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  • September 09, 2021 6:49 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    While perusing my RSS feeds the other morning, I stumbled on a most appropriate quote, one that will set the tone for this article. It comes from one of my mentors, Simon Sinek.

    “Any worthwhile conversation starts with listening!”

    Communication. It takes on various forms—written, verbal and non-verbal. It has, throughout history, moved mountains and opened amazing breakthroughs in technology, but the lack of communication has led to great disappointments. We need it, we depend on it and it is a skill that needs to be practiced, honed and practiced again and again.

    I have a unique perspective on this issue by being actively involved in this industry for nearly 40 years. I have been a salesperson for a couple of companies, owned my own distributor company, been a partner and CEO in two supplier companies and have worked with multiple large distributors and suppliers as a marketing and business consultant. While I’ve not seen it all, I’ve seen plenty.

    One of the biggest challenges I have seen and continue to see is a major lack of communication on all sides. No one side is to blame, and all would do well to reflect, think and alter the way we communicate. Solid, straightforward communication can solve a world of issues and make all things run much more smoothly. I have found this to be the case many times over, and the beauty of solid communication is that it flows over into personal relationships as well as business relationships.


    What causes poor communication? Is it preventable? Is it easy to fix? These are all great questions, and questions that should be answered before one can move ahead.

    Poor communication comes from people making assumptions, feeling the need to get their point across and wanting to be heard, not being openminded, failing to actively listen, feeling a lack of empowerment and not being self-accountable. Each of these points is avoidable, and the first step is identifying the issue.


    Begin by answering these questions:

    Ultimately, we are all serving the end customer. Every touchpoint, from the beginning to the end, can either positively or negatively affect the outcome. Distributors, do you understand the challenges suppliers are going through? Do you ask? Suppliers, do you understand the issues and perils distributors are really working through every day? Do you ask?

    Distributors, in many cases, will take weeks and sometimes months to secure a client. They then relinquish the relationship to a supplier, trusting the supplier to do his or her part to ensure a successful outcome. That is a big responsibility; suppliers shouldn’t take it lightly.

    Most businesses do not set joint expectations through the supply chain. Everyone should know their respective roles and what is expected from them. This goes for the entire supply chain. Supplier to distributor, distributor to client and back again. Everything should be spelled out, and I do not believe in today’s world you should rely on people to read everything. Recently, I went in for a dental procedure. Before I left, the doctor had a staff member explain, in detail, everything I needed to know so I could make an informed decision: the procedure, timelines, payment milestones, projected recovery time and potential issues that could arise. After leaving, I knew what to expect because they were thorough with their communication. 

    When I worked for a supplier, I realized our company was not for everyone, but it was right for many. The same principle applied when I owned my marketing company. Not all clients were a fit for a variety of reasons. Some did not appreciate our value as they are always looking for the cheapest price, were late payers, shopped our ideas, or were not respectful, loyal or open-minded. Over time, we made it a practice to target the right prospect and then interview the company to ensure a good fit. Believe me, we turned more potential clients away than we kept. Finding your ideal partner is a key component to having an open and communicative relationship. 

    It is true that everyone is busy, but you should never be too busy to ask questions, to understand and to ensure clarity. A fuzzy, ambiguous understanding fouls communication flow. Lack of clarity and assuming certain things further muddies the water. The power of asking good questions is a skill everyone needs to work on. Questions are never stupid; questions bring clarity and insight, and help light the path to understanding.

    You may or may not have worked for a company where empowerment stays at the top. When that happens, nothing moves and there is zero progress because every decision is micro-managed from the top-down. Many who have experienced this firsthand would tell you it is stifling. Lack of empowerment shouts lack of trust. What you are saying is not good enough, in fact, you are not good enough. This creates angst and ill will.

    Several years ago, I met a gentleman, Dana Montenegro, at one of my speaking engagements in the Caribbean. We hit it off rather nicely and after my presentation we had a lengthy sidebar chat. Dana had formally worked in a high-level marketing role for a large beverage distributor in the islands. He told me the story of how the company CEO encouraged failure—seems weird, right? But the explanation that followed was brilliant. Once of his co-workers totally failed with a major account. I do not remember the details, but I do remember him saying the CEO told the story in front of the whole company and proceeded to praise the guy because he took a risk, he tried but he failed. They were able to coach him, give him feedback and sent him off to try again. Imagine how that young man felt? It was extremely easy for him to take the constructive criticism and work even harder because he knew his boss had his back.

    Some of the most talented people fail. Michael Jordan, who I feel was the greatest player ever, said, “I fail every day of my life, and that’s what makes me great.” Understand you make mistakes, own them, learn from them and if you are the boss, empower your team to go out there and keep learning.


    There are two types of listening: active and passive. Without writing one more word, you know the difference because you have experienced both. A passive listener is not focused; this type of listener wanders and gets distracted. An active listener, on the other hand, looks at you when you speak, is not multi-tasking, seeks clarity, asks questions and never assumes. Be an active listener and communication changes dramatically.

    Ambiguity is the biggest deal-breaker. We “Type A” personalities tend to rush through things. We know it, we understand what we want and, in all fairness, we expect people to figure it out. This is especially true with written correspondence. Our industry is heavily laden with details, and half-hearted correspondence creates delays, issues, mistakes and, in many cases, these missteps are expensive. Take the time to clearly articulate what you need. I find when communicating with someone, especially when there is detailed information, it’s best to bullet-point the information in an email. This creates a checklist of sorts and is much easier to ascertain what I am trying to convey.

