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

ASI’s 2013 Power Summit: Rocky Mountain High

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, Travel

Hi Everyone!

Hope you’re all doing well and reveling in the awesome Fall colors!

Recently, ASI hosted its 7th annual Power Summit, in stunningly picturesque Park City, Utah. Having been to all seven Power Summits, this one was something special… From the amazing panelists and speakers, to the networking activities, to the locale, it was quite the experience. You know, each year, Park City is overrun by A, B and C-list Hollywood celebrities for Robert Redford’s famed Sundance Film Festival. I would dare say that our group had its own fair share of industry luminaries who made an appearance for the event, as you’ll see from the photos and short videos below.

A few notable shout-outs: A big thank you and super-huge kudos to the four distributor contestants — Kaspo Inc.’s Matt Kaspari, Bob Lilly Promotional Products’ Tommy Lewis, Tagsource’s Tonia Allen Gould and P.O.P Solutions’ Nicole McNamee — who agreed to participate in this year’s Marketing Smackdown panel, and to HALO’s SVP of Marketing, Terry McGuire (hoo boy, do I LOVE Terry… Nobody, but nobody, in the industry sends me e-mails that make me LOL like he does…), who moderated the session. These gutsy folks were given a marketing scenario one hour before taking the stage to do a presentation in front of the 200 industry pros in attendance, and then were judged — through text voting — by the audience. They weren’t allowed to rely on help from their home offices, and had to pull a comprehensive promo products-based presentation together, keeping in mind budgets, target audiences and social media add-ons. It is a wildly stressful thing to do, and they all did it with panache, talent and style.

Finally, I always like to give my own personal award at fun industry events to the industry celeb who was the King or Queen of the Party — the one who kept all the wackiness and merriment going. At the Power Summit, I give a special nod to The Fabulous Hersh Boys — Brett and Glen from Admints/Zagabor — who had the party to end all parties in their suite. What I love about them (other than Glen’s heavy Grey Goose pour) is that their graciousness knows no bounds and they are deeply decent guys — they invite clients, colleagues, competitors, everyone to their party, living by the motto, “The more the merrier.” They are just The Best.

More soon and enjoy the photos and videos!



