Monthly Archives: June 2013

A Second Quarter 2013 Update

Each quarter, I send an email update to group of industry professionals I’ve met during my travels or worked with as part of my job with PPAI. It is posted below. If you’d like to be included on the distribution list, send me your contact information (including email address) to I hope you enjoy the read. Let me know what you think.

July 1 marks my two-year anniversary as president/CEO of this amazing trade association. While I’ve worked for PPAI in a number of roles since 1998, these past two years have been the most challenging, exciting, rewarding and fulfilling.

I’ve logged hundreds of thousands of air and ground miles meeting with members, buyers, legislators and media (usually with PPAI past-chairmen Steven Meyer and Eric Ekstrand, or current chair Marc Simon in tow) in offices, warehouses, factories, hotel meeting rooms, auditoriums, restaurants and even in living rooms and garages – anywhere I could get people to sit long enough to hear the story of the power of promotional products. If you’re reading this message, there’s a good chance we’ve met at a show, a regional meeting or some other industry event.

When I accepted this role in 2011, I could have never imagined the level of support and encouragement I would receive from so many industry professionals. And while I appreciate the support you’ve shown me and the PPAI team, I am equally thankful for how you questioned, challenged, motivated and inspired us to do more, perform better and move faster. I invite you to continue to reach out to us with ideas, comments, suggestions and information that will help us grow the visibility, viability, credibility and community that make this industry so dynamic, important, relevant and fun.

For those of you who’ve been following along through these updates, thank you for taking the time to read, respond and share it with your peers. As always, please let me know if you would like to be removed from this email distribution list. You may also send me the names of colleagues you think might find it interesting.

PPAI L.E.A.D. (Visibility and Credibility)
Connecting our members with their senators and representatives on Capitol Hill and their home offices remains a high priority – especially as more legislation is being introduced that affects the livelihoods of promotional products professionals in virtually every industry role.

Early in the second quarter, members of our public affairs team and myself accompanied nearly 70 industry leaders to D.C., to meet with elected officials and their staffs to advocate for our industry as part of our fourth annual Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.). We brought with us a priority list of issues to discuss—among them, the usefulness of independent contractors, taxation, safety recognition programs and the continued message that promotional products work.

L.E.A.D. attendees were first-time participants as well as veterans, and they represented every aspect of the industry as well as virtually every region of the country. I appreciate that ASI’s Senior Vice President Chuck Machion and George Jackson, President of George Jackson Promotions were among those who were able to attend this year’s event and guest-blog about their experiences. In addition to those on-site in D.C., more than 1,500 members made an impact through our Virtual Fly-In and reached out to legislators through emails and phone calls.

As an industry with strong roots in recognizing and rewarding great efforts, PPAI presented Rep. Erik Paulsen, who represents the 3rd District of Minnesota, with the 2013 Legislator of the Year award. The award recognizes members of Congress who have shown a commitment to small-business interests and supported issues critical to the promotional products industry.

Looking back at this year’s L.E.A.D., I believe it has once again raised the bar for legislative advocacy. This is one of the primary reasons PPAI exists—to enable our members to confidently carry industry-critical messages to lawmakers in Washington, D.C. I believe our efforts are paying off as more and more members of Congress remember our L.E.A.D.ers and recognize the relevance of our messages.

Our advocacy efforts don’t begin and end in April—we want to equip our members with resources to continue legislative outreach year-round. To that end PPAI has produced a Promotional Products Industry Legislative Success Guide. This is an important tool for industry professionals in search of guidance on contacting their elected officials, staying up to date on legislative news and spread the message that promotional products work. Click here to read the guide.

The IRS And A Media Mess (Credibility and Viability)
You’ve no doubt seen that earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released its report on a 2010 IRS conference, citing instances of IRS conference planners not following established procurement policies. Included in this report were detailed accounts of IRS purchases of promotional products. Ugh…

Like many of you, I was disappointed by the IRS’ conduct of late, but I was dismayed by the ensuing media portrayal of our industry. Simply because our products are tangible, memorable and long-lasting—all attributes that contribute to their effectiveness—they are easy targets for sound bites. There’s little consolation that the media coverage was not an attack on the promotional products industry and focused primarily on the IRS. Regardless, we became collateral damage.

Upon review with our D.C. lobbyists, legal counsel and Government Relations Action Council, we made a decision to continue to monitor the situation closely, but not attempt to engage members of Congress in a discussion of IRS procurement practices. We decided to save that discussion until we’re in an environment more conducive to a productive conversation.

As recently as April at L.E.A.D., we’ve been in front of members of Congress and will continue to meet with them to reinforce our industry’s messages about the value and effectiveness of promotional products.

