Fourth Quarter 2013 Update – Hoping Your Year Was More Than ‘Meh’

Happy Holidays!

I began writing this quarterly in mid-December, on a flight from Washington-Reagan airport to DFW after a day of meetings with the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and Specialty Graphic Images Association (SGIA). Our industry is so broad and our members so diverse that we continue to look for every opportunity to collaborate, educate and inform buyers, vertical markets and special interest organizations about the power of promotional products.

That particular travel day ended with a conference call board meeting where the PPAI Board of Directors approved a $19 million 2014 budget that invests heavily in product safety, compliance, buyer awareness and legislative advocacy. I am proud to work for an organization that takes these issues seriously and backs it up by putting its money where its mouth is.

For those of you who’ve been following along throughout the year, thank you for allowing me to invade your inbox with these updates. I appreciate you 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 private email distribution list. You may also send me the names of colleagues you think might find it interesting.  

The Year That Was

We are ending our year on a busy but successful note at PPAI Headquarters. We achieved almost all of the major goals we laid out for 2013 and stayed true to our mission, vision and strategic plan. I am even more satisfied that we were able to add a few initiatives that will help us be even more proactive on issues such as product safety and compliance.

While our final 2013 sales volume report will not be released until spring 2014, our quarterly benchmarking reports and the feedback I receive from members tell me to expect another year of mid-single digit growth for our industry.

If that is the case, and the industry achieves the same four- to five-percent growth as in 2012, it will be our fourth year of growth and an annual industry sales volume of more than $19 billion.

To put this in perspective, last year the industry was at $18.5 billion and ranked eighth among all advertising media. If all other media experienced similar growth to 2012, a four- to five-percent uptick will put us even with or slightly ahead of newspaper and consumer magazine advertising expenditures, moving us to sixth among all advertising media, and it will return the industry to 2007 pre-recession levels.

There is no magic wand to wave that will sustain and grow industry market share. This reality is why PPAI’s 2014 budget will continue to invest in strategic outreach programs such as Promotional Products Work! Week, our partnership with the American Marketing Association and the PPAI & ASI ADvocate program. These programs are powerful local and national marketing strategies that leverage efforts at the grassroots level and beyond. 

In May of this year we launched the inaugural Expo East in Atlantic City, an effort that proved successful and well received by attendees. EE is a strategic alliance between PPAI and Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York (SAAGNY) that gives industry professionals from the East Coast a golden opportunity to experience the best of The PPAI Expo, a show which many of them are unable to attend.

In September we received the news that The PPAI Expo once again ranks in the Top 100 trade shows, according to Trade Show Executive Magazine. Expo has been ranked in the top tier of the Gold 100 since the list’s inception in 2007. This ongoing recognition demonstrates and validates that we are succeeding in our mission to create value while growing the visibility, viability, credibility and community of the promotional products industry.

In its 14th year, the 2013 Leadership Development Workshop, co-hosted with the Regional Association Council, focused on “Synergies For Success” and delivered updated education tracks, interactive sessions and in-depth panel discussions. Attendees raved about the new opportunities to learn and network with one another.

In late October, PPAI incoming board chair Mark Jenkins, MAS+, and I joined industry leaders from the incentive, recognition and promotional products industries for the annual Special Markets Dialogues. Pete Mitchell, director of business-to-business sales at Samsonite, organized and led the event to discuss trends and best practices in the incentives market. Pete has written a fantastic article for PPB’s January issue in which he delves into the state of the market and its future, as well as golden opportunities for industry members.

We hosted Gordon Glenister, my U.K. counterpart, at PPAI headquarters in November. Gordon is director general of the British Promotional Marketing Association (bpma), which employs a full-time staff of six and supports 570 member companies, split equally between suppliers and distributors. The U.K. spends approximately $54 billion annually across all advertising mediums, with promotional products accounting for about $1.2 billion of the total. Though our associations differ in size, our missions and visions are the same. Gordon met with our staff and executive leadership to learn how we can collaborate on future endeavors. Most importantly, Gordon is a resource I can connect you with if you need to find feet-on-the-street in the UK.

Later that month, I was able to attend the ASAE Symposium, along with incoming PPAI Board Chair Mark Jenkins, MAS +, and Rick Brenner, MAS, our 2014 chair-elect. This symposium, hosted by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) focuses on the roles and responsibilities of association leadership and helps Mark, Rick and me prepare for the year ahead. We are fortunate to have Mark and Rick on deck for the chairman position at PPAI.

