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

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

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Fun, Travel

Hello, Everyone!

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

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

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

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



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

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

Filed under: ASI Shows, Editorial, Travel

Well Hey There, Sailors!

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

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

— M

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

Dov (Charney) Tales…

Filed under: Travel

Hi Everyone!

Before I leave for Asia on Thursday to cover the Hong Kong Gifts & Premiums Show for an upcoming issue of ASI’s supplier magazine I edit, I wanted to give you a sneak peek of the cover story, “Game Changers: The Industry’s Five Most Maverick CEOs,” in the new edition.

Dov CharneyWho’s number one on my list? The person I’ve been asked about most often in the 16 years I’ve been in the industry: American Apparel’s Dov Charney. Dov and I have been friends for 10 years now, as we first met when I profiled him for Counselor magazine. He wasn’t the famous personality he is now, but even then, I knew he was about as unique and unconventional as they come. He is, and always has been, a human A bomb.

Now let me acknowledge what everyone is thinking: Yes, he is a lunatic, and yes, he makes questionable business decisions to say the least. But he is also – and I’ll stand by this statement every time – the most talented marketer I’ve ever met. While the rest of us are limited to five senses, Dov has a sixth – the ability to spot trends well ahead of the masses and craft them into a lifestyle brand that the hippest of demographics covet. And say what you will about his business acumen, but after a roller coaster of profits and losses, American Apparel’s sales have been on a steady incline of late; its promo division’s sales increased from $90.2 million in 2011 to $96.8 million in 2012.

Without question, maverick CEOs share a few traits: a refusal to accept the status quo, a willingness to fail, and the guts to make tough decisions and stand by them (not to mention a touch of ADHD).

And that is quintessential Dov Charney. Whenever he shows up in the news – and let’s face it: he’s not unfamiliar with the inside of a lawyer’s office – friends ask me what he’s really like. Here’s what I say: It’s simply not in his DNA to ask permission to do whatever he wants with American Apparel, even now as it’s a publicly-traded company; it wouldn’t even dawn on him to care what people think. And I remind people that a lot of what’s been written about him is sensationalized and exaggerated for effect. In reality, Dov is quite charming, very sweet, more than a little geeky and utterly harmless – with a big intellect, a bigger mouth and a personality that could most politely be described as weapons-grade wacko.

There are a few people in the industry who unnerve me to the depths of my soul – including one head of a Top 40 company with whom I wouldn’t be alone without a taser and pepper spray. Dov Charney – with his jaw-dropping talent and despite his over-the-top eccentricities – I’d happily spend time with any day of the week because when he’s creating and innovating, there’s nothing more mesmerizing. You never know if you’ll get the genius, the mad man or both.

Cheers, and more from Hong Kong next week!

— M

Planes, Trains & Customs Searches: My Travel Wish List for 2013

Filed under: Fun, Personal, Travel

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

As we wrap up one year and prepare to start the next, I’d like to take a moment to give the airline and hospitality industries a little gift (she says with snark): my now-annual list of Things That Make Me Cringe when traveling.

Throughout my 15+ year career at ASI, during which I’ve been able to travel throughout North America, Europe and Asia, I’ve stayed in the best (the Peninsula and the W in Hong Kong, the Fontainebleau in Miami), trendiest (Mon Hotel in Paris) and skeeziest (the Foreign Businessmen Club in Guangzhou, China, which smelled like something my cat, Monkey, does in his litter box) hotels, and traveled well over 250,000 miles. So here’s what I’m hoping will change if I bitch loud and often enough.

1. Pillow Talk. I know this will sound trivial and entitled, but hear me out. I’ve noticed an inverse correlation between the quality of a hotel and the pillows they offer. Meaning, the swankier the hotel, the more craptacular the pillows. For example, in October, I stayed at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Dayton, OH. Was it a five-star hotel? Absolutely not. But, wowza, those pillows were to die for — fluffy, firm and abundant. Cut to the Westbury Hotel in Mayfair, London, where I stayed in September. Located in the chi-chi area of the city where the “young Royals” party at clubs like Mahiki, the Westbury is most definitely a five-star hotel. It also had pillows so thin I could’ve rolled joints with them.

