The industry is mourning “Mister PSI”: Walter G. Jung, founder of the PSI, passed away on March 6, 2014 at the age of 79. Industry insiders and companions considered Jung to be a pioneer, who created sales structures and paved the way towards increased professionalism and internationalisation for the European promotional products industry in his capacity as a successful manager, internationally appraised negotiator, lobbyist, economic and political advisor.
It may be pointless to speculate as to whether the European promotional products industry would be different today, if Walter Georg Jung hadn’t decided to come back to Germany from Italy at the end of the 1950s for personal reasons. Perhaps he would never have come up with the idea of founding his own company or working in the promotional products industry otherwise. Maybe the PSI wouldn’t exist today. And perhaps the job description of the promotional products distributor wouldn’t have crystallised until much later – if at all.
On the other hand Jung, who always preferred to look ahead rather than dwell in the past, never saw himself as a lone wolf or pioneer, but rather as someone who could identify and interpret trends. “The idea to found the PSI was impending,” Jung always stressed when questioned about the history of his “life’s work”. Yet: Jung’s pioneering achievements characterised the history of the promotional product industry in Germany and Europe for several decades. He helped the industry to install organisational, distribution and communication structures, which remained in place at least up until the start of the digital era.
Jung first came into close contact with promotional products in the 1950s, when he worked as a salesman – at the beginning of his professional career – in the Italian office of an American shipping company. At the time, language barriers still presented huge problems on the international business circuit: So, Jung came up with the idea of implementing non-verbal promotional products – haptic advertising – for corporate communication purposes. Jung got to know the promotional products industry on both sides of the Atlantic and discovered huge differences: Whereas the promotional products trade in the USA had well-functioning organisation structures, there was no such thing in Europe: “At the most there were rudimentary forms of organisation, but the flow of information was almost non-existent. The distributors didn’t know any of the manufacturers, the manufacturers were searching for sales channels,” is how Jung described the situation at the time on the promotional products market, forty years later in an interview with WA Publishing, the publishers of eppi magazine.
Back in Germany, Jung thought about what direction to take in his further professional career and on August 1, 1959 – on his 25th birthday – he made a decisive decision: to found the PSI, Present Service Institute, which actually got up and running in the winter of 1960. The first steps involved setting up a “manufacturer service” and a “distributor service” for PSI members: Supplier and distributor directories, which enabled members to inform themselves about potential market participants. In times when the concept of the Internet was like something out of a science fiction film, this proved to be an indispensable tool for many promotional products players. Jung was able to win over around 200 distributors and between 50 and 60 manufacturers as members in the first year already and the numbers increased rapidly. “I had a map of Germany on the wall of my office,” recalled Jung two years ago during a further interview with WA Publishing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the PSI Show. “Every time I won a new member, I marked the location on the map with a blue flag for manufacturers and with a red flag for distributors. One could see exactly which motorways I had driven along.“ Diligence and openness in dealing with people were what characterised the founder of the PSI and this also contributed significantly towards the success of the organisation.
But Jung was also inventive and had visionary talents, which one needs in executive positions. 1963 was the year of innovations: Jung published the first edition of the PSI
Nachrichten (today the PSI Journal). The first PSI Show was staged in the Kurhaus (Spa Building) of Bad Soden: The exhibitors presented their goods on decorators’ tables (Jung charged 50 German Marks per table), one of the exhibitors even had to set up his stand on the piano of the spa building because the room was full. 56 exhibitors and 280 visitors over three days were a good result back then and were confirmation that Jung had chosen the right track: “I knew the show would work.“
Jung gradually expanded the PSI Show into the Europe’s leading promotional products show. Many suppliers, the big players that today’s industry could no longer imagine being without, wagered their first steps on the promotional products territory here.
From the very beginning, Jung had set the internationalisation of the PSI as his clear goal. After only a few editions, the PSI Show moved to Düsseldorf, among other reasons because Jung was also able to win over Dutch and Belgian suppliers – “and so we had already become an international show,“ Jung explained, still totally chuffed with his strategic move, many years later. As “Mister PSI”, over the years Jung became the face of the industry, established contacts to the trade fair business, and within financial and political circles, and earned himself great respect through his lobby work. Jung’s motivation was always to further professionalise the promotional product market. As Jung recognised that he was no longer able to master the task of globalising the PSI with his team alone, he merged with one of the biggest exhibition companies, the Blenheim Group, in 1989. Many industry players didn’t agree with this move, but Jung didn’t let himself be put off. He, who was used to taking decisions, even if they were sometimes unpopular, stuck to his course and always did what he felt was right. And in most cases his decisions turned out to be the right ones.
In 1998, he stepped down as head of the PSI reducing his activities down to an advisory role thereafter – Jung was responsible for the fate of his organisation for almost four decades and significantly co-shaped the industry. After retiring, Jung remained loyal to the promotional products industry, regularly visited the PSI Show and received standing ovations from the PSI members for his speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the PSI Show.
Jung passed away in Düsseldorf on March 6, 2014. The promotional products industry has not only lost a successful entrepreneur and internationally highly-appraised representative, a multiplier and bridge builder between tradition and modern, but also a wonderful story-teller. Jung, who is reputed to have sometimes found a good punch line more important than the whole truth, had plenty of stories to recount, which he invariably did in an equally informative and charming manner. Not being able to listen to him anymore and no longer being able to profit from his wealth of experience is a great loss for the entire promotional products industry.