Being Defensive When Disagreeing With Marketing Clients: Swire Ho

Being Defensive When Disagreeing With Marketing Clients: Swire Ho


Check out all episodes on the My Favorite Mistake main page.

My guest for Episode #55 of “the My Favorite Mistake” podcast is Swire Ho, Director of Sales & Marketing, Garuda Promo and Branding Solutions. He is also an Ambassador for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Swire immigrated to Los Angeles in 1996. He trained as a sound engineer, working at recording studios and entertainment agencies before starting his own firm, Hellman Production, Inc, 2003 in Los Angeles. 

Swire and his team successfully produced attractive, personalized DVD and CD cases and custom merchandise like T-shirts, earning a SCORE Award in 2009, for small business success. His business eventually grew so popular, he sold it in 2013 to focus exclusively on the promotional product industry.

Swire is a proud SFG1 certified kettlebell instructor from #StrongFirst. He finds calmness through yoga, organic gardening, and enjoys being in nature. 

Today, we talk about Swire's “favorite mistake” and topics and questions including:

  • How did he work to be a better listener and to not get defensive when disagreeing with clients?
  • How and why is he “constantly working on this”?
  • How did pivot during 2020 and the pandemic to branded masks and other products?
  • What are some common marketing and promotions mistakes?
  • Why don't you have to spend money to impress somebody?
  • Other social profiles:

Scroll down to find:

  • Video player
  • Enter to win books from other guests
  • Quotes
  • How to subscribe
  • Full transcript

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"So instead of listening, I probably lost clients that way, because I might win the conversation, but then I lost a client."

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Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)

Mark Graban (0s):

Episode 55 Swire Ho, the promo guy, Garuda Promo and Branding Solutions.

Swire Ho (8s):

My favorite mistake is listening, you know, listening to the client.

Mark Graban (17s):

I'm Mark Graban. This is My Favorite Mistake. In this podcast, you'll hear business leaders and other really interesting people talking about their favorite mistakes, because we all make mistakes, but what matters is learning from our mistakes instead of repeating them over and over again. So this is the place for honest reflection and conversation, personal growth and professional success. Visit our website at You can get show notes, links, and more at MarkGraban/mistake55, and you can enter to win signed books by previous guests at

Mark Graban (57s):

Please subscribe, rate, and review. And now on with the show. Our guest today is Swire Ho. He is the director of sales and marketing for Garuda Promo and Branding Solutions, is also an ambassador for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. So before I give it a little bit deeper introduction, Swire, let me thank you for being here. How are you?

Swire Ho (1m 20s):

Good. I'm good. Mark thing. So nice to be on your show.

Mark Graban (1m 24s):

Yeah, it's good to talk to you again. I, I did I say the name of the company correctly? I hope that wasn't a mistake.

Swire Ho (1m 29s):

Yeah, you said it perfectly.

Mark Graban (1m 31s):

Okay. Garuda Promo and Branding solutions. We'll we'll get a little repetition there. Maybe that's it's good marketing, but Swire was he's in LA. Now he was born and raised in Hong Kong before immigrating here to LA in 1996, he's a trained sound engineer. He worked at recording studios and entertainment agencies before starting his own company, Hellman Production in 2003, they produced a personalized DVD and CD cases and custom merchandise. They earned a score business award in 2009 for small business success grew and he sold it in 2013 to focus exclusively on the promotional products industry.

Mark Graban (2m 13s):

So I think we'll talk a little bit about his business endeavors after we hear his story. And then I think this is interesting too. He is also a certified kettlebell instructor. He practices yoga, organic gardening and enjoys being in nature. It sounds like those are all very, very helpful things to do.

Swire Ho (2m 41s):

Yeah. This, you know, I keep myself busy.

Mark Graban (2m 45s):

It sure. Sounds like it. And, and I guess, you know, these activities help you find balance in the midst of all of that busy now.

Swire Ho (2m 52s):

Yeah. Especially, you know, times for you and right now. So, you know, it's good to have other hobbies other than work, you know, you can work too much and you know, overstretch yourself.