Clearly, most legislators still don’t fully understand that promotional products are the most cost-effective method for businesses, nonprofits and government agencies to market and raise awareness of their programs. They do not know how essential promotional products are to the marketing mix, and the industry to the national economy. You have my commitment that we will not rest until they do.

PPAI cannot do this without your help. PLEASE add your voice to ours and remind your Washington, D.C., representatives that the promotional products industry provides more than 432,000 jobs and nearly $18 billion annually. Use this link to send an email to your representative right now. It will take less than one minute.

You can learn more about PPAI’s legislative activities by visiting the PPAI Legislative Action Watch website, subscribing to GR TODAY and by following my blog at

Expo East (Viability and Community)
I am proud to be part of the industry’s largest, most successful and longest-running trade show, The PPAI Expo, and we celebrated its continued success earlier this year. At the same time I remain challenged by the fact that many industry professionals do not attend the Las Vegas show, particularly those who do business in the Northeast.

Our efforts to reach this underserved market were realized this year with the production of Expo East, our strategic alliance with SAAGNY to which replaced the long-running Promotions East show.

In May we welcomed more than 700 exhibitors and thousands of distributor attendees – who traveled from as far away as Washington State and Canada – to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Expo East delivered the same quality education, exhibitors and attendees that we promise and deliver at every PPAI Expo in Vegas.

The end result for us is that we met most of our goals for the first year of this transition. We grew the show, and both suppliers and distributors we spoke with were happy with the new direction we’re taking. We believe we had the right numbers and the right quality of distributor attendee.

But we also continue to listen and learned we still have some work to do. We need to find the right balance between a staff-managed and volunteer-driven event. We need to find ways to further engage and showcase the strong multiline representative presence at the show. We need to continue to attract more first-time distributor professionals from throughout the east coast.

Our goal all along was to reach PPAI member and industry companies that traditionally haven’t attended a PPAI show. We believe we’re on our way and at the same time we’ve given SAAGNY the opportunity to focus their energies on delivering great member value. If you attended Expo East this year, thank you. We are already looking ahead to making next year even better. The 2014 dates are May 19-21 in Atlantic City, and registration will open later this year.

PPAI & RPI Strategic Alliance (Viability, Credibility, Visibility, Community)
The viability of the industry and the association demands that we continually look for opportunities to grow. To that end, we recently announced a strategic alliance with Recognition Professionals International (RPI) to co-locate the RPI Annual conference with PPAI brand. next year, at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas for The PPAI Expo 2014 and again in 2015.

This alliance is designed to educate qualified distributors, recruit new members and provide enhanced buyer education and awareness. It will also bolster RPI’s efforts to deliver access and education to their members who are interested in furthering their businesses through growth in the industry and use of promotional products. As the 2014 and 2015 PPAI Expo and Expo East Recognition Performance Education Sponsor, RPI will play a key role in the delivery of advanced education and quality content to distributors.

RPI is at the forefront of employee recognition with a focus on recognition innovations and education. This new alliance creates the only international conference and expo promoting engagement and interaction between promotional products professionals and incentive, recognition and engagement practitioners and providers. You can learn more about RPI and the new alliance here.

Hong Kong Gift & Premium Fair (Visibility, Viability and Credibility)
Our industry and the global economy are more intertwined than ever before, so we continue our efforts to help members ensure that their companies’ overseas partnerships are strong and successful. PPAI Public Affairs Director Anne Lardner-Stone recently traveled to Hong Kong and China in April to attend meetings and factory visits, testing labs as well as attend the Hong Kong Gift and Premium Fair.

A central focus of the visit was to attend the annual meeting of the World Alliance Gift Exchange (WAGE) Group, a global network comprised of more than 20 international promotional products companies. Attendees met to review global market conditions as well as international marketing trends. Jo-an Lantz, MAS, of Geiger serves as WAGE Group president, while Matt Withers of Bright Sparks Limited, and Steve Levschuk, MAS, of PPAI member Talbot Marketing make up the WAGE Presidium.

Anne delivered a presentation at the Hong Kong Gift and Premium Fair alongside Rebecca Wong with Hong Kong Accreditation Service, focusing on the state of the promotional products industry and product responsibility challenges. The presentation stressed the importance of the U.S. supplier-distributor sales channel.

Anne also visited the Underwriters Laboratory’s (UL) Hong Kong facility and traveled to Shenzhen, China, to visit the Dongguan Kung Sze Metal Company. These visits are critically important to PPAI and Anne as she and the Product Responsibility Action Group continue to lead our industry’s efforts on compliance, product safety and production practices.

