Ten Things I Learned On The Road To My MAS/CAS
Looking back (way back) to my college days, I learned as much outside the classroom as I did cracking the books. This has been true with my Master Advertising Specialist (MAS) and Certified Advertising Specialist (CAS) educational experience as well. I wonder where I would be today without my certification. Quite simply, it frightens me to think about it.
MAS and CAS are separate, progressive designations administered by PPAI and earned through a combination of industry employment, completion of an education curriculum, demonstrated industry involvement and successfully passing the exams.
Most distributors and suppliers are aware of the vast number of competitors we run into on a daily basis. After all, almost anyone can become a distributor with a little effort. So how do we differentiate ourselves from everyone else out there who is trying to make a good living in the promotional products industry? How do we become well known and respected by our peers? How do we earn reputations with our clients as experts in our field? How do we give back to an industry that provides us with so much? How do we build relationships with others in our industry? How do we go after and land big accounts? How do we grow our businesses, and how do we keep up with an ever-changing marketplace in this fast-paced world?
One of the best ways to answer these questions is to educate yourself by earning one or both of our industry certifications. It may surprise you to know that only three percent of people involved in our industry have earned a MAS or CAS designation, according to PPAI.
To help you understand why certification is important, I’d like to share 10 things I learned on my journey toward MAS/CAS certification.
10. One way to earn points toward certification is through industry service. You can serve on your regional association’s board or on a committee, become a PPAI ADvocate or serve on a PPAI action group, committee or even the Board of Directors. Because I got involved in my regional association, I have expanded my network and, through my contacts, gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about our business. Serve your industry—there is no better way to get to know your peers.
9. If you are relatively new to the business and don’t have a mentor, you should definitely find someone from whom you can learn. The learning curve is much shorter if you have a mentor who can share valuable knowledge and contacts with you. If you are an industry-experienced professional, consider offering your expertise to a newcomer. Much like volunteer work, you get more out of giving than what you spend in time and effort.
8. Once I started the CAS process, I realized I had been going through the motions of this business. I went to shows but did not know most of the suppliers or my competitors, and I was unaware of the major industry issues. In retrospect, I wish I had started the certification process much earlier in my career. I can’t tell you how much better prepared I am now. I now know many more people at tradeshows, am aware of issues that affect us every day, and I’m actively getting involved in solving these problems. There is no question that earning my certification has improved my personal success.
7. Many people have told me they can’t afford the cost of obtaining their CAS, but there are ways to get help. While I was serving on my regional association’s board of directors, I learned that you can apply for scholarships that cover most of the costs of attending educational programs. I personally know of one person in my area who applied for, and received, a $1,500 scholarship.
6. Thanks to a session with speaker Rosalie Marcus (The Promotional Coach), I learned how to develop niche markets. Why? There is less competition when you become an expert in a niche. People want to do business with experts; it’s easier to get referrals, and you enjoy your work more. You also have a better understanding of the challenges your clients face and a better ability to provide solutions. Select a niche based on your personal experience or passion. Select strong, growing industries and avoid smaller or weak niches. Make sure you are informed on your niches and continue to sell outside your niche, too.
5. One of my favorite quotes for business has always been: “People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.” Did you know that only three percent of industry business owners formulate a marketing plan for their businesses? We are in marketing, so I find this somewhat disturbing. Perhaps you don’t think an entire marketing plan is necessary, but I can tell you from experience that you need to at least regularly set goals and have a plan for achieving them. You will get much more done in less time. Having more time allows you to do what you probably do best—sell and grow your business.
4. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) is not going away. Learn it, sell it.
While the information I’m referring to is too lengthy to go into in detail here, through the certification process I learned how to protect customers, myself and my distributor from future legal issues resulting from non-compliance. One mistake could cost you big time. In 2007, 448 products were recalled, and more than 100 of the recalls were due to lead in paint. I’ve learned to ask if the product is intended for use by children. (The CPSIA defines a child as age 12 or under.) I’ve learned what the dangerous elements/heavy metals are, and how to get a General Conformity Certificate and Certificate of Compliance. If you are unfamiliar with these topics, you need to learn about them now.
3. Recently I encouraged some colleagues to begin earning their certification they asked: “Why? It’s just three little letters after your name, and I don’t need that to sell.” What I have learned is that MAS/CAS is an investment in myself and my career. These designations are highly respected in the industry. They establish my professional credibility to colleagues, clients and employers. They differentiate me as someone who has taken the time to become a recognized expert in my field.
2. Thanks to speaker and industry expert Cliff Quicksell, MAS, I learned what it takes to close the big accounts and understand what they want from promotional consultant. Namely, they want a strong, strategic thinker who: Asks good questions, offers solutions, understands their business, has experience in their industry, offers excellent creative work, thinks outside the box and can prove success through testimonials and case histories. You also need the ability to measure ROI (return on investment) and ROO (return on objective), to clearly articulate the client’s vision, to obtain the resources to grow with the client and the ability to execute an integrated strategy.
And the No. 1 thing I learned on the road to my MAS/CAS: I’m not as smart as I thought I was.
Dale Worden, CAS, is the Eastern region manager for distributor The Vernon Company (UPIC: Vernon). He began his career in the promotional products industry as Vernon’s Southern division manager in 2000. This year, he served on the board of directors for Promotional Products Association of Florida (PPAF) and currently chairs its Education Committee. He expects to complete the requirements for his MAS this month.
You, Too, Can Do It
Earn your certification. It’s easy to get started. Visit www.ppai.org/certification, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 888-426-7724. If you are attending The PPAI Expo 2012, January 2-6 in Las Vegas, nearly 100 education sessions will be offered throughout the week; most are free to show registrants. Check out the list of programs and register at www.ppai.org/expo.