2. Let There Be Light. For those of you who know me, you have no doubt heard me rail on more than one occasion about the horrendous lighting in hotel rooms, which cause me — I’ve been told — to emerge from my room with make up so heavily spackled on that I resemble “a hooker from Bangkok” (thanks, Ron Ball!). I’m now expanding this gripe to include the overall electrical issues in hotel rooms. In this day and age where everyone has roughly 8.5 gadgets that need to be plugged in, how is it that hotels can seriously get away with only having one outlet for use? And why are they never located next to the bed? Am I the only one who needs to sleep next to my BlackBerry while it’s charging? Anyone? (Crickets… Crickets…)

3. Are You Talkin’ to Me? Oh, cab drivers… How I have a love/lament relationship with you. Love, love, love how you’re always there when I need you and, for the most part, are cheery, chipper people always happy to make small talk. But here’s where you lose me: With everyone’s smartphone now fully equipped with GPS and Google Maps, you’ve pretty much taken a laissez-faire approach to your job as nine out of 10 cabs I took in 2012 saw the driver ask me for the address of and directions to my destination. Really? Be prepared. In 2013, every time you ask me to do your job, I’m handing you a red pen and a Counselor article to edit.

4. Come Fly With Me (Or Not). Hands up: Who loves the airlines? To answer that question, I’m going to defer to my pal Dana Zezzo, marketing and social media guru for Jetline and the industry’s favorite road warrior. To put Dana’s travel schedule into perspective, he estimates that he’s flown 85 segments in 2012 alone — more than once a week. However, he still gets relegated to middle seats, even though he has “Gold” status with United. “When your flight arrangements change because of airline delays or plane changes, everything you’ve done to pre-select your seat or get upgraded means nothing,” Dana says.

So, here’s my advice to the airlines: If you want to keep frequent fliers like Dana Zezzo and, to a lesser extent, me — both of us with our big mouths and social media pulpits — happy, try taking a page out of Zappos’ customer service playbook.

5. WTF, TSA? Let me state up front and categorically: I understand and respect what the TSA does and why they’re stationed at airport security areas. Truly, I do. Here’s what I don’t get: the maddening inconsistencies. In the U.S., you’re required to remove your shoes when going through security. In Europe, if you shuck off your footwear, they’ll look at you like you’re having a psychotic break. In China, you have to walk through a device that scans your body temperature before you enter the country, lest you have a fever. In the U.S., I’ve sat next to people on planes who I’m fairly certain had typhus. I’ve been stopped at U.S. airports for having lipstick, perfume and water in my carry-on bag, but waived through with lighters, corkscrews and a Swiss Army Knife that was a self-promo item from a distributor. Not too long ago, a TSA agent in Philly insisted on searching my ponytail. I’ve been frisked in Florida and had my bra set off alarms in Frankfurt, Germany. And I was once detained in China for bringing an apple (yep) on a train from Hong Kong. Surely there must be a way to implement uniform travel safety requirements that make sense. Because, ya know, my red Chanel lipstick isn’t a threat to anyone except the bartender who’s got to scrape it off my Grey Goose glass at the end of the night.

Cheers and hope you all have a fabulous 2013! More in the next few weeks, with tons of photos from the ASI Orlando Show, PSI Dusseldorf and PPPC Toronto!

— M

ASI’s 2012 Power Summit: The Late (Late) Show

Filed under: Fun, Travel

Happy Pre-Thanksgiving, Everyone!

I’m just back from ASI’s 6th annual Power Summit, held this year at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, FL, and hoo boy, was it a time.

There will be comprehensive coverage of the entire three day conference in December’s Counselor, but what I’m going to cover — through the vast photo array below — is what happened after hours. Because, like True Blood vampires (sans the gratuitous nudity and Trucker hats), my ilk and I really shine when the sun goes down.

But first, two shout-outs: 1) Anyone who’s ever been on a panel discussion in front of 230 people knows how wickedly nerve-wracking it can be. Because of that, big kudos to all the industry people who did the prep work and brought their A game as panelists, especially the four brave folks who agreed (read: succumbed to my nagging) to be on the Marketing Smackdown panel. Brown & Bigelow’s Cindy Jorgenson, MadeToOrder Sandy Gonzalez, Axis Promotions’ Larry Cohen and BrandFuel’s Danny Rosin had to take the stage and each present a cohesive, comprehensive marketing plan for a mock promotional scenario that they were given only an hour beforehand. And while the audience chose the winner — Danny Rosin — through text voting (so exciting to watch the live tallies come in in real time!), everyone in attendance was in awe of all four participants, and their ability to be so creative, so quickly.

