SAAC ED Nancy Phillips: Working for Both Sides

When PPB spoke to Nancy Phillips, Executive Director of Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC), she was hard at work dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on this year’s 35th SAAC Show, scheduled for August 5–7 in Long Beach, California.

The regional association’s Executive Director since 2009, Phillips is effectively the right hand of SAAC’s Board of Directors, keeping Board minutes, creating meeting agendas, updating the SAAC website and approving the association’s publication, SAAC Times. She also manages the association’s small staff and works with graphic artists, web designers and IT specialists on association projects, as well as serving the association’s 544 members. Phillips also plans association outings, such as networking events, factory tours and fundraisers for the SAAC Foundation, which awards scholarships. Preparing for the SAAC Show, however, is arguably Phillips’ busiest time of year.

Her team works out of an office facility it shares with an accounting group, an arrangement Phillips says is ideal because the hustle and bustle of SAAC’s show season occurs during the accountants’ slow period.

“It works out great because we share a receptionist and other office functions,” she says. “Their busy season is April 15, and this is when we’re gearing down.”

A natural manager, Phillips is talented at finding efficiencies and capitalizing on opportunities. During her career, she has been a promotional products supplier, a full-time mom, a volunteer, an executive assistant and an entrepreneur.

She started in the promotional products industry in 1976, when she purchased a manufacturing company in downtown LA from a friend looking to sell the business, which sold custom jewelry, key chains, lapel pins and replicas. (One replica Phillips recalls was a Big Mac for McDonald’s.)

“I thought, ‘What’s the big deal? What do I have to lose?’ I had a factory that did all of the work, one employee—it sounded like a piece of cake,” Phillips recalls.

Nancy Phillips, Executive Director of Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC), takes a break during last year’s SAAC Show with her daughter Rebecca Weisberg and son Timothy Weisberg.

Nancy Phillips, Executive Director of Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC), takes a break during last year’s SAAC Show with her daughter Rebecca Weisberg and son Timothy Weisberg.

She initially sold products only to the trophy industry, but when her supplier filed for bankruptcy one year after she purchased the company, she brought in a business partner, purchased manufacturing equipment and refocused her sales efforts on the promotional products industry.

“I had to do all the manufacturing on my own, which is not what I anticipated. But again, my naiveté caused me to think, ‘Well, what have I got to lose? Let’s go for it.’”

Now Phillips was working on the factory floor, casting and polishing and getting items ready for plating, in addition to billing and other office work. She also became a member of SAAC around this time, attending the association’s networking dinners and tradeshow.

“I saw promotional products distributors as the perfect avenue for sales and building up the company,” she says.

After a successful run, she sold her portion of the company in 1987 to start a family. “I had kids and decided they were the new direction I was going,” Phillips explains. “I missed seeing all the people, though.”

Later, after Phillips became a single mom, she took a job working in the office of a school district’s superintendent and worked her way up the ladder. The immediate bonus was that she would have summers off to spend with her children. Down the road, however, Phillips’ tenure working for a top-level school administrator gave her the expertise she would need to eventually serve as Executive Director of SAAC.

“It gave me a fabulous background for running an association,” she says. “I was at a level where I could see what was going on and recognize what needed to be done.”

After several years away, Phillips rejoined the promotions industry when she wed Dennis Phillips, vice president of Los Angeles, California-based distributor Jack Nadel International (UPIC: NADELINC) and a former Board member and president of SAAC. She started attending SAAC events again, but this time she walked the show floor instead of manning a booth like in the past. When the Executive Director position came available, Phillips applied and was selected.

“I love being the Executive Director of SAAC,” she says. “I get to talk to everybody. It gives me a chance to be with both sides (suppliers and distributors) and use the skills I have.”

Phillips hasn’t entirely lost her entrepreneurial spirit. She recently closed a specialty food company she started called Spindel Farms, which sold pomegranate-infused vinegar to high-end food stores such as Whole Foods.

“It was good vinegar,” Phillips says, but the company needed more time than she could devote to it.

These days, Phillips is focused solely on SAAC. “I work with great people,” she says. “The success of the show, the success of SAAC, comes from a lot of people. Although I’m the Executive Director, I couldn’t do what I do without them.”

In addition to her work at SAAC, Phillips enjoys playing golf, reading and painting with watercolor, acrylic and other media. “I would love to get back into painting,” says Phillips, who has found artistic inspiration in nature and in family photographs.