Don’t Fall for this USB Drive Scam from China


USB Drive
USB Drive Received in the Mail
I definitely want to put this out to the masses – especially to people in my network within the promotional products industry. In my regular USPS mail, I received a key chain USB Drive that was packed-out in a small padded envelope. The product was addressed from Factory A, on Ground Floor Gee, Gang Ind Bldg., No 108 Lok Shange Road, Tokwawan KowLoon J-BSJ. Nothing else was inside the package but the device itself.

In addition to being a children’s picture book author, I also own a 21 year-old marketing business specializing in the wholesale distribution of promotional products (logoed merchandise). Needless to say, receiving a sample of this nature would be fairly commonplace, especially since we sell imprinted USB drives to our clientele – except the package was addressed to me personally and not to my promotional products business, Tagsource, LLC.  The mailing label also had my home phone number on it – a number that is never given out by me or anyone on my staff. That mere fact alone probably saved me from throwing the USB drive into the company sample bin or a desk drawer, or worse yet, letting curiosity get the better of me enough to plug it in to see what was on it.

So, I did a little research on this little USB, and discovered that the “probability” is high that the device has an autorun feature installed on it, malware or other potential virus. Plug it in and your laptop or desktop could be fried, or you may even expose yourself to identity theft. While I can’t be sure that this particular drive is part of a scam, I’m posting several links below which cause me a great deal of concern. Any additional shared insight from other promotional products professionals would be great. This is definitely something we should start talking about within the promotional products industry as a whole. Note that I have sent a tip to the FBI about the device I received. I will let you know if I hear back from anyone there about any known cyber attacks with USB Drives being sent via the USPS from China.

Perhaps maybe our days of reselling imprinted USB drives should be over?

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2010/10/dont_stick_it_in.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2997401/The-killer-USB-FRIES-laptops-Malicious-drive-uses-high-voltage-destroy-computer-s-circuit-board.html

https://www.reddit.com/r/sysadmin/comments/1ozisp/this_suspicious_little_usb_device_that_our_it_got/

http://www.wired.com/2014/10/unpatchable-usb-malware-now-patchsort/

http://www.ucs.cam.ac.uk/support/windows-support/winsupuser/usbinfections

http://magazine.promomarketing.com/blog/yes-we-should-be-scared-about-bad-usb-drives-dale-denham

Tonia Allen Gould/CEO

Tagsource, LLC

www.tagsource.com

#USBSCAM

biobag_specsUpdate:  We took the liberty of querying one of our USB Drive suppliers, iClick, about the security risk.  Here’s their response on the matter:

From: Jacquie Little [mailto:jacquiel@iclick.com]
Sent: Wednesday, August 26, 2015 2:21 PM
To: kelley@tagsource.com
Cc: TJ Vail

Hi Kelley,

Thanks for sending this our way. We have been aware of these types of scams and our solution to combat was to provide a sealed security packaging for all of our USB drives. See the specs attached. This may be something you would like to share with your team.  It’s another element of our commitment to product safety and protecting our customer’s from potential hazards associated with USB distribution.

If you have any questions or further concerns, please let me know how I can assist.

Thanks for reaching out and have a great day.


Jacquie Little
Decorate and Customer Resolutions Lead / iClick

Custom Ninja USB Drive produced by Tagsource.com

when thought turns to hate


IMG_1385.JPG

What makes discussion great is when thought leaders advocate, debate, pontificate, commiserate, relate, educate and collaborate…until thought turns to spate, promotes hate, carries weight, problems accelerate, personal ideals dictate, ideas deflate, people turn irate. And, then it’s too late.

-TA Gould

LinkedIn Pro Tip from a Social Butterfly


Let someone you invite to your network know how you came to find them or be referred to them. It can be as simple as, “I’m long time friends with so and so and I found your contact through her and think our connection here may be mutually beneficial.” Anything less than that is just creepy like the stock messages I’ve been getting on LinkedIn, “Please join my network.” My knee-jerk thinking is, “What do you think this is? Twitter or something? I don’t know you! I only talk to complete strangers on that social network.

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Finding Value in Creativity


Copyright Tonia Allen Gould, All Rights Reserved
Copyright Tonia Allen Gould, All Rights Reserved

 What’s an idea? The mere concept of an idea is difficult, maybe even impossible to perfectly define. Even notable philosophers couldn’t seem to agree on what an idea truly means. The Free Dictionary Online indicates that according to the philosophy of Plato, the definition of an idea “is an archetype of which a corresponding being in phenomenal reality is an imperfect replica.” The web source goes on to say that according to the philosophy of Kant, “an idea is a concept of reason that is transcendent but nonempiral.” But, even Hagel said it differently. He claimed that an idea means “absolute truth; the complete and ultimate product of reason.” In the dictionary, the definition of an idea reads “something, such as a thought or conception that potentially or actually exists in the mind as a product of mental activity.”

To me, an idea is something that begins as a glimmer; a mere flicker in the mind that can suddenly grab hold, and unfold through any period of time, like the single root of the ivy plant that grounds itself deeply into the soil before it grows upwards, clinging to a wall with its tiny tentacles, reaching out and hanging on, until it forms its own shape and dimension. The ivy grows and grows, like no other ivy plant in existence, and reaches for the sun in a way that suits itself in order to flourish. Like an idea, the ivy didn’t plant itself. Someone had to place it there. The gardener of the ivy had to have foresight to buy or rent the house, invest in the fertilizer and the soil and the tools; he had to invest in the plant and spend his time digging the hole and planting it in the hopes that it would grow.