Throughout the year I continued to meet with members in Town Hall meetings and as a guest of regional association events, most recently with the Promotional Products Association of Wisconsin, which hosted Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch at its Taste of PPAW event. I am continually impressed with the drive and passion displayed by our regional members, and by their determination to educate and inform their state leaders to ensure promotional products businesses will thrive.

Looking Ahead: The PPAI Expo 2014 And More

I want to share with you some thoughts from PPAI Chair Marc Simon. He, like me, is looking forward to what will unfold at Expo. He shared his Top 10 reasons why the industry’s largest and longest-running trade show is the must-attend event of the year in the December issue of PPB. You can read them here.

And, from behind the scenes of this incredible show, PPAI’s director of expositions, Darel Cook, shares his own top three, can’t-miss opportunities at Expo:

Tuesday evening Sneak Peek

It’s a great opportunity to get a preview of the new products for the year BEFORE you hit the show floor. Then you are sure NOT to miss the hottest new products.

Wednesday morning General Session with Tony Hsieh

Tony will deliver a great message about office culture, aligning your organization around core values and “wow factor” marketing. He will also discuss his leadership in the revitalization of downtown Las Vegas.

Thursday evening Power of Two Party

We are taking the best networking event of Expo to a new venue: LIGHT at Mandalay Bay, the first nightclub turned on by Cirque du Soleil. It’s the hottest new nightclub in Las Vegas with an unbelievable array of lighting, sound and special effects.

Save These Dates

The opportunities to grow your business and become a more involved member of the Association and the industry don’t stop with Expo. Make plans to attend Expo East May 19-21 in Atlantic City; Women’s Leadership Conference July 28-30 in Denver, Colorado; and North American Leadership Conference August 10-12 and Product Safety Summit August 13-14, both in Boston, Massachusetts.

Promotional Products Work! Week 2014

This year’s PPW!W event is scheduled for April 21-25, 2014. We’re building on the success of the inaugural Promotional Products Work! Week with the goal of bringing more awareness, information and relationship-building opportunities to the industry and users of our products.

I am once again asking you to get involved and support this important industry-wide program. We’ll give you all the tools you need to make direct and meaningful contact with government officials, business groups, marketers, current and potential customers and students.

We’re running a session at The PPAI Expo called Promotional Products Work! Week – 5 Ways To Make It Work For You! that you should attend to learn how to make PPW!W beneficial to the industry and your business.

If you need more information on PPW!W, contact Kim Todora at  Kim is the driver behind this program and will give you everything you need to be successful.

Commitment. Culture. Confidence.

As I shared with many of you earlier this month, PPAI is committed to creating a culture in which promotional product companies are not only aware of product safety, but engaged on the topic, and as a direct result instill confidence in the medium at every level.

Marc Simon, outgoing PPAI Chair, along with myself and the Product Responsibility Advisory Group (PRAG) will formally introduce the Product Safety Awareness Program during Expo in a few weeks. 

As part of the program, all industry companies, regardless of membership category, who want to access the PPAI marketplace through trade-show exhibit space, sponsorships and advertising must obtain Product Safety Aware status by completing a minimum of four hours of product safety education. These hours must be completed by Expo East 2015 in Atlantic City.

For the Association, this initiative is just one crucial part of a larger initiative, Pathway to Confidence, which focuses on creating awareness and promoting the effectiveness of promotional products. We want promotional products buyers to be confident not only in the power of the medium but in its safety.

You’ve heard my mantra before, Visibility, Viability, Credibility and Community. This initiative is the next step – Commitment, Culture and Confidence. We cannot have one without the other. Our customers say so.

This program already has the blessing and the support of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Our team has briefed CPSC commissioners and staff on the program. They recognize and are very supportive of the proactive efforts we are undertaking in rolling this out to the promotional products industry.

I invite you to take a look at a list of early adopters (already nearly 200 companies) of the program. If you are interested in getting on board as an early adopter, or believe you may already be an early adopter based on the criteria, please let me know that too. You can review the FAQs on PPAI’s website to learn more as well.

PPAI Welcomes Tim Brown, MAS

Tim Brown, MAS, has joined us as the Association’s product responsibility manager, a new role here. As a long-time member and an active volunteer on the regional level, Brown will play a key role in member education, resource development and efforts related to Product Safety Summit. Brown joined us in November and has since been hard at work building relationships with members and utilizing his product responsibility experience to help them understand and implement product safety standards.

