A Zeal For Lifelong Learning

The year 1981 was a significant one in the life of Jerry Delgado, MAS.

That was the year he began working for Cartagena, Inc., a commercial printing company in his hometown of Caguas, about 20 miles south of San Juan. That May, he graduated from the University of Puerto Rico earning a bachelor’s degree in communication arts with a concentration in advertising and marketing. In August, he married his sweetheart, Mayra, with whom he recently celebrated 36 years of marriage.

It was also the year he got his first taste of the promotional products industry. Although his job as a production planner was focused on increasing the company’s monthly sales, Delgado—now a sales associate at The Vernon Company’s operations in Puerto Rico—was also challenged to launch a division for promotional products. It was in that capacity that he began to meet with promotional products suppliers and recruit sales reps to grow the division.

Within nine months he had increased the company’s monthly sales from $35,000 to $120,000. His achievements didn’t go unnoticed, and for the next six years he worked his way up to vice president of sales and marketing. By the time he left Cartagena, Inc. in 2005, the company was invoicing $280,000 per month in commercial printing and promotional products, and counted among its printing and promotional products clients all 13 of the Johnson & Johnson plants in Puerto Rico.

Riding high on these achievements, Delgado accepted an offer from Newton, Iowa-based distributor The Vernon Company to represent the company in Puerto Rico. He was able to take the Johnson & Johnson accounts with him. In his first two years working for The Vernon Company, Delgado’s sales qualified him for two incentive trips—an Alaska cruise and a trip to the Dominican Republic. In his first five years with The Vernon Company, he earned inclusion in the company’s Million Dollar Club. Today he still has the contracts with Johnson & Johnson.

“I feel a passion for what I do,” he says. “I love promotional products to the extreme; my commercial printing sales now are only 10 percent of my total sales.”

Describe the industry in Puerto Rico; in what ways is it different from that in the U.S. and Canada?
The market in Puerto Rico is very different. One reason is that Latins often wait until the last minute to make their buying decisions, which means I often need to work with suppliers on the East Coast that offer a 24- to 48-hour delivery service.

What types of clients do you work with?
The industries I work with in Puerto Rico include advertising agencies, manufacturing plants, small businesses and the education market. Most of my customers whom I’ve worked with since 1981 have retired. It has been a challenge to learn to work with Millennials and accommodate their preference for email and social media rather than visiting with them and establishing long-term relationships. Also, many of them don’t work at a company more than four or five years, but I’m learning to adjust to the more frequent turnover.

What do you still hope to accomplish for the promotional products industry?
My next goal is to complete a book about the promotional products industry in Spanish. I think PPAI must offer more education, books and studies in languages other than English to reach potential markets in Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, and Europe.

In what ways have you volunteered within the industry?
In 1991 I was one of 15 promotional products distributors who founded the Puerto Rico Advertising Specialty Association (now Caribbean Advertising Specialty Association—CASA). I served two years as vice president, four years on the Education Committee, four years as newsletter editor, four years on the Show Committee and more than 10 years on the board of directors, until 2015. I’ve also given more than 10 industry presentations to various groups. I also served on the PPAI Education Committee for two years. Being on the committee was the incentive to pursue my industry designation.

You say you are the first Puerto Rican to earn the Certified Advertising Specialist (CAS) and Master Advertising Specialist (MAS). Why did you pursue it and what has it meant to your career?
It was important to me because it gave me respect with my customers and peers. In those days [he earned his CAS in 1996 and his MAS in 1997] nobody in Puerto Rico knew about the designations, so I promoted them. I was also the first to do presentations in Spanish at The PPAI Expo in 2004 and then at the ASI show.

In what other capacities have you served as a volunteer leader?
For 10 years I served on the board for the Sales and Marketing Executives (SME) chapter in Puerto Rico, and I have been involved in a commercial printer association, and as a board member and fundraiser for my church and for another charitable Catholic institution. I also earned a master trainer designation in Neuro Linguistic Programming from INLPTA and am working on a master’s degree in theology to continue serving the church and eventually become a deacon.

What’s your best advice for new distributors?
My advice to new distributors—and to all distributors—is to make sure you feel passion for this industry and learn everything you can about it. Pursue your industry designations to win respect with suppliers and with customers. To find out if you feel passion for what you do, check the books and magazines you have on your night table. If you have industry-related magazines and catalogs, and sales and motivation books, you are on the right track.

Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.