Like the gardener; creative professionals must make an investment in time, be committed to the outcome, and diligently work to understand and meet the project objectives.  That’s a lot of footwork and fancy dancing already.  But, what about the ideas you generate…those tiny seedlings of thought, that grew and took shape and added a dimension to the project that were unlike every other idea before it…those absolute truths…those nonempiral transcendent concepts of reason…those imperfect replicas…what about those? Those ideas, my friends, have value and they are your greatest asset. Sometimes, we forget that and give them away too freely, as if they have no value.  So if you’re questioning your creative worth, maybe you should start looking first at your assets.  #yourideashaveworth

Remember Who You Are


Simba: Father?!
Mufasa’s ghost: Simba, you have forgotten me.
Simba: No! How could I?
Mufasa’s ghost: You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the circle of life.
Simba: How can I go back!? I’m not who I used be!
Mufasa’s ghost: Remember who you are.
©Disney

My father was a salesman. I don’t think I realized this when I was a little kid growing up in the Midwest, but he definitely was one, even though his real occupation was working as a foreman for the Indiana State Highway Department. Back then, I’d spend time with my dad who was always looking to find ways to supplement his income to make an honest living. On weekends, Dad would drive me around in one of his old, beat-up cars or trucks he fixed-up himself. My family and I wouldn’t get too used to whatever vehicle he was driving at the moment, as it generally wouldn’t stay around long. The car merely served as a short-term means of transportation, and a roving billboard that advertised its own sale. While he didn’t have any long term relationship with the vehicle, he did have a certain attachment to it that came from having pride in his work, illustrated through his own mechanical abilities, which enabled him to fix things that were broken.

On any given Sunday, Dad and I would be out on a mission, looking for other “For Sale” signs on tractors, lawn mowers, cars, trucks, boats or trailers parked haphazardly in some stranger’s yard. We’d spend hours on end in search of whatever we could find that not only suited Dad’s liking but also matched his mechanical skills to buy, fix-up and sell again for a profit.

On any one of those days, my handsome dad would pull our car into some random driveway, climb out, smooth back his hair, hoist his pants and walk confidently up to knock on the stranger’s door as I stayed lingering, paces behind. “I’m here about the lawnmower you’ve got for sale out front,” he’d say, and then he’d follow the owner out to the yard to look the product over, while I stood quietly nearby.  I learned a thing or two about the basics of selling alongside my dad back then. After all, he was the master of the “wheel and deal,” and one of the best negotiators I’ve ever met. But while my father would sometimes negotiate the terms of the sale or offer a barter or trade when he didn’t have just enough money, the biggest lesson I learned back then is that my father, ultimately, didn’t mind paying a fair price for the right product.

Part of my father’s “business plan” included his self-reliance on his mechanical knowledge and his ability to fix-up something that was broken, while still keeping in mind its full potential or value. This is what differentiated him from other buyers and sellers in the local area. He understood the cost of parts and labor as well as what was involved in buying something that needed to be fixed for resale. He’d buy it, only if he felt he could breathe new life into it and if he was guaranteed a profit for it when he turned the product.

Looking back on all this now, I realize my father would have made an amazing entrepreneur/business owner. He had the right mindset and business acumen. He never compromised who he was or deviated from his goal of turning a profit to put food on the table or to simply provide for his family. He’d buy something. He’d fix it up. He’d resell it. And, then he’d start that process over and over again, honestly and fairly, always being mindful of his profit margins along the way. If he were still around today, and if he had an actual business, I know that he wouldn’t have wavered from his business approach much along the way. After all, he was in the business of making money.

While all of this may be nothing more than simple lessons I learned early on in life, they made a fairly significant impact on me, nonetheless. In this crazy, mixed-up economy we are experiencing today, it’s so easy to become desperate and to sell yourself, your qualifications and your talents short. If you devise the perfect formula for success, it should include differentiating yourself to create value, to make an impact and to stand out, while still minding those margins to make sure you get fairly compensated in the process of all of that hard work and steadfast determination. For my promotional products industry friends, remember to rely more heavily on what you know: Buy a product, fix it up with your client’s brand and sell it–at a fair and honest price. Showcase your skills and knowledge, and this will differentiate you from the masses. “Remember who you are,” but most importantly, don’t compromise yourself along the way.

 

Remember Who You Are


ImageOriginally Written by Tonia Allen Gould for PromoKitchen.com.

Simba: Father?!
Mufasa’s ghost: Simba, you have forgotten me.
Simba: No! How could I?
Mufasa’s ghost: You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the circle of life.
Simba: How can I go back!? I’m not who I used be!
Mufasa’s ghost: Remember who you are.
©Disney

My father was a salesman. I don’t think I realized it when I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, but, still he was one, even though he worked as a foreman for the Indiana State Highway Department. Back then, I’d spend time with my dad who was always looking to supplement his income to make an honest living. On weekends, Dad would drive me around in one of his old, beat-up cars or trucks he fixed-up himself. My family and I wouldn’t get too used to whatever vehicle he was driving at the moment, as it generally wouldn’t stay around long. The car merely served as a short-term means of transportation, and a roving billboard that advertised its own sale. While he didn’t have any long term relationship with the vehicle, he did have a certain attachment to it that came from having pride in his work, through his mechanical abilities, which enabled him to fix things that were broken.

On any given Sunday, Dad and I would be out on a mission, looking for other “For Sale” signs on tractors, lawn mowers, cars, trucks, boats or trailers parked haphazardly in some stranger’s yard. We’d spend hours-on-end in search of whatever we could find that suited Dad’s liking and matched his mechanical skills to buy, fix-up and sell again for a profit.

On any one of those days, my handsome dad would pull our car into some random driveway, climb out, smooth back his hair, hoist his pants and walk confidently up to knock on the stranger’s door as I stayed lingering, paces behind. “I’m here about the lawnmower you’ve got for sale out front,” he’d say, and then he’d follow the owner out to the yard to look the product over, while I stood quietly nearby. I learned a thing or two about the basics of selling alongside my dad back then. After all, he was the master of the “wheel and deal,” and one of the best negotiators I’ve ever met. But while my father would sometimes negotiate the terms of the sale or offer a barter or trade when he didn’t have just enough money, the biggest lesson I learned back then was that my father didn’t mind paying a fair price for something he wanted.

Part of my father’s “business plan” included his self-reliance on his mechanical knowledge and his ability to fix-up something that was broken, while still keeping in mind its full potential or value. This is what differentiated him from other buyers and sellers in the local area. He understood the cost of parts and labor as well as what was involved in buying something that needed to be fixed for resale. He’d buy it, if he felt he could breathe new life into it and if he was guaranteed a profit for it when he turned the product.