Promotional Products Work! Week Success (Visibility, Viability, Credibility and Community)
In February, hundreds of promotional products companies united to educate and inform key stakeholders and create awareness for the proven power of promotional products.

PPW!W participants marked the weeklong celebration with events that demonstrated the importance of promotional products as an effective advertising medium and communications tool, and the benefits of working with qualified promotional products professionals.

To coincide with the event launch, we re-released the “People Love Promotional Products” video, which includes new data from our latest consumer study, The Influence Of Promotional Products On Consumer Behavior. The video was shared 85 times and viewed more than 5,500 times on Facebook. On YouTube, it was viewed nearly 1,000 times, which prompted a spike in views of other promotional products videos.

And, PPAI’s news release was picked up by multiple publications that reach millions of readers. In addition, there were 362 news posts and 1,031 shares of videos on Twitter. The week before and during PPW!W, PPAI’s end-buyer website recorded 1,711 visits and 5,600 page views, and PPW! Week ads in PPB Newslink were clicked through, on average, 4,181 times.

I thank all the industry volunteers who contributed their time and expertise to the week’s success. We have already begun looking ahead to next year’s event, to be held April 21-25, 2014.

PPDRF And Storm Recovery Assistance (Viability and Community)
Late spring weather surprised many of us with devastating storms, including tornadoes and flooding in Oklahoma and throughout the country. Our hearts go out to those affected and we want them to know that the Promotional Products Disaster Recovery Foundation’s (PPDRF) Business Recovery Fund is ready to provide assistance to those industry companies that may have suffered loss or damage in the storm.

Through its Business Recovery Fund (BRF), the PPDRF seeks to help companies affected by natural disasters to get back on their feet by replacing lost equipment and supplies such as computers, cell phones, office supplies, promotional products catalogs and samples. It can also provide work areas or give other assistance as needed to get a business up and running as soon as possible.

We all know the devastation an event like this can cause and how difficult the recovery process can be. Through the Fund and its work, we can be there to support our colleagues in their time of need.

The PPDRF continues to need donations to ensure money is available to all those who need it. Contributions can be made online or directed to the PPDRF, care of PPAI RAC, 3125 Skyway Circle North, Irving, Texas 75038. This fund is a 501(c)(3) organization and all contributions are tax deductible.

If you (or someone you know) sustained losses in the storm to contact PPAI at or 888-I-AM-PPAI (426-7724) for assistance to re-start their business, to update their contact information, with questions or to report a business outage. The Business Recovery Fund also has information and resources on its website about how to prepare for a disaster,

Polyconcept 10-Year PPEF Pledge (Viability and Community)
One of the things I love about this industry is how much we want for each other to succeed. Even as competitors, promotional products professionals regard one another as peers. To that end, they support one another through business recovery efforts like PPDRF and the disaster recovery fund and advancement opportunities like the Promotional Products Education Foundation (PPEF).

Now I know you know this but it is always good to be reminded…
PPEF is a scholarship program enabling youth and professionals to continue their education at the college level, and last year alone PPEF awarded $100,000 in scholarships.

I was pleased to learn that PPAI member Polyconcept North America, recently renewed its ongoing commitment with a Platinum Level pledge of $120,000 to the PPEF Tomorrow Fund. Bullet and Leed’s, two of the companies in the Polyconcept family, have been PPEF Silver Level ($30,000) and Bronze Level ($12,000) donors, respectively. Both companies completed their pledges in 2012.

The Association and industry patrons have a long-standing commitment of service to the promotional products industry, and this fund supports those who demonstrate the same commitment. My personal thanks to the PNA team and the hundreds of other companies and individuals that make PPEF a valuable resource to so many deserving families and students.

Summer Events (Viability, Credibility and Community)

Looking ahead, I am excited for the return of three great educational and networking opportunities this summer: Women’s Leadership Conference in July and The North American Leadership Conference and Product Safety Summit in August.

Women’s Leadership Conference
WLC, July 8-10, will be held in San Diego, California, and promises a wealth of networking opportunities along with insights from a team of speakers who promise to help attendees grow their businesses while maintaining vibrant lives outside the office. WLC celebrates and furthers the high-impact work of the women who have paved the way for success in the promotional products industry. WLC attendees are the bold thinkers who strive to innovate and reinvigorate the industry and bring a unique perspective to the table.

OK, you can tell I obviously didn’t write the WLC copy but I did have the opportunity to attend WLC last year in Indianapolis and I can tell you it was an absolutely incredible experience. There was stuff going on there that you just don’t see at normal mixed-gender conferences and I can’t even attempt to explain the magic. Guys, we don’t get it and we won’t get it but the truth is we don’t have to get it because believe it or not, it’s not about us. PPAI’s executive vice president Bob McLean will be attending this year’s event and will report back but as open-minded as Bob can be, I still wouldn’t expect him to get it.

