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

Danke Schoen, Dusseldorf!

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, PSI Shows, Travel

Happy New Year, Everyone!

As we’re deep into show season, I just returned from the fabulous PSI Show in Dusseldorf, Germany, held from January 8-10. Now in its 52nd year, attendance at the PSI Show grew 18% from last year’s event, due primarily to the event staff giving distributors free access to attend. With a total of 16,228 trade visitors (up from 13,772 in 2013), the largest ad specialty show in Europe was both re-energized and revitalized. Yes, some of the largest European suppliers (PFConcept, MidOcean, Senator) have stopped exhibiting at the event, but with a total of 852 exhibitors (down from 962 in 2013) from 33 countries, the latest global trends and innovations in promotional products were fully on display.

“Yes, the show is smaller from an exhibitor standpoint, but I’ve been exhibiting at this show for many years and this is one of the most successful,” said Rene Adda, owner of the Paris-based supplier Lexon. “Because some of my larger competitors aren’t here, I’m getting much greater traffic.”

Albert van der Veen, CEO of Xindao, one of PSI’s largest exhibitors, noted that the number of catalogs sold (in Europe it’s common for suppliers to charge for their catalogs and samples at trade shows) to attendees on the first day of the show doubled over last year.

“After two challenging years in the international markets, characterized by sometimes severe drops particularly in Western Europe, this year’s trade fair was buoyed by a renewed, forward-looking sense of optimism. That was the basic tenor heard at PSI 2014,” said Michael Freter, PSI’s managing director.

Interestingly, more than half of PSI’s visitors came from outside of Germany, with a tenth of those from outside Europe. “This partially results from the enhanced international marketing activities we engaged in collaboratively with our partners ASI and Sourcing City in the PromoAlliance,” Freter said.

The 53rd annual PSI Show will be held from January 7-9, 2015. For more information, go to www.psi-network.de or e-mail me directly – it’s an AWESOME show, and I’ll be there next year for sure!

Now, enjoy the gallery of photos from the event and my escapades abroad!

