacson, who managed to get more beads than anyone in our group! ; ) Jeff Lederer and the adorable Jessica Hutwelker.
Freestyle Marketing’s Caryn Stoll and Sunrise Identity’s Mitch Mounger. Hit’s CJ Schmidt and PCNA’s David Nicholson. The last time David and I cocktailed together it was at the end of April for his birthday, and we were drinking tequila while wearing sombreros in godforsaken Guangzhou, China. Note to David: If we’re going to keep drinking together in venues outside our home state of PA, I vote for Key West next!
SAGE’s Jarod Thorndike, shown here with SnugZ’s Brittany David. Jarod and I had never really spent much time together until this night in a bar on Bourbon Street, but I’d always heard awesome things about him. Having met him, I totally get it and concur wholeheartedly. Here’s me and the divine Miss David. So awesome is she that she insisted, upon noting that I didn’t look so great in the first photo taken of the two of us, that we pose for a do-over. Thanks for getting my back, Chickie! ; )
Do you know Michael, from Continental Plastic Card? You should. He is just a howl !  
And now, as we get to the end of this slide show of NOLA-infused craziness, I’d like to propose an award, given to the one person whose performance was so off-the-charts fantastic that he or she embodies both the professional – and partying – best of the industry. The award, perhaps a golden martini glass, could travel from ASI, PPAI, SAGE, EME shows, whatever – and be passed on to each event’s winner, like the Stanley Cup. And so, for the PPAI NALC, I nominate Sunrise Identity’s Mitch Mounger as the MVP. Not only did he have the best response to a question while on a panel during the day (Moderator: “What’s your secret for running a successful company?” Mitch: “Don’t be a dick.”), but I submit to you the photo of Mitch to the right, shown with Shepenco’s Dan Townes (a Hall of Fame MVP) and me. PRICELESS. All Hail Mitch Mounger!
The perfect ending, courtesy of a photo from PCNA’s David Nicholson. After a hugely-successful and wildly-fun three days, Gateway/CDI’s Chuck Fandos (right), who was so integral in the planning and execution of PPAI’s NALC, and CONRAD FRANEY leave Bourbon Street one last time. “Thank you, and good night!”

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.”  

Simple Tips for Successful E-Mail Marketing

Filed under: Editorial, Personal

Caitlin Fitzgerald(Hi Everyone! My colleague Caitlin is guest-blogging for me as I wrap up some magazine deadlines. Tune in next week, when I will be blogging — read: ranting — about buying a new car and the lack of ad specialties used by the car dealer. And now, without further ado, Caitlin’s blog…. Cheers!  Michele)

Greetings, Web Friends!

This is Caitlin, and I’m filling in for Michele’s “regularly scheduled” blog post. I work in the Production Department at ASI, so some of you may already know me. I coordinate your print ads AND your digital ads like EmailExpress, eNewsletters, Supplier Specials and Web ads. Since EmailExpress is what keeps me busy for most of the day, I thought I’d share some tips with you on how to get the most out of your e-advertising:

1)      Subject lines. Be sure to use an eye-catching subject line for your ad. This is the first thing distributors see in their inboxes, so you need to give them a reason to open the e-mail. Remember the adage “K.I.S.S.” – Keep It Simple, Silly! You want this e-mail to really stand out and too much text will only make it blend in with the rest. Use this space to advertise a special promotion that you’re running or a new product that you’re launching.

2)      Teasers. Platinum EmailExpress advertisers are included in a special section of the Promogram newsletter, on ASICentral.com and in our EmailExpress Weekly. You have 250 characters, so use this space to elaborate on your subject line. Remember that you’re trying to entice  distributors to click on the link to take them to your ad.

3)      Ad content. This is where you want to really showcase your products, but don’t feel the need to cram all of them into one e-mail. Choose a few products so there’s room for both your copy and your images.  Are you running a few promotions on a few different products? This would be the space to tell everyone about them! It could be as simple as including 10 extra items for every 100 ordered. Or maybe you want to show next- column pricing. Either way, you want to encourage viewers to click on your ad to get to your site.

4)      Graphics. Use the best images you have available and design a really creative ad. My favorite campaigns always lead with a catchy headline and a noticeable image. Do you sell reusable shopping bags? Why not run a grocery store-themed campaign with an over-stuffed shopping cart filled with flowers, baguettes and wine? The point is, creative imagery can intrigue viewers and make your ads that much more memorable.

5)      Linking. It should go without saying, but make sure your website is user-friendly, distributor-friendly and up-to-date at all times. Your ad will link to the main page of your site unless you’d prefer that it link to a specific page. Are you running an ad for lip balm and want it to link directly to the lip balm section of your site? We can do that! Do you want to link each product to the appropriate page on your site? We can do that too! Don’t forget that we can link your ad to your Facebook and Twitter profiles as well.

6)      Audience. Are you featuring an offer intended for distributors only? Be sure to let us know. If not, please be sure to either supply art for a client-safe ad or ask us to create one for you. Try to figure out the target audience for each product and how to best appeal to them.

I hope that helps you guys capitalize on your advertising! Happy blasting!

— Caitlin

Caitlin Fitzgerald has been with ASI for 4 years. She started as a copywriter but transitioned to Advertising Coordinator because she missed working with clients too much. “I like long walks on the beach, romantic candlelit dinners, yadda yadda… But seriously though, I just want to travel,” Caitlin says. “The travel bug bit me a long time ago (in utero, if possible!), and I’ve always wanted to see the world. If all goes as planned, I’m going to Istanbul next year to visit a friend who recently relocated. Feel free to contribute via the PayPal link below. I kid, I kid! Anyway, enjoy the blog and feel free to chime in with your thoughts.”
Caitlin can be reached at cfitzgerald@asicentral.com.

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