2) If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I like to give out an MVP Award for best performance at industry events. Sunrise Identity’s Mitch Mounger (All Hail Mitch!) won at PPAI’s North American Leadership Conference (NALC) in August, and though he was in hil-arious form at the Power Summit, I’m giving the All Star MVP award to Jill Albers from the Dayton, OH-based distributor Shumsky. Why?

* Because it’s interesting to watch people in the industry who don’t know her underestimate her — whether it’s because she’s young, blonde or eternally fun — until she starts talking about the industry, her business and the promos she creates for her clients. And then they realize fast that my girl’s got it all going on. She knows her stuff cold and I’d put her talent, creativity and professionalism right up there with the best in the industry.

* Because even though she parties late-night, she’s up at the crack of dawn, e-mailing clients and Skyping her kids.

* Because, despite coming down with a cold, she networked like a rock star, and endured me pacing around our hotel room all night long, having kittens about moderating my presentation the following morning. Just calm down, she told me reassuringly.

* Because as much as people think I’m her handler, she’s mine as well.

So, without further delay, enjoy the photos and captions from the not-so-business end of the Power Summit, the late-night antics.

Cheers, and more soon! See you all at the 2013 shows!

— M

The wildly charismatic Tom Savio (left), president of Counselor Top 40 distributor Caliendo Savio Enterprises (CSE), shown here with ASI’s president & CEO, Tim Andrews. Funny story: When I saw Tom sitting at the bar at the Ritz, I had my librarian-girl glasses on and my hair up. I sidled up to him and said, “Hey there, Sailor. Lookin’ for a good time?” To say he was stunned is putting it mildly, and I know that for about five seconds, he had no idea who I was until I took my glasses off and let my hair down. At which point he burst out laughing and shrieked, “Michele!!!” Not sure why, but I always seem to be the lone brunette amongst the bevy of blondes! Here’s my girl Jill Albers (left), business development executive for the Dayton, OH-based distributor Shumsky, shown here with the beautiful Brittany David, sales rep extraordinaire for SnugZ/USA Inc.
ASI’s vice president of supplier sales and my “work husband,” Ron Ball (left), with his industry BFF Trevor Gnesin, owner and president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Logomark. True story: Once upon a time, these two rode a tandem bike together (I’ll pause for a moment while that image permeates your brain) through the streets of Newport Beach, CA, until Ron — exhausted from pedaling up a hill — begged to lie down on someone’s lawn while Trev-ah (as I call him) harangued him to “get the eff up.” “I told him, ‘Ron, there’s no way in hell I’m performing CPR on you!.’ “ The night before the Power Summit officially started, Ron Ball and I took a raucous group of crazies to a super-cool restaurant in Naples called Baleen. Here’s part of our group (from left): Alistair Mylchreest, CEO of the U.K.-based Sourcing City, with whom ASI and PSI are in the global media, marketing and education group PromoAlliance (www.promoalliance.com); Brian Padian, vice president of sales for Logomark; Trevor Gnesin and Frank Murphy, head of the UK-based distributor company BTC Group. Those of us in North America are quite familiar with Trevor’s considerable skills as a raconteur, but the Brits — who had just met him that evening — howled with laughter as they were regaled with Trev-ah’s tales.
Trevor and Jilly, enjoying some fine wine at Baleen in Naples, FL. (Clockwise from bottom left): Another friend who made the trek “across the pond” from the U.K. to come to ASI’s Power Summit, Sibby Khan, head of the Manchester-based distributor Logo X; Bonni Sandy, president of Dard Design; Jilly Albers and Alistair Mylchreest. A word now about my pal Bonni: We’ve been friends for years, but the more time I spend with her, the more I stand in awe of her creativity, her expertise and her ability to remain gracious and unflappable despite the cast of crazies in the industry who vie for her attention. She’s one of the best.
Two of my favorite people, Jilly Albers and the one and only Mitch Mounger, CEO of Bellevue, WA-based Sunrise Identity. Poor Mitch… He had just arrived at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples at about 11:00 p.m. when we metaphorically threw a net over him and dragged him to come hang out with us. Three hours and innumerable bottles of wine and vodka later, the fabulous Mr. Mounger was sucked into our vortex of excess. As Jilly so correctly said: “His photos don’t do him justice… He is AWESOME.” The golfers in attendance at the Power Summit went crazy over the Ritz’s course, as evidenced by these three weapons-grade wacky industry celebs (from left): CSE’s Tom Savio; my old pal Michael Bistocchi, senior vice president of CleggPromo; and the industry’s Frank Sinatra — the chairman of the board and the straw that stirs the cocktail — BIC/Norwood’s Dave Saracino.
Now, while I typically get weak-kneed over bad boys with long hair, these three — “the baldies,” as Counselor editor Andy Cohen (left, with Mitch Mounger and Tom Savio), calls them — all have a special place in my heart. I didn’t plan this when I snapped the photo, but I just love having a Grease-inspired shot of Danny (Rosin, president and co-owner of the NC and VA-based BrandFuel) and Sandy (Gonzalez, senior sales partner for the CA-based distributor MadeToOrder).
