Editor’s Letter - Let Youth Be Served

Industry companies need to reach out to the youngest workers – for both of their own good.

It’s a number that economists cringe at, but business owners should find opportunity in – 15%. That’s the unemployment rate for Americans between the ages of 19 and 31. This is an awful figure, one that needs to start dropping – and fast – in order for the economy to fully recover.

So what can be done? Well, for starters, hiring managers need to quit judging ability based only on a resume and begin searching for high-ceiling potential.

Members of Generation Y are inexperienced according to traditional measures, but savvy in terms of ideas and technology. Every industry – including the ad specialty market – can benefit from a fresh perspective every once in a while. Simply recycling salespeople that have worked at five other industry companies is hardly a formula for shaking things up. Suppliers, distributors and decorators should all be actively recruiting out-of-industry Millennials, especially with so much talent available.

Now, it’s true that few young people understand how the ad specialty industry works – which is why effective promotion and education are so important. In April, two members of ASI’s editorial department – Nicole Rollender, editor of Stitches and executive director of ASI education, and Dave Vagnoni, senior editor of Counselor – visited The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) to teach business and marketing students about the value of promotional products. The hour-long presentation featured ASI’s latest Ad Specialties Impressions Study (www.asicentral.com/study), which shows that promo products provide better ROI than many other forms of advertising.

“Today I learned that people keep a large quantity of the promotional products that they get, and the return on investment is better in comparison to TV advertising,” said Anthony Paun, a finance major at the school, after the session.

Many other students showed interest in industry internships, suddenly realizing a career in promo products now sounds a lot more enticing than working at that insurance company that sent someone to present a session the week before. And others, like Tom Athan, wondered how promotional products could help him market a new company he’s launching.

Athan is a college student who produces and sells a clothing line called Dudz from his dorm room (imagine low-slung, custom-made M.C. Hammer-style lounge pants for guys and girls in a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns). Athan was unsure how to advertise his apparel cost-effectively – until he learned about the power of promotional products. Now, he plans to invest in a small run of screen-printed T-shirts, bumper stickers and magnets to spread the word about his quirky brand.

“There’s no substitute for students hearing directly from industry experts and realizing the many facets of a business they only knew a fraction about,” said Tammy Dietrich, assistant dean of TCNJ’s School of Business, who invited ASI to introduce the ad specialty market to the college’s business school students. “The School of Business is so grateful to ASI for participating in our spring 2014 series and providing students with global insight into the ad specialties world. Students love getting freebies as well as creating them for their clubs and organizations, but had no idea of the magnitude of this business.”

The promotional market isn’t on every college kid’s radar, but it should be. This is a fun, productive, valuable and critical sector of the marketing industry – one with more than $20 billion in spending power – that business schools and their best and brightest need to be aware of and recruited by.

This kind of collegiate outreach is a good first step, but ultimately more industry firms need to think and hire differently. Sure, it’s a risk to bring in a young rep who has no clue what EQP means. But the view from here is it’s even riskier to stay the course. Remember, there’s a lot of talent in that 15%. It’s time to take advantage of it.

Enjoy the issue!