Cheers, and more in two weeks from the PPPC Show in Toronto,


The night before the opening day of the 52nd annual PSI Show in Dusseldorf, Michael Freter – the show’s managing director – graciously invited me and some clients, colleagues and strategic partners to a fabulous steakhouse called Gehry’s, in honor of the architect Frank Gehry, who designed the buildings in and around it. From left to right: The lovely Petra Kolvenbach; PSI’s Michael Freter; Reed Exhibitions’ director Hans-Joachim Erbel (he goes by “Hi-Jo” to his friends, and he once, to my endless amusement, drank champagne out of my high heels… Love, love, LOVE him!); Ismail Sezen, a new fun friend who oversees PSI’s interests in the Turkish promotional market; Alistair Mylchreest, CEO of Sourcing City – one of the three companies, along with PSI and ASI — that make up PromoAlliance, a group formed to promote, on a global stage, the effectiveness of promotional products; Liz Young, Sourcing City’s supplier services manager; and Charlie Taublieb, decorator (and character) extraordinaire. Great food, excellent wine and fabulous company! Hi-Jo Erbel, one of my favorite people ever, and PSI’s Ismail Sezen. Want to learn more about the promo market in Turkey? Ismail is your guy!
Part of the PromoAlliance family, Alistair Mylchreest and Liz Young are two people that, upon meeting them, I immediately felt like I’d known for years. Both single and the owners of cats, if you see Liz and I together, feel free to call us “The Bronte Sisters.”
I so enjoy catching up with PPAI’s Paul Bellantone (center) and SAGE’s David Natinsky (right) each year at the PSI Show, which is amusing to me because I often see them more often outside of the U.S. than in our own country. Such great guys, it’s always a pleasure to see them. And brace yourselves: With them is Pioneer Balloons’ Mark Jenkins (left), the incoming chairman of PPAI and someone for whom the Hunter S. Thompson descriptor “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” was meant. I don’t know Mark well, but as I have an affinity for unconventional, off-kilter personalities I find him to be an utter delight. Fact: In our first-ever e-mail exchange, never having been formally introduced, he signed his note “BD.” When I asked him what that meant, his reply made me do a spit-take and COL (Cackle Out Loud): “Big Daddy.” Can. Not. Wait. for his reign to begin. Have I mentioned that no one does design like the Europeans? Seriously – the way Americans mastered the art of fast turnaround, European suppliers have this preternatural talent for clean lines, sublime textures and a sense of aesthetics that brings me to my knees. Leading the list of the best of the best is Paris (of course)-based Lexon, my first stop at every PSI Show, where I worship at the altar of owner Rene Adda’s jaw-droppingly beautifully designed products and his coffee table book-quality catalog. Doubt me? It’s not every supplier who’s had a product (in this case, Lexon’s rubber “Tyko” radio) on the cover of Time magazine’s “Design” issue and inducted into the Louvre’s Fine Design exhibition.
Quick poll: Who doesn’t adore Steve Levschuck, CEO of Toronto-based Talbot Marketing??? As the Canadian member of WAGE (the World Advertising Gift Exchange), Steve is another industry friend I’m accustomed to seeing on the international trade show circuit (Sourcing City’s show in the UK, the Hong Kong Show, PSI in Dusseldorf), but I’m most excited to see him inducted into PPPC’s Hall of Fame at its national convention at the end of this month (www.promocan.com). SUCH a well-deserved honor for Steve, one of the most respected – and sweetest – people in the industry. ASI’s president and CEO, Tim Andrews, greeting guests at the PromoAlliance reception at the PSI Dusseldorf Show. A partnership between ASI, PSI and Sourcing City, PromoAlliance promotes the global ad specialty industry and offers networking opportunities, and reciprocal trade show and education initiatives for its members. For more information go to www.promoalliance.com.
Here’s me and the international aficionado for apparel decoration, Charlie Taublieb. Charlie showed me how to silkscreen my own shirt, and then put foil embellishments on it… Sooo cool!
(From left): Tim Andrews; Marcus Sperber, the owner of Bavarian-based Elasto-Form, one of the larger suppliers in Europe; Reed Exhibitions’ Hi-Jo Erber; and Matthew Cohn, vice chairman of The ASI Show!. I’ve written often about the elaborate and wildly impressive booths at the PSI Show, many of which serve food and drinks all day. Well, there is nothing at the PSI Show quite like the Elasto-Form booth, which is created to look like a Bavarian brauhaus, complete with a traditional Bavarian band and the executive team donning lederhosen (for men) and dresses like the St. Pauli Girl for women. Marcus told me that during the show, 500 gallons of hearty Bavarian beer are served to booth visitors. Yes, you read that right… 500 GALLONS of beer. Oh my, here he is, one of my Favorite. People. Ever. Meet John Lynch, the CEO/owner of Krakow-based Lynka Promotional Solutions. John (nicknamed “Lech”) and I have been friends for 15 years, as he’s a Jersey boy who moved to Poland 20 years ago when the remnants of Communism were still very much prevalent. He opened a promo business there, and in short order grew it to become the largest in Poland and one of the largest in Eastern Europe, in addition to being named Entrepreneur of the Year in Poland a few years back. And did I mention that he’s met the Dali Lama? John sits on my Editorial Advisory Board for Supplier Global Resource magazine, and there is not one thing I don’t love about him. Also, he’s one of the few people to give me a nickname: Tinker Bell. Having graduated high school with Jon Bon Jovi, the charismatic Mr. Lynch’s motto is, “Keep the Faith.”
A traditional Bavarian band is called a “Blaskapelle” and the one that performed in the always-packed Elasto-Form booth were rollicking. In addition, Marcus Sperber, Elasto-Form’s owner and uber-gracious host, brought in two suckling pigs to be roasted on the spit right in the booth, complete with Bavarian side salads and pretzels bigger than my head.
Xindao’s DJ van Styrum with Polyconcept’s Jim Epstein, at an EPPA (European Promotional Products Association) reception during the PSI Show. Xindao CEO Albert van der Veen with Jim Epstein, Polyconcept’s chief business development officer and my favorite industry finance wonk. I always tell Jim that for him, spreadsheets and M&A data is like porn. He is so numbers-nerdy, yet so freaking fantastic.
(From left): Lynka’s John Lynch and Joanna Kocab; MadetoOrder’s Rod Brown; and Lynka’s Global Accounts Manager, Matt Lynch, at ASI’s cocktail reception on the PSI show floor. Joanna, who just moved to Poland from the New York City and started with Lynka days before PSI, is a dynamo – smart, energetic and chock-full of innovative marketing concepts for the company. Love her! ASI president/CEO Tim Andrews gives a presentation to guests at ASI’s cocktail reception on the health of the North American ad specialties market and the results of the latest iteration of ASI’s Global Ad Impressions Study.
Two graduates of The Wharton School of Business, ASI’s Matthew Cohn and Lynka’s John Lynch refused to show me their alma mater’s secret handshake or school fight song, no matter how much I begged. Do you know Rod Brown, owner of the CA-based distributor MadetoOrder? Of course you do. He’s the gadfly who’s almost as well known in the international promo arena as he is in North America, and the man who’s built one of the smartest companies in our industry with the sharpest team (I’m looking at you, Sandy Gonzalzes and Tad Webster!). Rod is another industry celeb, like Talbot’s Steve Levschuk, who I often see at events overseas and it’s always such a pleasure.
The wonderful folks at Xindao invited the ASI team to join them for dinner at a traditional, centuries-old German brauhaus – Brauerei Schumachers — that served beer from wooden barrels and huge trays with heaping piles of ham, sausage, schnitzel and bratwurst. It was, in a word, amazing!
Meet Ryan McSorley (left), Xindao’s head product designer and Albert van der Veen, the company’s CEO. I’ve known of Albert for years, but only recently have I gotten to spend time with him on a social level at industry events. Wacky Fact: He has, hands down, the most piercing blue eyes I’ve ever seen – the kind that, when he’s looking at you, you swear he’s scanning your soul for every secret you’ve ever kept. The first time he introduced himself to me, it took a full 10 seconds for me to remember my own last name. Kid. You. Not. I was lucky enough to sit through a presentation of Albert’s at this year’s PSI Show, and it was as impressive as he is. If you’re looking for a company whose commitment to innovative product design, eco-responsibility and employee motivation is 100%, look no further than Xindao (www.xindao.com). I love, love, love the fact that the company pays for each employee to do two days of volunteer work – for a charity of their choice — each year, but they also allow their design team – truly, the best I’ve seen – one week per year to use their considerable creative talents to tackle one societal issue they think they can make better. See? Inspirational and innovative. They are the cat’s meow. Each year at the Xindao dinner at the PSI Show, Han Van Houten, the company’s marketing manager, acts as the de facto “Master of Ceremonies,” and hoo boy – does he do a fantastic job. His energy level is that of a pre-teen after 10 Red Bulls and he reinvigorates the team after a long day on the show floor by spotlighting the top catalog pack sellers, among other notable achievements. Watching him perform for his team has become a highlight of the show for me, as he may be one of the funniest people I’ve met so far in Europe. The really impressive part? He does it all extemporaneously – truly, a master of entertainment!
Xindao’s Bjorn Eriksson and DJ van Styrum, two of the hosts at the amazing annual dinner the company holds during the PSI Show. A moment now, about Mr. Ryan McSorley, who has the distinction of being my one of my Favorite. People. Ever. Ryan and I met at last year’s PSI Show briefly at the Xindao dinner, but it was at this year’s event where I really got to spend time with him (another, more accurate way to say that would be that I kidnapped him and made him drink with me for hours at the Irish Pub… Just sayin’). A nice Irish boy who’s the company’s head designer, I stand in awe of his talent. If you’re a rabid fan of design like I am, it is a rare pleasure to discuss with someone who shares your obsession the finer points of Alexander McQueen vs. Vivienne Westwood, the practicality of Mies van der Rohe furniture design, the lasting influence of Frank Gehry, whether designers who create capsule collections for mass retailers like Target are sell-outs (looking at you, Rodarte) and affects architecture and fashion have on product design. Ryan is based in Shanghai and will be at the Hong Kong Show in April, so if you’re there, take my word and search him out in the Xindao booth – he’s so talented and charismatic, his aura has an aura.
ASI’s Tim Andrews and Matthew Cohn get festive at the wild, beer-soaked Elasto-Form party. The Sourcing City Girls!!! As fun as they are smart, Tanya Cooper, Nikki Williams and Liz Young are the UK sisters I never had! They are truly my international partners in crime… A-DORE them!
Best surprise of the trip! My pals Michelle Armstrong (left) and Heather Smartt, Polyconcept’s Shanghai-based sourcing experts extraordinaire, came to the PSI Show and we were able to enjoy some quality time. Looking forward to a cocktail (or five) with them at the Hong Kong Show in April! Here’s me and Charlie Taublieb, a well-known apparel decorating consultant who’s based in Colorado but who travels all over the world giving demonstrations on the newest apparel decorating techniques. Quite the raconteur, Charlie has the best stories and has a character as colorful as he designs.
The perfect way to end the PSI Show blog, a fond farewell from Liz Young and Alistair Mylchreest, my BFFs from Sourcing City!