Here’s ASI’s creative director for our marketing department (and one of my fave colleagues), Jake — “Jakey” to you and I — Krolick (left) with his BFF Danny Rosin. I told both of them to look “gangsta” for the photo. The problem? They’re both so cute, harmless and loveable, they just look like mischievous little muppets. My boys! Here’s Rich Carollo (aka The Lizard King), vice president of the Chicago, IL-based supplier Lion Circle, and Ira Neaman (aka Yoda), owner of Counselor Top 40 supplier Vantage. If you know me, you know that all my favorite people get nicknames. For example, Rich is The Lizard King because when we met at the SAAC Show this past August, our introductory bender was epic, a la Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. And then there’s Ira… When I was a new editor in the industry 15+ years ago, I had to write an article about imprinting methods on apparel. So, knowing less than nothing on the topic, I called Ira, who patiently and painstakingly went through every process in detail with me, taking the time to give me my own personal tutorial. Truly, he is the Yoda of Apparel: knows everything about wearables, he does.
Love, love, love this photo. (From left): Larry Cohen, owner of Counselor Top 40 distributor Axis Promotions; Cindy Jorgenson, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 distributor Brown & Bigelow; Scott Pearson, vice president of marketing and merchandising for Counselor Top 40 supplier Sweda and the lovely Kellie Claudio, vice president of sales for Sweda. A word now about my friend Cindy Jorgenson: One night many years ago at the ASI Chicago Show, I was standing outside of Shenanigan’s (of course) when this stunning blonde makes a beeline over to me and says, “You’re Michele Bell, right? I have to see your shoes!” She then proceeded to tell me how we have mutual friends in the industry, that she worships at the altar of stilettos and had heard mine, like hers, were to die for. Now, if it were only that memorable introduction, I would have wanted to be friends with her. But as I got to know Cinful (see, again with the nicknames), I grew to adore her for her whip-smart mind, her sassy sense of humor and her ability to deliver a withering retort with the skill of Chelsea Handler. Except Cindy has better shoes. Hand to God, she is my cocktailing sole sister. For the first night’s dinner at the Power Summit, I collected quite the Rogue’s Gallery to sit at my table: Bonni Sandy, Jill Albers, Rich Carollo, Ira Neaman, Larry Cohen, Cindy Jorgensen, Kellie Claudio, Danny Rosin and Scott Pearson. I’m fairly certain that ours was the only table serviced with multiple rounds of shots (tequila and lemon drops, because we don’t fool around…) and consecutive trays of vodka cocktails being delivered at 20 minute intervals. Moderation and Restraint were not welcome at our table that evening…
Good Lord, take a gander at Sweda’s Scott Pearson, or “Giggles” as I call him (seriously: Have you ever heard him laugh? It’s infectious, I tell ya!). At one point, I had to step away from our dinner table and gave Scott control of the camera. I didn’t see this gem until later, when I downloaded the images and LOL’d all over the place at his expression. Logomark’s Trevor Gnesin and Jonathan Isaacson, owner of Counselor Top 40 supplier Gemline. Between the two of them, their knowledge of international business is formidable, and they’re part of my brain trust of people who I can call when I need a quick tutorial on light and breezy topics like “the macroeconomic impact of the floating yuan and the collapsing Eurozone on the North American promotional products industry.” (Brain, cramping…)
(Clockwise from bottom left): ASI’s Jakey Krolick, someone who is medically incapable of being a conformist; Danny Rosin (with finger in Jake’s ear); ASI’s supplier marketing manager Colin Graf (or, “El Diablo,” as I’m fond of calling him, due to his ability to lead all those around him down the rabbit hole of rockstar-esque partying); Henrik Johansson, COO of Counselor Top 40 distributor Boundless Network and a new friend; and the incomparable Melinda Ligos, ASI’s senior vice president of professional development and the editor-in-chief of our magazines. Rich Carollo and Jilly Albers on their way to the fantastic beach barbecue at the Ritz-Carlton’s palatial beach resort. Can I just tell you that I love Rich Carollo’s face? It’s so LOL expressive, he’s like a cartoon character.
Jilly Albers (left) and SnugZ’s Brittany David on the shuttle to the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort for the alfresco dinner on the second night of ASI’s Power Summit. My dear, dear friend (and first female mentor in the industry) Jo-an Lantz, executive vice president of Counselor Top 40 distributor Geiger, shown here with the charming Larry Cohen, owner of Axis Promotions in NYC.
The keynote speaker for the Power Summit was Cindy Gallop, who’s given presentations at the famed TED Conference, where she delved into the topic “Make Love, Not Porn.” Her keynote for our industry was entitled “The Future of Brand Promotion: Why Everything Has Changed and Why That’s Good News for You.” Most people loved her, and for others, well, she wasn’t their cup of vodka. (Mainly due to a phrase she uttered about five times from the stage that — as everyone kept repeating it for the duration of the conference — made this Catholic schoolgirl blush….) Cindy joined us for dinner on the beach and couldn’t have been more delightful and lovely. Here she is with Jilly Albers and Rich Carollo.  
