Welcome to the fourth installment of what will be an ongoing series of blog posts. Our aim is to explore and learn from the various career paths of promotional product industry leaders.
Our guest interviewee is Jeff Solomon. Jeff is a successful distributor with 23 years of experience, the publisher of FreePromoTips, and an industry leader and innovator.
PP: First things first, how did you wind up in the promotional product industry?
JS: I stumbled into it at the direction of my brilliant wife. We had a successful screenprinting business and she thought it would be a good idea to also offer promotional products. Of course, she was right. Wives are always right, aren’t they? Promotional products added a completely different dimension to our company and gave us more tools to be creative with.
PP: You’ve been with All American Marketing Group since 1992. In any industry, 23 years is a long time! What about All American has led to such terrific job satisfaction?
JS: We truly care about meeting the needs of our clients. It’s never been about selling stuff…it’s always been about providing effective marketing and branding solutions. We have also been involved in our community and I have served on the board of directors of a few organizations. Currently, I’m the Vice President and Legislative Chair of Ad Pros LA, the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Advertising Federation (AAF). Serving adds to your credibility.
PP: Have you ever been tempted to make a move?
JS: I’m always moving. While I enjoy parts of the product side of this industry, 10 years ago I created FreePromoTips.com, a content-driven program that distributors and suppliers benefit from. This gives me the opportunity to address what’s happening in the industry, with the help of a few colleagues. We are able to offer useful business-building information and industry commentary.
FreePromoTips has become a valuable resource showcasing what some great suppliers offer. Our new YourPromotionSolution.com video resource website features easy to share, short end-user-safe product videos that reside on YourPromotionSolution.com. The distributors who use them love them and suppliers love that their products are being shown to end-users through distributors.
PP: Throughout your almost 40 years in the ad specialty business, what have you found to be the biggest motivator of distributor sales reps?
JS: One might think it’s money, but from my perspective, it’s the opportunity to be creative. This industry seemingly revolves around commodities, but being able to effectively use promotional products to convey the desired message motivates me.
PP: What do you think the perfect distributor workplace looks like?
JS: I believe the perfect distributor workspace is about freedom. The distributor gig is typically not a 9 to 5 job…and that’s attractive to most people. I also think it’s about relationships with colleagues and supplier partners. The connections I have nurtured through the years have made the industry special to me.
PP: What advice would you give an experienced industry professional looking for a new home?
JS: The business culture needs to be the right fit. There are many great organizations in our industry. What is good for one person may not be right for another. People need to be comfortable in the corporate culture.
PP: PPAI, ASI, and the various regional associations offer promo professionals opportunities to network at events year-round. What advice would you give an industry newcomer about networking with peers?
JS: I believe networking and building relationships with peers are critical. The great relationships I have developed through the years are one of the key reasons I love this industry. It’s also important to take advantage of the educational opportunities that these events offer.
PP: Jeff, you’re very active on social media and with your award-winning website, FreePromoTips.com. What value do you see in social media?
JS: I love social media, but I think our industry doesn’t get it. Distributors and suppliers need to avoid posting a steady stream of product specials. Social media is a “river” with content flowing rapidly down it. It’s important to share content in addition to always promoting products.
I love to share this quote from Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Media, “At a cocktail party, you wouldn’t walk up to someone and say, ‘Hey, I’m Dave. My stuff is 20 percent off.’ What you do is ask questions, tell stories, listen and relate to people.”
That’s social media 101 and it’s one of the reasons we are adding social media management to our business. While I hardly consider myself a social media expert, my team and I have invested time and money learning about this powerful communication tool. We can help others be more effective online.
Following up on the preceding question, social media also keeps us connected to colleagues even though we may only see them personally once or twice a year. We see what’s happening with their families and what they do for fun away from their business lives.
Early on, I felt that I didn’t want to have “colliding worlds” with my business and personal life…but now I really don’t care. If people see a video of my son playing drums at church, or my running and cycling pictures it’s OK. They just get to discover who I am. Unless you are posting your crazy antics or being drunk, I think online social engagement is good for business.
PP: Can you tell us about your latest project, SuccessFit?
JS: SuccessFit was born from my own personal journey and I’m very passionate about it. I was a cripple for most of my life from a motocross racing injury. A few years ago I had my ankle fused and encouraged by my wife and an amazing group of people from Team Runners Lane I started to run…albeit very slowly. But that’s OK. I’ve lost over 25 pounds and by the time this is published I will have completed a half marathon. (I hope!) 13.1 miles is a LONG distance!
From my experience, our team has developed SuccessFit 4 Life! a content-driven program to share, inspire and motivate others in their journey. We are putting together a turnkey program that a select group of distributors will be able to offer their clients. Businesses and organizations benefit in many ways from incorporating a health and wellness program. SuccessFit 4 Life! makes it simple to provide this type of program. If distributors want to learn more about how they can be a part of this, they can contact me directly.
PP: Do your friends and family know what you do?
JS: Of course they do…and many are clients.