Think Tank
By Michele Bell, Andrew Cohen, Joe Haley, Melinda Ligos

More than 250 of the industry’s most innovative thinkers gathered for ASI’s second annual Power Summit last month to talk about the economy, strategies for 2009 and much more.

Some of the industry’s biggest shakers and movers recently got a unique opportunity to rub elbows with their peers in an intimate, no-holds-barred environment: ASI’s second annual Power Summit, held last month at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, FL.

The agenda for the two-and-a-half-day conference was packed with networking sessions; panel discussions on some of the industry’s most pressing issues, including an economic forecast for 2009; the release of ASI’s Advertising Specialties Impressions Study (see page 120 for the full report), and a little R&R time. Read on for a look at some of the event’s most buzzworthy topics and photos.

Hot Topics
The panel discussions at the Summit featured some of the most talked-about issues of the year: building buzz through interactive marketing campaigns, attracting investors; improving distributor/supplier relationships; hot global markets; customer service standards; incentivizing top reps; and profiting from the green movement. Here’s what panelists had to say in a few key sessions:

Why Marketing Matters: Secrets to Building Buzz
In this first session of the Power Summit, panelists David Nicholson, president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Leed’s, Ross Silverstein, owner of Counselor Top 40 distributor iPROMOTEu, Tom Riordan, CEO of Maple Ridge Farms and Danny Rosin, co-owner of Brand Fuel, discussed the importance of being more aggressive with their marketing, despite a down economy.

Nicholson pointed out that in the case of Leed’s, he prefers to focus more of the company’s resources into marketing in a lagging economy to take advantage of the void left by others pulling their marketing and to consequently gain market share.

Silverstein agreed and said that for iPROMOTEu, he always focuses on revenue generating activities and market share. Riordan addressed the importance of sending out self-promotion samples and press releases complete with disks of hi-res images to writers and editors.

Rosin, who – with his partner of 10 years Robert Fiveash – has used new forms of online media to gain increased exposure for Brand Fuel, told attendees that posting promotional videos on sites like YouTube is not only free, but is a powerful marketing medium that many people should take advantage of. “On our YouTube videos, we’re able to direct people to our Brand Fuel Web site,” he said. “Since we’ve been doing that, our Web site traffic has grown by 30%.”

International Update
Held on the second day, the International panel included Jim Epstein, chief development officer of Counselor Top 40 supplier Polyconcept; Gene Geiger, president of Counselor Top 40 distributor Geiger; Jonathan Isaacson, owner of Counselor Top 40 supplier Gemline; Bonni Shevin-Sandy, executive vice president of Dard and Ray Titus, president/CEO of United Franchise Group.

One of the main topics covered was how prices will continue to be affected by overseas influences such as the cost of raw materials, labor laws in Asia and product safety practices. Isaacson, this year’s Counselor International Person of the Year, said that despite falling oil prices, ad specialties made from petroleum may not see a corresponding decrease in price. “The reason for that is because there are still market influences going on in Asia causing our prices in the industry to increase, such as increases in wages for Chinese workers and the high cost of doing product testing to ensure safety.”

And while Epstein and Shevin-Sandy agreed that Polyconcept and Dard, respectively, do source in other countries outside China – such as India and Bangladesh – no country can ramp up their production infrastructure to China’s level in the near future. For his part, Titus was optimistic about the health of the industry in the coming year. “I think there is incredible opportunity for us as long as we don’t get bogged down with negativity,” he said. “People will always use and appreciate ad specialties.”

The Green Movement: What’s Ahead for 2009
The last session included panelist Kris Robinson, vice president of Counselor Top 40 distributor PromoShop/ecopromos.com; Chuck Fandos, president of Counselor Top 40 distributor Gateway/CDI; Anthony Corsano, CEO of Anvil Knitwear; Jack Teague, president of Counselor Top 40 supplier BIC Graphic USA; and Jeff Lederer, executive vice president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Prime Line.

With so much being talked about in regard to eco-friendly products, the panel looked at what was truly green and warned attendees not to be green-washed – which is a term used for companies that proclaim to be green but really are not. They also discussed the status of the eco-market and how distributors can capitalize on the trend to increase their own company’s revenues and profits. Robinson suggested looking at companies, like local governments and waste disposal companies that already have green initiatives.

Another topic within the session included how the industry can handle the disposal of mountains of unused catalogs and the need, or lack thereof, of print catalogs in the future.

Breakout Sessions Fuel Intimate Debates
During both days of the Power Summit attendees were split into groups for brainstorming sessions. The first day’s groups were arranged by company sales volume while the second day’s groups were broken up between suppliers and distributors.

During day one, attendees were asked if sales would be up or down in 2008 and what their outlook was for 2009. Results were discussed on ASI Radio (show is archived at www.asicentral.com/radio). The groups on the second day discussed how to recruit, retain and reward top talent.

Click here to view more Power Summit photos

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