We have some remarkable women slated to speak at WLC. These professionals are leaders, innovators and mentors who will share valuable insights and tips for success in work and life with attendees. They include CEO, mentor and serial entrepreneur Allison Maslan, “branding guru” Liz Goodgold, human resources professional Claudia St. John, SPHR, and work-life balance expert Valorie Burton.

North American Leadership Conference
NALC, which puts me in more familiar territory, will be in Chicago August 11-13. It too promises to provide golden opportunities for industry leaders to engage in high-level, strategic conversations but it will all take place in shoes with lower heels and a significant amount of testosterone. NALC discussions address the most relevant, top-of-mind business issues and idea impacting the promotional products industry with an emphasis on networking events, emerging business issues, trends and best practices. This year’s speakers include economist Austan Goolsbee, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Products Association and Frank J. Mulhern, associate dean of integrated marketing communications at Northwestern University.

Product Safety Summit
Whether or not you plan to be in Chicago for NALC, I urge you to register for the Product Safety Summit, which will be held August 14-15, just after NALC. The Summit is one-and-a-half days of education that focuses on the most pressing product safety issues as well as the business implications, challenges and opportunities associated with product safety compliance. Facilitated by industry thought leaders, representatives from product safety labs and product certification groups, this eye-opening event will explore the latest developments, as well as best practices.

Event co-chairs Gene Geiger and Rick Brenner have assembled a compelling lineup for the Summit, including “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know Agout CPSIA But Were Afraid To Ask” by Neal Cohen, the Small Business Ombudsman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Neal will be joined by his CPSC colleague Jim Joholske, who will offer an import surveillance update. Review the full agenda for more details on sessions that will include an end-buyer panel, FDA updates and a review of the risks and realities of compliance.

On the Road Again… (Visibility, Viability, Credibility and Community)
In addition to attending PPAI’s professional development programs I will be speaking and presenting to industry professionals and promotional products buyers/customers at a number of member meetings and industry and regional events during the next quarter.

• Facilis Group Summit – Park City, Utah
• SAGE Semniar Series – Boston, MA, New Haven, CT, Long Island, NY
• Proforma Convention – Las Vegas, NV
• SAAC Show – Long Beach, CA
• North American Leadership Conference – Chicago, IL
• Product Safety Summit – Chicago, IL
• PPAF – Orlando, FL
• CAAMP – Charlotte, NC
• AZPPA – Phoenix, AZ
• VAPPA – Chesapeake, VA, Richmond, VA
• PPAI/RAC Leadership Development Workshop – Grapevine, TX

I hope to see you and members of your team at an upcoming event. If you are located in one of these cities and would like to schedule an office visit or a lunch/dinner meeting, contact me at or 972-258-3050. These visits are a great opportunity to learn more about member’s businesses and how we can help you grow.

Thanks again for your continued support. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you grow your business.


IRS Spending and the Promotional Products Industry

As you know, last week, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released its report on a 2010 IRS conference, citing instances of IRS conference planners not following established procurement policies. Included in this report were detailed accounts of IRS purchases of promotional products.

I, like many of you, was disappointed by the IRS’ conduct of late, but I was dismayed by the ensuing media portrayal of our industry. Simply because our products are tangible, memorable and long-lasting—all attributes that contribute to their effectiveness—they are easy targets for sound bites. However, it is important to realize that the media coverage was not an attack on the promotional products industry, but rather focused on the IRS.

Upon review with our D.C. lobbyists, our legal counsel and our Government Relations Action Council, we will continue to monitor this situation very closely, but we will not attempt to engage members of Congress in a discussion of IRS procurement practices until an environment more conducive to a productive conversation emerges.

We were in front of members of Congress as recently as April of this year, during our fourth annual Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.), and will continue to meet with them to reinforce our messages regarding the value and effectiveness of promotional products.

Many legislators still don’t fully understand that promotional products are the most cost-effective method for businesses, nonprofits and government entities to market and raise awareness of their programs. Too few elected officials know how essential promotional products are to the marketing mix, and the industry, to the national economy.

I urge you to add your voice to ours and remind your Washington DC representatives that the promotional products industry provides more than 432,000 jobs and nearly $18 billion annually by using this link to send an email to your representative right now.

PPAI believes that communication with Members of Congress should be done every day. As relationships develop between industry leaders and Congress, a greater understanding about our industry will materialize. It is important for PPAI members to stay connected with their elected officials in the continued effort to keep promotional products working.

Don’t put this off—take action today to protect your industry.