On our first night in Park City, Utah, ASI’s senior vice president and editor-in-chief, Melinda Ligos, bought a “jackalope” — a mythical, furry, woodland creature said to scamper through the rustic mountain terrain — at the gift shop at the fabulous High West Distillery bar & restraint where we had dinner. Because the aforementioned jackalope is tiny with beady little eyes, we naturally named him “Joe Haley.” So, here’s me with Joe the Jackalope… The lovely Jill Stirnkorb, (shown here fifth from left in the back row, in the gray tank shirt) vice president of inside sales for Counselor Top 40 supplier Norwood & BIC Graphic N.A. shared this photo of her mountain biking group. One of the most popular activities we’ve hosted at an ASI event, more than 50 mountain bikers of varying skill levels careened through the mountains of Park City and loved every minute of it.
Here’s me with two guys I’ve been friends with for over 15 years — Jerry McLaughlin, CEO of Branders.com (left) and Michael Bernstein, CEO/chairman of the board of Polyconcept. They were gracious enough to succumb to my haranguing and agree to be speakers at ASI’s Power Summit. Surprising to precisely no one, they both killed it. Meet Sal DeSpirito, executive director of ASI’s distributor marketing efforts and the Charlie to our Angels. Fact: If you find yourself within a five-foot radius of Sal, There Will Be Shots. Consequently, we heart him at ASI. From left: Erica Matus, assistant marketing manager; Ji Kim, executive director of supplier marketing and me, the patron saint of Patron.
Three of my industry favorites (from left): Norwood/BIC’s Dave Saracino, the straw that stirs the industry cocktail (and, for the record, the only man I know who has a drink named after himself — “The Saracino” — widely known in bars seedy and swanky alike across the country); the stunning Lori Bauer, Norwood/BIC’s vice president of national accounts; and David Nicholson, president of Polyconcept North America and this year’s Counselor Person of the Year. Hit Promotional Products’ David Walker (far left) and CJ Schmidt take in an early-season football game in the pub at the Montage Ski Resort, while Shumsky’s Jill Albers looks on.
My favorite gal pal and partner in crime, Jill Albers, director of business development for the Dayton-based distributor Shumsky, and Josh Ebrahemi, top sales rep and partner at Counselor Top 40 distributor Jack Nadel Int’l. Both Jilly and Josh were on my “What Motivates Young Reps” panel, along with SnugZ’s Brittany David and ASI’s Krista Taylor, and they were just the cat’s meow. Oh Lord, it’s Rich Carollo, vice president of sales and marketing at Lion Circle, someone whose cartoon-like facial expressions just CRACK. ME. UP. Love, love, love him…
Jilly Albers and Jake Krolick (“Jakey,” as he’s known back at the home office), ASI’s creative director of marketing. To say Jakey is one of my favorite colleagues is an epic understatement, as he is as supremely talented as he is fun. If you were at the Power Summit and saw his on-stage interview with hipster videographer Devin Graham (whose crazy-cool videos have garnered billions of hits on YouTube), you’d know why. Their session was one of the highest rated in seven years of Power Summit events! Jake, who never met a band jam he didn’t like and will — mark my words — one day end up doing marketing in the music industry, strikes a very rock star pose.
Jim Franklyn, partner and vice president of marketing with the distributor Inkhead Promotions, makes friends with one of the two “house dogs” — Monte — that are allowed to roam around the Montage Resort. Both furry residents are Bernese Mountain Dogs, known for their ability to withstand cold temperatures and for their gentle dispositions. Two traits they do not share with the author of this blog… A moment now, about my beloved Michael Bernstein… Little known fact about me: I loathe, loathe, loathe — to the depths of my soul — public speaking. Seriously. Right before I go on stage, there’s always one moment where I fear I’m going to hurl right on my Jimmy Choos. But no matter where I am, I text Michael before I have to speak in front of a crowd and ask him to talk me off the ledge, which he always does with some heart-felt, tender, reassuring comment that goes something like this: “Stop being a dumbass.” At the Power Summit, the panel discussion I moderated was at 9:00 a.m., and, as Michael’s not a morning person, I didn’t expect him to make it. Yet, he showed up, gave me all the moral support and encouragement I needed, and calmed me down like he’s my own personal Valium. In case I’ve been vague, I just adore him.
Here’s Tonia Allen Gould, owner of the CA-based distributor Tagsource, published children’s author and panelist on this year’s Marketing Smackdown session at the Power Summit, with Ares Logistics’ vice president of sales, David Bronson. Counselor editor Andy Cohen (left), ASI editor-in-chief and SVP Melinda Ligos and Counselor senior editor Dave Vagnoni, with Joe the Jackalope on our first night in Park City, UT.
At the St. Regis resort in Park City, the sommelier staff stages a spectacle every evening that involves select guests being chosen to slice open champagne bottle with a very sharp and shiny saber. From left, here’s ASI’s Sal DeSpirito, vice president of user experience Rob Watson, Melinda Ligos and Jake Krolick familiarizing themselves with the business end of the weapon. Sal, reenacting something Jakey’s wife wants to do each time he brings a band back to their house to crash after playing shows in Philly.
Jake Krolick, getting a tutorial from Pierre, the sommelier at the St. Regis, on how to slice open a bottle of bubbly without losing an appendage. ASI’s supplier sales rep extraordinaire, Krista Taylor, and the omnipresent ASI Power Summit mascot, Joe the Jackalope. For those of you who attended the event, you witnessed Krista’s brilliance on stage as a panelist during my “What Motivates Young Sales Reps” session. As ASI’s Employee of the Year in 2011 and a rep who’s grown her base by 111% in four years, my girl is as whip-smart and talented as she is fun. She is one to watch…
ASI’s president and CEO, Tim Andrews, gamely poses with Joe the Jackalope. Tim’s one-on-one Q&A with Polyconcept chairman of the board Michael Bernstein was one of the highlights of the Power Summit, as evidenced by attendee ratings and comments. ASI supplier sales rep and industry vet Mary Sells, shown here with Melinda Ligos and a furry friend.
One of my oldest, dearest and craziest friends in the industry, Gary Semrow, vice president of American Ad Bag. Gary spends a lot of time in Park City, so he graciously turned myself, ASI’s Erica Matus and Jake Krolick on to this awesome dive bar (All Hail Dive Bars!) called the “No Name Saloon.” It had attitude and sass to spare, and I’m fairly certain Jake and I graffitied our names on the wall… The uber-amazing Erica Matus, ASI’s assistant marketing manager. Such a fabulous personality does she have, and so fun is she that hanging out with her was one of the highlights of the event for me. She is awesome in at least 10 different ways…
Holla! The Pittsburgh Mafia’s in the house! Here’s Polyconcept’s Michael Bernstein and Jeff Brown, with Vantage’s Ira Neaman (“Yoda” to you and I… Knows everything about apparel, he does…), with Jilly Albers. Tommy Lewis, sales exec with Bob Lilly Promotional Products and this year’s winner of the Marketing Smackdown — in which four distributor execs present a marketing campaign that they’re given only one hour to create and the winner is selected by real-time audience text voting — and Ira Neaman.
Sweda’s always-radiant Kellie Claudio and one of my faves, Scott Pearson, who did an outstanding job on the “Domestic Manufacturing vs. Overseas Sourcing” panel at this year’s Power Summit. A special overseas guest, here’s the very charming Adrian Ferrand, owner of BrandInc., one of the largest distributors in the U.K., with Shumsky’s Jill Albers. Upon chatting with Adrian during the first night’s meet-and-greet cocktail party, I knew he was just the type of person I like to spend time with and immediately decided he’d be sitting at my table with my other favorite industry crazies for dinner. He is impressive and wickedly fun in equal measures.
Awww, here’s me and one of the most delightful guys ever, Mr. Jim Hagan, president of Sweda. You, Young Man, always make me smile… Separated at birth? Andy Cohen and the gift that keeps giving, Mitch Mounger, owner of the Seattle-based distributor Sunrise Identity. Take my advice: Don’t even consider having an industry party without Mitch being there…
Inkhead’s Jim Franklyn and Branders.com’s Jerry McLaughlin, who did such an amazing job on their panel, “The Fastest Growing Sales Channel: Will E-Commerce Overtake Traditional Promo Sales?” (From left): Sunrise Identity’s COO, Mark Lynch; Michael Legel (love, love, love!) and Trevor Colley, Logomark’s new CFO. Henceforth, we will all be referring to him as “the quieter Trevor.” ; )
This photo — courtesy of David Bronson, vice president of Ares Logistics and industry vet — shows jaw-dropping views of the Montage Resort property where the 2013 ASI Power Summit was held.
Rich Fairfield, ASI’s chief revenue officer and publisher, attempts the time-honored tradition of slicing open a champagne bottle with a sword, under the watchful eye of the insanely suave and tres French sommelier at the St. Regis in Park City. He did great, but we initially all took about 10 steps back when Rich wielded the sword… Click here to see PromoShop’s Kris Robinson (“K-Rob” to his nearest and dearest) belt out “Rocky Mountain High” — which is funny on a multitude of levels — during the Great American Cocktail Race at ASI’s Power Summit in Park City, Utah.
Click here to see me interviewing Michael Bernstein, Polyconcept’s chairman of the board and my beloved BFF, who had just finished a 30 minute, one-on-one Q&A with Tim Andrews. Watch til the end of the 90 second video, when I giggle like a silly Tween…