    When dealing with sensitive issues, having respect and empathy make a potentially tough situation easier to manage. If you need to reprimand someone, do it quickly and in private. Don’t let things fester or linger. Also, make sure you have a full grasp of the situation prior to sounding off. The ready, shoot, aim approach is least effective. When you need to deliver unwelcome news to a client, realize they need solutions, so go in armed with a couple of viable suggestions. Listen (really listen) to their response, hear what they are saying and let them know you hear them and understand.

    Feedback is synonymous with accountability. It is easy to point fingers at others but taking a different approach may serve you better. I’ve found that, in most situations, looking inward first, asking myself questions about how I could have managed that differently, smooths over many issues and I eventually work out the issue.

    I always ask: What could have I done differently? How could I have altered my approach or my questioning? Was I thorough? Did I assume anything? Was I clear? Most times the fault lies with me. Correct the problem, then go back to the person, own the situation and learn and move forward. As author Ken Blanchard said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

    To make the most of a bad situation, take the emotion out of the equation. Develop a filter and do not take it personally. I realize that is easy to say, but when communication is emotionally charged, the outcome is rarely favorable. A former CEO I once worked with said his grandmother told him to count to four after someone speaks before responding. One, you’ll realize they are finished with their thoughts and two, you can digest what they said before your answer. This is one of the most difficult things for people to master. However, when you are aware of it, you can accomplish anything.

    When you need to say something to someone, take a moment to think about the best method to communicate your message. In this fast-moving world of ours, I believe we rely on email and the various social channels too much. Some people are eloquent writers, but others are not, and too often the message can be misconstrued using these channels. Too often, things become misinterpreted or taken out of context, and the communication link becomes broken. Decide on the best channel; maybe picking up the phone or a face-to-face interaction is much more appropriate.


    Be open to all possibilities, hold yourself accountable, and be willing to take positive feedback and turn that into a real learning lesson.

    If you come at communication for the purpose of getting things done quickly and efficiently, remarkable things can happen. On the other hand, insipid, lackadaisical behavior does not foster effective communication.

    Smile. Even on the phone, people can tell if you are smiling—it just comes through in your voice. I heard a story once where a call center manager put mirrors on everyone’s computer monitors with the word “SMILE” on the mirror. Productivity increased and callers made positive comments about the difference. Smiling makes a significant difference; it is one of the best forms of nonverbal communication.

    The Japanese practice of Kaizen translates to “making better.” Former NFL referee Jim Tunney spoke at The PPAI Expo many years ago and shared this quote, “If it ain’t broke, break it and make it better.” Kaizen uses the same philosophy. This does not mean you need to dismantle your entire operation, but look at all the procedures and processes in your business—especially internal and external communication with others—and see where you can you make improvements. Even little improvements can make a big difference. 


    Here are a few more points to consider to improve communication all around:

    • Deliver good news, and especially bad news, timely.
    • Conduct surveys and offer rewards for responses.
    • Leverage your community.
    • Be fair, loyal and accountable.
    • Become a true partner, not a vendor.
    • Know the other person, their role and what their experience is.
    • Have an open-door policy.
    • Have an in-house training program.
    • Determine the best communication channel for everyone. People work and react differently.
    • Acknowledge and take advantage of your strengths.


    We have a great industry and this industry, like others, is reliant on details and getting them right. Do your best to improve communications with yourself first, then within your organizations. Ask questions and understand your partners. This industry has been my life for 40 years and I love it, but I realized early on that people have choices. Suppliers, distributors and our ultimate end-user clients all have choices. To ensure they choose you, make every communication positive, friendly and memorable. If we all do this, imagine what our industry would look like.

    In the words of the well-known motivational speaker, Les Brown, “Your ability to communicate is an important tool in your pursuit of your goals, whether it is with your family, your co-workers or your clients and customers.”

    I wish you continued good selling, an open mind and the willingness to listen. Keep smiling and make the most of every communication.   


    Cliff Quicksell, Jr., MAS+, president of Cliff Quicksell Associates, has been an active industry volunteer serving on various PPAI committees, as a speaker and facilitator at PPAI and ASI shows, and as a member of PPAI’s Ambassadors Speakers Bureau for more than 15 years. He has also served five terms as the education chairperson for Chesapeake Promotional Products Association and is currently board president.

    Quicksell has also been a speaker, trainer and international consultant to companies, associations and international business groups for more than 34 years and is the recipient of numerous awards including 30 PPAI Pyramid Awards and is a five-time winner of the Printing Industry PSDA’s Peak Award for creativity and the CPPA Creativity PEAKE Award. He was PPAI’s Ambassador Speaker of the Year for six consecutive years and, in 1997, was the inaugural recipient of PPAI’s Distinguished Service Award. Counselor magazine named Quicksell one of the Top 50 Most Influential People in the promotional products Industry. 

    He writes two weekly blogs, “Jumpstart Monday” and “30 Seconds to Greatness.” Reach him at cliff@quicksellspeaks.com and www.quicksellspeaks.com.

    Used with permission from PPAI Media

  • September 09, 2021 6:48 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    The following article was originally published by Print+Promo. To read more of their content, subscribe to their newsletter, Print+Promo The Press.

    Promotional products distributors are experts in advertising their customers’ companies. They know how to pick a product that end-users will appreciate, place a logo or branding, and get it into the right hands. But, all of that attention to detail and drive doesn’t necessarily carry over to promoting yourself. Hyping up your customers and going all-out might be second nature, but it can feel sort of weird to do it for yourself sometimes, can’t it?

    So what goes into a good self-promo for a distributor? How does the process differ from your own creative process for your outside clients? How do you get the product into the right hands and make sure it’s something that reps your brand well enough that you start receiving calls?