Oy. I cringed when I saw these photos of myself and wondered why in the hell I looked so swollen — like a soaked sponge. And then I remembered the 500 Grey Goose & club sodas I’d consumed over the previous three days that may have had something to do with it. Normally, I’d never post such God-awful photos of myself, except… for the person next to me. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Robert Stillman, CEO of the Boca Raton, FL-based distributor FarFromBoring Promotions. And WOWZA, does he live up to that name. Never having met him before, I reached out to him about two months ago and asked him to be on the “Delivering Customer Service Brilliance” panel I was going to moderate at the Power Summit. Again, if you know me, you know I love and adore the idiosyncratic, eccentric and iconoclastic. Robert is all of those things, in the best sense of the words. In the signature line of every one of his e-mails, and on his business card, it says the following: “Robert Stillman, Founder/CEO/Handsome Bastard.” Kid. You. Not. I worship at the altar of his irreverence and am a smitten kitten with his sublimely enigmatic personality.  
(From left): Enjoying cocktails on the beach with a calypso band playing in the background are Clegg’s Michael Bistocchi, BIC/Norwood’s Dave Saracino, CSE’s Tom Savio, Shumsky’s Jilly Albers and Vantage’s Ira Neaman. Robert “The Handsome Bastard” Stillman with the ever-gregarious Brett Hersh, president of Admints/Zagabor.
Tim Andrews, shown here with the Power Summit keynote speaker, Cindy Gallop. People often ask me what Tim is like as a boss. I invite you to contemplate that he deals with me on a daily basis. Say it with me now: “Patience. Of. Job.” After dinner on the beach, Jakey Krolick and I took a select group of crazies (affectionately known as The Merry Band of Tipsy Gypsies) to a small bar in Naples with the tres elegant name of Jack’s Bait Shack. Let me end the suspense for you: It won’t be making it to Travel + Leisure‘s list of the Swankiest Spots in Florida, but it was a dive and our group loved it. As I surveyed the cast of characters in attendance, Keith Richards’ (all hail His Wasted Grace!) quote about the Stones in their halcyon heyday of the ’70s seemed particularly apt: “When the craziness starts, it’s like an avalanche… it’s best just to get out of the way.” Indeed. Starting this slideshow of mayhem, we have Brett Hersh and Danny Rosin. The next morning, Danny sent an e-mail thanking me for “letting the short kid partake in the shenanigans.” As someone who’s only 5′ 1″, I say this to you, Mr. Rosin: I’d party with you in the Shire anytime!
(From left): Jason Emery, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 supplier Dard Design; Brittany David; Larry Cohen; and Jake Krolick. Do you know Jason? Of course you do. He’s usually the one conspicuous voice of reason amidst the swirl of silliness. Let’s just say he had his hands full this evening at Jack’s Bait Shack! Jason Emery (left) and Dave Saracino, who just slays me for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that in quite a few cities across the U.S., legions of bartenders know how to make “a Saracino” and, when it’s going to be a particularly rowdy night, he lets you know with this battle cry: “Buckle Up — We’re Comin’ in Hot!”
(From left): Brittany David, Mitch Mounger, Jilly Albers and Larry Cohen. Have I mentioned how much I love Mitch Mounger? Let me count the ways: 1) Check out his company’s website (www.sunriseid.com). Under the “Who We Are” link, the pet dogs who hang out in the office have their own subhed; 2) So dry is Mitch’s wit, it should be indigenous to the Sahara. Exhibit A: On the cab ride home, Jilly — who was wearing an adorable backless halter top — announced that one of her pasties had fallen off and was stuck to her ass. Mitch’s deadpan retort? “That happens to me all the time.” (From left): Mitch Mounger, BIC/Norwood’s gorgeous Jill Stirnkorb and Dave Saracino.
Mitch Mounger and the lovely and talented Bonni Sandy. (From left): Dave Saracino, Jilly Albers, Rich Carollo and Brett Hersh.
(From left): Adorable Brittany David, me, Rich Carollo, Jilly Albers and Larry Cohen. (From left): Dave Saracino, Mitch Mounger and Larry Cohen. Some words now, about Larry Cohen. Larry and I have only really gotten to know each other in the past year, and there’s nothing about him I don’t find fascinating. Let’s start with the fact that he surrounds himself at his NYC office with a staff comprised predominately of women — all insanely smart and talented, so much so that Axis won ASI’s award for Best Client Promotion this year and is a mainstay on Counselor‘s Best Places to Work list. Or how about that he was accepted into med school at Duke University and for a hot minute pondered being a medical examiner, actually assisting on an autopsy? Or that he graduated from University of Penn’s law school and could have done anything, but chose this industry because of his love of creative marketing? All of that makes him the bee’s knees. But what I love most is his omnipresent sardonic smirk. Some girls swoon over hearts and flowers… Not me. Sassy sarcasm is my first love and let me tell ya, Larry is one of the funniest zinger slingers out there. Next time we hang out, Sweetie, the mushroom pizza is on me.
So, you’ll look at this photo and think, “what the hell is going on here?” Let me explain: As we were leaving the bar (long past last call), eight of us piled into a cab that could only reasonably seat five. What happened next goes in the pantheon of Legendary Nights Out: Dave Saracino rode on Mitch Mounger’s lap; the cab driver got lost, subjecting us to what seemed like a five-hour ride; and people’s bodies were so intertwined it was like a game of Twister on acid. When we finally made it back to the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, the valet opened the door so quickly, poor Brett Hersh spilled out. I’m here to tell ya: Gingerly and delicately removing all eight people from that cab was like playing Jenga. And somewhere, between Jack’s Bait Shack and the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton, Dave Saracino lost a shoe, causing him to sashay through the lobby with one barefoot and pant-leg hiked up, looking like — as Mitch Mounger said — “Tom Hanks in Cast Away.” And that, my friends, is how you end an evening in Naples, Florida — tanned and barefoot at 3:00 a.m., with a cocktail in your hand.  

