Cliff Quicksell, MAS+, is a known marketing enthusiast. With nearly four decades of experience in promo on both the supplier and distributor sides, and three decades as a professional speaker and consultant, Quicksell has a portfolio of feats as expansive as the range of promo products, including his induction into PPAI’s Hall of Fame during The PPAI Expo in Las Vegas this month. It’s an honor that grants permanent recognition to individuals who have made significant contributions to the industry and/or their communities.   

But if you were to ask Quicksell how he’s achieved success over the years, he’ll turn the focus away from himself, giving credit instead to the many people who have helped him. “I didn’t get here alone,” he says. “Everybody contributed at some level, and I just hope that other people see the value in being able to give back and how important it is.”

As president of his Walkersville, Maryland, speaking and consultancy firm Cliff Quicksell Associates, Quicksell has helped hundreds of clients to achieve their marketing goals, but he’s also given back to the industry time and again—and done so tirelessly. Over the years, Quicksell has given nearly 4,700 speaking presentations at industry shows with signature topics including, “Maximizing Your Time Management by Evaluating and Segmenting Your Clients,” “Selling Apparel A to Z” and “The Promotional Apprentice – Transitioning to a Sales & Marketing Consultant,” in addition to writing more than 1,200 articles for global publications including PPB magazine, Counselor, AdVantages and PromoCorner. He’s also created more than 75 webinars for regional associations, self-published three books—his latest is 30 Seconds To Greatness—created two industry blogs, “Jumpstart Monday” and “30 Seconds to Greatness,” and served in numerous volunteer roles for both PPAI and his regional association, Chesapeake Promotional Products Association (CPPA). For the past year, Quicksell has also been working as a content generator for DASH, a subsidiary of 8 Legged Media Group, where he produces written content, creates webinars and provides consulting services, and he currently serves on PPAI’s Marketing Research Committee and as president of CPPA.

Above: Cliff Quicksell, third from left, with Pyramid Award winners, from left, Darrell and Greta McChesney of Team Iowa, Paul and Stephanie Zafarana of PICA Marketing Group, and Drew Pulliam of Pinnacle Branding.

“One of my many passions is my desire to give back, share and contribute in a meaningful way. It is how I am wired,” Quicksell says. In reflecting on his passion for giving back to others, he shares an anecdote that describes the impact that helping can have. “Have you ever heard the story about the little boy and the starfish on the beach?” Quicksell asks. “A little boy is on a beach that’s just littered with starfish, and an older man, who’s watching him, asks, ‘What are you doing?’ The little boy says, ‘I’m throwing the starfish back into the water so it can live.’ The older man replies, ‘Look how many there are! You’ll never make a difference,’ to which the boy replies, as he throws a starfish in the water, ‘Well, I made a difference for that one.’”

Quicksell also keenly gives of his time to industry mentoring and educational programs, which has included assisting in the development and creation of and participating in PPAI’s Certified Speaker Ambassador program, where he spoke at a grassroots level to students on college campuses about the power of promotional products. In 2002, Quicksell embarked on a mission to mentor as many professionals in the industry as he could, to increase involvement in the PPAI Pyramid Awards. Over the years, he’s been directly involved in coaching more than 120 top distributors, many of whom received PPAI Pyramid Awards. He’s also been a major proponent for certification in the industry, and has helped to encourage many additional distributors to pursue their professional designations of TAS, CAS, MAS and MAS+. Quicksell leads by example, having received his MAS+ certification in 2014, the highest designation given to eligible promotional products applicants.

“Over the years, I have had the pleasure of seeing Cliff speak and of seeing him educate. I have seen how the people in the industry have truly flocked to him, relying on his knowledge, experience and friendship to further their careers and businesses,” says Andy Griffin, managing partner of Carlstadt, New Jersey, supplier Keepsake Box USA, and one of Quicksell’s nominators. “It is truly a sight to behold to see him interact with these people. Whether they sell $50,000 or $5 million, it’s as if he is the co-owner of each company he works with. He doesn’t just tell a person what they want to hear; he educates them in the process so they have a better understanding of what he is teaching them.” He adds, “Whether it is one-on-one on a simple phone call or in a convention hall with 100 people watching, his conversations motivate you, captivate you and give everyone listening the feeling of ‘Yes! Yes, I can do this.’”

Above: Cliff Quicksell leads a 2014 session for British Promotional Merchandise Association’s Professional Development Program. Right: Cliff Quicksell, with his wife Maria Quicksell (left), daughter Caitlin Quicksell-DeNilo and son Lt. Alexander Quicksell.

Quicksell positions himself as a lifelong learner, and even though he attends many events as a speaker, he makes it a point to remain open-minded and teachable. “I remember when my son and daughter went to college,” he recalls. “They were both tremendous athletes. When my son asked me, ‘How do I be the very best?’ I told him you have to do two things: you have to be eligible and you have to be coachable. That simple principle holds true in life. You have to be coachable, then you have to do all the hard work to be eligible to get paid the money that you need.” 

And certainly, knowing how to remain open and teachable comes from experience, and Quicksell has seen both ups and downs in the industry. A few years after joining his first industry company, Quicksell’s position was terminated abruptly. “I was blindsided,” he says, though it was a situation that motivated him to form his own company, Promotivations Advertising, which he operated for 11 years. After encountering a business deal that went sour, he was considering leaving the industry altogether, when another professional he met at a regional association meeting offered him an opportunity that proliferated into many more, and kept him in the industry. As a small-business owner, he’s experienced everything from nearly going bankrupt five times to building multi-million-dollar equity positions and winning more than 30 PPAI Pyramid Awards for creative campaigns.

“I have had both the opportunity to work with Cliff in a professional manner as well as a personal relationship,” says Paul Zafarana, MAS, MASI, founder of Dearborn, Michigan, distributor Pica Marketing Group, and one of Quicksell’s nominators. “I can tell you that he is dedicated to the education of both distributors and clients. He really is concerned about the future of the industry. He has been a strong advocate for getting the necessary industry training and education that helped him excel in his own business. Cliff goes above and beyond in looking to make you feel comfortable, and at the same time feel energetic about learning more about promotional products. On a personal note, I can tell you he exemplifies his concern for our well-being. Cliff is the first one to tell you like it is and share with you the knowledge he has gained, and make you feel like a million bucks.”

With so many responsibilities to manage at once, Quicksell shares that the way he’s learned to achieve balance is by learning how to put his well-being first. “My habits are really simple. I take care of me first,” he says. “The reason I say that is because I know, if you look at it like a pyramid, I’m at the top of the pyramid. If I’m whole physically, mentally and spiritually—and I have to do the things that make me whole first—[everyone] benefits. If I’m off, if I’m sick, if I’m not right, then I’m not a contribution to [the people around me] at all.”

He adds, “I’m always looking at how to improve. There’s a Japanese term known as ‘kaizen,’ and it’s the constant state of re-purposing and making change for better improvement. What I encourage people to do is not to wait until there’s a problem to adapt and change. Look at your surroundings and make those adaptations now.” 


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.