A First Quarter 2014 Update

“The only person who likes change is a wet baby.” – Mark Twain

Dear Colleague,

As you may know, I send a quarterly update to a small group of industry professionals offering an informal review of happenings over the most recent quarter and giving some highlights of what’s to come. If you or a colleague would like to be included in the quarterly email, send me a note to paulb@ppai.org and I will get you on the distribution list.

It’s About Protecting And Growing Our Industry
Next week, nearly 70 industry members and I will head to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the power of promotional products among end buyers (advertisers and marketers) and the general public. All of us will share our stories with members of Congress and their staffs during Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.). These meetings—more than 250 in all—are designed to ensure that representatives for every U.S. state hear those stories.

Don’t feel left out that you are not making the trip—we have a simple way for you to participate without even leaving your desk. Please join us in reaching out to senators and representatives by participating in the L.E.A.D. virtual fly-in; send an email to your member of Congress in support of the industry–click here to connect with Capitol Hill.

During the week I will also be meeting with staff and counsel from the Direct Marketing Association, The Advertising Coalition, American Advertising Federation and the American Apparel & Footwear Association. We share common issues and opportunities with each of these organizations, ranging from import regulations to deductibility of advertising  dollars. Meetings with the advertising/marketing organizations will also focus on recognition of promotional products as a proven and cost effective advertising medium and to grow our share of advertising spend.

Promotional Products Work! Week
You can also advocate for your business and the industry on a local level by participating in Promotional Products Work! Week, April 21-25. This weeklong event is an invaluable opportunity to share what promotional products can do for local businesses, organizations, municipal agencies, schools and more. Your businesses are an integral part of your communities, so please participate in PPW!Week by hosting open houses and tours, speaking at group meetings and presenting to college classes. Check in with what companies have done in the past, and learn more about how you can be part of this great event, at http://www.promotionalproductswork.org/week.

Ever Been In The Right Place At The Wrong Time?
A key message delivered at The PPAI Expo 2014 was the date shift for The PPAI Expo 2015 to a Sunday-Thursday schedule. By now you’ve seen the clever ads and videos announcing the day shift of The PPAI Expo. If not, check them out here.

The shift from a Wednesday-Friday trade show to a Tuesday-Thursday pattern is one of cooperation and of strategy.  Our long-time partners at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center approached us about the shift based on some scheduling opportunities they saw on their end.  After researching it from both supplier and distributor perspectives, we found distributors were neutral to positive on the shift and that supplier exhibitors would largely benefit from the shift with at least 80 percent seeing a reduction in the costs of material handling and labor. Visit here for more information on the 2015 Expo.

We’ve tried to anticipate every potential opportunity and obstacle to make the date change as valuable as possible for exhibitors and attendees, but I encourage you to contact me directly if there’s anything about this change that might keep you from having the most successful show ever.

You Were Certainly At The Right Place At The Right Time
Looking back at this year’s show, it is evident that you, our biggest fans and most engaged members, made The PPAI Expo 2014 a success. Our numbers are confirmed and we had just shy of 1,400 exhibiting companies in roughly 3,250 booths on the show floor and more than 11,500 industry distributor attendees from around the country and abroad.

The Feedback page in the March and April issues of PPB features a few comments from satisfied supplier and distributor attendees. I was pleased to read the note from Josh Gerak, president of Adventure Trading, who wrote: “Thank you for hosting yet another great trade show in Las Vegas. We Found the PPAI Expo to be another awesome venue for my company to meet promotional distributors. We have exhibited at the Expo for the past six years and it seems to keep having tremendous impact for us.”

Thank you to Josh and to all that shared their thoughts and ideas. Not everyone had a perfect show, but I work with a team of trade-show professionals who work all year long to make The PPAI Expo the most valuable, respected and cost-effective business-building event in the industry. Expo is the crown jewel of the Association and if you have any ideas on how to make it even better let me know. 

Be Prepared To Be At The Right Place With New Opportunities At A Different Time
As you’ve likely heard, changes are also in store for Expo East, which in 2015 will co-locate with the Imprinted Sportswear Show (ISS) at the Atlantic City Convention Center. The show also will shift calendar dates, moving from May to March 12-15, 2015.