    We spoke with Scott Thackston, director of marketing and product development for Bandanna Promotions by Caro-Line, Greenville, S.C., about his experience working with distributors creating self-promotions, and how the right product can expand your pool of customers. With Thackston’s help, we identified five keys to an effective self-promo.

    1. Don’t Be Too Specific

    When you’re working with an end-buyer client, they often already know who they want to receive the product, what it advertises, the desired effect, whether it corresponds to a special event and so on. Part of the distributor’s job is tightening up any details that the end-buyer might not have finalized yet. For a self-promo, though, your prospective group of end-users is a much wider audience, so you need to cast a wider net.

    “It’s a little more vague usually with a self-promo,” Thackston said. “You’re going after an entire base rather than a niche market, like you would be if you have interest from an end-buyer. They’re usually more dialed-in on the use of the product or the target market, whereas a self-promo is a little more broad of scale, which gives you more opportunities.”

    2. Market Yourself (and Your Products)

    One of the best things about a self-promo is that it doesn’t just alert new customers to your business. It’s also a way to show existing customers a new product you might be offering.

    “Self-promo basically gives you the opportunity as a distributor to be able to market yourself with a product that could be intertwined into all of your customer base,” Thackston said. “So, it gets you in front of them seeing something unique and potentially a category item that this particular end-user has never used before. [A self-promo] has two or three different layers in my opinion. One would be, of course, it’s branding the distributor. Two, it’s introducing a potential new product. And then, depending on the end-user, it could be a whole category opening up for them on how to market.”

    3. Use Imprint Areas Wisely

    Thackston’s forte is bandannas, which he calls “the original square of logo magic” because of all the different decoration and application opportunities. But there are a lot of lessons you can glean from the noble bandanna.

    “It can technically be used in so many different areas and categories for end-users—anything from a wearable to a cheering device to just something that can be framed or saved, especially a concert or certain sporting event you go to or playing in a golf tournament,” Thackston said. “That said, it does have a very large imprint area that you can be very unique with your brand, along with different printing methods. And, in addition to that, it’s a functional item and it’s very inexpensive when it comes to printing in bulk. So, it’s a great handout for hundreds to thousands of potential buyers of that brand your end-user is promoting.”

    While Thackston is talking about bandannas specifically, the lesson translates to self-promos overall. The ideal self-promo item has space for information about your business and your capabilities, it should be a product that your prospective customers will want to hang onto, it should convey what you’re capable of both in terms of product sourcing and decoration, and you should be able to produce it for a large group of people. That is, of course, if you want to appeal to a large group of potential customers.

    That decoration is an audition, so to speak. If you can showcase the different design elements you’re capable of, it gets your business in front of prospects while simultaneously showing off your capabilities. If you can show off a variety of logo treatments, too, your prospects can see different options all in one place.

    4. Think Digital

    If you’re new to the promotional products industry as a distributor, it might be intimidating to get your name out. In ordinary circumstances, you could go to trade shows and hand out promo products for yourself. But, the last year has taught us that you need a different way to advertise yourself without relying on in-person events. Thankfully, we have the internet!

    “You can send out a mass email to your customer base and say that there’s a free new product you’d like to get into [prospects’] hands, and then just have a clickable email that pops up, already pre-populated,” Thackston said. “You can send it out that way. They could have the product of the month on their website or an e-blast with that. You can also make sure that the different sales reps take these promo products already printed with their logo on it out on their sales calls, and just hand them out. There are a lot of opportunities to do it electronically now, and also promote on social media that they’ll have these new items that are available free of charge for their next event.”

    This doesn’t mean you have to suddenly become an Instagram influencer overnight. But combining a digital ad with the promise of new products that you’d like to send to potential customers allows you to reach a wide audience without any actual travel involved.

    5. Show Yourself Off

    At the end of the day, a promotional product tells a brand story. Who knows your business better than you do? Just as you’d do for your own clients, make sure your self-promo helps you put your best foot forward and offers an honest representation of yourself and your business.

    “A self-promo needs to be reflective of how your brand looks, but [also] how your brand-users would potentially use this,” Thackston said. “Entice them to understand what the capabilities are of the product, not only promoting your brand that you represent in this, but additionally all of the ways that it can be used. Be creative. Don’t just get a product with a logo on it and expect a ‘wow’ factor. You have to put the little extra into the layout and design to really get it to move the needle and get more sales.”

    Used with permission from Promo Marketing

  • August 25, 2021 6:30 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    What do your clients want? It’s the million-dollar question. In a world that’s constantly changing during the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to determine the answer. Different businesses have been impacted in different ways over the last 18 months. Some of your clients may have struggled to stay afloat, while others may have experienced a boom in their business. Some may be wondering about their next step.

    Your business has probably also made some adjustments or gone through some changes during the pandemic. You may have added a new service or offering, or adapted roles to better serve your clients. Whether you’re a one-person shop or you work with a team of dozens, it’s important to evolve just as your clients are evolving. This requires keeping up with their changing expectations, says Mike Michalowicz, the founder of Profit First Professionals.

    In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, discuss Michalowicz’s three ways to stay aligned with your clients’ shifting expectations.

    Ask them what they need. Many businesses guess what their clients want, but this is a big mistake, says Michalowicz. To know what your clients need and want, you have to ask them. A survey is a good way to understand your target audience. Be sure to ask open-ended questions that allow your clients to share what’s going on in their business now. Michalowicz recommends mentioning that you realize your business needs to serve them in a new way as the pandemic evolves. Ask them what you can do to make their experience extraordinary.