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

Filed under: Editorial, PSI Shows, Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

— M

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

PSI Dusseldorf: Back & Better Than Ever!

Filed under: Editorial, PSI Shows, Travel

Hi Everyone! 

I’ve just returned from Europe, where I attended my favorite show of the year, PSI Dusseldorf. It is a HUGE event in the European ad specialty marketplace, where you’ll see trends that will have an impact on the North American industry in the coming year. Trust me: No one does packaging, fashion and design better than the Euros. 

Optimism permeated the show floor, with business, sales and moods rebounding after two years of doom and gloom. The German Association of Promotional Products, for example, announced that sales of ad specialties in that country reached 3.43 billion euro ($4.61 billion US) in 2010, up from 2.97 billion euro ($3.99 billion US) in 2009. Another sign of good things to come? The European arm of Polyconcept, the world’s largest ad specialty supplier — PF Concept — once again held its grand party, which had been on hiatus for the past few years. Billed as “Imagine: The Party of the Century,” the fetewas back and better than ever, courtesy of Cees Martens, the Netherlands-based CEO of PF Concept International, with help from the supremely organized and capable Annette de la Rie, the Goddess of PF Concept. (See more on the party with tons of photos, below). 


The PSI Show itself, the 49th annual event, is Europe’s largest ad specialty trade show. Held from 1/12-1/14, it showcased 849 exhibitors from 30 nations, covered 35,000 square meters of floor space in five halls, and drew 17,122 attendees, up from 16,464 last year. Michael Freter, PSI’s managing director, noted that while this year’s show numbers “are by no means record-breaking,” they do allow for “careful optimism.” “PSI is a barometer of public opinion … and reflects the performance of the manufacturers and distributors of promotional products,” Freter said. “The signs are positive that this year’s PSI Show will be carried by the current economic upswing.” 

Taken from the vantage point of the VIP Lounge at the Messe Convention Center in Düsseldorf, the show had yet to open, but Hall 10 — which contained some of the largest suppliers in Europe (PF Concept, MidOcean and Senator) — readied for the crowd of 17,000+ attendees.  
Even the lighting fixtures brought in by the exhibitors to decorate their booths at the PSI Düsseldorf Show are aesthetically amazing, as evidenced by this chandelier made from wine glasses and these multi-colored light-up spheres (right) that alternated blinking lights.  

That sense of optimism for increased industry sales carried through to the show floor, with distributors and the heads of Europe’s largest suppliers, such as Polyconcept’s Chairman Philippe Varnier and Senator’s CEO Michael Nick, indicating increased sales in the second half of 2010 and high indicators for a successful 2011. 