Looking back on all this now, I realize my father would have made an amazing entrepreneur/business owner. He had the right mindset and business acumen. He never compromised who he was or deviated from his goal of turning a profit to put food on the table or to simply provide for his family. He’d buy something. He’d fix it up. He’d resell it. And, then he’d start that process over and over again, honestly and fairly, always being mindful of his profit margins along the way. If he were still around today, and if he had an actual business, I know that he wouldn’t have wavered from his business approach much along the way. After all, he was in the business of making money.

While all of this may be nothing more than simple lessons I learned early on in life, they made a fairly significant impact on me, nonetheless. In this crazy, mixed-up economy we are experiencing today, it’s so easy to become desperate and to sell yourself, your qualifications and your talents short. If you devise the perfect formula for success, it should include differentiating yourself to create value, to make an impact and to stand out, while still minding those margins to make sure you get fairly compensated in the process of all of that hard work and steadfast determination. Rely more heavily on what you know: Buy a product, fix it up with your client’s brand and sell it–at a fair and honest price. Showcase your skills and knowledge, and this will differentiate you from the masses. “Remember who you are,” but most importantly, don’t compromise yourself along the way.

Tonia Allen Gould is President/CEO of TAG! The Creative Source, a consumer promotions and marketing agency headquartered in California.

1993 and the Rena Lopez Story


The year was 1993, and I just landed a sales job in downtown Los Angeles working for a national digital imaging and photographic lab that catered mostly to clients in the cosmetic, architectural, advertising and entertainment industries. It was my first corporate job, and one where a suit and high heels were my standard, typical attire. I’m pretty sure, back then, the term “business casual” had not yet been invented.

The offices were stunning, and the location at Sixth and Olive was ideal for me, the new recruit whose assigned territory was downtown LA to the Mid-Wilshire area. I had the one enviable job of being able to walk to many of my client’s offices, or at most, have to endure a ten-minute drive across town to get to wherever I was going, unlike some of my counterparts whose territories were spread across the Greater Los Angeles area.

The offices were stunning and beautiful with black and white checkerboard floors and splashes of red throughout the interior. I loved hearing the echo of my high heels clip-clapping across the floor at my new corporate gig every morning as I arrived at my cubicle. Once there, I’d drop my briefcase on the floor and reach in it and grab my Franklin Day Planner and start my busy day. The best tools I had were my pen and phone. Outside of those two things along with my planner, files on my desk, some notes and a gun metal grey recipe card box; my desk area was almost always free from clutter. On the occasion that I had to write a client letter to pop in the day’s mail; I’d turn around in my swivel chair and check to see if anyone else was on the one office computer stationed towards the back of the room. Life sure seemed easier back then.

Every Thursday morning from the hours of 10:30-12:00; all the salespeople in the company had to be at their desks for our scheduled “Phone-a-Thon”. This is the one day in the week where we’d make prospecting phone calls to targeted accounts from caveats used to train us to overcome objections. During this set allotted time; we weren’t allowed to take incoming phone calls or schedule meetings outside of the office. My boss, Deirdre, made sure of it. Afterwards, we’d all meet in the conference room to talk about our success and failures from the phone calls we made.

Every Thursday morning before I began my cold-calling routine, I would open up my recipe card box and review each card with my “future” client’s names on them. On the back of each card; I’d check my last date of contact. One lone divider separated the cards. All my prospective leads went to the front of the box. If I got someone’s voice mail, I would move the card to the back of the first deck in front of the divider. I would also move the cards of people I couldn’t get an appointment with behind the divider, thinking I’d try them again in three months. Looking back on it; it may have been an archaic system, but it worked for me and helped me to get the job done.

Each Thursday, I would try to get a gal named Rena Lopez from First Interstate Bank on the phone; and every Thursday morning, week-after-week; I’d get her voice mail. I’d always leave some new and different message telling Rena that I would try her again the following week, and I always did just that. For ten weeks; I never gave up on Rena. I was after all, committed to her and she had by then, represented somewhat of a significant challenge to me. On the eleventh week; assuming I was getting her voice mail again; I began to leave a message with my standard, “Hi Rena,” when she finally spoke. “Tonia?” she said, “Oh good! It is you! I’ve meant to call you. Anyway, you are one of the most pleasant pains in the derriere, I’ve ever come across! What you don’t know is that every week, from 10:30 to noon, I’m in a meeting with my boss! You only got me today, because he’s out sick!” I laughed and said that I was so glad to finally reach her. She asked me to walk up Bunker Hill to see her right away. If you’ve ever worked downtown LA; you’d know that that’s an arduous hike straight up an oddly placed, giant hill. I remember it was a brisk walk and I was feeling elated and confident the whole way. I couldn’t wait to meet Rena Lopez!

Long story short, I stepped away from that meeting with a rather large purchase order. I didn’t have to sell myself or my company to Rena. By then I had already established rapport. I think it’s fair to say, a “typical” sales professional would have already given up on Rena, but I was no typical sales professional. I loved a good challenge!

There are some significant lessons in all of this pondering back to my days of yore. I’m not suggesting you give up on technology and lose your computer or your Microsoft Outlook program. Clearly, those technological advancements and others like them since the early 1990’s, have come a long way, and have made my life as a business owner and sales professional improve immensely. But, there’s something to be said about a good, solid system that keeps you grounded and focused, like mine and my trusty, old recipe card box.

My success with Rena Lopez, and other clients like her also had to do with the set date and time every week that I put away to prospect. Be sure to carve out some time on your calendar and stick to it, and also be sure to implement software (or, a recipe card box if you prefer!) that tracks your leads and calls. And most importantly, don’t give up too soon on prospects who haven’t called you back. People are shuffling a lot of work around these days and they may not have the time to get back to you. Consistency really pays off. Who knows, your next prospect could be your Rena.

Baby’s Got Her Humor Back


I lost my sense of humor almost four weeks ago. It disappeared suddenly when I learned that someone who works for me, someone I cared a lot about, was hanging onto his life in a near-fatal car crash. What became immensely clear was that someone in our little family at TAG! The Creative Source was in trouble, and for the first time in seventeen years, “doing business” suddenly felt trivial and lacked significance. I felt guilty picking up the phone. Smiling or laughing was out of the question. And, like any mother; I worried that this young; twenty-three-year-old man wouldn’t pull through, after learning that he had something like a five per cent chance of surviving.