Making “Her”story

Filed under: Travel

Hi Everyone!

Hope you’re doing well and enjoying the last fabulous days of summer!

I wanted to share with you something I was asked to be a part of in the industry that really gave me pause, because I think it’s so, so special.

A few months ago, the lovely Kim Laffer Nick with the distributor Motivators, reached out to me and asked if I would collaborate on a book written by some select women in the industry. It was to be individual essays written on topics like “My Biggest Mistake” (mine are voluminous), “My A-Ha Moment,” “From One Generation to the Next” and “The Importance of Mentorship,” among others. The book would be produced in conjunction with PPAI and given out at its annual Women’s Leadership Conference this year in San Diego.

First, I was flattered to be included among such women I admire, respect (and love like sisters — looking at you, Natalie!), like World Wide’s Kim Newell, Prime Line’s Paula Shulman, DDI’s Bonni Sandy, CPS’s Kippie Helzel, Boundless’ Cindy Goldsberry and Moisant Promotional Products’ Teresa Moisant. I was even more humbled when I found out later that my pal Mary Ellen Nichols from Bodek and Rhodes was the one who suggested my inclusion and that the fine folks at PPAI agreed. So gracious…

The book, which Jo-an Lantz (who was, incidentally, my first female mentor when I started in the industry 16 years ago and is someone I consider such a special friend) compiled for the PPAI event using Geiger’s printing resources, was given to every woman who attended this year’s Leadership Conference and every woman who wrote an essay for the book. Not sure if there are any left, but hoo boy, is it inspirational. (You can e-mail Tina Filipski, the editor of PPB, to see if there are any copies still available: TinaF@ppai.org; next year’s PPAI Women’s Leadership conference, incidentally, will be held in Denver from 7/28-7/30. I’ve been to one of them and it was fantastic — loved, loved, loved it!).

You know, there’s that famous quote from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (recently co-opted erroneously by Taylor Swift) in which she said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I’d like to alter it just a little to say, “there’s a special place in whatever heaven you believe in for women who mentor other women.”

And with that, here’s the essay I was asked to write for PPAI’s book, What I Wish I’d Known Then, in which “Me” of today gives 29-year-old Me some advice. Enjoy!

Cheers, and more soon from ASI’s Power Summit in Park City, Utah from September 15-17. (www.asicentral.com/powersummit)! Be-yond excited!

— M

Dear Twenty-Something Michele,

Please put down your cocktail for a quick sec, because I have something important to tell you. Sixteen years from now, you’ll still be in the promotional products industry and will still love the people in it, but some of them will – despite the fact you’re in your mid-40s – always think of you as someone who never met a party she didn’t like. But that’s not all you’ll be. You’ll win journalism awards, manage and mentor young staffers and be the caregiver for your aging Mom. You don’t realize now that being known as a party girl will be the way many people define you. Be who you are but know that perceptions, like tattoos, are hard to get rid of.

The upside is that as you get older, you’ll become more comfortable in your own skin, and not crave approval, attention or validation. You’ll know that there will always be someone younger, prettier, and smarter, which is freeing in that it alleviates the pressure to be the “It Girl.” But your past, like a pesky flu, will be tough to shake and the Shedonism you revel in now will take on a life of its own.

Because lest you think you’ve turned into a hectoring harpy who doles out buzzkill lectures, know that you will get e-mails during the 2013 PPAI Show in Vegas, from industry people saying they heard you “held court” at Eye Candy, and how much fun you were.

Which will amuse you to no end, since you were in Europe at the time.



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

I Got Your Back, Marissa Mayer!

Filed under: Editorial, Fun, Personal

Well, hey there!

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers, and hope to see you all soon!

— M

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.  

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