Product trends from the show floor include an emphasis on creative eco-friendly packaging, such as sports drinks in toothpaste-shaped tubes constructed of recycled material and vegan bags constructed from vegetables. Earth-based, rustic colors such as bark brown, pine green and leaf orange were the hues shown most prominently. Additionally, QR (Quick Response) codes are ubiquitous on the show floor, on suppliers’ booths, on attendee badges and exhibitor catalogs. Intermed Asia Ltd. attracted crowds to its booth with a video demonstration of a new application that allows logos to act like QR codes; by merely scanning a company’s logo on a bag or mug, for example, a client can launch additional promotional messages. 

So how cool is this? To tout its new “Verve” pen, the clever folks at Senator built this vending machine into their booth, with each slot housing a brightly colored pen and corresponding descriptive info. Prior to the show, Senator reps send out tokens to select clients and prospects, asking them to stop by the booth and redeem the token for a coin to get a Verve pen from the vending machine. Of course before attendees were give the coin, they got some face time with their Senator rep. Brilliant! Further tying in their promo, the booth’s bar (all the large suppliers have bars built into their booths that serve complimentary coffee, tea, water, soft drinks, champagne, wine and beer… Kid You Not) they had a special cocktail concoction named for the Verve pen that was so potent, I’m convinced it was designed to keep one in the booth as long as possible. If you’ve never met Michael Nick, Senator’s CEO, put getting to know him on your “to do” list.
Each year at the PSI Düsseldorf Show, Philippe Varnier, Chairman of Polyconcept, and his team nicely let Rich Fairfield, ASI’sexecutive vice president and publisher, and I stay on the River Queen, a huge boat (it sleeps over 100 people and has a bar, a restaurant, a workout area, etc.) they bring in and dock on the Rhine outside the convention center in Düsseldorf. It’s very convenient and very, very gracious of them to let us stay aboard with the PF Concept team. Here, everyone’s favorite multiline rep from San Diego, Jodi Friedman-Antonelli, who now lives in Lucca, Italy, and my colleague Ed Koehler, ASI’s associate publisher, yuck it up in my cabin.
At one of the booths on the PSI Show floor, a man was doing caricatures of attendees who stopped by. Witness, then, the truly terrifying drawing of my boss, Rich Fairfield, who in this picture looks like he should be lurking under a bridge with the other trolls, waiting to eat billygoats attempting to pass. Now this, my friends, is how you build buzz for your booth and attract hoards of attendees: Have a mid-day fashion show, as Bella did, with a bevy of Euro beauties strutting their stuff to Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok.”
Another clever way to lure soccer-crazed attendees? Have a pro soccer player do tricks in your booth.
Have you met Ed Koehler? He’s ASI’s associate publisher and a great person with whom to travel. His baritone-rich voice is so deep, it resembles Lurch from The Addams Family. http://www.addamsfamily.com/addams/yourang.wav
My fun group at the PF Concept party at the Sofitel Hotel in Düsseldorf (from left): Rich Fairfield, Jodi Antonelli, Ed Koehler, Polyconcept’s Shanghai-based sourcing director, the lovely Michelle Armstrong and Karen DiTomasso, ASI’s vice president of sales for the ASI Show. Karen is officially my new favorite person to travel with!
Hans-Joachim Erbel, the executive director of PSI, or “Ha-Jo,” as he’s known to his pals. Ha-Jo is one of my favorites, since an infamous night years ago when I threw one of my stilettos at him at a bar in Düsseldorf and he promptly drank champagne from it.
The host with the most, the Chancellor of All Things Suave, Mr. Philippe Varnier, chairman of Polyconcept and personality extraordinaire. Philippe is as comfortable with a mic as I am at a vodka bar.
A few German beers in, and Ed Koehler really lets his hair down, as shown here after he commandeered a bottle of Riesling for our table at the PF Concept party.
If you’ve never been to the PSI Show, or want to know anything about the European marketplace, these two are my top “go-to” guys: Philippe Varnier (left) and Michael Freter, the stunningly knowledgeable and charming managing director of the PSI Show.
Manfred Schlosser, the editor-in-chief of the PSI Journal, the association’s excellent monthly magazine.
One can never have too many “Micheles” in their life! Here, Polyconcept’s Michelle Armstrong, Philippe Varnier and I at the PF Concept “Imagine” party. The party, the entertainment and the atmosphere among guests could best be described as “electrifying.” How much do I adore Yann Leca, the CEO of Polyconcept’s Supplier Group? Let me count the ways… Here, he takes solace in the arms of The Micheles.
Philippe Varnier and one of his favorite clients, Howard Trilling, vice president of international sales for Counselor Top 40 distributor Staples. Howard attends the PSI Show in Düsseldorf each year, and it’s always so nice to see his familiar face.  

Next year’s PSI Dusseldorf Show — which, for the first time in years, won’t overlap with any U.S. show — will be held from January 11-13. I’ll be there, and would be happy to be your guide to the show and all the fun events, including an international reception to be hosted by ASI in the VIP Lounge of the convention center at the close of the first show day! From there, we’ll all go to PSI’s PHENOMENAL party at one of the best nightclubs in Dusseldorf. Trust me, it is quite the time. ;  For more information about next year’s PSI Show, go to www.psi-network.de.