Catastrophic events in small businesses create snowball effects that you can’t even begin to imagine unless you work for one or own one that has been through one. People don’t deal with crisis well in general and they cease to function when they are traumatized. Traumatized people think and behave differently, and character becomes unbalanced.  Add work to the mix and projects get shifted, pushed off and even delayed. Traumatized people at work look out the window and the sky seems darker than it would on an ordinary day when life was normal and everyone was sitting in their respective chairs.

Small businesses are like families that lack only a dinner table. You get to know each other intimately. When one family member is missing; it’s different, altered and maybe never the same again. After the token, single day a small business owner “gets” to feel the pain that everyone else is feeling, the owner has to rise to the challenge, react and keep things moving along. Any good leader will tell you; even in crisis mode, the small business owner has to pick themselves up, stand tall and no matter what, they have to remember that the business is a living, breathing entity of its own. It has to go on.  Pushing the business back into forward momentum can be perceived as selfish, and the business owner walks a tightrope for awhile.  But, if the business owner doesn’t react, people could be out of jobs if clients reassemble and land elsewhere.

So, as a small business owner, I had no other choice but to keep things progressing along, shuffling duties, taking on extra responsibilities, listening and trying to keep people focused on the tasks at hand. We had some fallout. But, four weeks later; we’re better and stronger because of it. We’ll know better how to handle chaos and confusion next time.  Next time; I’ll know what to do.

So, as I mentioned; I completely displaced my sense of humor. It was gone, forever, I thought.  (You lose perspective when you are overwhelmed and fatigued). But, I finally found it again, although it took a couple of important events for me to locate it.  Last Saturday night, I ended-up at a small industry party in Dana Point, CA. Somewhere around 1:00 AM; I phoned for a cab to get me back to my hotel while a friend was listening to the conversation nearby. The operator at Yellow Cab asked me for my street name. I said, “Camino Capistrano.” The operator said, “Can you spell Camino?” I spelled it, “C-A-M-I-N-O”.  He said, “I’m sorry; I didn’t catch that.”  I spelled it once more and again he said, “I’m sorry, I still didn’t catch that.”  Frustrated and ready to give up, I said,  “Let me try it this way.  Candy. Apple. Mary. Isotope.” As soon as I said isotope, my friend and I started laughing so hard that I couldn’t finish the call.  Even the operator was laughing. Tears were streaming down our faces. We couldn’t stop; we were literally possessed by laughter.  For me, this otherwise, non-momentous occasion signified the first time in four weeks that I had really smiled or laughed at all.

Yesterday, I finally heard from my employee and friend who almost died. His voice was as clear and confident as if he were sitting in the office next to me. “Hi Tonia,” he said, and inwardly, I started to cry.  After ten minutes of talking to him and learning from him, in his own words, that he was going to be just fine; I hung up the phone and laughed and laughed and laughed. Laughter really is the best medicine, and now, finally, Baby’s got her humor back.

“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.”
Maya Angelou

For the Guy in the Front Row


The Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), the largest media and marketing organization serving the promotional products industry, invited me to speak at their shows last year on “Building Killer Campaigns.” Sometime soon; I’ll write about the preparation involved in public speaking and about my journey to my first hour-long speaking engagement. (Leading up to this point, I had only served on industry panels with a moderator and at least two other speakers). But, I don’t want to write about that long, winding road that leads to public speaking just yet. Today, I’m more compelled to write about something amazing that happened while I was speaking at ASI Show San Diego.

Somewhere during the middle of my presentation; I made eye contact with a person in the audience for a bit too long and lost my stride. I stumbled for just a few seconds trying to find the right words and my presentation went in a new direction, one that surprised me and my colleagues who were sitting in the audience, both of whom knew how the presentation was “supposed” to go. Since I was fairly rehearsed, I could tell by their bewildered faces that they knew I was walking into unknown terrain, but I could also see their relief when my new material managed to stay true to my slides.

Quickly, I caught my stride once again, and everything started to fall right back into place. However, not long after the misstep, one of my colleagues motions her watch and indicates that we have twenty minutes left, but I misunderstood and thought she meant that I had only been speaking for twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes? Only? In my head, I rationalized that I was talking way too fast. Tactically, I was now dealing both with the new direction I was taking in my presentation and trying to figure out how to slow the whole thing way down. If you’ve ever spoken in front of an audience before, you know that’s an awful lot of brain exercise in one standing; it’s like the equivalent of being the conductor and the one man band, at the same time.

So, I needed to kill some time, or so I thought I did. There was really only one thing to do and that was to engage my audience more. That meant that I would need to stop talking for a spell and get my audience to do some of the talking. I had just been talking to them about brainstorming ideas for a movie title which I used as a sample campaign. We had covered the synopsis, the movie trailer, the project scope, the creative assets and elements, and brainstorming ideas. I was just getting ready to share with

them ideas that came out of our own in-house brainstorming session at TAG! But, in effort to ease the pace; I decided to ask the audience for their ideas for the movie campaign. So, I began conducting a real-life brainstorming session with them. I reminded the audience that no idea was a bad one while brainstorming, and that brainstorming is all about free-wheeling group discussion. I encouraged them to throw ideas out there to see where they land and that some of the best ideas spawn from someone else’s. Hands suddenly flew-up everywhere and my presentation, the culmination of two month’s work and preparation, took life.

