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

Shore Leave

Filed under: Fun, Personal, Travel

Well, hey there Sailors!

Long time, no blog! Why, you may ask? For no other reason than I really haven’t had much to say (shocking, I know, considering my nonstop flapping trap, as Joe Haley often points out).

But I’m back, and giddy as all get-out. Now, most of you who read my blog postings know that I often cover the industry’s social, after-hours events, showcasing the business’ most fun celebs in their natural habitat (read: the bar). This time, I’m turning a gimlet-eye toward my ASI colleagues.

Last week, 90+ staffers from ASI’s Editorial, Marketing, Supplier Sales, Supplier Internet and CreditConnect departments decamped to quaint, quiet and staid Cape May, NJ (the part of the Jersey Shore not drenched in skanks, Axe and cheesiness), for a two-day overnight retreat to recharge our batteries and engage in massive brainstorming sessions.

Spearheaded by ASI’s executive vice president & publisher Rich Fairfield and planned by Gene Rahill, ASI’s director of digital advertising, and Suzanne Izzo, manager of digital advertising, the event was incredibly informative, enlightening and valuable, with members of the Paradigm Group joining us to lead listening and collaborative sessions and networking events held to help ASI employees meet people outside of their own cliques and departments. It was a huge success, and lest you think it sounds like one long, coma-inducing strat plan session — far from it! You’ll see new and innovative initiatives being implemented for ASI’s magazines, products and services very soon and lots of fun and exciting announcements coming within the next few weeks. For now, read on to check out photos of your favorite ASI characters!

More soon (promise!) and hope to see many of you at ASI’s Power Summit in November.

— M

Four of my favorite ASI colleagues in one shot (from left): Jake Krolick, creative director for ASI’s marketing department and resident Keith Richards-esque reveler; Ron Ball, my designated work husband and ASI’s vice president of supplier sales; the vivacious and stunning Krista Taylor, account exec extraordinaire of ASI’s Supplier Internet Sales department; and Colin Graf (or “El Diablo,” as I call him, due to the sulfurous hangovers he causes me every time we hang together…), director of ASI’s supplier marketing efforts and one talented guy. Jack Flohr (left), director of marketing for ASI’s membership services, and Larry Basinait, director of ASI’s statistical research. We call Larry “The Basinaitor” because he’s our wonky stat superhero!
A moment about Gene Rahill, ASI’s director of digital advertising: Not only did he spearhead the entire retreat — a huge undertaking when dealing with so many different details and personalities — but, as with everything he does, he did it with humor, patience and excellence. He is a favorite of everyone at ASI. Here’s Krista Taylor (left) and Hillary Haught, two of my fave blondes ever! Hillary is the senior designer of ASI’s magazines, and is a critical reason why we win as many design awards as we do. When Krista, Hillary and I get together, our main topic of conversation is the HBO show True Blood and how, um, smart, we think all the male actors on the show are and how we’d like to, um, write sonnets with them. Yeah, that’s it.
Rich Fairfield, ASI’s executive vice president and the publisher of its five magazines, and Hillary Haught. Rich and I travel to trade shows overseas quite often and he has the patience of Job with my “eccentricities” and vices. Meet Patty Cangelosi (left), one of ASI’s newer employees and our fantastic copy proofreader. Before dinner at the retreat, ASI’s newest employees did a skit impersonating some of the company’s more chronically kooky personalities (I’m looking at you, Ron Ball). Patty impersonated me, complete with circus-big hoop earrings, stilettos, dark sunglasses, a cocktail in hand and sass that could melt glass.
Hands up: Who doesn’t know ASI’s senior vice president, Chris Lovell? I’m guessing not many of you… Chris is an ASI stalwart and has a near Talmudic knowledge of the industry. She also wields a wit so sharp it’s bracing. (From left): Joe Haley, ASI’s managing editor and star of The Joe Show; Andy Cohen, editor of the award-winning Counselor magazine; Melinda Ligos, ASI’s senior vice president and editor-in-chief of its magazines; and Larry Basinait at Cabanas beach bar in Cape May, NJ. As it is the off-season and it was a Tuesday night, the bar was dead, save a few locals. Then about 40 ASI staffers blew in, like a wave of locusts spreading mayhem. The bartenders, of course, were thrilled; the locals, not so much.
Melinda Ligos (left) and Barbara Ambrose, assistant to Rich Fairfield. Barbara has been at ASI for nearly 14 years and is just phenomenal. Truly, we are so lucky to have her with us. Here’s C.J. Mittica, editor of the award-winning Wearables magazine. We call him “Chaz” in the office and stand in awe of his Hemingway-esque ability to consume scotch.
Designer Hillary Haught and Marketing Guru Colin Graf, going after ASI’s Mirror Ball trophy for dancing. (From left): Meet our new copywriter, Chuck Zak, who handles all the creative writing for ASI’s catalogs and who’s taken on some new editorial writing for our magazines, shown here with Wearables editor C.J. Mittica and awards editor Karen Akers.
Monica Fisher is one of the designers for ASI’s magazines and someone with the patience enough to work closely with me on Supplier Global Resource, ASI’s magazine for industry importers and manufacturers that I edit. Monica is leaving ASI for a new opportunity, and we will miss her! The little man with the big mouth. Here’s my pal and colleague, Joe Haley, star of ASI’s The Joe Show, entertaining the crowd. Joe’s personality is so larger-than-life, his aura has an aura.
This is one of my favorite photos, though I wish it came with a sound chip so you could hear the sheer melodious laughter from Karyn Coates, director of ASI’s member benefits, shown here with Jakey Krolick. (From left): Monica Fisher, Joe Haley and Andy Cohen, who’s usually our Captain Killjoy but who was downright convivial thanks to copious amounts of gin and tonic.
My pals Karyn Coates, Colin Graf and Jakey Krolick, who — like the rest of us at Cabanas bar that night — spent lots of quality time with the trinity of terror: Jim, Jack and Jose. The man with the coolest walk ever, Gene Rahill (we call him “The Strutter” at ASI), and Joe “my favorite dessert is a Guinness milkshake” Haley.
If ASI employees had industry fan clubs, Vince Deissroth — supplier sales account exec — would have the most members. Wicked fun and whip-smart, Vince is the one all the cool industry kids want as their rep.