Mark Graban (3m 3s):

Yeah. That would be a mistake and things like kettlebells and yoga, you can do, you know, the gyms are closed here in California. Those are activities you can do.

Swire Ho (3m 11s):

Yeah. I have to host my backyard. So like my routine will be work for like 45 minutes and I'll go outside and swing some kettlebells and come back and do it over and over. So it's actually work out for me what the routine. Yeah.

Mark Graban (3m 27s):

That's, that's great. So Swire, as we normally do here, we'll kick off the conversation by asking you to tell a story. What would you say is your favorite mistake?

Swire Ho (3m 37s):

I actually thought about it, you know, after our initial pre-call, you know, I, I still think that this is my favorite mistake is listening, you know, listening to their client. I think, especially, you know, going reflect back to, you know, what happened for the past 17 years. It's listening is still the key, you know, that I am constantly working on, especially when there are times that clients are not going to agree with you, how do you still practice good listening? You know, the mistakes that I had before is when I was a lot younger, right. So I will take it our ticket for our offender, right.

Swire Ho (4m 19s):

By, you know, why don't you agree? You know, we did a good job and, you know, they have every rights to be, you know, addressing their comment or feedback, you know, does, you know, sometimes it's personal opinion and what I'm not doing, if I'm not listening is I'm talking back. Right. So it becomes back and forth, back and forth. And sometime it then I'm well, but now the more I practice listening, Oh no, that they actually tell telling me inflammation. First of all, they're telling me how I can improve our presses. You know, the worst thing that I want to say, if we did something for a client and we never heard back from them, are they happy? Or are they not happy?

Swire Ho (4m 59s):

At least if you talk to me, I know that maybe you'd really happy. That's great. And maybe sometimes you said, you could have done this better, or maybe your communication. I would rather that you do it this way. So then, you know, you look at it and you take notes and say, you know, thank you for your suggestion. This is something that we could improve on, or maybe the direction that you want to go. It's kind of different than where the customer wants to experience. Then there's another thing that you want to approach. So by letting them talk and listen without saying anything, it's something that I, I will say my favorite mistake and something that I continue to want to get better at.

Swire Ho (5m 42s):


Mark Graban (5m 43s):

Well, that's, that's a really important skill. I try to be a really good listener, not just as a podcast host, but in general, because you're right. I, what I hear you saying Swire is, you know, let's say if somebody had an opinion, they didn't like the quality of something or they were upset with the service. It's easy maybe to get a little upset or defensive and thinking about how we're going to argue back with them instead of listening, is that kind of a fair recap of what you were describing?

Swire Ho (6m 12s):

Yeah. They don't actually want you to really fix or replace anything, but then they just calling you some time to address their concern or, you know, if it would be done at their rate, this is how they rather would do it. Then you really should pay attention because, you know, if you really with the client, you know, people have a certain expectation, right? So it's, it's in their nature to tell you that if they don't see something that, you know, they think should happen to their way, and you know, if you respect and want to keep the client, then you better listen.

Mark Graban (6m 44s):

Yeah. I mean, I can think of times, you know, I, I w I'm dealing with the business of some sort, you know, the work I do and the clients I work with, we really focus on continuous improvement. And to me, the first step of improving anything, even if I'm not upset, but it could be better, you know, is to make a suggestion. And there are times where I'm, you know, I'm afraid if I, if I make a suggestion, nothing's going to happen. Right. Sometimes I wonder, what's the point. I'm making the suggestion to somebody who can't take action. Then they might say, well, I'll pass that along. And then maybe it doesn't get passed along. So it's good. Imagine that's, you know, a big key to the business success that you had was, was figuring this out and being a better listener.

Swire Ho (7m 30s):

Yeah. I would rather, they tell me then they not tell me if, you know, whatever that's on their mind, because you know, I'm a sales professional, you know what, they're more that people would tell me things about happened to them. The better I can pick up on different things that I can set them better, or maybe there's another service that I could offer them, you know, w with them telling me. So I rather, they tell me things that not tell me.