Inadvertently, the discussion became highly interactive. The impromptu brainstorming session drove my earlier talking points home. Still, I got them to think harder. Rather than saying NO to any of their ideas, I probed, “Is that idea useful? Is it functional or feasible? Does it fit the client’s needs and wants? Does it meet the project scope? Was it around budget? It was beautiful, the hands kept flying up and one idea after the other took flight, each one spurring a new idea from the next participant. And, then I asked, ”

Can it be decorated or imprinted to convey the message?” That’s when it happened; that’s when the guy in the front row asked the question, “What’s an imprint?” For the audience, it was an immediate buzz kill, because to our industry; the imprint to the promotional product is like the paint to the painter or the hair to the stylist. This guy in the front row was a real newbie with probably no more than five minutes in the industry under his belt. I answered his question as informatively and delicately as I could and moved through to the end of my presentation. Like all presenters that day; I ran ten minutes late, but the whole experience was exhilarating. What I learned that day was that great things can happen from making mistakes. But the real lesson was the one I still had to teach. That came afterwards when a group of people approached me, and told me that they learned a lot from my session. One woman began to apologize profusely for the guy in the first row and for his total lack of knowledge about our business. She said, “I’m so sorry you had to deal with that.” I looked at her and smiled and said, “I appreciate your concern. I’ve been in the industry for a long time. I’m ready to share my skills and knowledge. I’m here speaking today because of the guy in the front row. He’s the one I’m trying to reach.”

TAG! is a consumer promotions and marketing agency specializing in the effective use of promotional products in the marketing mix. We assist buyers who are looking for products to generate traffic, leads or sales while delivering measurable ROI.

Caution: Children at Play


I’ve been writing about how necessary it has become for me to slow down to the speed of life.  Things had begun to get out of control, because I’ve been moving too fast and I’ve allowed things to pull me in too many different directions for too long a period of time.  My priorities started to shift and the most important people in my life started to feel less important.   I’ve been working on all of that, and in the last month; I’ve seen and done a few things that caught my attention in new and different ways, because I’ve opened my eyes and switched from “auto-pilot.”

I watched my son pitch his first strike-out in a Little League game, and win the coveted game ball.   Had I been fifteen minutes late to the game (which I generally am), I would have missed some of that.

I took pictures of my beautiful daughter and really “saw” her through the camera lens as I watched her board a party bus to Prom with her date, along with twenty or so other captivating, young women and their dates, and then I began to imagine life at home without her for nine months out the year when she goes to college, and I couldn’t.  Later, I took her shopping and sat on a bench and watched her come out in several different outfits.  I wasn’t on my phone or checking emails while I was waiting either;  I just sat there and marveled at both her inner and outer beauty and she caught my breath every time she exited the fitting room.

I’ve had a date night with my husband, and I had forgotten how good those are.   I thanked my husband each time he took care of something around the house that saved me some time.  He changed the air filters in the attic and I thanked him.   He took my camera into a camera shop and told them I said it wasn’t working and then laughed at me after he learned the lens wasn’t screwed on right, and I thanked him.  He hired the guy to chop down my beloved tree that I fought a whole year to try and save,  and still, I thanked him, because it was something that needed to be done and he knew I wouldn’t do it.

Instead of concentrating on my own philanthropic efforts, I’ve been helping my son get his first cause off the ground.  I’ve been encouraging his young entrepreneurial spirit and have opened my eyes even more to his big heart, filled with compassion for others.   I watched his entire classroom fold paper airplanes from art that could only be drawn from the eyes of child about the ugly tragedies in Japan.  I stood and watched as my son coached an entire classroom on how to make the paper  origami planes that he loves to make so much, and watched as  little their third-grade faces lit-up as they launched them into the air outside.  I noticed that when you look up on a sunny workday for no other reason than to see paper airplanes soar, you take in things you forget to see like the sun and the sky and the clouds and the very tips of tree-tops too.  You can check out my son’s efforts at  http://www.facebook.com/APaperProjectToAidJapan

I received TWO massages this month, and didn’t allow myself to fall asleep during either one of them, and even spent time relaxing in an infra-red sauna to rejuvenate my body and spirit.

I’ve said thank you and complimented more, and argued and criticized less.  (We humans don’t even realize that we are sometimes controversial just to be controversial.)

I stopped to pet and play with our animals more.  In time I had forgotten to stoop to pet my best friend who greets me at the door, every single time I’ve been away.

I’ve even eaten breakfast a few times…ok, so it was just a banana, but at least I had something to nourish my body besides coffee before noon.

And after all that, business obligations were met, deadlines at TAG! were kept, the laundry and housework still got done, and I am not one bit worse-for-the wear.  So, that’s all I really have to say about that.

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Trash or Treasure? Four Promos That Solve Real-World Problems


 

THE DOUBLE-WALL INSULATED TUMBLER: You have the capacity to reduce your carbon footprint significantly with a double-wall insulated plastic tumbler that replaces the plastic water bottle.  Bottled and sold water is one of the scariest conveniences known to humanity.   Each year, more than 26 BILLION plastic water bottles are thrown away, and only just 15% of them ever get recycled.   The double-wall, insulated plastic tumbler is designed to replace bottled water altogether.  Standard tumblers are BPA Free, are available in both 16 & 22 ounce sizes, are easy to fill with filtered or tap water (or other cold beverages), and they promise to keep your drinks cold.  The tumblers come standard with a washable lid and straw.  New models feature the ability to house a four-color process printed insert to maximize your logo or brand positioning.

THE STAINLESS STEEL TRAVEL TUMBLER: For the same reason that a double-wall insulated tumbler has the propensity to help save our beautiful Mother Earth, so does the Stainless Steel Travel Mug.  While we don’t have more recent figures, we read at Answers.com that, “In 2002 Starbucks served about 20 million customers a week, earning $3.288 billion. In 2007 Starbucks had earned a net income of $9.411 billion. This is a growth rate of 286.2%. Assuming the 20 million customers are correlated with the net income and its growth rate, and assuming that Starbucks served 57.24 million customers a week, that is about 2.98 billion customers served per year!”  Now, these staggering figures may be a bit outdated and affected by the economy, but we’re guessing all that equates to legions upon legions of  throw-away cups from that one well-known coffee-house alone! Imagine the impact if everyone used a travel tumbler instead of the convenient “to go” paper cup that Starbucks distributes.  Not only would there be less waste by using travel mugs instead of  paper cups, but less trees would have to be chopped down to make those cups in the first place.   Don’t forget the $0.10 you save per cup by toting your own beverage container.  Pop your logo on this puppy and treat yourself to walking, talking, animated, human advertisers carrying their favorite cups of Joe and your brand.