With a Little Help From My Friends…

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, Personal

Hi Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well and as am excited as I am about the the start of spring and — more importantly — season four of True Blood (go Team Eric!). ; )

I’ve been off the show tour and office-bound for the past few weeks (so nice!), though some editorial colleagues and I trekked to New York City last week for the prestigious Neal Awards luncheon. The Jesse H. Neal national business journalism awards are given out by American Business Media and are known as “the Pulitzers of Business Journalism.” To even be selected as a finalist is quite an honor, so imagine our delight when three of ASI’s publications — Counselor, Wearables and Supplier Global Resource — were singled out to compete for various awards.

The luncheon itself, commemorating the 57th annual Neal Awards where this year’s winners were announced, was held at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in a stunning room with jaw-dropping views of the city. Midway through the program, the category for which I was up for an award — Best News Coverage for my article on the issues surrounding sourcing product from China (see the cover image for the winning issue, below) — was announced. Much to my shock, I won the award. I’m thrilled, yes, but it bears noting that there are three reasons the article was award-worthy.

1. Melinda Ligos. As the editor-in-chief of all ASI’s publications — in addition to the huge responsibility of running our education initiatives — Melinda has the Herculean task of being my boss. When the time came for us to enter the Neal Awards, I carried on like a lunatic that “I have no time for blah-blah awards,” “Who cares if we win awards,” yap yap yap. Thankfully, Melinda cares if we win. She told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t make the time to enter, she’d enter for me. Only because of her persistence, patience and support was my receiving the award even possible.

2. Tim Andrews and Rich Fairfield. Imagine trying to control the wind. Now imagine trying to control the wind and stop the waves from rolling in. Then imagine that the aforementioned wind and waves hate rules and rack up rock star-sized bar bills at trade shows. That’s a little what it’s like, I would imagine, to have me as an employee. Yet these two, ASI’s president/CEO and executive vice president/publisher, do it with grace, loyalty and only intermittent eye-rolls and sporadic sighs of exasperation. I couldn’t do what I do here at ASI — for 14 years now — without their flying buttress-esque support.  

3. My supplier brain trust. Most importantly, I share this award with the nine supplier principals who graciously allowed me to interview and quote them, on a topic that wasn’t the easiest for them to discuss. The impetus of this article was my friend David Nicholson, president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Polyconcept North America, who reached out to me and explained — in painstaking detail — what was going on last year in Asia (factory closings, employment shortages, shipping delays) and the monumental impact it would have on the industry. “Would you be willing to go on the record,” I asked, “and explain how these issues are negatively affecting Leed’s and the industry?” Not something the head of any company would relish. You know what? He didn’t hesitate.

Getting my other supplier friends to dissect the troubling issues was equally as easy. In addition to David, Dard’s Bonni Shevin-Sandy, SanMar’s Marty Lott, Gemline’s Jonathan Isaacson, Impex’s Randy Chen, Logomark’s Trevor Gnesin, Sweda’s Jim Hagan, Ash City’s Garry Hurvitz and Prime Line’s Jeff Lederer took the time to tell me exactly what was happening and how it would impact different aspects of the ad specialty supply chain. It wasn’t pretty, but they didn’t waver and not once did I hear, “This is off the record.” Click here to read the article.

Only because of their openness, forthrightness and trust was I able to tell their story. To them I say a heartfelt thank you.

Some members of the senior management team at ASI (from left): Rich Fairfield, executive vice president/publisher; Melinda Ligos, senior vice president and editor-in-chief of ASI’s publications; and Tim Andrews, president/CEO. It meant the world to me that all three of them attended the Neal Awards luncheon at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York City. Here are some of my awesome editorial colleagues who were also nominated for Neal Awards (from left): Andy Cohen, editor of Counselor, who was nominated for Counselor’s 2010 State of the Industry issue; Dave Vagnoni, senior writer for Counselor and editorial Swiss Army knife (he does it all!), who was a critical player in the creation of Counselor’s 2010 State of the Industry issue; and C.J. Mittica (“Chaz,” as we call him here in Trevose), the editor of Wearables magazine, who was nominated for a Neal Award for his awesome article “From Seed to Shirt“, for which he went to Honduras and worked in the cotton fields (seriously!), following the contruction of a T-shirt from start to finish. I’m so proud of these boys!
Shown here with Chaz is Larry Basinait, The Statistics God here at ASI. Larry (the “Basinaitor,” as we call him) oversees all our surveys, statistical data, focus groups and research for articles and market studies. He is our favorite numbers wonk and we’d be lost without him! Rich Fairfield (left) and Tim Andrews, shown here with the Neal Award for Best News Coverage given to ASI’s Supplier Global Resource magazine for my article titled, “Asia’s Seismic Shift,” which deals with the multitude of issues that were happening last year, primarily in China, that affected the ad specialty industry.