“Up Close & Promotional” at Shumsky’s Client Show

Filed under: Fun, Personal, Travel

Hi Everyone!

I know, I know. One week I’m in New Orleans, the next in London, the next Dayton, OH. For sure, my travel schedule can get crazy but one of my favorite things as an editor in the industry is getting out to meet new people and spending time with old friends. (Aside: My colleague Joe Haley, ASI’s managing editor and star of The Joe Show, doesn’t think I travel enough. “It’s so blissfully quiet when you’re not here,” he says.) I got to do both at the “Up Close and Promotional” client event hosted by the distributor Shumsky, held last week in Dayton.

Believe it or not, after 15+ years covering the industry for ASI’s magazines, I had never been to a distributor event before. Supplier events? Tons of them. But this is the one of the few invitations one of our editors has received to cover an event like this, so I jumped at the chance. My take? It was phenomenal, on a multitude of levels. From the top-notch supplier participation, to the level of engagement from the clients, to the Shumsky team’s attention to detail, creativity and organizational skills, I loved it. And to take a page from the event’s theme, “Add Some Color to Your Brand,” color me wowed.

“I am so impressed with our team with the execution of this very unique event — the amount of work involved and the detail around it is immense,” says Mike Emoff, owner of Shumsky. “Over the past three years, this event format has been fine-tuned and will continue to be so. Proudly, our supplier partners overwhelmingly feel this is the premier client-facing event in the country today. Our format could not be effective without the trust that we’ve built with our preferred partner suppliers. They were truly superstars and an extra heartfelt thank you goes out to them for their hard work and dedication to our organization.”

Scroll below for lots of great photos from the event, and descriptions of the cast of characters and bon vivants.

Finally, a big thanks to the fine folks at Shumsky for making me feel so welcome, and to all the great people I met in Dayton. Some may think “Cleveland Rocks,” but my money’s on you guys.