THE USB DRIVE: Did you know that each year, 19 billion catalogs are mailed to American consumers?  https://www.catalogchoice.org indicates the impact of that equates to 53 million trees,  3.6 million tons of paper, 38 trillion BTUs (enough to power 1.2 million homes per year),  5.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions (equal to the annual emissions of two million cars),  and 53 billion gallons of water (enough to fill 81,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools).  These Environmental impact estimates were made using the Environmental Defense paper calculator.  Now, enters the USB Drive.  USB Drives have the capacity to ANNIHILATE the need for a print budget altogether.    USB drives are fast becoming a formidable competitor to conventionally printed marketing pieces like unwanted catalogs that get thrown or tossed away.   If a savvy marketer does some long-term, strategic, and out-of-the-box planning; it can be proven that USB Drives offer an affordable alternative to short and long- run printing projects.  Imagine if USB drives were collected and redistributed over and over to the targeted recipient, major corporations could reduce their internal communications printing budgets, save trees and make a significant environmental impact.   Your catalog or data can be uploaded on each drive before you distribute them by your promotional product marketing agency with worry-free hassle.  USB drives have fast become a popular solution in delivering effective corporate communications.

 

 

THE RECYCLED GROCERY TOTE: In January of this year, the Los Angeles Times reported that  Santa Monica, CA, BANNED plastic single-use bag distribution in stores citywide.  “The action was urged by Heal the Bay and other environmental groups that say widespread use of the cheap bags has created a global “plastic pollution plague.”  The LA Times reports further that, “Under the ordinance, plastic bags will no longer be available at grocery stores, clothing shops or other retailers, although restaurants may use them for takeout food. Smaller plastic “product bags” with no handles, like those used for produce, will be allowed for public health reasons.  Heal the Bay praised the action, saying the vote added momentum to similar proposals throughout California. Already, bans have been approved in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, Marin County and the city of San Jose. The city of Calabasas will consider its own ban next week.”  Here is an incredible opportunity for corporate marketers to co-op branded grocery totes with national grocery chains who surely will follow suit.  Promotional quality, eco-friendly totes solve the dilemma to the age-old question, Paper or Plastic?

(Tonia Allen Gould is the President/CEO of TAG! The Creative Source, a Camarillo, CA brand messaging marketing agency that specializes in the effective use of promotional products in the marketing mix.)

WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get)


Wikipedia indicates that “WYSIWYG (pronounced /ˈwɪziwɪɡ/[1] WIZ-ee-wig) is an acronym for what you see is what you get.” In other words, what is directly in front of you should form the whole and complete picture. As shoppers, we can see and touch and feel a gallon of milk and never once question whether that gallon of milk sitting on a shelf in the refrigerated section of a grocery store is, in fact, a gallon of milk. We can choose to take it off the shelf, place it in our carts and take it home with us, because we never have to question the validity of a gallon of milk. We can do this because we know what a gallon of milk should look like, simply, because it’s WYSIWYG.

WYSIWIG has been one of my favorite acronyms to use in business too. I can walk a trade show for hours, touching and feeling products, trying to get a sense of how they work, how they’re made and how they will withstand certain conditions, and rely on that information coupled with my knowledge, to effectively communicate a product’s benefits to my customer. Generally, in my business, if you can see it and touch and feel it, like that gallon of milk; it too is WYSIWIG.

The concept of WYSIWIG is so simple, that people inadvertently apply the notion to other people. Applying WYSIWIG too soon is why people find themselves walking around ungratified in their relationships. Until only recently, I used to mechanically trust people. I thought most people were a fairly open book, once you opened the cover and studied them a bit. I stupidly believed that everyone could be figured out, if only I spent a little time getting to know them. I would apply my analytic, intuitive, and highly trusting natures, and within a short period, be able to size someone up and decide whether I’d invite them into my circle. Just like that, and sometimes almost overnight, POOF! With me, a person could go from complete stranger, to trusted friend that easily, because I was ready to make that transition and leap of faith, purely based upon what I saw in them. This mentality has caused me some pain in life.

I realize now that has all been an unhealthy way to view people and probably even a dangerous way to live. People can’t be sized-up over a relatively short period. You have to know them for who they are, and to do that, you have to look beyond those first and second and third layers, and sometimes this takes a while. Like an onion, you have to peel back the layers until you really come to know a person for who they are, and I suggest you do this before you call a person “friend”, or date someone exclusively, or get married, or take that job, or give a person the keys to your office and the passwords to all your records. I can tell you that in my lifetime, I’ve met many people who I have inadvertently trusted through both an active professional and personal life. I can also tell you another thing I know, unequivocally, for sure now; if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it isn’t necessarily, a duck. It could be an actor duck that does voice-overs in sheep’s clothing.

Life is a Balancing Act


Photo gleaned from E-how Article By Ma Wen Jie, eHow Contributor

The idea for this post, started with a Tweet. “Balancing work & life is like being on a teeter-totter. I’m the fulcrum w/ kids on 1 end & a biz, the other. I’ve got 2 hold ’em both up.” The idea for the Tweet started with my first day back in the office after being out-of-town in Dallas for several days. When I returned, both my family and my job needed me, and like every other time I’ve been away, I immediately started the balancing act I like to call, “My Life.”

A fulcrum, quite simply, balances two similar weights. If you are a working mother too, I know you can appreciate the analogy. At home, I have a sixteen-year-old daughter who is a junior in high school and has begun SAT prepping. She’s starting to think about where she wants to go to college. My daughter, is a smart kid, but is struggling in pre-calculus. Leading up to this point, absolutely everything in her life has gone her way. She’s good at everything she touches and could, quite frankly, skate through life on that notion alone. While she sometimes pushes me away, as teenagers who are getting ready to fly the coop often do; I know she needs me now, more than ever, to help her to figure out how to begin to orchestrate the rest of her life.

My son is equally gifted, or I think he is, from a completely biased mother’s perspective. He’s almost nine and spends hours on end making origami, drawing finite pictures, building rockets, making his own science experiments and looking-up answers that his parents aren’t smart enough to answer. He wants to be a rocket scientist and one day, go to work at NASA. Athletics only interests him slightly (which is a good thing, because he’s only slightly athletic) and my husband and I have to prepare to raise a true scholar.