  PF Concept’s amazing party, attended by nearly 900 people and held at the SofitelHotel (a shot of the room pre-party, to the left) in Düsseldorf, featured gourmet food, alcohol and a surreal and spectacular event that was a mix of kabuki theater and Cirque du Soleil. The riveting theater, told in four acts, regaled us with the story of an Ice Queen who lost her light and the trials she went through to regain it. It was just stunning… And just when you thought it was over, the curtains on the stage parted and a 13-piece disco band, The Boston Tea Party, began playing and didn’t stop until 2:00 a.m.
Cees Martens, the Netherlands-based CEO of PF Concept International, was the mastermind behind PF Concept’s jaw-dropping “Imagine: The Party of the Century.” Kabuki-esque musicians like this one weaved their way through the crowd at PF Concept’s party, rhythmically thumping their tribal drums to signal an especially poignant moment in the four-act play.

Cheers, and more next week from ASI’s Orlando Show! 

— M 

If you’re a supplier who’s attending ASI’s Orlando Show, please join me for a free luncheon panel discussion on Sunday, 1/23, on the show floor from noon til 1:30 p.m. Take a break from setting up your booth to hear my panel of esteemed suppliers who’ve experienced growth in their businesses and are ready to share how they’ve done it: C.J. Schmidt, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 supplier Hit Promotional Products; Kim Newell, president of World Wide Lines Inc.; Rob Watson, president of MediaTree; and Dan Townes, owner of Shepenco.

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,


PSI’s Dusseldorf Show Gets Its Gold On!

Filed under: PSI Shows, Travel

Hi Everyone!

Just got back from the 48th PSI Show in Dusseldorf, Germany, which was quite the success! The show, the largest ad specialty trade show in the world, attracted 883 exhibitors, nearly 19,000 distributor attendees from all over the world, and took up more than 370,000 square feet of exhibition space.

It was a special year for my PSI friends, as the organization is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The show’s exhibitors seemed to give a nod both to PSI’s golden year and the hot commodity that is gold, as that was the predominant color most items were shown in. My favorite new items? A pocket, portable GPS device for those walking around a city, personalized logos to customize bottles of beer and wine with one’s face, a motorized mini-hovercraft toy that can be controlled by your iPhone, BlackBerry, etc., and a watch that doubles as a phone… How cool and secret agent-ish is that?  

Other news included the announcement of ProPSI — an alliance of Pro Exhibitors & Publishers and PSI, who are joining forces to create a new show that will be held from August 25-27, 2010 in Amsterdam. (Will I be there? That’s a “hell to the yeah!”) For more information go to http://www.pro-8.eu/page/news/155

I took some photos, below, but here are some from PSI’s professional photographer of the 48th PSI Dusseldorf Fair: http://www.psionline.de/bildergalerie_messe_1-946.html

The 49th installment of the PSI Dusseldorf Show will be held from January 12-14, 2011. For more information go to www.psionline.de.

Cheers, and more from the PPAC Show in Toronto next week!

— M

Here’s my travel pal Ed Koehler, ASI associate publisher and an all-around super guy! My favorite thing about Ed? He has a voice like Lurch from the Addams Family. Listen here: http://www.addamsfamily.com/addams/yourang.wav. In this photo, we were at a fabulous Mongolian barbeque restaurant in Düsseldorf called Mongo’s, where they have intensifying degrees of hot-sauce marinade. Special Ed went for the hottest, called “The Bomb.” This is his reaction after taking his first forkful. Me? I drank my weight in Riesling… ; ) (From left): My boss, ASI executive vice president & publisher, Rich Fairfield, Polyconcept’s CFO and member of ASI Advisory Board, Yann Leca (have I told you all lately how much I adore Yann???) and Ed Koehler, having dinner aboard Polyconcept’s boat which they keep docked on the River Rhine for the duration of the show. The Polyconcept staff — about 100 people — stay on the boat, and clients and special guests are invited to join them each night for dinner.
Why do I love Europe? Because the boys look like this… Meet Francois Vehoeven (left) of the Netherlands-based company Big Bang and Albert van der Veen, PF Concept’s director of product development. They were as charming as they are adorable… These sparkly white winter woodland sprites were the spokesmodels for the Thermo Togo booth at the PSI Show. They looked like the ice princesses from fairyland, and as though they needed some Irish coffee to warm up…
A unique way to exhibit promotional displays, these life-size cut-outs were eye-catching and drew lots of traffic to the supplier’s booth. The Polyconcept team invited their friends and clients from Staples Promotional Products for dinner on their boat and graciously invited me along too. It was a relaxed, fun and interesting evening, and meeting Nina was highlight — she’s one of my new favorite industry people. (From left): Graham Winter, managing director of PF Concept UK Limited; Yann Leca; U.K.-based Nina Lyons, purchasing manager for Staples Promotional Products; U.S.-based Howard Trilling, vice president of international sales for Staples Promotional Products; Polyconcept’s chairman of the board, Philippe Varnier; and U.K.-based Rod Cullen, managing director of Staples Promotional Products.
The PSI lounge, a rest area for attendees, was tres cool and came complete with squishy beanbag chairs, hanging beads (which reminded me of the kind you used to have to walk through to get into that Den of Iniquity of 70s retail stores, Spencer’s Gifts, where my mother was convinced orgies were being held under the black lights and velvet posters of nymphs riding unicorns) and a bar. I sank into one of the bean bag chairs and wallowed in the comfort, until it was time to get up again. Then, I struggled like an upside-down turtle on its shell… 
The Macma booth — which, with its partner company’s booth, Easy Gifts, costs over $1 million (US) — is spectacularly baroque/rococo, in a red and black velvet, True Blood/Marie Antoinette kind of way. After the second day of the show, a party was held in the Macma booth, featuring a band, open bar, hors d’oeuvres and many smoking (both in the aesthetic and inhaling sense) Europeans.
Philippe Varnier, Polyconcept’s chairman of the board and the suavest man alive, and me during dinner. Jeff Kramer, the founder and former owner of Bullet Line — which was sold to Polyconcept in 2006 — recently bought a thoroughbred race horse. Its name? “Thank You, Philippe.” (See images, below) 