    Be different from everyone else. How do you stand apart from all the other sales professionals out there? Michalowicz likes to use the D.A.D. Method. This stands for Different, Attract and Direct. You can be different by using varying ways of reaching your audience. If you traditionally send emails, try connecting via social media. Once you get their attention, you have to keep it. In the attract phase, Michalowicz recommends sharing your offering and showing why it’s especially useful now. And in the final phase, direct, your goal should be to include a call to action. This doesn’t need to be a big sell, he adds. You may just want your clients to sign up for a newsletter or resource.

    Deliver your offering. You do not need a massive budget to deliver your products or services to your target audience. Just remember that your customers want your offering to be convenient, affordable and sustainable, says Michalowicz. This means that when your clients receive their purchase, they should be able to use the offering right away. Do you have helpful content, such as a training or course, you could send? This can help differentiate your business from others and create a more enjoyable experience for your buyers.

    Your clients deserve the best. You can ensure you provide them with the best service, experience and outcome by staying in tune with their expectations.

    Compiled by Audrey Sellers

    Source: Mike Michalowicz is the founder of Profit First Professionals, a membership organizations of accountants, bookkeepers and business experts.

    Used with permission from PPAI Media

  • August 25, 2021 6:29 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    Deciding to bring someone new onto your team is a big decision. Whether you’re adding to your existing sales team, or you’re hiring your first person as a solo business owner, you want to make sure you hire someone who can do the job well and will love what they do. You want this new employee to not only have all the right skills, but to be someone you enjoy working with.

    To help you find the perfect fit, it’s important to go beyond the usual job interview questions, says Barry Moltz, a small business speaker and a member of the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame. Want some ideas on what to ask? Keep reading this issue of Promotional Consultant Today. We share eight questions Moltz recommends asking during the interview process.

    1. What do you hope to learn at this company in this position? The answer to this question provides insight into the candidate’s interest in growing and improving. It’s better to bring on someone who wants to learn and develop new skills than someone who is there to simply do their job and go home.

    2. Tell me about a time when … Moltz likes this statement because it requires a specific example. If you’re hiring for a sales role, candidates may have polished responses ready to go. This inquiry allows you to move past the generalities and learn about a candidate’s personality and skill set.

    3. What is your most significant career accomplishment? Some people may generalize and say they’re proud of many things in their career. Don’t settle for that answer, though, says Moltz. Their response can help you see what they value and determine if it aligns with your company’s values.

    4. If you could start your career over, what would you do differently? This question sheds light on the candidate’s career path. It also helps you see how well they adjust course. For example, are they still bitter over a job they didn’t get in the past, or have they moved forward toward another goal?

    5. What frustrates you the most (or really gets you mad)? Interviewees may hesitate to answer this question, but it’s a good one to ask. It helps you learn what irritates them and how they may channel that irritation into something positive.

    6. What do you know about the company? Make sure this is on your list of questions. If the candidate doesn’t know much about your company, they either haven’t done their homework or they’re not that interested in the job.

    7. Tell me about the worst relationship you had with the people you worked with in your last job. Listen closely to the candidate’s response—it will reveal how they handle conflict. You don’t want to work with someone who blames other people and doesn’t take ownership when difficulties arise.

    8. Is it better to be perfect and late on a task, or imperfect and on time? Moltz points out that most small businesses need things to be completed on time, but not necessarily perfect. Make sure the candidate’s response aligns with your needs.

    You can still ask the standard interview questions like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “Why should we hire you?” but consider mixing in some of the questions above. The answers will help you gauge whether the applicant is a good fit for you team.

    Compiled by Audrey Sellers

    Source: Barry Moltz is a small business speaker and a member of the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame. He’s the author of six books and a radio talk show host in Chicago.

    Used with permission from PPAI Media

  • August 25, 2021 6:27 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    Success looks different for everyone. You might want to earn an advanced degree, while your colleague may aspire to a achieve a higher position. Everyone has a different perception on the exact meaning of success. However, people who succeed at what they set out to do often share a few similar characteristics.

    According to best-selling author and business trainer, Dean Graziosi, it comes down to consistently practicing strong daily habits. Good daily habits, he says, can help improve your self-confidence and move the needle to higher achievement.

    Want to invite more success into your life? Learn how some of the most successful people operate. We share Graziosi’s thoughts on the secrets of high-achievers in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.

    1. They have a vision. You won’t catch successful people just wandering—they know where they want to go and they don’t waste time on tasks that won’t help them get there. Graziosi recommends looking at your life a year from now and asking yourself: If this was the best year of my life, what would it look like? Then, take steps to make it happen.

    2. They take ownership. Successful people are accountable to themselves and to others. When things don’t go as planned, they take responsibility. And when they commit to something, they follow through. Graziosi says the best way to keep yourself accountable is to focus on the collective “we” instead of the “I.”

    3. They show gratitude. Grateful people tend to look at life positively, notes Graziosi. If you want to be more successful, learn to look for the good in your life. Start at a base level, such as your morning cup of coffee or a cool breeze as you’re out walking. You could also start a gratitude journal and jot down a handful of things that you appreciate about your life.

    4. They radiate positivity. Graziosi says there are two types of people in the world: energy drainers and energy chargers. Strive to be a charger. These people bring an upbeat attitude and optimistic outlook to life. He adds that successful people practice positive thinking because they know how important it is for their overall well-being. When you look on the bright side, it’s easier to see all the possibilities.

    5. They adapt. The most successful people control what they can control and let go of the rest. They understand that things won’t be perfect every day. They know challenges will arise. But they keep going and look for ways to work smarter or more efficiently.

