The 21st annual PPAI North American Leadership Conference (NALC) was held August 29-31 in St. Louis, Missouri, with more than 100 attendees from companies across the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Britain. Attendance at this year’s 21st annual program represented a 20-percent increase over last year’s attendance.
With the St. Louis arch shining in the setting sun, PPAI President Steve Slagle, CAE, and Scott Siegel, MAS, PPAI chairman, welcomed conference attendees to an opening reception on the terrace of the Four Seasons Hotel joined by NALC co-hosts Ana Maria Alocer, president of AMPPRO, A.C., and Ed Ahad, president of Promotional Product Professionals of Canada (PPPC).
While NALC is one of PPAI’s longest-running programs (the program originated in 1990 as President’s Forum), more than half of this year’s attendees were first-time attendees.
“This is my think time—to emerge from the chaos to really think about our business,” says first-timer Pady Regnier of St. Croix Promotions (UPIC: SCMG). “Last year I went to several other conferences and I heard from lots of people—especially suppliers—that this conference was terrific last year—the level of speakers, the small group setting and expertise that was given. It was highly recommended to me.”
In contrast Bill Yelland, Dezine Corp (UPIC: HYDEPORT), who was an attendee at the original President’s Forum in 1990, says he came mostly for the networking. He thinks the most valuable aspect of the conference is what he’ll learn from the other attendees such as benchmarking—comparing with other business owners how the businesses are performing.
Keynote Rohit Talwar Challenged Listeners To Embrace The Future
Attendees at the first day’s opening session came with an appetite for relevant information and solid expertise—and they got plenty of both from futurist Rohit Talwar, futurist and strategic advisor for Fast Future Research.
Talwar took attendees through a fast-paced and fascinating look at 10 mega trends shaping our world. He spoke of the forces that are driving change yet creating opportunity and competitors. He shed light on new science such as ambient embedded technologies and helped listeners understand how to spot promotional products opportunities in them. He noted that smart companies are taking small stakes in companies in emerging markets and reminded listeners that their customers might be their best source for ideas.
He said one of the best ways to spot trends is to see what’s being talked about on the web and emphasized the importance of personalization—right down to the event. He gave the example of airline seat back promotions that can allow airlines to really create first-class experiences for passengers.
He advised attendees to use their phones to gather information about potential clients and showed examples of using Quick Response codes to provide information quickly to busy consumers.
Almost in answer to the unspoken concern of how do we find time to explore and embrace new approaches, Talwar recommended listeners look at what they can eliminate in their workday to make time and space for change. He concluded his presentation by challenging listeners to welcome what the future will bring. “There comes a time when you have to open the door and let the future in,” he said.
Keynote Mark Graham Explains Social Media
Mark Graham of Right Sleeve Marketing opened his general session with startling statistics: It took radio 38 years to reach a market audience of 50 million; television, 13 years; the internet, four years; the iPod, three years. Social media reached 50 million in just two years and now has 500 million users.
In his presentation, “Social Media: A View From Inside the Industry,” he explained how social media is markedly different from other media. “It’s not slick, glossy or edited and ad agencies are not involved—it’s shoot from the hip,” he says.
As a distributor, Graham shared personal examples demonstrating how he’s successfully used social media to attract new clients and help with damage control from promotions gone wrong.
“The real-time ability to respond to clients is a Godsend,” he says, explaining how he once saw a negative online comment from a participant about a promotion involving magnets in a technology conference gift bag and was able to respond back to his client within minutes with a solution.
While he cited that there are only a handful of suppliers or distributors doing a good job with social media right now, it may be because they don’t understand why they should invest their time.
He gave several reasons why it makes so much sense for companies: It’s a new way of engaging clients, gives you a point of differentiation, helps build trust, is a cost-effective distribution platform for your content and, perhaps most importantly, social media is the communication tool of the next generation.
Federal Reserve’s Julie Stackhouse Has High Hopes For Economic Recovery
The second day of the conference featured two general sessions—a panel of promotional products buyers who gave insight into the buying process from their perspectives and Julie Stackhouse with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis who spoke about the economy, the recession, credit and how business owners can plan for recovery.