Both of my children need me in very different ways, and every day, those needs change as sure as the shifting tides. But, I have a third child and one that I’m a single parent to, my company, TAG! The Creative Source. TAG! is my sixteen-year-old, thriving, teenaged marketing company that wants to grow, and I have to review strategies that will take my company through to its adulthood. At TAG! I’m truly on my own with no partner in place.

If you were to ask me, why I do it, why do I carry the weight of two separate worlds on my shoulders; I’m sure my answer would relate to some and probably differ from most. I work, not because I have to, but because I want to. I also require personal security; I don’t want to have to worry about what to do if something ever happened to my husband. In addition, I want to raise my children to believe that they can grow up to be absolutely anything they want to be. My son may well want to walk on the moon someday, and I know we are raising him to do exactly that, if he wants to. My husband and I are blessed with two incredibly independent children who can now think on their own two feet and who are able to contribute to the world with or without us.  Because my husband and I both work, our two children have learned to function on their own when necessary. 

So, this is how teeter totters are made. Mothers like me, sometimes root themselves firmly into the ground, and allow massive weights to be placed on their shoulders while two separate forces rise and fall despite the needs of the other. Sometimes, we falter, but we try to never crumble, for if we do, we know the weight of two worlds will come colliding down upon us.

When you came across this post, you were probably looking for some great article to build your own teeter totter at home. If that’s the case, I don’t want to disappoint. Check out this great article on e-How, “DIY Teeter-Totter.” However, back in Indiana, where I was raised, all you needed to make a teeter-totter was a log and a piece of plywood.

Shut Up and Listen


I had an epiphany.  It’s crazy, really, how an epiphany can come to you in many different ways.  Mine came to me this past Sunday in the form of a petite, jovial, middle-aged massage therapist with magic fingers and hands at a day spa.  Before I met her, I read about her first in the lobby while I was waiting.  Flipping through the laminated pages in a white, otherwise non-descript binder; I found the name of my massage therapist.  Right next to her picture and bio was an abbreviated title.  I had to do a double-take.  She was a chiropractic doctor!  I sat there scratching my head and thinking what on Earth would possess a doctor to work as a massage therapist in a day spa, when she could be out changing the world being a doctor. 

I was intrigued, so I did what I normally do when I’m curious about something; I “Googled” up some information.  In two seconds flat, I learned about the cost of becoming a D.C. or Doctor of Chiropractic.  Apparently, if you complete 25 hours each quarter, you should finish after 14 quarters. If you borrow the maximum amount for each of those quarters, your total borrowing will be $164,472!   Here I was, in a membership day spa, where the average cost of a massage is just $49, but the therapist starts out just making $15 an hour.   This doctor, I surmised, was in a professional battle, spiraling downward.

I had no other choice but to disrobe completely in my room, put on my sleuthing hat, and try and figure out this woman’s seemingly professional and ill-fated demise.  Lying face down on the table, The Doctor tapped lightly on my door and casually entered.  She quietly asked me about areas that I would like her to focus on and then quickly assessed my needs. 

Five minutes into our introduction, there it was.   I had already heard The Doctor’s entire life story as her voice continued to rise an octave beyond my comfort zone.  Her incessant chatter and laughter filled up the little room with a constant assault against my senses and total well-being.  She barely stopped to breathe or pause for even a second as I heard all about her failed private chiropractic practice, her seven siblings, how she bounced from job to job, and her desire to be paid tips under the table.  I was lying there, conflicted by both her verbal onslaught and her expert touch and knowledge of the body.  Yet, I was receiving the most incredible massage I had ever received, one that could only be delivered by a doctor who was educated four plus years about human anatomy. 

So, here’s the epiphany.  As an employer; I need to remember that it is my job to make sure that the people who work for me know and understand their weaknesses, just as much as they know and understand their strengths.  It’s my job to ensure that my employees are more marketable, when and if, they ever leave my company for another job.  Otherwise, if they don’t cut it here; I’m just throwing them back out to the wolves to repeat their past mistakes.

So many people get frustrated when they get passed up for a position that they felt they deserved, but rarely does the employer take the time to tell them why. I think it’s important for people to have a chance to correct their own behavior.  Maybe they just needed someone to be honest with them in the first place.  (If not their employer, maybe just a good friend.)  There are too many people out there, like The Doctor, who take their bad habits with them wherever they go and would probably change if someone took the time to point out the obvious.  In this case, it was The Doctor’s horrendous bedside manner that was more than likely inhibiting her personal success.

Playing with Promos


So, I’m sitting in my office and my assistant brings me a small package addressed specifically to me.  (A package with my name on it always intrigues me more than a letter or an envelope, and I allow it to disrupt my day.)  Just as curiosity killed the cat, I open the box, and discover a complimentary product sample from a supplier.  “Woohoo!   A gift!  I like gifts!”  I say to myself.   I pull out the plastic cylinder delicately wrapped in Kraft paper, and twirl it around a few times with my fingers.  Inside the packaging I can see a pen that looks somewhat nondescript.  The packaging is branded with the word “SMENS” with a tagline that read:  Gourmet Scented Pens.  Gourmet, huh?  Let me be the judge of that.

As a promotional product, brand marketing professional; I’m required by unspoken promo law to give a product a chance before making any real judgments.   I begin to play with the packaging to see if it “works” for me, which is difficult for me since patience is not a virtue of mine.  (Intrinsically, I want to rip off the top of the tube and smell the yummy goodness inside, but I wait for it.)  I twirl the tube around with my fingers a few times and note that the supplier thoughtfully labeled and marked the imprint area for my client’s logo; it features a whopping 2.638″ x 1.42″ imprint area!  Then, I notice the tube is made of 100% Biodegradable plastic, and it is not only marked with a point of origin, but also a safety notice indicating the product is a choking hazard and it’s not suitable for children under the age of three.   Wow!  I conclude that this supplier “gets it” right out of the starting gate; and I haven’t even opened the tube yet to unveil whatever delightful “gourmet scent” wafts from it. 