— M

So on the ball is the Shumsky team that a gift basket, filled with gourmet candy and wine from Ohio-based manufacturers, was in my room waiting for me and other out-of-town guests. Love the colored ribbon that tied in with their event theme, and the fact that each key staffer personally signed the card in colored ink.  
Lorie Woods (left), Shumsky’s off-the-charts talented director of marketing, shown here at the Dublin Pub in the trendy Oregon District of Dayton with Jill Albers, Shumsky’s business development executive. Jilly Albers and Cory Schroepfer, president of Bridge Marketing Services (the St. Louis-based multiline rep firm that handles Mid-Nite Snax, Gordon Sinclair, Spector and Co., ProTowels, Visions/Awardcraft, Jetline and Pioneer Balloon), outside one bar in Dayton’s Oregon District,where they had fire pits for smoked barbecue snacks. Consequently, my hair and fur coat smelled like a pulled pork sandwich for the next eight hours.
One of the stops on our bar crawl featured a band with one of the best lead singers — the charming chanteuseshown here with Jilly and Cory — I’ve heard in quite some time. Unfortunately, because it was a Tuesday night, there were only three people in the bar to hear her. She was sensational and belted out a version of Guns N Roses “Paradise City” that would have shamed Axl Rose himself. Here’s Cory and Jilly doing shots of Cherry Bombs from plastic syringes at a place called the Tumbleweed Connection. A word about Cory: Sometimes, when Jilly, me and our pals (sadly MIA on this trip) Sharon Biernat and Natalie Townes tear up the town like the wrecking crew we are, we have a habit of kidnapping an unsuspecting victim to join our mayhem (I know… Try to suppress your shock). At the ASI Chicago Show last July, it was Boundless’s Brad White; this time around, Cory’s number was up. Let me state unequivocally: He was a trooper.
Let me ‘fess up: My name is Michele and I’m a dive bar-aholic. Love, love, LOVE them. In this particular one in Dayton, which had all the cosmopolitan panache of your great-grandpop’s VFW Hall, Cory took it upon himself to prevent the low-hanging fiberglass insulation from collapsing on our heads. And, more critically, in our drinks. Jilly and I, out on the town in Dayton. Jilly and I have been friends now for over eight years, having first met at a piano bar in Dallas during an industry show. We’ve been besties ever since. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t have a sister, but if I did, it’d be Jilly.
Our promotional souvenir from the Tumbleweed (or, as one friendly local shared with me, the “Stumbleweed”) Connection bar in the trendy Oregon District of downtown Dayton, OH. The next morning, I checked my BlackBerry and saw I had sent myself a message — no doubt to remind me of the festivities — that simply said, “Cherry Bombs at the Tumbleweed.” All together now: “Oy.” Jilly, ever the Dancing Queen.
Bright and early next morning, the first day of Shumsky’s “Up Close & Promotional” client event, Jilly took me to the Shumsky offices in Dayton. Here she is with the lovely and talented Anita Emoff, president of Shumsky and a member of the 2011 Counselor Hot List. Anita is a huge supporter of the Pay It Forward movement (www.shumsky.com/pay-it-forward/), and told me a story of a random act of kindness she felt compelled to do that made my eyes fill up. She is really something special. (Side note: Though it appears otherwise, Jilly and Anita did not plan to dress alike that day!) Shumsky held its third annual client event at the Dayton Dragons’ stadium, which is the home of the local Triple A team that often sends players to the Cincinnati Reds. It’s a fantastic facility and an awesome place to have an industry event because, as you all know, sports teams totally get the power of promotional products. Here, attendees were greeted by a table of prizes — donated by the generous suppliers who participated — offered to those clients who filled out surveys of the event.
Welcome gifts for attendees, all bearing the logos and playing off the “Add Some Color to Your Brand” theme of the event: brightly-hued pens, neon Post-Its and imprinted paint mixing sticks. (I’m tellin’ ya — when it comes to creative promos expertly tied to a theme, these Shumsky folks do not miss a trick!) You know how every well-run event has one person, running around behind the scenes who obsesses over every detail and totally sweats the small stuff to make sure everything turns out just right? Well, that’s Lorie Woods, Shumsky’s director of marketing. So adroitly does she juggle tasks and so many hats does she wear, she should be on the main stage at Ringling Brothers.
