I’ve got a secret, a secret I don’t really hide, but also don’t yell from the mountaintops. I’ve decided to come clean for this blog, for better or worse. My secret? I didn’t finish college.
I always planned on getting a sheepskin, but after three years I decided to break into radio; a medium I’d loved listening to growing up in Los Angeles with Top 40 DJ’s on AM powerhouses. I started at a small town station in California as a disc jockey and ended up eight years later as General Manager of a traffic reporting company in Atlanta. When I left radio, I fell into the world of promotional products, a career I’ve practiced now for 29 years.
Many times I’ve wished I’d finished college, joined a fraternity and made the lifetime memories and friends that are a natural part of the process. I even looked into finishing my BA once, but ultimately chose not to pursue it for a variety of reasons. All this is a long-winded way of saying I believe in education and if I had to do it over again, I’d definitely finish my undergraduate studies. I’m proud of the fact though I earned my MAS (Master Advertising Specialist) 2004 and I take classes at every opportunity and believe I’m a much more professional than I would be otherwise.
Why should you continue to educate yourself and not merely rely on the skills you already have to achieve success? We’ve all heard of the 80/20 rule or more properly known as “Pareto’s Principle”, originated by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who studied wealth at the turn of the last century. He found 80% of the wealth of most countries is controlled by 20% of the people. Over the years, this rule has been expanded to reflect the theory that most results in a particular field or subject come about as the result of a minority of the people in that field. The most successful 20% of the people in our industry have not achieved that success through blind luck. Most continue to learn through structured education, reading books, online research and interacting with others in the top 20% who are committed to learning and succeeding. Rick Merrill, former Director of Education with PPAI told me once of continuing education, “It gives people a broader view of how to solve business challenges and objections. If you can pull one or two ideas from every course, you’ll find yourself better able to face the challenges of everyday business.”
The question I’m often asked is why not just take classes you’re interested in? My answer is that without following a predetermined track of courses, you’re likely to take only those classes that interest you, which exposes you to a limited amount of material. The CAS/MAS “tracks” are designed to give you a well-rounded education just like a college degree. Both CAS/MAS tracks require you earn points in each of four areas, those being Sales/Marketing, Business Management, Professional Development and Technology. And yet less than five percent of the tens of thousands of people who have chosen to make this their livelihood have taken the time to earn their CAS/MAS.
· Attend classes put on at the major trade shows throughout the year. Las Vegas, Orlando, Chicago and others sponsored by both PPAI and ASI have education days with a variety of classes to keep you up-to-date with the rapid changes in our industry.
· PPAI offers two or three intensive seminars each year dedicated to learning as does ASI
· Most regional associations have education days as well where they offer classes and usually tie it in with a table top show. In fact, being a member of your regional association is something I highly recommend not only for the educational aspect, but to meet others who face the same challenges we do every day.
· Listen to recorded programs from the various seminars given throughout the year. Each of us spends hundreds of hours a year in the car driving to and from work and appointments and what better way to spend that time than to hone your skills through educational CD’s and podcasts.
· Take classes outside the industry at your local college. Most classes that have any relationship to selling promotional products can earn you CEU’s.
There is no dearth of ways to educate yourself on our industry, but may decide this really is too much effort and you can survive and prosper just fine without continuing education. However, a word of caution; nothing in life is static and by choosing not to continue learning and growing through education, the odds are you will be left behind selling stuff to those companies that are only looking for people who sell stuff. No marketing expertise needed, no creative ideas wanted, just give them your best price on a white mug with a logo on it.
Those who continue to learn why promotional products make marketing sense and is truly the most targeted medium an advertiser can purchase will thrive. In other words, those who use consultative selling are the ones who are going to work with the innovative corporations and be rewarded for their efforts with fatter paychecks and more prestige.