Straight Out Of Central Casting
Mentor. Volunteer. Role model. The stack of forms nominating Marsha Londe for the 2018 PPAI Woman of Achievement award includes an impressive list of descriptors for one of the most accomplished women in the promotional products industry. It may come as a surprise that Londe, an iconic and longtime advocate for promotional marketing, originally set out to become an actress.
Londe grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, attending a girls’ school for 12 years. She and her peers were strongly encouraged to participate and lead in academics and extracurricular activities. Londe was an early achiever, receiving accolades in drama club and the award for best team spirit for cheering on school athletics. Her love for the stage was born in third grade when, as the tallest girl with the shortest hair, she was cast as the father in Hansel and Gretel.
After high school graduation, Londe attended Newcomb College of Tulane University, which she describes as a challenging, exhilarating experience where every campus office was held by a woman. Unfortunately, the empowering lessons of her upbringing did not necessarily match the realities of the working world at the time.
“I had culture shock after college graduation as I gradually realized the world of the ’60s did not champion my independent, self-sufficient mindset,” says Londe. “I was called ‘aggressive’ so many times by men who didn’t appreciate my energy and enthusiasm that I still feel the sting.”
She worked as a secretary and then as an English teacher, honing the writing and presentation skills that would later make her a sought-after author and speaker.
In her 30s, Londe decided to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. She took acting lessons and landed roles in theater productions, earning a best actress award for The Subject Was Roses. In addition, she did voiceover work in commercials and industrial narrations, and acted in training films.
“This was a special time in my life, giving me a sense of accomplishment toward a dream,” says Londe. “I was an extra in The Four Seasons with Carol Burnett and Alan Alda, which was another fun experience. My granddaughters were remarkably unimpressed when I showed them.”
To help pay for the acting lessons, Londe took on what was meant to be a part-time sales job with Shadco Advertising Specialties. “My biggest ‘aha’ moment was [when I realized] how much I loved my work,” Londe admits. “The industry grabbed me—there are so many positives, such as the creativity, the relationships, the high when a project delivers the right results, problem solving—I simply loved it. And I became so busy caring for my clients, I no longer had time to go on auditions.”
Her work was rewarding, but it wasn’t always easy. “I had to stand strong for myself in some situations, including perceptions and attitudes about a woman’s ‘place’ and earning capacity,” says Londe.
She recalls a safety program initiated by a male-dominated company that hauled cars and trucks to market. Londe was one of several distributors asked to present an item as a reward for truck drivers who consistently deliver undamaged cargo. Management requested that the item cost no more than $1.
“With permission, I visited their local terminal, spoke with the drivers and climbed into a truck cab (in a dress and heels) to see the space and what they carried. Based on what I learned, I recommended items that were not in the dictated budget but were appropriate to the drivers’ work and habits. The committee chose my ideas and the VP told me, ‘I guess I’ll get used to working with you.’ As the program evolved, that company put my children through college, and the VP and I became good friends.”
After 18 years, Londe joined Summit/Nevins, which later became a division of Summit Marketing Group. Londe’s career blossomed under the mentorship of the late Janelle Nevins, PPAI Hall of Famer and a previous recipient of the PPAI Woman of Achievement Award, whom she had admired for years. Londe also worked alongside her grown son, Michael, which she describes as a highlight of her career.
Nominator Art Nevins says, “Summit/Nevins and then Summit received numerous gold and silver [PPAI] Pyramid Awards after Marsha joined the company. The little-known fact is that Marsha spearheaded every one of them and was relentless in helping the company, and whoever had a great story to tell [with their marketing campaign], prepare the best presentation.”
As a part of the Summit RFP team, Londe recognized a shift in the industry: RFPs were increasing in number and importance, and many distributors were untrained in how to tackle them.
“Marsha helped all the people in the office respond to these incredibly complicated requests,” adds Nevins. “She felt so much pleasure in helping others.”
In 2005 Londe partnered with Danon Middleton and Leigh Canavan to form Tango Partners as a resource for distributors to improve their RFP success, develop their sales teams and expand services. Middleton says, “Most importantly, Tango set the stage for Marsha to become a mentor to many.”
Nominator Sara Webb, owner of InTandem Promotions, adds, “It is in her very fabric to support others, raise up the next generation, make connections, and build and create solutions.”
Londe is passionate about volunteerism, serving on the PPB Editorial Advisory Committee and Awards Committee, and in the PPAI volunteer project pool. She has taught numerous classes and webinars on subjects such as self-promotional marketing, responding to RFPs, cultivating key accounts, fear of speaking and entering to win a PPAI Pyramid Award. She is a valued contributor to a number of industry publications, including PPB, and has been quoted in a number of books, including Swim with the Dolphins, Humor at Work and Breakthrough Selling.
Over the course of her career, Londe has earned a breathtaking 25 Pyramid Awards, and she has been named a PPAI Fellow, a PPB Powerful Partner and PPB Best Boss, among a long list of distinctions. But the desire for recognition is not what drives her. “To find the positive in others, to be thought of as a true partner—as someone invested in your success—and as a good person who had a positive impact, that would be a meaningful legacy,” she says.
Londe’s selection as the 2018 Woman of Achievement confirms that she has built that legacy, making a dramatic difference not on stage but instead, through her selflessness, bold and energizing spirit, and genuine enthusiasm for helping others succeed.
Terry Ramsay is associate editor of PPB.