Cheers, and more soon!

— M

Customer Disservice

Filed under: Personal

Hi Everyone and Happy 2011!

Hope you’re all having a great new year so far and looking forward to show season!

How were your holidays? I traveled to Florida to spend Christmas with my mom and stepdad, and had a few incidents happen that made me go “WTF?” (Why the Face?, in Modern Family parlance) and really contemplate what constitutes good customer service. I’m also in the midst of compiling the profiles on some of the industry suppliers who won this year’s Counselor Distributor Choice awards (to be announced at ASI’s Orlando Show on 1/23 — if you’re going to be there, join us for the awards celebration and cocktail party at 5:00 p.m. in room S320 of the Orlando Convention Center). What do they all have in common? Stellar, “save the day” customer service.

Here are two examples of craptacular customer service, from companies that could take a lesson from the award-winning suppliers in our industry.

1. TD Bank. As I was at the Philadelphia Airport two days before Christmas to fly to my mom’s house in Sanibel, Florida, I stopped at a McDonald’s to get coffee. I used my debit card, which was promptly declined. When I called TD Bank, with whom I do my banking and have credit cards, they informed me that my card had been cancelled due to “suspected fraudulent activity in Homer, Oklahoma.” According to the customer service person, Homer is a hotbed of identity and credit card theft. Who knew? I’m just guessing here that there’s not much to do in the thriving metropolis that is Homer, Oklahoma. Just sayin’.

Now, while I was thankful that the bank was vigilant in spotting the attempted fraud and shut down my credit card, couldn’t they have, you know, TOLD ME? As I explained to the customer service woman that I was ready to board a plane and would need a new card overnighted to me, she informed me that I’d have to “fax a handwritten letter” giving them authority to ship my new card to an address (my mom’s) that wasn’t my own. Couldn’t I e-mail an authorization to them, providing telling data to authenticate my identity? Nope. Ladies and gentleman, you’ve now met a business in the year of 2011 that “doesn’t accept e-mails.”

Brenda, the first in a long and undistinguished line of customer service people I dealt with, suggested — wait for it — that I find a fax machine AT THE AIRPORT and dash the letter off to them that way. Yes. Because the Rosetta Stone kiosk and the Relay magazine stand have fax machines at the ready. Clearly, Brenda doesn’t fly.

At this point I didn’t freak too much, because I was traveling to be with my family and knew they’d lend me cash, etc. But what if I wasn’t? What if this happened as I was boarding an international flight to Dusseldorf, as I will be next week? When I landed, my mom took me to an Office Max where I faxed (so archaic I might as well have used a chisel and a slate) the handwritten letter to TD Bank, who — as I called to confirm its arrival — assured me I’d get my new card the next day.

Long story short? I didn’t get my card until the following Tuesday — nearly a week — which is baffling to me in this day and age. I’ve gotten phones, flowers and shoes overnighted to me — but apparently a 2″ x 3″ piece of plastic is outside the realm of possibility. Those of you who know me can imagine how my demeanor steadily declined as I checked twice daily on the status of my card, each time speaking with a different supervisor — none of whom were “allowed” to give me their last name or direct phone number and all of whom gave me different information (“we never overnight cards,” “your card will be delivered today,” “your card is stuck in the snowstorm”). My favorite had to be when one customer service agent told me she couldn’t provide me with a tracking number “until the card was delivered.” Not a high point for my patience, I suggested she “take a moment of silence for the death of logic in that statement.” I was also so tired of repeating my personal information that I began to get more snarky than usual.

Customer Service Rep: “Can you spell ‘Sanibel’ for me?”

 Bitchy, Exasperated Michele: “Sure! S as in Subpar, A as in Asinine, N as in Nonsensical, I as in Inept…”

The lessons to be learned here (which I enumerated in a letter to the president of TD Bank):

* Allow your customers to have direct access to customer service reps so they can deal with one person and not have to repeat their story again and again. It’s annoying and frustrating.

* Get everyone on the same page. I think the thing that made me the most incensed was that even reps at a supervisory level all had different answers for me. The message conveyed was confusion and distrust — not what a bank wants to put out there, I would think.

* It bears noting that every one of the 14 people I spoke with at TD Bank was extremely nice and empathetic. However, when you’re getting the runaround and incorrect information, nice only goes so far.

* Communicate clearly with customers when there is a problem. The main point of contention with me was that the bank never notified me that my credit card had been canceled — McDonald’s did. The numerous reps apologized for this oversight and said I “should have been contacted immediately.” Shoulda Woulda Coulda. Follow through on your methods of operation.

* Let Brenda out of the office to visit an airport, for the love of God.

As an amusing little epilogue, when the credit card so guarded and protected by the bank that it was like The Grail finally did arrive at my mom’s house via FedEx, I was neither required to sign for it nor show identification. Kid. You. Not.  