Mark Graban (7m 55s):

Yeah. And I guess if I wonder how often, like somebody gives some feedback and then when you're being a good listener and demonstrating that they might then follow up with something that's even more helpful is a suggestion for your business.

Swire Ho (8m 11s):

Yeah. You gotta be genuine too, you know, because sometimes you, you know, want to complain. I say, for example, and a big company, they'll have someone to sit there and, you know, they practice good, you know, the wording, they always stay on the script, but then you guarantee that they're not going to do anything. Right. So, you know, my point is, after I listen, if it's just within my ability to do it, I'll fix it quickly. And then I'll let them know that I fixed it. Or maybe it's something that could appear improved. You know, I've done it this way, or this is my approach. Moving forward is what I'm going to do. I show them that I'm taking her concern or suggestion in, into heart. So let them know, listen is one thing, but doing after this, the most important,

Mark Graban (8m 55s):

Yeah. I guess how you demonstrate that you were actually really listening and not just being quiet. Is that follow up? Was there anything as, as you've gotten better at this, anything that you've done to really just help demonstrate to people that you really truly are listening, you really are hearing them, I guess when it's time for a response that that can be helpful.

Swire Ho (9m 20s):

I think it's a process too. You know, like I said, you know, we, we listened actually, you know, proactively reach out, you know, when they receive our product, right. When the job is finished, I actually sent an email, say, if everything went smoothly, do you like the product that you receive? So I actually offer to listen. So now they tell me, Oh, we like it. And that's great. Maybe you could improve on something like that. Or I don't like the way it's packaged or whatever that might be. So I'll fix it. I'll make sure that it gets done. Right. And then, you know, I follow up on, if you like, and I asked for the referral because you know, the goal obviously is you want more business for the same client and then this better for me.

Swire Ho (10m 5s):

I think you asked for that when they finish and happier with the product, they're more likely to tell others about what you've done for them.

Mark Graban (10m 15s):

Yeah. So Swire, I mean, looking back, you know, how you've, you know, kind of evolved some of your approach, what do you remember? Was there any particular moment where like the light bulb lit up where you say, okay, I need to be a better listener or what, what prompted your awareness of this development that you've gone through?

Swire Ho (10m 36s):

There were a lot of mistakes there. You know, I try to talk back and say why it's not our fault. So instead of listening, so I probably lost, you know, clients that way, you know, because I might win the conversation, but then I lost a client. So would you write a render conversation or let the client win? And then you keep the client. So, you know, I learned my lessons there, so that's why it's that continue improvement for my part.

Mark Graban (11m 5s):

Yeah. That's yeah. That's a good, I like the way you put that, would you rather win the argument or would you rather keep growing your business? Yeah. W w winning today versus winning long-term, I guess, is the difference there? Have you had, have you had an opportunity to share that lesson with other businesses, either through the chamber of commerce or other people in your business network or people that you're mentoring I'm wonder?

Swire Ho (11m 32s):

Yeah. I would say, you know, the best form of, you know, getting client is from referrals. You know, again, that's why I developed a process by listening, because I want to make sure that they're happy right before I ask them for referrals and then, you know, give them a reason to, you know, because, you know, if you said, you're happy with what we have done, then there was, would no problem for you to recommend us to other people. So I think that by developing the process in itself, it's easier. You know what, then if I, you know, connect you a year later, Hey, can do you know someone who might be able to use our services? They may already forgotten who you are, so you should ask for it while it's fresh.

Swire Ho (12m 18s):


Mark Graban (12m 18s):

So with, with your company, Garuda Promo and Branding solutions, first off, what, what types of promotional products or solutions do you offer?

Swire Ho (12m 28s):

Well, we have all types of promotional products that are available. You know, our focus is not really what products we can get is we wanted to try to understand the client again, you know, have them talk and we listen. And then we asked a lot of questions. Why are you doing that? You know, who are you giving it to? How are you giving it away? So then we provide a custom solution for them that will connect and engage with their target audience. So, because a lot of people, I like to ask the question, who are you buying this for? What is, what is the buyer persona? You know, you know, then I'll think, ah, these groups wanted to receive the product, you know, available from us, or is there something else that I might have in my, you know, catalog that can help them to connect with their audience better?