Volunteer/Board Leadership Training

PPAI welcomed the new Board Class of 2018 and members of the Association’s Executive committee to our headquarters this fall, inviting them to sit together and learn more about what they’ll be doing as volunteer leaders for the organization. We have another amazing, talented group of new board members and I am proud to be working alongside them.

Bruce Perryman, MAS+, CEO of supplier Embroidery Unlimited, Inc.; Mary Jo Tomasini, CAS, CEO of distributor CE Competitive Edge, LLC; and David Nicholson, president of supplier Polyconcept North America, parent company to Leed’s, Bullet and Journalbooks/Timeplanner Calendars, were in town for a two-day New Director Orientation to learn about board and volunteer roles and responsibilities, PPAI governance structure, the strategic plan and budgets. They were also provided a high-level look at the operations, products and services of each of our departments.

We also welcomed two new board members—Gene Geiger, MAS,  and Norma Jean Knollenberg. Gene and Norma Jean are replacing two board members that stepped down due to business reasons.

New Research: Compensation & Benefits Survey

This fall, we commissioned a study to learn how suppliers and distributors compensate employees. This study, conducted exclusively for PPAI by Relevant Insights, LLC, asked participating member companies more than 60 questions about how promotional products industry companies pay employees, salary levels for various titles and about benefits and incentives.

Results from the first part of the study, which examines distributor compensation and benefits, are featured in the PPB January issue. Supplier results will be published in the February issue.

Speaking Out For The Industry

Federal budget crises and the nation’s struggle to move out of recession have weighed heavily on our minds at PPAI, as we know it has for our members. That’s why we continue to invest resources and monitor legislation that can have an impact on how we do business. Right now we ask you to reach out to your representatives in Congress to talk about a tax reform bill that could negatively affect promotional products as a viable advertising medium.

If passed, the bill—issued by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee—would allow only 50 percent of advertising expenses to be deducted in the current year with the remaining 50 percent amortized over five years. Currently, advertising expenditures are 100-percent deductable—a regulation PPAI feels should go unchanged.

So far, nearly 1,500 professionals in the promotional products industry have emailed Congress about the advertising expenditure issue. Please add your voice to this effort here

Please continue to be vigilant in protecting the interests of the promotional products industry. When you see a news item that conveys or reinforces industry misconceptions, we encourage you to do the following:

  • Immediately share the news with PPAI by emailing stories/reports
  • Keep an eye out for rumors and threats to the industry’s credibility–if you hear of something, let us know.
  • Advocate! Stand up for the industry that has been so good to you and to all of us—defend its good name.
  • And finally, know the facts. They are strongly in our favor. For more information visit,

A Parting Thought 

My daughter Sam is home from college for winter break and I couldn’t be happier. But there’s this sound that keeps coming from her mouth that I don’t recall hearing before. It is pronounced and spelled meh. It seems to be a multi-purpose word with many meanings. Me: How is school? Sam: Meh. Me: What do you want for Christmas? Sam: Meh. Me: Do I smell smoke? Is the house on fire? Sam: Meh.

I looked it up and it seems it is a word/sound primarily used to imply a degree of indifference— the verbal equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders.

If you asked me what I thought about 2013, my response would be ‘meh.’ It wasn’t the worst year. It wasn’t a best year. Some members seemed to do really well this year. Others struggled. From that perspective it was just meh.

I am looking forward to what 2014 will bring, and I expect to feel and see your enthusiasm and excitement for the new year when we meet in Las Vegas for The PPAI Expo. Here’s to a non-meh 2014. 

The Short List

So there you have it—the highlights of a year in review and a few thoughts about things to come in 2014. Here are the top-5 things I hope you took away from this email:

  1. Mark your calendar for Expo East, the Sage Show, North American Leadership Conference (NALC), Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC) and Product Safety Summit. Each of these events will help you build and grow a better, stronger business in 2014.
  2. There are at least 10 good reasons to attend The PPAI Expo 2014.
  3. Promotional Products Work! Week is the best way for you to actively participate in the growth and success of our industry.
  4. So far, nearly 1,500 professionals in the promotional products industry have emailed Congress about the Baucus bill and potential for a reduction in advertising expenditure deductions. Please add your voice to this effort here.
  5. Meh can be used as an appropriate description for 2013 but it will not be allowed in 2014 so let’s make it a great one.

Have a wonderful New Year!

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