J’Adore Paris!

Filed under: Fun, Personal, PSI Shows, Travel

Hi from Philly!

I just returned from Paris, France, where ASI senior vice president and I spent the weekend after the fabulously successful PSI Show in Dusseldorf.

France is my favorite place in the world, and Paris is my favorite city, so the cloud of snark and sass that usually envelopes me dissipated, and I was in my giddy, glorious happy place. The food, the wine, the architecture, the haute fashion and hot guys with those knee-weakening accents… Mon Dieu!

Rich and I stayed in this tres cool boutique place called Mon Hotel www.monhotel.fr, owned by a good friend of my good friend Philippe Varnier, CEO of Polyconcept — the parent company of Leed’s, Bullet Line and Journal Books, and the largest hard goods supplier of ad specialties in the world. Mon Hotel sells out for the French Open and Fashion Week, with the best athletes and top models staying there. The decor is very chic and very French — the walls in the rooms papered in suede and the elevator, lined with red leather. In fact, up until a few years ago, the hotel was the site of Paris’ most well-known — and best — brothel. Giving a whole new meaning to the phrase, “going out with a bang, not a whimper.” ; )

See below for an array of amazing photos from Paris. Next up on Michele’s Amazingly Excellent Adventures is the PPACanada Show in Toronto. Let me know if you’ll be there. And for all my friends at the PPAI Vegas Show who have been calling/texting/e-mailing, I miss you too! More next week…


— M

Patrick Politze, CEO of the European Promotional Products Association (EPPA), addresses a crowd of journalists from around the world to signal the opening of the 47th PSI Düsseldorf Show. Second from the left, seated, is Michael Freter, the new managing director of PSI — a super nice and supremely capable guy. The show was fantastic, and at this press conference, survey data was released on the state of the European market. To find more information, go to www.psionline.de.
An example of a booth that does it right: Gildan displayed its new shirts under Plexiglas, making for a very unusual floor in its booth. Not only did that draw attendee attention, but at the end of the first day, they served Italian wine, meats and cheeses to guests. Trust me on this, in Europe, exhibiting is like an art form.
Here, Miranda Rodenburg, Polyconcept’s top-selling salesperson in the Netherlands, spends some time with CEO Philippe Varnier. Philippe tells me that Miranda beats her own sales figures every year (impressive in a down economy), and is so passionate about her customers, that she advocates on their behalf as if they were her own children.
Rich Fairfield, ASI’s senior vice president/publisher and my boss, loved these little chili pepper buttons on this restaurant uniform. Another version had little skulls for buttons.
I loved these designated “Relaxing Zone” signs around the PSI Show floor, which indicated rest areas. The show was so busy, however, they were rarely in use. I should have gotten one for my office back at ASI, which is most definitely a “Procrastinating Zone.”
Some of ASI’s magazines on display in the Relaxing Zone, so people could check them out. Due to ASI’s strategic partnership with PSI, they were so graciously accommodating and welcoming to Rich, Ron Ball and I. To them, I say Danke Soviel!
Some of you have asked about the Polyconcept “hotel boats” on which Rich and I are nicely invited to stay every year. Well, here they are. Because Polyconcept brings so many staff people to work it’s 20,000 square foot (yes, you’re reading that right!) booth, usually between 150-200 people, they bring in these boats on which everyone sleeps and eats, and which is docked right near the convention center. It cuts down on the cost of hotel rooms, meals and taxis, with one boat for the staff and one for top clients, guests and the executive team. With restaurants, bars, an exercise room and a concierge, it has everything you could want — even life jackets should you get tipsy and fall into the Rhine.
Willem van Walt Meijer, the new CEO of MidOcean, the second-largest hard-goods supplier in Europe, after Polyconcept.
As an example of how intricate the booths at the European shows can be, check out this one from Koziol. And I would say this is moderate compared to some…
When Rich and I arrived into Paris on Friday night, we had dinner with my friend Yann Leca, the ever-charming CFO of Polyconcept and his lovely wife Severine, shown here. They took us to a fabulous restaurant called “Les Ombres“, atop the Primitive Art Museum at Quai Branly, on the left bank of the Seine river, next to the Eiffel Tower. The stunning view was only exceeded by the amazing company.
Here’s me, Severine and Yann, on the restaurant’s terrace with the Eiffel Tower as the backdrop. When you’re surrounded by something as spectacular as this, realize just what a sublime place Paris really is.
Rich, me, Severine and Yann… because you just can’t have enough great photos in front of the Eiffel Tower!
On Saturday afternoon, Philippe’s assistant of 14 years, Marie-Francoise Boulenger, took me to the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre. It was an amazing day and Marie-Francoise, who is a fifth-generation Parisian, was the best host one could ask for, but towards the end I was getting a little tired. Right before we left, I turned a corner and came face to face with the Venus de Milo. To which I can only say, thank you, Marie-Francoise, for reintroducing my jaw to the floor.
On Saturday night, Philippe Varnier and his exotic wife Martine (shown here) took Rich and I to a very hip and delicious restaurant called Kube, in which all the food was indeed served in cubed form — except the steak tartar and the chocolate mousse dessert, which were served in little syringes. Literally, you inserted the syringe into your mouth and pushed down on the plunger.
Here’s Rich and I, surrounded by lit bears, to signify the chilly temperature inside the Iced Kube bar, atop the Kube restaurant.
As a special surprise, Philippe took Rich and I to the Ice Kube bar above the Kube restaurant. Once we climbed the stairs, we were each given parkas, gloves and fur hoods, to allow for the below-zero temperatures. You see, the bar was sponsored by Grey Goose (cue the sounds of celestial trumpets and angels singing) vodka, my favorite of all drinks, and everything in it was made of ice — the floors, walls, chairs, cups. Once you were parka’d up, you were given access through an igloo entrance. Here’s Rich, looking shell-shocked…
Philippe Varnier, Polyconcept’s CEO, entering the ice igloo on the way to Grey Goose heaven.
I quickly decided that when I die, I want to be frozen into one of the walls at this bar — like a preserved woolly mammoth — smiling and holding a Grey Goose cosmopolitan, so that will be my image in perpetuity.
Philippe and Rich, getting in touch with their inner-Eskimos.
Rich, holding court in an ice chair, drinking his second Grey Goose cocktail. It should be noted that neither Philippe or Rich are the streamlined drinker I am, so by the time we left, they were “happy,” to say the least. In fact, as we exited the restaurant, we all noticed the luminous full moon… at which Philippe and Rich both HOWLED in unison. And no, I kid you not. Let it never be said that I — and my precious Grey Goose — don’t have a potent affect on men. ; )
Click above to see a video of the Ice Kube bar in Paris, where the temperature is about 10 degrees below zero, the floors, walls, chairs and cups are made of ice and where they give you a parka, gloves and a furry hood to wear before you enter. The bar is sponsored by France’s Grey Goose vodka (my favorite!), and each visitor gets four Goose-based drinks, such as cosmopolitans and lemon drops, while visiting. In this video, Polyconcept’s CEO and industry celeb Philippe Varnier jumps around to stay warm. You’ll understand… I get cold just watching this… ; )