2. Southwest Airlines. Truly, Southwest is one of my favorite U.S. companies. Its employees are cordial and kooky, they don’t charge for baggage and still offer complimentary beverages and snacks. And you’ve just got to love a company that was started by a genius, loony libertine (Herb Kelleher) on the back of a cocktail napkin while drinking a snoot-full of Scotch. However…

While in Sanibel and dealing with the credit card clusterduck over at TD Bank, a wicked snow storm socked the East Coast, causing my flight back to Philly to be canceled. Now, I fly enough that disruptions like this do not even phase me and I was able to go back to my mom’s house for two more days. The quandary? As I had already checked my bag for the flight that was ultimately canceled, no one at Southwest could tell me where my bag was  — still on the plane, sitting at the Fort Myers airport or on its way to Philly. What I find interesting is that these days (creepily) you can track anyone and anything with technology. Except my Louis Vuitton bag, which was apparently sneaky enough to avoid detection.

The lesson for Southwest? You guys are amazing at practically everthing you do… Perhaps you should focus as much on your technology as you do on your people.    

That’s it, I’m all bitched out. Despite these events, I had an awesome Christmas and am ready to start traveling for show season — just not to Homer, Oklahoma. ; )

Do you have a customer service story that sent you off the rails or restored your faith in humanity? Post a comment!

Cheers, and more next week from the PSI Dusseldorf Show!

— Michele

What I Learned on My Summer “Vacation”

Filed under: Personal

Hi Everyone!

As many of you know, I was away for two and a half months this summer, tending to a family medical emergency in Florida. My mom, who lives with my stepdad in Sanibel, had surgery at Tampa General and was in the hospital for 43 days.

She’s much better now and at home recovering, but to say it was a trying, stressful, hectic experience (I refer to it as “my season in hell”) is putting it mildly. However, as I’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of girl, I made notes during my time away, chronicling the lessons I learned (listed below) — not the least of which is that Florida bugs aren’t bugs; they’re teradactyls.

1. Doctors aren’t gods (but nurses come close). Oftentimes, the nurses were much more patient and amenable to taking the time to explain issues than the doctors. Maybe the most crucial point I learned was that you need to ask questions of doctors and not be intimidated by their position. I told a young attending cardiologist who was treating my mom that I would be asking to see the head of cardiology for a second opinion. When she asked if it was because of her age, I reassured her that that had nothing to do with it, explaining patiently, “I read your notes in my mom’s chart and you misspelled both ‘ventricular’ and ‘thoracic.'” Oy.

2. Pets make everything better. My mom and stepdad have two insanely adorable and spoiled Lhasa Apsos whom they adore. Being away from them for so long was causing my mother great distress, until her pet sitter started texting daily photos of the pups, much to my mother’s delight. It made all the difference. Additionally, Tampa General is one of the increasing number of hospitals that have “pet therapy,” allowing dogs and cats to visit with patients whose condition allows for it. The doctors and nurses told me that in many cases, the pet visits had a more restorative effect than medication.

3. If it sounds ludicrous and nonsensical, it probably is. I’ve never understood how a simple cell phone could disrupt a plane’s operational system or take down a hospital’s monitoring equipment. I think that line of reasoning could best be described as “cockamamie.” Proving my point, not once did the good people of Tampa General — even when my mom was in the ICU — ask me to turn off my cell phone. Consequently, I was able to research pharmaceutical remedies, surgical terms and procedures, locate medical supply stores and pharmacies and write and edit for Counselor and Supplier Global Resource, all while on my hand-held, at my mother’s bedside. What did that teach me? You can conquer anything with one BlackBerry and a pen.

4. You’ll be amazed what you can do when you have no choice. As the person designated to be my mom’s primary caregiver upon her release from the hospital, the medical staff trained me in how to flush an occluded IV line, give an injection, properly sterilize and dress an abdominal incision and monitor a heart rate to determine sinus rhythm. For those of you who know me, you’ll agree that my areas of expertise typically lie in nails, males and cocktails, not surgical recovery. Still, it was my mom and I did it — like a M*A*S*H nurse under the command of Major Manolo Blahnik.

5. Ad specialties really, really work. Whether it was the jaw-droppingly impressive and delicious gift baskets I had delivered to the nurses at Tampa General from Maple Ridge Farms (asi/68680), the fun pens imprinted with “Editorial Diva” that my pal Michael Linderman, owner of Express Pens (asi/53411), makes for me, or the notepads and bags from JournalBooks (asi/91340) and Leed’s (asi/66887) that I had shipped to Tampa, each time I gave something away as a “thank you for helping me,” people responded — and wanted to help me even more.

6. Just because it’s a hospital doesn’t mean it’s conducive to good health. Patients in a hospital only average three hours of continuous sleep per night, due to constant interruptions for such things as administering meds and tests, taking vital signs and the cacophony of noise from the monitoring devices the likes of which could rival a casino. Equally counterintuitive, at Tampa General, there’s a McDonald’s and a smoking section on the premises. Come to think of it, with the noise, lack of sleep, calorie-laden food and half-naked people, it’s a little like being at the Palms Hotel & Casino in Vegas. If the Palms smelled like antiseptic and offered IV drips.