Swire Ho (13m 18s):

So these are the questions that I always ask. And sometimes client haven't thought of that. You know, when they think they buy a promotional product, it's just buying a product, put their logo on and give you their everyone. You know, my suggestion is always, you don't need to give it to everyone. You know, you have to be more specific. You have to identify who your target audience are and just spend your marketing dollar on them. If they're not in your marketing context for year, you don't really have to spend money on that yet, at least for right now,

Mark Graban (13m 51s):

Some really good tips. I want to come back to maybe this topic of mistakes that people make in marketing promotion. But what are, let's say, for example, like the top three promotional items that people buy from you

Swire Ho (14m 3s):

Right now, we're still independent mix or a brand that mass is still very popular. And then we have also done, you know, because we're, you know, no contact right now, we're all working virtually. So we are actually helping a lot of a company w a lot of company to actually onboarding new employees virtually first time. So kind of scary, you know, you're hiring someone that you don't really have them in the office. So what we do is we help them to create a onboarding kit. So normally they will send them an employee's handbook materials that they need for work. We also send them, you know, company gifts and company apparel that, you know, to make them feel part of the team. So when you first sign on, you want to be welcomed.

Swire Ho (14m 45s):

You want to feel that you belong in the team now. So these are something that you're actually, we have a pivot to something because the industry and the business environment around us has changed. I see

Mark Graban (14m 60s):

All the time, people love posting pictures of these new employee, welcome kits on social media. I mean, that's a really, it's, it's a way of, it seems like, you know, building connection and tapping into the excitement that a new employee would have. And then they end up, you know, sharing this and it creates, you know, goodwill or visibility for the company who gives those items. So it seems like there's a lot of great opportunity.

Swire Ho (15m 24s):

And in all other ways, you know, you and I probably do a lot of meetings. I'm sure the viewers have into some meetings, but then one of the challenges is on Zoom meetings, you're on your computer mostly, right? Then you have other tabs that are open, maybe 15 minutes in, and you see people like, kind of looking around, right. You know, their email checking, their Facebook. What we have done is we, you know, have sent kits to all the participant for the some event, for example, a webinar. Now, then we have things that are related to the topic, or sometimes we would include games that they can play. So the idea was to have the percent or 2%, maybe 15, 20 minutes, and then he will actually have the participant to play a game or refer to the kit that they received.

Swire Ho (16m 12s):

So if you kind of keep people engaged and you let them know that you'd be calling on them, you know, with our activity. So you keep people there. And then while they do their activity, maybe for two to five minutes, and then you go back to your information again. So we felt that it will be a lot more engaging and keep people involved. Then you just look at your screen and you talk for like an hour, which you lost a lot of people at the end,

Mark Graban (16m 39s):

For sure. Well, that's, that's a good idea. I think to look into, because that's a thing a lot of online events struggle with, I think is, is that engagement. And by sending items out to people, you can create some sort of tactile real-world engagement, not just you and the screen. I mean, I like different fidget things. I've got like this a little, it's not this little strength, squeezer thing. I'm not doing it necessarily to build muscle. It's just, if it something to do with my hands while I'm on a meeting. So there's all kinds of products that I'm sure you could put a logo on that way. So I'm curious, you know, in 2020, you mentioned the need for the pivot in your business.

Mark Graban (17m 23s):

That's the result of a different type of listening, you know, listening to the market, listening to what people are asking for. Can you share a little bit more of that thought process of discovering, okay, gosh, it's not going to be business as usual in 2020. How did you respond to that?

Swire Ho (17m 39s):

We, we looked at the market and then I also, you know, and, you know, checking in with my client, not to sell them, but to find out, you know, what's going on with their business, because mind you, there are businesses that are doing 300% more cells than normal times. If you're an e-commerce, if you're a tech company, if you're in home services, if you're in construction, you actually have a great year ever. You know, people are spending more money, you know, remodeling the home, you call most are making a killing because, you know, they're, people don't want to go to the store. So I have actually a different conversation with different clients. So I listening to them and watching the industry, where are we going? Give me an example in March, we know that we are, are kind of about shutdown by then in California, right?