PSI Dusseldorf: Heavy Traffic, Suave Italians and Bare Naked Ladies…

Filed under: Personal, PSI Shows

Hi from the Fabulous PSI Show!

For those who may have been worried about the economy’s affect on the show’s attendance, their fears were allayed quickly, as the event drew a record number of distributors.

If you haven’t been to the PSI Dusseldorf Show, it is the world’s largest ad specialty event, with over 900 suppliers taking up more than 500,000 square feet of exhibit space.

The booths are spectacularly stunning, as Europeans put a heavy emphasis on design, display and presentation. And, because every booth has ample seating and serves food, soft drinks and cocktails, it encourages distributors to stay longer in each booth, and to really take the time to discuss business and build relationships.

As an example, myself, my “work husband” Ron Ball, ASI’s vice president of supplier sales, and Rich Fairfield, ASI’s senior vice president/publisher (the poor soul who’s our boss — he often uses the word “unmanageable” to describe Ron and I) stopped by the Italian Association’s booth to visit my friend Lorenzo, the director. While there (at 11:00 a.m., mind you), we were served the best parmasean cheese, prosciutto and Chianti I’ve ever had. Needless to say, our meeting lasted for an hour, which is about the time most distributors spend in an exhibitor’s booth. For me, it’s just a special thrill to engage in sanctioned drinking before noon — it’s delightfully fun, without that pesky feeling of being a degenerate rummy.

And it was awesome to see friends from the U.S. industry — such as Gemline’s Jonathan Isaacson, Pearl Luck Trading’s Herb Levy, Hit Promotional Products’ Bill Schmidt, JMTek’s Kyu Lee, IMC’s Wendy Simons and Barry Fogel (who exhibited), Ogio’s Nick Wright and Prime Line’s Jeff Lederer — on the show floor and walking around the city.

Rich and I stayed on Polyconcept’s “hotel boat” as guests of my beloved ones, the company’s CEO Philippe Varnier and its CFO, Yann Leca. It was TOO much fun, as was the show itself. Check out the photos below and more soon from Paris, where Rich and I are now heading for the weekend. I’m a total Francophile, so France is my happy place. J’adore Paris!!!