    6. They’re disciplined. Reaching your goals requires hard work. You can’t simply say you want to achieve something without putting in the necessary effort to make it happen. The people who thrive in life have clear, concise goals and obsess over how to achieve them, says Graziosi.

    Successful people do many things behind the scenes, but regardless of their path, most of them align with the points above. From maintaining a grateful attitude to committing to their vision, successful people stay consistent with how they live their lives. They know what they want to achieve—and they go for it.

    Compiled by Audrey Sellers

    Source: Dean Graziosi is a multiple New York Times best-selling author, entrepreneur, investor and business trainer.

    Used with permission from PPAI Media

  • August 25, 2021 6:27 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    What can we do to create a workplace that is more diverse, equitable and inclusive than the one we have today? Arlene Pace Green, PhD, founder of Dallas, Texas-based Enelra Talent Solutions, asked that question while speaking at PPAI Women’s Leadership Conference Direct-2-You in June. Her virtual presentation, “At The Intersection Of Diversity, Inclusion & Equity: What We Can Do To Advance Systemic Opportunity In Our Workplace,” was aimed at examining the key definitions of diversity, inclusion and equity, and how these definitions have changed over time, along with exploring what individuals can do to advance racial and gender equity in today’s organizations.

    Green’s data reported that only six percent of S&P 500 CEOs are women, even though women make up 52 percent of the U.S. workforce. Likewise, one percent of these CEOs are African-American, while about 15 percent of the population is African-American, and about two percent are Hispanic, although this group represents about 17 percent of the working population. 

    “We need strategies to bring a different approach, thinking and innovations to make a transformative change so, 20 or 30 years from now, we can look back and see that we’ve made a significant difference in the equity available in workplaces,” she said. 

    Green went on to explain that organizations have traditionally thought of diversity as a binary construct based on establishing white males as the foundation and, for diversity, to pivot from there. “That is inaccurate and problematic for so many reasons,” she explained. “Organizations are moving beyond this binary construct to building a definition and understanding of diversity based on a much more multi-faceted foundation, and it’s not centered by any one category. That new way of thinking is more in line with the reality that we are seeing in the U.S. and globally. Instead of talking about wanting diversity, organizations should focus on under-represented groups and bring in people who add to our culture and give us new ideas about how to approach problems.”

    But how do companies accomplish this and what is holding them back? To further the conversation, PPB spoke with Kathy Cheng, president of supplier Redwood Classics Apparel in Toronto, and Monique Erving, national account manager at distributor Bensussen Deutsch & Associates, Inc. in Woodinville, Washington (above, right)—both members of the PPAI Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force—to provide commentary on some of the most commonly-asked questions on this issue.


    What are the issues that hold companies back from building more diverse teams?

    Kathy Cheng: I would say five things hold them back: lack of a healthy, diverse talent pipeline; lack of ownership of a DEI/supplier diversity strategy; lack of cultural intelligence, specifically cultural awareness, and experiences amongst teams have not been fostered, hence the abilities to see and relate to more perspectives and experiences are diminished; lack of communication (the value and importance of diversity has not been communicated top-down or bottom-up, and collective input, at all levels, is key); and resistance and fear of change.

    Monique Erving: There are numerous issues depending on the industry. One of the main reasons is their unwillingness to seek out candidates that are different from their ideal employee.

    What are some steps companies can take to begin to move toward diversity within their workforce?

    Cheng: Recognize and acknowledge that this is a business strategy. Internally, it’s with your staff and externally, it’s about your customers and supply-chain partners. Research has proven that diverse and inclusive organizations are more profitable. Adopt clear communication of intent and expectations. Be clear and concise of the intent and expectations around the organization’s goals and objectives. If the fear of change or the fear of the unknown is a potential hindrance of diversity concept adoption, organizations can communicate and define goals and objectives for staff. Define your “why.” Not understanding why the intentional efforts of diversity can contribute to the resistance to change, so by clearly defining the goals and objectives across the organization may encourage diversity concept adoption. Break your habits. Let’s face it. No one really likes to disrupt their habits and routines, so human nature dictates a most likely encounter to resistance. With clear communication of intent and expectations for establishing new routines, that may lend comfort to those who may resist the change, while also empowering those who may embrace the change. Anticipate and acknowledge that change is not going to happen without resistance. When you anticipate the resistance, you will be better prepared to work through it during the implementation of this change process toward a more inclusive and diverse culture. Recognize that what gets measured, gets done. And people want to know what’s in it for them. Regardless of position within the organization, the motivation to change will come from recognizing how this change management will and can benefit them personally. It’s important to recognize that the learning process not only benefits the organization, but by benefiting the organization, embracing a diverse strategy will positively affect all members of the organization. Finally, establish the key performance indicators for compensation.

    Erving: Organizations can start to invest in groups or organizations that are immersed in diverse communities in order to expand their net to capture a more diverse candidate pool.

    What challenges should company leaders be prepared to face when working to create diversity within their teams?

    Erving: Leaders should be prepared to face numerous roadblocks from employees, business partners and society as a whole. This is due to the fact that inequality in our nation has been driven by deep-rooted, long-term, unfair work practices.

    What does equality mean in terms of the workplace and what are some ways to achieve it? 

    Erving: Equality means to provide the same level of opportunity and pay for the entire workforce.

    In your experience, what do companies struggle the most with in terms of creating an inclusive workforce? 

    Erving: Companies struggle in creating an inclusive workforce because their HR leaders are not inclined or given the directive from the owners to be inclusive. Many of the corporate hiring directives are created to seek out candidates who resemble the owners. Because of these practices, most HR departments have very limited experience in building a diverse workforce.