This co-location with ISS will allow our attendees to take advantage of the same quality education and trade-show floor they have come to expect from Expo East and experience the best the decorated apparel industry has to offer in one convenient trade show. We expect the co-location of ISS Atlantic City and Expo East to be the beginning of what will be the show to attend in the Northeast for all companies in the decorated apparel and promotional products industries. In fact, if Expo East and ISS each deliver an attendance on par with past shows, Expo East will immediately become the second largest event in the promotional products industry – second only to The PPAI Expo in Las Vegas.  

Building Bridges And Strong Relationships
In addition to helping maintain strong ties with regional associations across the United States and North America, developing and strengthening our ties with promotional products organizations across the globe continues to be a priority for the Association. To that end, fellow PPAI staff members and I have met with several international counterparts since the start of 2014.

We kicked off the year with visits to the Trade Only Show in the U.K. and the PSI Show in Germany. More recently we participated in The Promotional Products Professionals of Canada convention in Toronto, and the AMPPRO Show in Mexico City. In every case, these events have given us the opportunity to meet and collaborate with the host show organizers as well as the international organizations visiting the shows from the region. For example, at PSI we met with the European Promotional Products Association (EPPA) an umbrella organization which represents European promotional products associations in 11 European countries.

These visits are a valuable opportunity to share knowledge and information, and to cooperatively ensure that promotional products companies throughout the world are leading the charge in areas of product safety, fair labor conditions, technology and industry advocacy.

The relationships we’ve built during these trips have also allowed PPAI to serve as a resource for companies needing partners abroad. For instance, I’ve had a number of distributors looking for partners to help facilitate a local customer with an international event. I’ve successfully connected PPAI members with my association peers – in countries throughout the world. 

A Focus On Technology
When you hear the word “technology,” what’s the first thing that pops into your head? For most of us it implies geeky IT staff trying to help us remove the malware downloaded from some of our more adventurous “shopping” sites. Okay, maybe that’s just me…

Seriously, in an industry strongly rooted in relationships and tradition, technology and innovation are often usually placed on the backburner. But at the same time, we are all aware that technology has the ability to streamline and transform the way many of us do business. 

Dale Denham, MAS+, and the PPAI Technology Committee understand the challenges and opportunities facing our industry and have helped us launch the inaugural PPAI Technology Summit during Expo East in Atlantic City, May 21-22.
The Technology Summit will bring technology leaders from across the promotional products industry together to tackle these challenges and opportunities. The two-day summit is designed specifically for individuals in IT leadership positions with additional topics of discussion ranging from cloud computing to open source collaboration.

I encourage every company interested in understanding how technology can grow their business to join the technology conversation by participating in this inaugural event. Registration can be accessed here

Product Safety Awareness Program
In the decade or so I have been with PPAI, I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve ‘required’ a member company do to something above and beyond the normal association membership criteria in order to engage with PPAI or gain access to the marketplace. That recently changed when the Association took a strong stand in an effort to protect and grow the industry. 

At this year’s Expo we introduced the Product Safety Awareness Program (PSAP), an initiative requiring every member company wanting to gain access to the PPAI marketplace (trade-show exhibit space, sponsorships, advertising, etc.) – regardless of membership category – to complete a minimum of four hours of product safety education no later than the start of Expo East 2015 in Atlantic City.

It has been a little less than three months since the announcement and I am happy with the progress to date. Out of the 1,400 supplier, distributor, business services and multi-line representative member companies required to meet the education requirement more than 225 companies have already become PSAP Early Adopters. Those companies have fulfilled all the requirements of the program.  Another 100 companies have confirmed their participation in the program and nearly 400 companies have identified Product Safety Ambassadors, another requirement of the program. Progress.

That is not to say that the program has not been without its critics. Some companies believe four hours isn’t enough to make a difference. Others feel their product line or current processes should allow them to ‘opt-out’ of the program. Others just don’t like being told how to run their businesses. Each of those arguments has merit and many companies have programs and expertise in place that goes far beyond the new requirements. However, the PPAI Board feels that the issue of product safety and regulatory awareness is so compelling and important to the industry that only the strongest statement supported by complete compliance to the program can suffice. And I wholeheartedly agree.