7. The Embassy Suites rocks. For the 43 days we were in Tampa, my stepfather and I “lived” at the Embassy Suites near the convention center. I don’t know how we would have survived without the extraordinarily kind staff and heavy pour of the bartender during its sanity-saving daily two-hour complimentary happy hour. Couldn’t get a glass of Pinot Grigio in the state of Florida during the month of July? Yeah. That’s ’cause I drank it all.  

8. Lean on your support system. I hate asking for help — it’s just not in my nature. There are times, though, when you simply can’t handle the magnitude of a situation alone. Luckily, I have the Wonder Bra of support systems. So many people have asked me how the management of ASI dealt with me being away for nearly three months. The answer: simply and graciously, continually asking only two questions: “Are you okay?” and “What can we do to help?”

9. It’s the heartfelt gestures that get you through.In the midst of my 40+ day stay at the hotel in Tampa, it was my birthday on August 9. Aside from seeing my mom during the day in the hospital, I was alone at that point and prepared for my birthday to be considerably more craptacular than the lavish, legendary and Dionysian celebrations with friends as in past years. But as I opened the door to my hotel room that evening, it was filled with flowers, bottles of wine and champagne and slices of cake ordered from the hotel restaurant from many of you (thanks especially to ASI’s design chica extraordinaire, Hillary Braubitz, and my trio of distributor divas — WorkflowOne’s Jilly Albers, Creative Promotional Products’ Sharon Biernat and Service With A Smile’s Diane Sakowicz!) who were so gracious as to let me know you were thinking of me. Truly, your thoughful gestures made it one of my favorite birthdays. Well, that and the sinfully sassy Jimmy Choos I bought myself online that night, which I now refer to as my “Leather Boots of Badass.” ; )

Thanks so much for the love and support, and it’s great to be back!

More soon & cheers!


Going With the Flow

Filed under: Personal, Travel

What’s that saying about the best laid plans? Well, in my case this summer, they went to hell in a handbasket. As with every summer, I was planning to spend weekends in my beloved Avalon, NJ (“the sunny place for shady people,” as W. Somerset Maugham once said about the French Riviera), attend the SAAC Show (one of my favorites) and then spend a week in Europe at the end of August with my pal Hillary Braubitz, ASI’s award-winning senior designer who lays out our magazines, at the brand-new Pro10 Show (a collaboration of PSI and its competitor, Pro8) in Amsterdam, followed by a weekend in Paris. Sounds fabulous, right? 

Enter my mother, Judge Judye (she doesn’t sit on the bench, but is judgmental!) who decided to have an elective surgery at Tampa General (she and my stepfather live in Sanibel, FL) on June 30. The surgery was considered a success, but complications set in and she had to have a second surgery on July 1. Upon speaking to the doctors and my stepfather (who has the early signs of dementia), I immediately flew in from Philly on July 2, and have been here ever since. 

It’s amazing how quickly you can adjust to a new reality. For the last month, my stepdad and I spend eight to nine hours a day in my mom’s room at Tampa General and our evenings at the hotel. Remember the famous children’s story of “Eloise living at the Plaza in New York”? My version is, “Michele at the Embassy Suites in Tampa.” That the hotel staff has been phenomenally hospitable, gracious and accommodating has made this whole experience that much easier. If there was ever a case for exceptional customer service winning someone over for life, it’s me and my new devotion to the Embassy Suites. 

What’s been interesting to see, because the hotel is situated right next to the Tampa Convention Center, is the different trade-show groups and conference attendees who have come and gone. The good news? They all love ad specialties. What types of ad specialties they love varies according to the personalities of the groups. For example, the Convention of Physical Therapists went nuts for stress balls of all shapes and sizes; the meeting of Anime and Comic Book fans (which sold out my hotel), whose demographic is over-stimulated Gen Y-ers, got their freak on for bright, shiny, blinky items; the Florida Bar Association had its law students taking the bar exam at the Convention Center last week, so they craved pens, notepads, USB drives and coffee for late-night, last-minute cram sessions. The Stephenson family reunion (with over 200 people in attendance!) snapped up custom T-shirts, caps and slankets, all bearing a familial logo designed by a family member, and digital photo frames. And, the guests who attended the huge wedding held at the Convention Center (and corresponding cocktail parties by the pool and brunches at the hotel) were treated to gift bags filled with logoed, personalized candy, bottled water, beach towels, lip balm and sunscreen. 

And in answer to the question, “Do recipients take their giveaways with them or leave them in their hotel rooms?” I’ll share with you what one of the physical therapy attendees told me in the elevator one day: “I’d leave my husband behind before leaving the bag of goodies I’ve collected at this show!”