Swire Ho (18m 25s):

So we know, I noticed that a lot of my supplier in the us and overseas styling face masks, like there's like a lot of them, a lot activities. So I said, we do that. You know, it wouldn't be because we haven't called on them. We don't really wear them around March. But then we started to doing them. And the first two weeks, you know, and we start getting more serious. People are going after their masks. Oh, we were able to pick up on that trend. You know, in the month of April, we actually have a huge month because of all the PPE gear that people are looking for, you know, people don't even want the logo on, they just want to have a good source that could get them in.

Swire Ho (19m 6s):

So, you know, they can use it. So there was one, you know, we could look at the trend and at the end, we know that completely normally have holiday parties and Yvonne gala for some nonprofits you're in, but then now they don't really do everything. It's kind of orange to have us do a meeting with everyone, then it's just talking. So that's how we came over with that idea for, you know, the dropship kit for people to have fun. You know, imagine you're playing games this year, we're talk. And you know, you can also send James if you want, right. You can still have a toast virtually you can still keep it fun. And people do like to have fun, right.

Swire Ho (19m 48s):

But you might have to think differently and do it in a different way.

Mark Graban (19m 54s):

So there's a couple of previous guests that you remind me of here. One is Dave Raymond, who has a book called The Power of Fun. You know, he was, he, he was a mascot. He was in the mascot costume for the Philadelphia Phillies for 16 years. And now he does work kind of teaching organizations, why we should have fun. So it's nice to be reminded of that. Yeah. And then back in episode 13, my guest Bryan Bogert, I don't know if you know this Swire, but his, his favorite mistake was related to promotional items that he was giving away to potential clients. And in a nutshell, he said, you know, he had been giving out like nicely customized to the individual items where it…

Mark Graban (20m 39s):

It came across as very thoughtful and he had a good response from that. And then for some reason, you know, as he said, you know, he changed his approach and he started sending out other gifts. Maybe this comes back to more of your mistake of sending maybe, you know, the, the wrong item or sending something to everybody real broadly instead of personalizing it. And he said, you know, people, and not only didn't help him win sales. Like there were people who were actively angry at him because they thought the gifts somehow came across as sort of cheap or not thoughtful. So he, you know, he was surprised by that response and he learned from it. So I don't tell the story as well, as well as Brian did, of course.

Mark Graban (21m 20s):

But if people want to go back to episode 13, they can hear him tell it.

Swire Ho (21m 25s):

I'm sorry. Yeah. I'll definitely go check it out because you know, because you want to be personalized, you know, you want people who receive your products. I, Oh, this is for me. This is so me. And then, like you mentioned before, I'm so happy to receive that. Now I'll take pictures and put it on all my social media. Look what they sent me, look what this company is going to be. And to ultimate go extra for promotional product is you want to turn your audience or clients to be your mini advocates. So they are actually actively engaged, reach out and to talk about your brand without you paying them, just because they feel the connection with you by, you know, knowing them who they are.

Swire Ho (22m 7s):

So that's the ultimate goal that I always challenge my client, tell me who they really are. So then I can find something for them. So they're actually there everyday. They tell everyone about your company just by you, you know, spending this money and time to think about who they are.

Mark Graban (22m 27s):

Yeah. And I think, you know, there's a, a software company that I work with called KaiNexus and we would have webinar guests. And one of the things we were doing for a while as a thank you would be sending a book like our CEO has a list of business books that he really likes. And we would send a physical copy of a book with a thank you note. And I think people appreciated that, but our, our one marketing manager came up with an idea that sounds more along the lines of what you were saying of sending a thank you bag full of company, branded items, you know, fun stuff. Even the bag is printed in a way with, you know, a company logo and graphics.