Listeners at the latter session, “From Crisis To Recovery To Reform,” were holding their breath for some good economic news. Stackhouse began by delivering a brief history of the U.S. economy starting with the scenario in fall 2008, which began with an asset bubble in housing, expanded into the subprime mortgage crisis, escalated into a freeze up of the interbank lending market and culminated in intervention by the U.S. and other industrialized countries to rescue their banking systems.
She wrapped up by discussing the credit pinch businesses are experiencing and explained the provisions in the new Dodd-Frank Act and other changes affecting debit card transactions and deposit insurance.
In addition to the general sessions, attendees could choose from several breakout sessions during the two-and-a-half-day conference lead by industry experts on critical business topics such as the changing supply chain, social media governance, venture capital, supplier/distributor relationships, succession planning, product safety, international trade and working with several generations.
For the first time, one of the breakout sessions was streamed live to any viewers who wanted to tap in. This fast-paced workshop titled “Brain Share: Expand Your Business—90 Tips In 90 Minutes,” was moderated by Charles Duggan II, MAS, Greystone International Products Corp (UPIC: GREYSTON). Panelists included Chuck Fandos, Gateway; Brandon Mackay, MAS, SnugZ USA; Joe Scott, MAS, Scott & Associates, Inc.; Mark Wingrove, CAS, BIC Graphic Canada; Carol de Ville, MAS, The Branding Company; Eduardo Mussali, Press-A-Print Mexico; and Christopher Duffy, MAS, Bag Makers, Inc.
The conference closed with a networking dinner featuring special recognition for PPB’s 2010 Rising Stars. PPB’s editor, Tina Berres Filipski, introduced the honorees and PPAI President Steve Slagle, CAE, presented each one with a commemorative watch donated by supplier SELCO (UPIC: SELCO).
Throughout the conference, NALC participants echoed their positive experiences from this year’s program.
“It was my first and certainly not my last NALC,” says Herb Levy, senior vice president of supplier Matrix Source Limited (UPIC: MatrxSor). “I was impressed with the program and came away with several things that I will be able to use. For example, from Rohit [Talwar’s] speech I’ve got several notes that I plan on putting into practice. It was really a wonderful experience.”
Another first-timer, Randy Chen, president of business services company Impex International (UPIC: Impex), says, “It was good for networking—to meet a lot of the industry players.” He says he was also especially impressed with the social media general session and the compliance session with Rick Brenner of Prime Resources. “I’m just on the surface now with social media. I need to strategize and think how we’ll market to suppliers using social media. It was all very professional from the golf outing to the last dinner—very impressive.”
Hillary Feder, MAS, president of Hillarys (UPIC: HILLARYS), says the event had a profound effect on her thinking—especially about product safety. “The level of thinking that I’ve been moved to in regards to product safety [is my biggest takeaway]. What struck me the most was Rick Brenner’s real industry examples that showed how product safety has affected my peers. She was also impressed with the others in attendance. “To be surrounded for three days by people at a leadership level—large companies and small companies—was incredibly helpful.”
Quenton Wentworth, vice president and general manager for BIC Graphic North America, says, “This is my first leadership meeting since I’ve been in the industry where I get a chance to talk to some of the key figures in the industry and understand some of the issues and concerns from distributors and other suppliers as well. I’m looking forward to exchanging ideas and sharing some of our best practices as well.”
Karen Cohen, MAS, vice president of supplier All In One (UPIC: ALLINONE), says, “The Changing Faces In The Promotional Products Industry panel was amazing. We listened to four people who were buyers for our industry talk about why they buy from our distributors and what’s important to them. They said a lot about how customer service and quality are more important to them than price. That was good to hear.”
Jason Murphy, national sales manager of supplier Stahls (UPIC: STAHL0001), came to the conference to learn more about the promotional products industry. “I’m at NALC to get a better education about what the promotional products industry is all about. I like the networking side of it too, but really want to get educated on what the industry has to offer.”
The 2011 North American Leadership Conference is set for August 7-9 in Denver, Colorado. Details and registration will be available soon at www.ppai/nalc.