The doctors tell me that my mom, who has been making excellent progress in the last 10 days, may be able to go home on August 9 (my birthday, ironically). Until then, I’ll be here – splitting my time between Tampa General (like the Embassy Suites, another extraordinary staff) and the hotel. How do I get by? As Ringo famously said, with a little help from my friends: 

  • First and foremost, a huge shout-out to Sharon (Biernat, with the Chicago-based distributor Creative Promotions) and Jilly (Albers, with Counselor Top 40 distributor WorkflowOne). Sharon and Jilly … always my girls. Sharon sent a huge box of my favorite foods and an excellent bottle of wine to the hotel (which arrived on a day when I REALLY needed cheering up); Jilly guest blogged for me (during the worst of my mom’s hospital stay when she was in the Trauma ICU for a week) from the ASI Chicago Show when I couldn’t. 
  • To PPAI’s Paul Bellantone, who follows me on Twitter and therefore knew of my extended stay here in Tampa and the reason for it. An avid music fan like me, he took the time to send me a link to a site that lists all concerts that are happening in Tampa for the month, in case I was able to get away and have some fun time, if even for a night. So sweet. 
  • To Dennis Sherman, who lives here in Tampa and regularly asks if he can take me out for breakfast, lunch or dinner, just to give me a break. I don’t have the time for that, but if I did, I’d go. I so appreciate the gesture. 
  • To Tom Riordan, president of Maple Ridge Farms, who – when I’ve ordered gift baskets to be sent to the hospital staff here at Tampa General – has chosen the most impressive and delicious food treats the company has to offer. 
  • To Christian Brandt, executive director of distributor sales at ASI, who has repeatedly offered to fly to Tampa, at a moment’s notice, if I need him and to transfer to me (though it’s not possible) his vacation time. 
  • To the management of ASI who has been unwaveringly supportive, patient and understanding of my need to be here, and my editorial colleagues, who have picked up the slack in my absence – especially my boss, Senior Vice President of Professional Development and Editor-in-Chief, Melinda Ligos, whose preternatural sense of calm lets me know everything will be OK. There are no words for how grateful I am.
  • And last but not least, to my BFF Jeremy Young – one of ASI’s IT guys – who has sent me countless packages from Amazon, containing books that have kept me sane throughout this ordeal, and even homemade cookies from his mom. He’ll hate this, but his empathy has shown me he’s not the cranky, cantankerous misanthrope he pretends to be. 😉 

More soon from sunny Florida where – on the upside – it’s actually cooler than it’s been in Philly! 



Six Reasons Why I Love the Industry (& Three Reasons I Don’t)

Filed under: ASI Shows, Asia, Editorial, Fun, Personal, PSI Shows

Hi Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well and enjoying the summer so far!

I’ve been reading about how McDonald’s yanked the Shrek glasses (thanks to the sharp, stinging crack of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s whip) because of the minute amounts of cadmium, and found myself getting increasingly aggravated and ranty (never a good combination). Granted, I’ve always had what can be charitably described as “authority issues,” but doesn’t the CPSC  have anything better to do with its time than bring the hammer of the Gods down on McDonald’s? The amount of cadmium in the glasses was negligible — certainly less than in the glasses we all drank from as children. How, for the love of God, did we all survive (she asks sarcastically)? Really, have the CPSC, FDA, etc. ever taken a good, hard look at Circus Peanuts and maraschino cherries? Forget about cadmium: If anything’s going to be the demise of our species, I turn a suspicious, gimlet eye in their direction. No faux food like Circus Peanuts — with the consistency of a Serta memory foam mattress — or maraschino cherries, steeped in jars of radioactive-red sticky goo, can be good for you. 


So, I’d like to give a shout-out to the industry and show it some love, as I’m tired of it getting bitch-slapped by the CPSC, the FDA, PhRMA and all the other alphabet bullies. Forthwith, the top six things I love about this industry.

1. Suppliers. I’m probably a little biased because I’m the editor of ASI’s magazine, Supplier Global Resource (www.supplierglobalresource.com), which is just for them. But knowing as many suppliers as I do, I’m acutely aware of the burdens and responsibilities that rest on their shoulders. From having to be safety experts, marketing geniuses, DaVinci-esque product inventors and financial lenders to their clients, the success of this industry — in my opinion — begins with suppliers. If I could get them all together in one room and buy them drinks, I’d happily do it. In lieu of that, I’m inviting them to a free luncheon and panel discussion I’m moderating at the ASI Chicago Show on Tuesday, 7/13 (set-up day), from noon-1:30 p.m. On my panel will be four suppliers — MediaTree’s Rob Watson, iClick’s Niko Pamboukas, Custom HBC’s Larry Wilhelm and Build NY Inc.’s David Frank — all of whom had at least double-digit growth in the past two years. Suppliers, come join us, take a break from setting up and listen to your colleagues share their secrets for success. Additionally, there’s a complimentary happy hour just for suppliers at the ASI Chicago Show on Wednesday, July 14, from 5 p.m.-6 p.m. after the show closes in the Exhibitors’ Lounge. I’ll be there, so come have a cocktail with me! ; )

2. Distributors. Much as the suppliers are my beloved ones, many of my closest friends in the industry are distributors, and I stand in awe of their jaw-dropping creativity. Want to know the way to this girl’s heart? Send me a sample of a well-done, clever, funny, effective self-promo piece and I’m in. For those of you who may be attending ASI’s Chicago Show, I’m moderating a panel discussion on Tuesday, 7/13, from 4 p.m.-5 p.m. on the most effective ways to do self-promotion campaigns. And while the sum total of what I don’t know could stop a herd of buffalo in its tracks, what I do know is that people who do self-promotion campaigns make more sales. Period.  

3. Trade shows. Yes, yes — I know the sheer number of them are the bane of some people’s existence. However — even after 13 years in the industry — I still get excited exiting the plane at certain show destinations and giggly with anticipation over seeing all my industry BFFs and meeting new ones. There are many shows I love (and one I don’t… see below), but if you’ve ever been to the SAAC Show in Long Beach and engaged in “Pool Day” (set-up day) at the Hyatt with Awesome Havier the Waiter serving Greyhounds (Grey Goose and grapefruit juice) to the industry’s best characters, social butterflies, rock stars and raconteurs, you know what it is to love being with your peeps at a show.