    What is the most important lesson to remember when working toward DEI initiatives in the workplace?

    Erving: Always engage with an open mind. Be prepared to uncover the practices that are presented to be fair, but truly are unfair when you pull back the layers.  


    Kathy Cheng and Monique Erving serve on the PPAI Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, which partners with PPAI staff to expand diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the promotional products industry and its workforce by creating education and networking opportunities. The task force also strives to increase the visibility of underrepresented groups within the industry’s workforce and inspire industry business leaders to embrace inclusive, unbiased business practices. In June, the task force produced its latest educational effort, a webinar discussing critical questions related to DEI and the workplace with members of the DEI Task Force. Listen to “DEI: A Roundtable Discussion” on-demand at onlineeducation.ppai.org/on-demand-webinars.

    Task force members also include:
    Johanna Gottlieb, Axis Promotions, Chair
    Noah Lapine, Lapine Associates, Board Liaison
    Nenette Gray, Lemonade Creative Marketing
    Ed Hamner, Howling Print & Promo
    Hugh Lawson, Staples
    Joel Schaffer, Soundline, LLC
    Cindy Tsuji, Image Source
    Maurice Norris, PPAI Staff Liaison
    Pamela Brown-Matthis, PPAI Staff Liaison
    Bob McLean, CPA, CAE, CEM, PPAI Interim President


    • In 2020, PPAI produced The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Playbook to guide member companies through the essentials of diversity, equity and inclusion, and help them identify areas for improvement and strategies for targeted initiatives. The book is free for download at ppai.org/advocacy/diversity-inclusion/diversity-equity-inclusion.

    • “A Look At Race And Diversity In The Promo Industry” is a PPAI PromoTalks podcast, presented by PPB, with guests Esmeralda Anaya, marketing manager at supplier Terry Town, and Bryan James, co-owner of distributor Corporate Specialty Insignia. This 50-minute episode, moderated by PPB Associate Editor Kristina Valdez, dives into what race and diversity look like in the promo industry. Anaya and James share their experiences with everyday discrimination and offer insights into how the promo industry can become more diverse.

    • Join PPAI’s ongoing DEI conversation by becoming part of the Diversity, Equity And Inclusion Promo Connect community. Designed to empower collaboration among industry professionals, this community is a place to connect with like-minded individuals, ask questions and share what you’re learning about the topic in the workplace. Find it at community.ppai.org/communities.

    • Find a full list of industry podcasts, articles and additional resources on DEI at ppai.org/advocacy/diversity-inclusion/diversity-equity-inclusion.

    Used with permission from PPAI

  • August 25, 2021 6:26 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    Third in a series 

    In this series, distributor owner and sales coach Josh Frey answers frequently asked questions on a wide range of sales topics.


    I am having a really difficult time getting prospects to return my emails and phone calls. I need more leads for my promo business, but I don’t know how to get them. Any ideas to help?  

    Yes! And by the way, who couldn’t use more leads in this highly competitive swag biz we are in? I know I sure can.

    But it’s not just any old lead … you want quality leads. Can you imagine quality prospects and clients who return your calls and emails, remain loyal to you, place repeat orders (without pricing you out each time) and give you referrals to other buyers? Sound too good to be true? 

    It is possible to get these types of buyers and leads but you have to be strategic. Repeat after me: STRATEGY. It’s something the majority of your competition is missing but it’s a huge opportunity if you can adopt one. 

    Specifically, what is your strategy when it comes to separating yourself from the competition, in the eyes of the buyer? Listen to those words; it’s not how you think you are different, it’s how the prospective buyer thinks you’re different.

    I want to dig into this a section because in coaching hundreds of reps over my career, and polling thousands of reps from our DHD webinar series at go.theswagcoach.com/dhdregistration, the focus tends to be on how distributors perceive ourselves competitively. More often than not, our goal is to deliver “superior customer service” or “unreal creativity.” These may be true, but if the majority of your competition is proclaiming those same things, does that really competitively differentiate you?

    With our Small Group Coaching community (www.theswagcoach.com/small-group-coaching-sessions), there is one proven, key strategy that we passionately promote because it’s so effective when it comes to separating ourselves from the competition. We call it targeting your “Million Dollar Niche (MDN).” In other words, focus on a vertical market, become an “expert” in how that market does business and craft your sales pitch so it aligns with your target buyers’ needs. Sound complicated? It’s not. But it does take discipline and focus. 

    Here’s how to find and go after your own Million Dollar Niche. These 10 steps can help you get strategic with your sales efforts. If you can successfully pull this off on your own, you will get more leads and sales than ever before. 



    Consider targeting an industry that genuinely interests you. Are you a sports fan? Maybe a real estate junkie? Health-care nut? There are lots of industries you can service. Take time to think about which would be the most fun and interesting for you.


    Narrow your target to one industry. Yes, I know it sounds scary, but to be able to successfully execute on this strategy, you must start off with one market to pursue and see this process through. Once you have success, and have built a million-dollar book, then of course consider the others. The reality is, if you choose correctly, all you need to build a multimillion-dollar book of swag biz is one million-dollar niche market.  

    Now that you have identified your MDN, it’s time to find the largest “players” in that market. Build a list of at least the 50 largest companies or organizations in your niche to give you a sense of the playing field. Knowing who these companies are will help you build out your target list of prospects (see step 5).

    Who are the decision-makers in your MDN? Are they the CEO, executive director or owner? Maybe the HR or marketing director? You need to identify who the key decision-makers are, by title, so you are targeting the right people. And the “right people” are those with budgets, who will buy your products and solutions. Identifying the right buyers, up front, will save you time and shorten your sales cycle.