Meet Sue Smith (left) and Angie Gibbons, two clients of Jilly’s. Each supplier who participated in the event, all PeerNet preferred vendors as Shumsky is a founding member of that distributor group, set up their displays in VIP rooms overlooking the baseball field at the Dragons’ stadium. Jilly, Sue, Angie and I were grouped together all day (so fun!) and went from room to room so the suppliers could present directly to Angie and Sue, who then explained their company’s promo needs as Jill took notes on which samples they were interested in getting, marketing ideas and campaign planning. I’ve seen, of course, suppliers present to distributors before, but it was fascinating to watch them act as creative promotional consultants for end buyers. I was so proud of them, as they were all really awesome. A great shot of the Dayton Dragons’ stadium, complete with Shumsky signage on the Jumbotron touting its event.
Shumsky reps and their clients at the lunch Shumsky hosted prior to the start of the supplier presentations. Another reason I was such a fan of having the event at a baseball stadium? The food choices were fabulous: burgers, mac & cheese, pretzels with melted cheese, popcorn, chips and salsa, cookies… Wowza, was it decadent. Geoff Vejsicky from Sweda/Cutter & Buck, shown here presenting to some Shumsky clients.
The hosts with the most. Here’s Anita and Mike Emoff, who’s at the helm of Shumsky, this third-generation Dayton-based distributorship started in 1953 by his grandparents. So gracious and welcoming are they that they invited suppliers who participated in the event to their home for a thank you cocktail party and reception. So classy. And socreative — as Halloween is right around the corner, the Emoffs’ party had a spooky theme, complete with catered food like “Terrifying Tuna Sliders” and “Booberry Salad.” I love that they went all out for their suppliers, which was clearly appreciated by those in attendance. One of the catering staff, in full Halloween regalia, at Mike & Anita’s house party. Far from being as menacing as he looks in costume, this guy was hysterical!
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s SuperAdam! This is Mike & Anita’s adorable and precociously gregarious six-year-old son. Not only did Adam greet every guest at the door in costume, but he took time to strike Avenger-style poses and do some dance moves. Clearly, he inherited his parents’ extroverted personalities! Some of the stellar suppliers in attendance at Chez Emoff for the party. Clockwise from left: ETS Express’ Mike Williams, Cap America’s Rich Corvalan; Ash City’s Tom Spoltman; ETS’ Derek Hansen; and the adorable and delightful Brittany David from SnugZ.
(Clockwise): Magnet’s David Glasner; BIC/Norwood’s Harold Wood; Apollo’s Joseph Lee; Logomark’s Skip O’Kelly and my good friend Dan Jellinek, vice president of sales for Magnet. Geoff Vejsicky from Sweda/Cutter & Buck, shown here with Gemline’s Kim Brockschmidt.
Here’s Mike Emoff and Jilly, celebrating at the Emoff’s Halloween-themed supplier appreciation party in their home. Little known fact about Mike: An avid bike rider, he was an extra in the movie Breaking Away, which just happens to be one of my favorites. The lovely ladies of Shumsky — they look like they could be in the Rockettes! (From left): Jill Albers; Vendor Relations Manager Barb Hazen; Business Development Account Manager Kim Sawyer; Anita Emoff; and Lorie Woods. A word about Barb Hazen: As any savvy distributor knows, having someone with the skill set to deftly and effectively interact with many differently personalities is critical in a vendor relations liaison. Barb has that talent in spades as she’s key to continually developing and growing Shumsky’s supplier relationships.
After leaving Mike & Anita’s fabulous fete, Jilly and I met up with one of her favorite people, Eric Deutsch (right), one of Dayton’s wittiest characters. Here he is with his pal, Paul, as they entertained Jilly and I at a sports bar for the next few hours. Hil-arious.  

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

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, Travel

Hi Everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


— M

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

Retreat to Move Forward

Filed under: Editorial, Travel

Hey there Everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


— M

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

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