“Pool Day” at the Hyatt in Long Beach during the SAAC Show. Anyone who’s anyone (and craves a chilled cocktail) is there!

4. The products. Oh, let me count the times I’ve been WOWED by a product so clever/creative/funny, it slays me. If you love Sexy water, pens that smell like cupcakes (thanks Harris & Karen at All in One!), light-up bunny ears and leopard-print slankets, this is the industry for you. Joe Haley, star of ASI’s The Joe Show, and I still love discovering the next Coolest Product Ever. Admittedly, we’re dorks, but we get why this industry’s product offerings rock.

5. The PSI Show. What? You’ve never been? Please come with me the next time I attend and you will see the genesis of genius design — where trends are exfoliated by other markets, booths that will leave you slack-jawed and exhibitor hospitality that will explain why attendees show up as soon as the event opens each day and stay until the very last second it closes. Offering snacks, beverages (both alcoholic and the other, less fun kind) and comfy seating, each booth is like a mini bistro. No wonder attendees often stay with an exhibitor for upwards of 45 minutes and place orders on the spot. The PSI Dusseldorf Show, held each January (next year’s show is from January 12-14), is the largest ad specialty show in the world and definitely worth a visit. In addition, this year, PSI is partnering for the first time with a competitor show organization, Pro8, to form the Pro10 Show, which will be held in Amsterdam from August 25-27. Yeah. Amsterdam. I’m assuming I don’t need to tell you that I’ll be there. (For more information on the PSI Shows, go to www.psionline.de).

PSI Show
Despite the presence of a waiters, a fully-stocked bar and chandeliers, I swear to you this was an actual booth (Macma) at the PSI Show in Düsseldorf this past January.

6. Michael Bernstein. His family started Leed’s, and for a while, he ran Counselor Top 40 supplier Polyconcept North America. And though he’s not in the industry on the level he once was (much of his time is devoted to a new business venture in the music industry — his first love), he remains on the board of Polyconcept as its vice chairman. I once flew across four states just to have pizza with him at a delightful dive in Pittsburgh called Mineo’s. To bask in his wit, wisdom and misanthropic snark (or have him talk me off the ledge), I’d fly a lot farther.  

And now, three things I could do without:

1. The cart draggers. Truly, I get why some people need carts — it can be exhausting hauling catalogs and samples around a trade show, especially if you have an injury or ailment. However, when scores of people show up (I’m looking at you, guy with the Dumbledore beard in Dallas last year dragging a wheeled trash can full of supplier offerings…) pulling various luggage contraptions in the aisles and suddenly stop, it can make one (read: Me) nearly pop a cranial vein. Mark my words: I am going to fall over one of those things sometime soon, and it will not be graceful (or quiet).

2. The bitching. Hands up: Who thinks that if people spent as much time selling, creating and marketing as they do bitching, gossiping and lamenting about inane industry nonsense that we’d be well on our way to making up the sales ground lost last year? Just sayin’… 

3. The Canton Fair. Distributors have probably never experienced this massive (120,000+ attendees; 10,000 exhibitors), unorganized, sweltering sourcing show, located in beautiful downtown Guangzhou (insert eye roll here) China, but I’m willing to bet many suppliers have. Let me just say this: For those of you who don’t believe in the existence of Hell, I challenge you to walk that show and then come talk to me.

Whew! I feel better now, and I hope you do too. Please remember, regardless of what the alphabet bullies would have you think: None of you are poisoning kids, sabotaging a doctor’s ability to offer patient care or single-handedly trashing the planet, so don’t let anyone make you feel like you are. Unless you manufacture maraschino cherries or Circus Peanuts — then you’re on your own. ; )

Cheers to all of you, and hope to see you at the ASI Chicago Show from July 13-15!

More soon,


Screwed By Lloyd Dobler…

Filed under: Fun, Personal

Hi Everyone!

I hope you’re all having a cheery and festive February and aren’t buried in the remains of The Blizzard of 2010 like us icicles on the East Coast.

Itchy to get out of the house, I met my friend Meg — who, as we met on the first day of first grade, is my oldest friend — for lunch the other day. She brought her 12-year-old daughter and let me tell you: This girly girl was decked out from head to toe in everything Robert Pattinson — the mopey guy from the Twilight movies who looks like he needs a bath and a B-12 shot. She had a T-shirt, a button, a book bag and a hat, all adorned with his pasty face. Why? Valentine’s Day was approaching and she was expressing her adoration of sullen Edward Cullen. Of course, I let loose with a tirade.

“Where was all that stuff when we were young?” I asked her mother. Where was the gear logoed with the fine visage of Jake Ryan from Sixteen Candles, and Lloyd Dobler, the weirdo, kickboxing iconoclast from Say Anything, or The Breakfast Club’s resident bad-ass, Bender — the first in a long and sketchy line of bad boys to pique my interest. I felt gypped, and wasn’t shy about ranting.