    Now that you have completed steps three and four, it’s time to “build your list.” Aggregate the contact names by company/organization that you plan on contacting. Typically, companies will have multiple buyers within them, so if you’ve done your homework and identified at least 50 companies in your MDN, you will have a solid 100-plus leads to work from on this list.  

    Now that you have built your target list, go and connect with those buyers on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. You want to have an online network from your MDN to whom you can eventually share your expertise and contribute as a member of their online community.

    Your MDN will most likely have a trade association (just like the promo industry has PPAI), and that will help you get a clear picture of what local, regional and national events are scheduled at which you can possibly be an exhibitor or sponsor. Don’t have a ton of resources? No worries—volunteering is a great way to rub shoulders with decision-makers and build relationships with potential buyers in your MDN.  

    Now that you know who you are targeting and you have an industry focus, it’s time to position yourself as an expert. Once you learn their needs, their buzzwords and lingo, you can start to speak the same language as your buyer, and you can also present yourself as a marketing partner who can help them do their job better, faster and more effectively, because you know their market. 

    So what are you going to say, and what products are you going to offer to showcase your expertise when pitching to a MDN buyer? Write down your pitch and practice it. Aggregate a list of products into a “mini catalog” separated by categories that tie-in with the MDN. Let’s say you focus on associations as your MDN. You’re no longer selling pens, bags and polos. You’re selling speaker gifts, registration kits, volunteer uniforms, etc. See the difference? Your MDN pitch will speak their language and give you instant credibility. Share a few case studies on how you have successfully helped others in the MDN and boom! You’re off to the races.


    It’s time to execute. You have the target audience. You have the pitch and the products you’re going to talk about. You’ve identified the buyers and know where they “play ball,” online and offline. It’s time to get after it and start working those qualified leads.

    Good luck crushing your promo sales with this MDN strategy. It has worked really well for us and our clients, and no doubt can work for you and your promo sales. And get you more high-quality leads.  


    Josh Frey is founder of Falls Church, Virginia-based distributor On Sale Promos and the Swag Coach Program. He is a 25-year industry veteran and front-line sales coach. Josh@swagcoach.com. Visit TheSwagCoach.com to register for his next Distributors Helping Distributors show and learn more about his promo coaching programs offered.  

    Used with permission from PPAI Media

  • August 25, 2021 6:25 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    Promotional products businesses have learned to be on the lookout for scams and fraudulent orders. Industry professionals are generally quite vigilant, but scammers can slip through the tightest defenses. A recent example is distributor Promotional Marketing Services in Athens, Georgia, which unexpectedly fell victim to a sophisticated phishing email scam that took time, effort and money to resolve.

    In this case, hackers took over the company’s email system and sent out an email—with a staff member’s signature to give it more credibility—with a subject line requesting an RFP. The embedded link went to an Adobe Spark link that, while looking legitimate, contained a virus. The hackers used their email list to send out more than 1,600 messages and, to keep the company from being aware of the intrusion, added a rule to the email setting that automatically marked incoming messages as “read” and moved them to the “deleted” folder. This type of exploit escapes firewalls because it comes from a trusted email address and Adobe Spark is widely considered a trusted product. When email recipients began responding with questions, like “Is this a valid email?” the hackers would respond as if they were the company, assuring them it was valid.

    “It seems that the hackers want access to the email addresses although I'm not sure for what purpose,” says Lori Lord, president and owner of Promotional Marketing Services. “As a distributor already dealing with additional work with the supply chain issues, I spent two days and a great deal of money to deal with this.”

    Lord inadvertently discovered the scam when phone calls began coming in. “My team and I were meeting for our monthly luncheon and our office line began to ring a lot. The calls were coming in to ask about this email they had received. So, we immediately knew something was wrong. The first thing we did was change our voicemail message to explain what happened, and then we sent an eblast to our entire contact list letting them know we were hacked and not to open this email,” she says.

    “Next was the call to GoDaddy Office 365. They manage our Microsoft emails accounts, and I was lucky enough to get an awesome rep on the line who spent an hour and a half with me, walking me through the process of digging into the deep settings of our email accounts—we have four—and determining what was happening. Between the time on the phone and the cost of the additional protection we added to our accounts, it was approximately $1,000 to resolve. Then came the task of contacting all of the clients and suppliers whose systems had blocked our emails from coming into their servers. That was more time, energy and delays in getting orders processed. It was a domino effect of the hacking event, and we are still dealing with some of that now.”

    Lord also notes, “While I was talking to the GoDaddy rep, he asked me what industry I was in. When I told him, he said that he had just talked to another person in the same industry who had something similar happen. So, is the promo industry being targeted by these hackers?”

    A previous PPB article, “Scammers Vs. The Promo Industry,” outlined some of the ways scammers prey on promotional products companies and how industry businesses can respond. In general, here are a few things to look out for whenever doing business online:

    Look for poor spelling or grammar in emails.

    Notice whether they ask for personal details in an email; your bank will never ask for security information or account information in an email.

    Don’t open attachments or click links if the email is from someone you don’t know or if you are not expecting the email.

    Be wary of orders from new customers submitted through your website. Scams often start with asking for a quote on a large quantity of items, especially USB drives and blank t-shirts.

    Do not reply to spam. Educate your staff on this practice, too. Practice good security measures. For example, create a strong password and do not reuse your email password on other services. Enable encryption in your email settings. Use antivirus software and keep it updated, and set Windows to automatically update or install all security updates. Use a reputable company to host your email and ecommerce.