Here’s my lofty goal for the weekend: Have a torrid, steamy affair with a long-haired, inappropriately young French guy, where we smoke cigarettes, drink great wine and sit in cafes debating the madness of Modigliani. Because, as Oscar Wilde (who, like Jim Morrison, is buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris) once said: “To get back my youth, I’d do anything in the world — except exercise, get up early or be respectable.” ; )

— M

I’m not quite sure why this man was in costume, but I give props to any guy with the cojones to sport white tights and a feather plume. He also, for reasons mystifying to me, kept bringing me beer, champagne and chocolate truffles. He was like a jester from heaven…
To reach the oh-so-fabulous Polyconcept boat, which was docked on the river and within walking distance to the show, you had to walk down this steep gang-plank. However, because it had just snowed in Germany and it was 20 degrees, it was icy and dicey. Rich walked in front of me one night, and should I have slipped, we would have both ended up floating down the Rhine.
The Polyconcept boat was truly like a hotel, complete with lounges, restaurants and an exercise room. As I have a visceral aversion to any sort of physical activity, I certainly would never spend time in a gym, Lord knows — nor would I ever own a pair of sneakers. Rich took this photo of me, in my fur coat, stilettos and cigarette on a stationary bike… I pedaled three rotations and thought my lungs had collapsed.
This is me with my friend Lorenzo Mazzucchelli, sales manager for the Italian promotional products association, located in Milan. He is impossibly charming, with that silky Italian accent that makes my knees weak to hear him say my name. “Ah… Me-chele…” I intentionally stalked him at the show so every time he saw me, he would give me the double-kiss on the cheeks, like Euros do. I know… I’m SHAMELESS!
An overview of one of the four halls that housed this year’s PSI Show. The show is so big because the booths are often three times the size of booths in the U.S. The Senator booth, for example, had two floors and encompassed three aisles.
Here’s Philippe Varnier, the CEO of Polyconcept — Europe’s largest supplier and the owner of Leed’s, Bullet Line and Journal Books — and I, in his booth. Have I told you lately that I love him??? My nickname for Philippe is “Mr. Suave” and he lives up to it!
Philippe’s team made these fun rosy pink sunglasses to give away at the show as self-promo pieces. To help attendees stay positive about the economy, the imprint says: “The Outlook for 2009 is rosy”
Bella hosted a fashion show in its booth, starring long, lithe and luscious models. Clearly, Europeans take a less puritanical stance than the U.S. when it comes to nudity, and aren’t offended by it. Which brings me to the next photo…
Yes, you are seeing what you think you’re seeing. This model modeled topless every day of the show, while this artist painted her skin. Needless to say, the traffic this booth generated was of epic proportions. And to quote a famous episode of “Seinfeld” involving a girlfriend of Jerry’s (played by Teri Hatcher) spongy girl parts and the question as to whether or not they were real, this girl’s were and they were spectacular!
One exhibitor at the PSI Show, Machma, actually constructed a 40-foot bar and built walls with embedded fish tanks. Click here to see a slightly surreal, Dali-esque video Rich shot with my camera…

Who Knew My Bra Would Be Mistaken as a Weapon of Mass Destruction?

Filed under: Personal, PSI Shows, Travel

Gutentagen from Frankfurt, Germany! It’s 6:00 a.m. here and I’m at the airport on my way to Dusseldorf for the PSI Show, Europe’s (and, in fact, the world’s) largest ad specialties show.

Starting tomorrow, the show is set to welcome 21,000 attendees visiting over 500,000 square feet of exhibitors’ booth space. It is huge, it is wildly impressive and it is one of the best-run shows I’ve ever been to, featuring the year’s most innovative and chic product designs on display. It’s here where you see the creativity first, before it gets knocked off in China.

The flight from Philly to Frankfurt lasted almost eight hours, which is a cake walk compared to the 18-hour special brand of airborne hell I’ll be on in April when I fly to Asia for the Canton Show and Hong Kong Gift Fair. Let me know if you’re going… We can plan on medicating together!

The flight was also unexpectedly pleasant… I fly so often that I’ve become a jaded, bitchy traveler, one who sinks sullenly into her own fur coat on the plane rather than interact with anyone, and who listens to her iPod with a distinct “Disturb at Your Own Risk” aura enveloping her.

But on this particular flight, I sat with a 10-year-old German boy named Jannick (his parents were a few rows behind us) who was so precocious he told me he wants to grow up and live at Disneyland, but commute daily via his own plane to Wall Street where he’ll be an investment banker. This child was so self-assured, I have no doubt he’ll do it. Rock on, my little Gordon Gekko!

Next to him was 20-year-old Ryan from Cherry Hill, NJ, who was going to Europe for the first time to attend school in France for five months. He was so enthusiastic and full of optimism, I thought he was adorable. Or, maybe it was the fact that he asked if I was “a grad student.” God bless dim boys and dimmer airplane lighting. If it wouldn’t have bordered on a felony, I would have kissed him on the spot.

The three of us had a delightful time watching movies in sync, so much so that when I disembarked the plane, I had a renewed zeal and zest for travel. Right up until the point when I set off the metal detectors in the security line in Frankfurt. What was the reason, you may wonder? That would be my underwire bra, which — when the security agent waved the wand over me — sent the alarms screeching. Of course after a spectacle like that, the hands-on body search is imminent.

I will tell you: There’s nothing quite like entering a foreign country at 6:00 a.m. and being felt up by a burly German woman. At least she could have sprung for flowers and breakfast… ; )

Cheers and more tomorrow from Dusseldorf, where I will be staying aboard Polyconcept’s floating hotel boat, as a guest of the ever-suave and charming Philippe Varnier, the company’s chairman/CEO, and my favorite dance partner, Yann Leca, its CFO. Can. Not. Wait.

— M