Robert Pattinson, star of the stunningly successful Twilight movies. Can someone buy this boy a brush, a sandwich and a sun lamp, for the love of God? Say Anything’s Lloyd Dobler: Oh, Lloyd… To me and my girlfriends you were anything but “null and void.” You can be our Key Master anytime.
Sixteen Candles’ Jake Ryan: The boy who ruined dating for scores of teenage girls when they quickly realized that few guys would live up to his standard of being way hot, too cool and sensitive in that broody, sexy way. The Breakfast Club’s John Bender: To spend time with this smart-ass, whip-smart, degenerate-with-a-heart-of-gold, I would have followed him down the halls, through the ventilation ducts, across the ceiling panels — and right behind the bleachers. And you better believe he would’ve had my diamond earring.

Meg, always the voice of calm and reason to my torrents of reactionary mouthiness, pointed out that we did, in fact, have tons of logoed items from Duran Duran, The Cure, The Thompson Twins and Bananarama in our youth, but it’s different — the music industry has always been ahead of the curve in promoting its pop stars (think The Beatles).

All I’m saying is, movie star groupies and teenyboppers today have it easy: There are vast amounts of imprinted merchandise with which to express their affection for silver-screen boy toys. But for Lloyd Dobler and his ilk back in my heyday, not so much. To paraphrase a line from Say Anything: I gave him my heart, and I didn’t even get a pen.

Who was your teen crush? Do tell …

Cheers, and more next week!

— M

In Praise of Spongy Girl Parts & Walks of Shame …

Filed under: Editorial, Personal

Hi Everyone!

I’m heading off to Shelbyville, TN, tomorrow to celebrate the wedding of Andy Townes, the oldest son of Dan Townes, legendary industry luminary and owner/president of Shepenco/Shelbyville Pencil (asi/86850). I’ve been to Shelbyville to stay with the Towneses before and they party on a whole different level down there in the South. Can. Not. Wait.

Before I leave for the long weekend, I wanted to send shout-outs to everyone doing creative promotions and giving their time and resources for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Cancer is such a horrible, insidious disease, and more than any other group, breast cancer awareness advocates are really experts at mobilizing the masses to raise funds and spread the word about early screenings and self-education. 

As the proud owner of spongy girl parts, I’m always happy to support friends and colleagues who do breast cancer walks for the Susan G. Komen foundation and other entities, and have received my fair share of pink-hued ad specialties — caps, T-shirts, mugs, water bottles — for my donations. However, as I always lean sharply to the irreverent side, I recently came across three items that just slayed me due to their sheer sassiness. Laughter, as they say, is potent medicine.

The first is this double-sided Scoop ColorBrights Rollerball/Highligher Combo Pen from my pals Michael and Matt Linderman at Express Pens (asi/53411) in Austin, TX. Michael and Matt did this particular pen for a group located in Austin called Planet Cancer, which offers support to young adults, ages 18-40, with cancer. Being in Austin — a city that’s so delightfully eccentric and idiosyncratic that the slogan for its business association is “Keep Austin Weird” — this group has taken a decidedly “F-You” attitude toward cancer. Their message, imprinted on Michael and Matt’s pen, is deliciously defiant and a hit product among visitors to Planet Cancer’s site. (As a rabid Stones fan and Keith fanatic from way back, I covet these pens!)

Another favorite item on the Planet Cancer site (www.planetcancer.org)? This T-shirt for women, emblazoned with the phrase “Crazy, Sexy Cancer Goddess.” LOVE IT.

The next item, which ASI’s editorial creative director Jim Lang clued me in to, may be The Best Thing Ever Invented. Ladies and Gentleman, I give you the Walk of Shame Kit. Now, I don’t know about you, but where I spend my summers in Avalon, NJ, walks of shame are practically an Olympic sport. (For those of you who aren’t degenerates, a “walk of shame” is what you do the morning after hooking up with someone, when you have to sheepishly shuffle back to your own home in the cold, harsh light of day — usually with throngs of smirking onlookers present — with your eyelashes stuck together, your tongue fuzzy, your shoes in your hand and other articles of clothing crammed into your purse …). Again, being the eternal optimist, I’ve always tried to put a positive spin on it, declaring my morning-after hikes home the “Strides of Pride” and adding a bouncy little jaunt to my step — until the inevitable tumble off the curb, into the gutter.

Complete with everything a dehydrated diva could need, the Walk of Shame Kit comes with sunglasses (to simultaneously keep the pesky glare of sunlight from exacerbating your crushing hangover and camouflage smudgy makeup), a beach cover-up-like dress, flip-flops, a drawstring duffel to carry your clothes from the previous night, a pre-pasted toothbrush, and my personal favorite, a note card that can be left behind that says, “Call me” on one side and “Thanks for nothing” on the other. Lastly, there’s a pink breast cancer awareness bracelet to remind you that you should always balance out an act of blatant SHEdonism with one of altruism. For each kit sold, a portion of the proceeds are donated on the buyer’s behalf to a breast cancer awareness foundation. Kits can also be customized (ideal for sororities!), either by imprinting the dress, duffel and flip-flops or the tin the kit comes in. For more information on this item intended to help regain a little dignity the morning after and do a little good in the meantime, go to www.walkofshamekit.com.

Cheers, and more next week!

— M

PS: Since I turned 40 two years ago, I make sure to get a mammogram every October. If you haven’t already, sign up for one soon … It’s what all the cheeky chicas who love their spongy parts are doing! ; )

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