    When shipping offshore, be wary of a shipping address that is a private residence. Research the address on Google Maps, which often provides snapshots of what a building looks like. Sometimes this step can help filter out fraudulent orders.

    Check the company’s website to ensure that the address and phone number match the information on the order. Click links on the website to make sure it’s legitimate, too.

    Scammers almost always pay by credit card. Before you establish open credit for an unfamiliar company, look it up in Dun & Bradstreet.

    Be sure the company is legitimate by checking it out on Google and then calling to check.

    Generic domain email addresses such as @hotmail.com are often tip-offs to a scam. Check it out first.

    Use caution if the requester offers to pay immediately by credit card or requests immediate shipment.

    Know the person or company to whom you are selling. If you don’t know them, find someone you know who does.

    Used with permission from PPAI Media

  • August 25, 2021 6:24 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    After more than a year of virtual events and networking behind a computer screen, in-person trade shows are continuing to make a strong comeback this summer, and the promo industry has fully welcomed their return. On August 5-6, Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC) returned to in-person trade shows with the SAAC Expo 2021 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California. The event drew distributors from across the region to connect with peers, introduce their clients to the latest and greatest promotional products and be inspired about what’s to come.

    “It felt great to be at SAAC Expo,” says Stephen Ropfogel, MAS, SAAC’s 2021 board president. “While the show was not the largest in SAAC history, we had about an eight-to-one distributor/supplier ratio, which gave us time to stop and discuss projects and products. The best part of SAAC Expo for me has always been reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. We are a relationship industry and the best way to build on our relationships and start new ones is in person at Expo.”

    Alan Peterson, SAAC interim executive director, adds, “On behalf of the SAAC board, I’d first like to thank everyone who made SAAC Expo 2021 the resurgence of expos and promotional products sales in the Southern California region. It was the first trade show hosted by the Anaheim Convention Center since Spring 2020 and, by all accounts, for both attendees and exhibitors, was a resounding success.”

    During SAAC Expo’s two-day run, attendees met with exhibitors, joined a keynote presentation on the state of the industry given by Peterson and Ellen Tucker, CAE, PPAI director of business development and expositions, and sat in on the show’s “Insight On A Buyer’s Perspective” session, a panel discussion with distributors and end users. On the show’s second day, distributors accompanied their clients on the trade-show floor to give them a closer look at what exhibitors had to offer.

    Ropfogel adds, “While we did not have as many buyers attend as I had hoped, it is a good start. What a great way to educate your customers on all that we can do for them. We have all walked into a client’s office only to see a promotional product that they did not buy from us, and to have them say, ‘I did not know you sold coffee mugs, magnets or …’ you fill in the blank.”

    Mindful of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, SAAC Expo organizers took extra precautions to make the event as safe as possible.

    Peterson adds, “We kept health and safety at the forefront of the event. Though not required by the county or convention center, we made sure to have PPE readily available and kept an eye out for any changes to recommended guidelines.”

    The promotional products industry’s calendar has been full of regional trade shows and events since earlier this spring and at least 20 more in-person regional shows are planned through end of October.

    Used with permission from PPAI Media

  • July 14, 2021 5:53 AM | Dara Cormany (Administrator)

    The U.S. jobs outlook continued to improve in June, with The Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index following May’s growth with further increases. The Index reached 109.84 in June, up from 107.7 the previous month, and is now up 28.2 percent year-over-year compared to June 2020.

    The Employment Trends Index is a composite index for employment. Changes in the index indicate that a turning point in the number of jobs is about to occur in the coming months. It aggregates eight leading indicators of employment, each of which has proven accurate in its own area. The Conference Board notes that aggregating individual indicators into a composite index filters out “noise” to show underlying trends more clearly.

    The June increase in the Index came as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported another significant month of growth. Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 850,000 in June, with the unemployment rate slightly changed at 5.9 percent. It says that notable job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, public and private education, professional and business services, retail trade and other services.

    “The very rapid improvement in the Employment Trends Index in June suggests that strong job growth will continue through the summer,” says Gad Levanon, head of The Conference Board Labor Markets Institute. “In the coming months, the U.S. labor market is likely to remain very tight. Recruiting and retention will remain extremely difficult, and wage growth will remain very high. Toward the end of 2021, labor shortages are likely to moderate as some of the labor supply constraints ease. But as the number of jobs in the U.S. economy continue to grow at an historically high rate, unemployment may again dip below four percent within the next 12 months. A tight labor market is likely to be the new normal until the next recession.”

    The tight labor market is being felt across the business landscape, including in the promotional product industry. Tom Goos, MAS, president of Kirkland, Washington-based distributor Image Source, says, “It is tight. We have four open positions currently and are having a much harder time attracting talent. Overall, the number of resumes we have received is down 50 percent from our normal number. Washington State just recently started requiring people who are out of work and receiving unemployment benefits to show proof they are actively looking for job opportunities. The second half of the year will be busy, and we are hoping to staff up to meet client needs.”

    Tamara Borello, MAS, chief operations officer at distributor EPromos Promotional Products in St. Cloud, Minnesota, adds, “The mid-high-level positions are easier to fill, but more competitive now. The entry-level and more administrative roles are challenging as people are not as willing to make a change as easily. Conversely, those in current management roles seem to be curious as to what other positions and alternatives may exist. Remote is absolutely preferred over mandatory in-office position requirements.”

    Kevin Nord, president of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Pro Towels, says, "The labor market is very tight and we are constantly looking at new ways to think out of the box to engage potential employees. There are challenges that fortunately we have been able to overcome with our leadership team."

    Used with permission from PPAI

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