Earlier this year, a high-ranking staff member at the Consumer Product Safety Commission sent me a personal note congratulating PPAI on the development and implementation of the Product Safety Awareness Program. He wrote, “I can’t tell you how often I hold out PPAI as an example to many groups that call me. Thank you (again) for your industry’s proactive approach and your willingness to be a resource.” Our leadership is being noticed.

Companies have until Expo East in March of 2015 to meet the PSAP requirements. I’d personally like to see us achieve 100% compliance by Expo in January 2015 so we’re making it as easy as possible for companies to quickly and conveniently and achieve the Product Safety Aware status.

Over the coming months, PPAI and our regional association partners will offer dozens of opportunities to achieve the PSAP designation through live and on-line learning platforms.  We’ve revamped the PPAI website to include step-by-step directions on achieving Product Safety Aware status, and the FAQs have been updated with answers to the questions we’ve received over the past 90 days. We’re even developing separate FAQ’s focusing on specific industry categories and segments.

I think you know by now that I put my money and time where my mouth is. I commit that we will do everything possible to help you and your colleagues meet the deadline. Want me to sit through the four hours of education with you? Just ask. It may be on-demand webinars from 11 pm – 3 am or over a weekend, but you have my commitment. It is that important to the association and to me.

I know that this small email group represents the proverbial choir so while I know you understand what I am saying maybe you can help me preach this message to the thousands of other companies that need to hear the message.

A Request For Information 
Thanks for taking the time to read this far into this update. I have one more favor to ask before you go.

Providing useable, statistical information to our industry is a top priority for PPAI. I thank you for helping me fulfill my commitment to gather and share relevant, reliable research. We have launched the 2014 Q1 Sales Barometer, and invitations to participate will hit supplier and distributor inboxes this week. In order to ensure a strong response, which will generate a more accurate snapshot of the industry, I’m asking you to help me spread the word.

I’ve posted the links to the Distributor and Supplier barometer below. Please forward it to your industry contacts and ask each of them to join you in participating. 


SUPPLIERS – Click Here

Now About The Baby With The Wet Diaper
Finally, I want to leave you all with some words on change. In a quarter where we’ve see announcements about a world power snapping up beachfront property from a neighboring country, a huge passenger jet going missing and even a supplier company buying a distributor, it is obvious that change is inevitable and largely uncontrollable. How we respond to the change is within our control and what will determine how the industry evolves.

We here at PPAI are experiencing change as well, in many areas.

Bob McLean, our executive vice president, and Gary Slavonic, our director of business development, continue the process of integrating our sales processes so that PPAI products and services are sold by internal sales representatives and key-account managers who can build stronger relationships with members.

Anne Lardner-Stone, PPAI’s director of public affairs, and the Product Responsibility Action Group, are going full-throttle on implementing the Product Safety Awareness Program and working with members to help them see the benefit of a ‘required’ education program to help protect and grow our industry.

Editor Tina Berres Filipski and her team just mailed the first redesigned issue of PPB magazine and are driving downloads of the new PPAI Media app. You can download the app here.

Darel Cook, director of expositions, and the Expo staff finalized what we expect to be a successful co-location negotiation and agreement with ISS.

And, a small group of board members just completed interviews with three candidates for our new outside counsel.

At PPAI we have other large and small initiatives under way that will change the way we develop and deliver products, services and value to our members. Some of these initiatives are in response to a changing business environment. Others are more forward reaching and strategic, and focused on keeping us ahead of the curve. Some of the changes will be visible to members and others will remain largely unseen.

Regardless, as an organization we’ve become more and more comfortable recognizing the need for and embracing change. I am confident that you are undergoing similar dynamics in your own businesses. If you’re not I suspect you will be soon – like it or not.

Gary shared the following column from Inc. magazine with his team recently, and I think it was worth sharing with you too. There’s nothing in this list that we don’t already know but it certainly is good to reminder that change is inevitable and that we must evolve to meet new challenges.

Enjoy the read.

Thank You
I want you to know I appreciate your time and your support as well as your willingness to be an advocate for the association and the industry. Have a terrific second quarter… and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you grow your business.

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