Slowly and with much anticipation, I twist off the cap and…HOLY MOTHER of recycled products…YUCK!  It’s LICORICE!  Black licorice!   I detest black licorice!  I dislike the smell, the taste, and the mere thought of it.  The area around my desk is now consumed with the authentic, albeit gourmet, scent of pure, ground, black licorice.  The pen is plain and made from recycled newspapers and I’m no longer quite as “engaged” as a targeted recipient.  One quite savvy marketer missed the mark, by just that much.
In defense of SMENS (who also sells SMENCILS); we’ve all done it.  How would SMENS have known that I strongly dislike black licorice?  Even the savviest of marketing professionals miss their marks when it comes to reaching their targeted audiences.  So, in all fairness, I went to www.smens.com and noticed the company sells a host of gourmet scents, some of which would appeal to a mass audience.  If I were SMENS; I might steer clear of introducing their product initially by way of black licorice and vanilla, two scents that might offend certain people.  All in all, for a scented, completely environmentally-friendly pen; I think they are right on the money with their mission.   The robust quality of the scent also makes me want to give them another chance with one of my client’s orders.  I think I’ll check out the Ninja Berry, Carmel Corn or Mocha and get back to you on that.

Ramblings from the Car Wash


I’m sitting in a massage chair at a car wash, cleaning out my purse, where I have once again discovered over ten dollars worth of change. Lugging coin of this amount, along with two bottles of perfume, four tubes of lipstick, an iPad, a wallet, a make-up bag (with more lipstick), and legions of my sons Lego parts, may very well be the reason my lower back hurts. How do I let things get so messy in there?

I have the option of putting a hard-earned dollar bill into the chair for a five-minute massage, but I think I’ll save all of them to tip the guys outside. (The chair doesn’t take coins, or I would, for sure, indulge.) Besides, those guys outside deserve my money, because my car has been on two road trips in fourteen days and my kids seem to think that my floor boards are the nearest recycling center.

I’d have more money in my wallet, if I had a free moment before now, to run by the ATM, which I haven’t. So, here I sit, my purse is now rid of receipts and random, unnecessary stuff, and I’m reveling in a few moments to myself, listening to piped-in music from a car wash on a massage chair that isn’t on, taking a few moments to blog. Oh, the guilty pleasures of a mother and business owner who runs on a battery that needs a constant recharge. Was I really just on vacation?

Like most working mothers, we’ll take our guilty pleasures wherever we can find them. For me today, its at the car wash finding a moment to blog. Tomorrow, it may be in a twenty-minute bath with dimmed lights and a glass of wine. Sometimes, it’s standing in my kitchen creating a new recipe, while the rest of my family watches TV. Like a bounty hunter finds it’s felon; I’ll continue to seek out these moments to myself and revel in them when I can find them, twenty minutes at a time.

It’s a new year and there’s much I want to accomplish both personally and professionally. I know my head will be in the right place, if I continue to find moments away from the fray, to concentrate on me.

If you’re a stay at home mom, or a working mom like me, make sure your head is screwed on tight. What’s more important than finding them, those moments, is to revel in them when you do. More than likely you’ll be a better wife, mother and contribution at work, as a result.

Budget vs. Per Unit Costs in Determining Promotional Marketing Spend


Finding the right promotional product that enforces a brand, while delivering the right message under budgetary restrictions are some of the biggest challenges that a promotional products sales rep faces with their client.  Too often in this economy, salespeople inadvertently  compromise brand integrity due to a client’s budgetary constraints, by delivering sub-standard product that meets those budgetary constraints.  Too often, the buyer is convinced since they’re working on a shoestring budget, they are limited in the products in which they can choose.  Sometimes, this might be the case, but in most circumstances it is not.  Even with a sizable budget, it’s imperative that salespeople don’t get too focused on per unit costs of the products that they are selling, but rather a client’s overall marketing spend.  

Instead of thinking about per unit costs which limits the customer’s choices, learn how to get an overall understanding of the client’s total marketing spend for the event, trade show, promotion, product launch or campaign.  Then, begin to  understand where the products you present fit into that bigger picture.  I like to think about all of this in terms of a pie.  I’ll fraction my client’s trade show budget pie off into five pieces, after we’ve discussed and learned some of her projected trade show expenditures.  Her first “spend”, or piece of the pie, goes to her exhibitor company who makes her booth and graphics; the next piece to her transportation company; the next piece to her fulfillment house; the next piece for exhibition costs; and then finally, the last piece of the pie went to her marketing budget for uniforms and trade show giveaways.  

In discussing my client’s exhibition costs, or the first piece of the pie; we learned that her exhibitor company outsourced table cloths, banners, graphics and the like, but specialized in the  booth hardware.  By asking questions, we learned that we could save our client money through our own promotional resources, trimming her booth design costs.  Through this process, we also learned that our client’s transportation costs included a handling fee from her fulfillment house for holding  the goods as we shipped them, and that she was also charged by the day.  In addition, we knew she would be charged both shipping and handling fees for transporting the goods to the show.  From that discussion, we worked to save our client money by shipping our products as close to the event date as possible and in some cases we shipped product directly to the trade show, cutting out fulfillment costs altogether.  Due to this big picture planning, we were able to trim from the client’s overall trade show budget and shift that spend to promotions that our buyer could use to generate booth traffic, develop leads and promote sales.  In my client’s eyes, I shifted from being a product salesperson to my client’s on-call consultant.

Now that the budget was finally determined; I started to break down my client’s needs for their uniforms and promotional giveaways for all attendees.   We determined that the uniforms had to be  top-notch and SCREAM quality.  Next, we realized that we had different levels of needs for the attendees of the trade show.  Those attendees were placed into into A, B, and C categories.  All attendees who stopped by my client’s booth received an “C” level gift.  (We needed lots of under $5.00 items that our client could hand out at will to anyone that stopped by.)  Mid-level managers in attendance received a “B” gift with a higher spend and lower distribution, and executives were given a “A” level gift with an even higher budget and much lower distribution.  We had four pieces of the pie this time, and determined our giveaways by focusing on the client’s total budget and not the client’s initial per unit cost directives. Inevitably, the client spent more on promotional product used or distributed at the trade show to promote company awareness and goodwill.

Tonia Allen Gould
Tagsource (Founder)
BrandHuddle (Founder)