Mark Graban (23m 8s):

And we sent one of those out and the woman we sent it to took pictures, shared it on social media. And we're, we're, we're definitely going to continue doing that. I think the book was a nice gesture, but it didn't have the same emotional connection as some of those branded items did

Swire Ho (23m 24s):

And don't get me wrong. It doesn't have to be expensive. You don't have to use money to impress people. It just, if I know that you, like, let's say if you know, you know that I like kettlebell. Then if you send me something that relate to that category, you know that I'm going to use it. But if you know that only do cooking, for example, then you will send me a kettlebell. It's just how well do you know your client? Do you really know what group? Or if you have a top 10, who are your top tens are, you know, what, what kind of things would they respond to? Or if you, you know, send it to them, would they call you right away and say, thank you so much for sending me the gift. That's still me.

Swire Ho (24m 4s):

You know, like you got to take some time. It's not right away. And then I have over 10,000 items available. So I'm, I can be sure that if you let me know what demographics, what the persona is, like, I'll be able to find something that will respond to each group.

Mark Graban (24m 22s):

And that comes back to your listening. And you're asking questions around, what are you trying to accomplish? And I mean, I think that that's an important lesson, you know, even thinking back to business school, they, they talk about, you know, being customer focused and you can do that sort of superficially, or it sounds like you dig deeper to really understand what the, what the client's trying to do.

Swire Ho (24m 44s):

Yeah. And that's came what I said, you know, wrote it. They talked to me, some of them don't like to talk about yachts and who you're talking to all. Yes. You know, I, I had, I want everyone to have a pen on me with my logo on it. So, you know, some clients do think like that, you know, and it's like, continue. Why do while listening to them? I would encourage them to think and identify in your marketing. You don't, you never want to market everybody. Don't use the word everybody and anybody. Yes. Go to your restaurant. Right. Even a restaurant, everyone got to eat, you know? So that's why I'm talking to everyone.

Swire Ho (25m 25s):

But think about where you're located, what type of food that you have, what kind of prize fund that you have, maybe you have different core and you have a different culture that people respond to you. So then you develop your persona. You know, maybe you are fast food, you have Pitta. So maybe when there's a football game and people will becomes your immediate client, then you won't target people who are having this suspension. So if you're able to tell me who they are or any marketing efforts that you do, then the more that you know about your target audience, the better your marketing campaign will be.

Mark Graban (26m 2s):

Yeah. Well, I appreciate your sharing, you know, those, those tips and, and mentioning some of the mistakes people might make in their promotional efforts. And I really appreciate you Swire for sharing that. In addition to your story, it's always a good reminder to focus on listening. That's something that we can always be working on, I guess, sort of like you can always be working on your garden, right? Random question, before we go. What's your favorite thing that you grow in your organic garden?

Swire Ho (26m 35s):

The favorite thing I planted some young orange trees, the second year right now. It's getting better. It's not as sour. So I guess, you know, like your example, you got to keep tendering your tree when they're young. So then at the end, when they grew up, you could take, you know, pick the fruit that are sweet and, you know, whenever you wanted. So I guess it's kind of this analogy of tools you have to take care of it. And then at the end, they will take care of you.

Mark Graban (27m 3s):

That's beautifully said our guests I'll wrap up on that note has been Swire Ho. He is director of sales and marketing at grew to promo and branding solutions. Their website is I'll put a link to that and all of Swire's social media links, he uses hashtag #thepromoguy. So say hi to him, tell him that you've heard the episode and maybe you can interact with Swire on social media. So thank you so much for being a guest. I really appreciate your perspectives today. Thanks again to Swire. You can find links and show notes and more at Our next couple of guests include Christine Handy, a former model, Lee Houghton, a business consultant from England and Laura Kriska, author of the book, The Power of We, thanks for subscribing if you've already done so.

Mark Graban (27m 58s):

So please rate and review us if you have the chance on your favorite app of choice. And I hope this podcast inspires you to reflect on your own mistakes, how you can learn from them or turn them into a positive I've had listeners tell me they've started being more open and honest about mistakes and their work. And they're trying to create a workplace culture where it's safe to speak up about problems because that leads to more improvement and better business results. If you have feedback or a story to share, you can email me And again, our website is

Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus. He is also a Senior Advisor and Director of Strategic Marketing with the healthcare advisory firm, Value Capture.