Promo Marketing Top 50 Distributors 2012: The Interviews
Maybe more than other years, 2011 was a year worth thinking about. Not because it was particularly successful (though it was for some), nor because it was inordinately revolutionary (though big changes did come). Not because it was Earth-shattering or business-breaking, not because the wheel of business fell apart hopelessly or got reinvented 1,000 times over. What mattered about 2011 was that it was the year of business-as-usual.
The year illustrated the lifetime of struggles a business faces almost perfectly. As old threats died down and were mastered (the recession), new ones appeared and promised danger from a whole new angle (government PR smears against promotional products, stricter control legislation against physical products). Technology was typically disruptive, bringing such changes as social networking moving from a nice perk to a major competitive edge for those who understand the idea of social selling. Businesses folded, got purchased and merged in ways that would affect the flow of the industry for years to come.
For all the same struggles however, there was also all the same fighter's heart. Still reeling from a recession that broke plenty of other industries, ours kept its footing and braced to fight the newer (old) threats. Lobbying efforts started to get traction with the government, technological aptitudes continued to grow, and distributorships kept innovating, thriving and expanding.
As with all our past features, this year's Top Distributors piece focuses on some of the best and brightest in our industry. Read on to see their thoughts on how they survived and flourished in 2011.
1. Bensussen Deutsch & Associates (BDA)
Principal: Jay Deutsch, CEO and Co-founder
Promo Marketing: What's one of the biggest leadership lessons you ever learned, and how did you learn it?
Jay Deutsch: Invest in your people and they'll invest in you.
We have the most amazing team. I would put our people up against anyone. Their passion, drive and commitment to this company is astounding. We are successful because of the great work produced from all departments across the agency. And when clients walk our halls, they're always quick to comment on the great vibe at BDA. Our greatest satisfaction comes from being named a best-place-to-work eight years running and it's all thanks to the great folks here. We genuinely see ourselves as a family.
PM: What's the biggest way technology is changing your business? What do you expect the biggest technological change to be in the near future?
JD: Technology is granting us the ability to be much more creative and innovative while increasing speed-to-market for custom products. We've also added internal resources focused entirely on digital marketing and mobile initiatives. The next technological advancement in our industry will likely revolve around providing consumers or crowds greater ability to customize and personalize individual products.
Principals: Greg Muzzillo, Founder, and Vera Muzzillo, CEO
PM: How do you set goals for yourself? For your company?
Greg Muzzillo: One thing I believe about setting goals is that goals don't matter. A lot of people want to talk about goals, a lot of people want to talk about strategic plans, and I don't think any of that matters unless you know why you want to accomplish your goals, unless you know why you want to execute the plans you're making. I think most people don't start there with the why. Why do I want to do this? At Proforma we believe in starting with your dreams. It might sound stupid, it might sound corny, but it's real, and it's real important because if you talk to a lot of people, year-in and year-out, they get the same results and they get the same results because they don't know why they want to do anything different. If we don't dream big enough, goals don't matter and plans don't matter, so we start at Proforma with number one, dreaming.
PM: What's one of the biggest leadership lessons you learned, and how did you learn it?
GM: You know I've watched, mostly on the print side, as many of the large competitors we've had have gone out of business, or have flailed away and flailed away. At one time they were multi-billion dollar organizations, and if you watched them, what happens over time is that they create an Ivory tower, because everyone wants to build a fiefdom, right? Or, most people do, and that's the tendency of organizations. Eventually entrepreneurial management gives way to professional management, and professional management can't figure out what toilet paper to put in the bathroom without hiring a consultant, because they don't want to lose their jobs. So you have to keep the organization flat, entrepreneurial, and most importantly, you've got to listen to the people on the street who have relationships with customers that drive the top line. The headquarters doesn't drive the top line, the ivory tower doesn't drive the top line, the people in the fields drive the top line.
I've watched those large organizations flail away and flail away because they've lost touch with the people who have the relationships with the customers. We at Proforma refuse to do that. We've got a very flat organization, and our folks out in the field, our members, 700 or so of them, elect their own representatives regionally. Those representatives present ideas, we call them our owner advisory council, and every step of the way, they're with us, guiding us, planning with us, and helping us shape the future of Proforma. Because they know the reality of the street, and the reality of what it takes to get new customers and keep the ones that we have.