Last week, nearly 70 industry leaders traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with the country’s elected officials and their staffs to advocate for the promotional products industry as part of PPAI’s Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.). Among the issues discussed with lawmakers were the usefulness of independent contractors, taxation, safety recognition programs and the continued message that promotional products work.
“L.E.A.D. was a real eye-opener concerning how our industry is a small cog relating to both corporate America and ‘inside the beltway’ affairs,” says Murray Siegel, CAS, marketing director for Baltimore, Maryland-based Towel Specialties (UPIC: TOWLSPEC). “United as one voice, our meetings gave us the opportunity to be heard today and also helped us build enduring relationships for many years down the road. Doors are open to us now, and it is our responsibility, for the purpose of self-sustenance as an industry, to continue to venture through these doors. Anyone who does not think that ‘all politics is local’ is fooling themselves but can rest assured that your industry is looking out for you. I’m not sure what made me happier, when the staffers said they knew a lot about our industry or when they didn’t and we were able to teach them.”
This year’s L.E.A.D. drew first-time and veteran attendees representing almost every aspect of the promotional products industry and every region of the country. Bruce Korn, CAS, president of Malvern, Pennsylvania-based distributor Zakback, Inc. (UPIC: ZAKBACK), was one of the first-time L.E.A.D. participants. “As this was my first trip to D.C., I did not know what to expect,” he says. “Would people be willing to listen, nod their heads or just blow us off? I am very happy to say that, whether they agreed with us or not, everyone from the actual congressman or senator to their staffers was very cordial. They were all attentive and asked relevant questions regarding our issues. Our industry is not the most important topic on their plate. However, with continued exposure, we have a better chance of being noticed, taken seriously and having our needs accommodated.”
Michael Moore, president of supplier Bay State Specialty Co. (UPIC: BAYSTATE) in Middleboro, Massachusetts, participated in L.E.A.D. last year as well and noticed changes during this year’s trip. He explains: “Last year, it was mostly staffers, but this year we met with several legislators. From Massachusetts we were able to meet with Sen. Warren, Congressman Kennedy, Congresswoman Tsongas and Congressman Keating. Although these meetings were brief, they were most informative. First off, they all understood the use of specialty advertising—there happened to be immigration protestors who wore matching t-shirts, that helped—but I don’t think they realized the amount of people and energy that go into the industry as a whole. Fortunately we were there to educate them. We all know the atmosphere there is partisan, but I think there was clearly hope that they were on the verge of working on the big issues. It was very different than last year.”
L.E.A.D. attendees held nearly 300 meetings while on Capitol Hill, with nearly 1,600 industry members to date contacting their legislators during that time through PPAI’s Virtual Fly-In. “We found that members of Congress are very open to meeting with constituents,” says Paul Kiewiet, MAS, CIP, CPC, executive director of the Michigan Promotional Products Association (MiPPA). “With their busy schedules, it is good to start the scheduling process as early as possible. We sent out emails every day asking our members to contact their representatives through the PPAI LAW website or a phone call, and they did. The legislative aide for one of our senators commented that before last week she was unaware of our industry but that the office had been receiving emails and calls all week.
“We plan to begin work on the August recess meetings right now. They also love cameras, photo opportunities and opportunities to meet constituents. So we will be inviting them to factory tours, our summer tabletop show, our golf outing and any other events.”
Moore came out of his meetings with representatives feeling positive about their impact. He says: “During our meetings we discussed tax issues with respect to individual and corporate rate variations—all of those we spoke with were interested in working this through without hurting small businesses and entrepreneurs; independent contractor status—no one foresaw any changes to current tax policy but they will keep us in the loop; and we discussed the regulatory environment—how do we get multiple agencies and regulators on the same page about hurting small business with unintended consequences of harmful regulations. It is all ‘big picture’ stuff that is complicated but needs to be solved.
“I truly think they are listening. I am not sure if we can move forward quickly, but it sounded to me that many organizations and associations are all sounding the alarm that things need to get fixed. The last thing I believe is that by continuing follow through, we are becoming known to our legislators and we can help to shape policy.”
Kiewiet wrapped up his L.E.A.D. experience, adding: “They understand small business and the numbers that we shared with them on our impact in the state in revenue and in jobs made an impact on them. We have a great story to tell, but we must tell it. We must make it human and we must make it relate to the issues that they are focused on. It was a great and exhausting two days. But I left Washington feeling like we had made a difference, that we had made our members’ voices heard and that we have started new relationships.”
On April 11, PPAI honored Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN 3rd District) as the Association’s 2013 Legislator of the Year. The award recognizes members of Congress who have shown a commitment to small-business interests and supported issues critical to the promotional products industry.
Another highlight of this year’s L.E.A.D. was a surprise visit by House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday night as participants were sitting down to dinner at a local hotel. Invited by Mitch Rhodus with HALO Branded Solutions (UPIC: HBS), Speaker Boehner spoke to the group about the importance of small businesses to America’s future.
“We were extremely honored to have the speaker join us,” says Paul Bellantone, CAE, PPAI’s president and CEO. “His message was a fitting end to a very productive and memorable day.”
Looking back at PPAI’s fourth annual L.E.A.D., Bellantone adds, “LEAD 2013 once again raised the bar for legislative advocacy. This is one of the primary reasons trade associations like PPAI exist—to enable our members to confidently carry industry-critical messages to lawmakers in Washington, D.C. And our efforts are paying off. Members of Congress remember our L.E.A.D.ers and recognize the relevance of our messages. This year I was able to accompany several PPAI members to visit their congressional representatives, and I was so impressed by their passion for and presentation of our industry. My thanks goes to everyone who made the trip to D.C.—taking time away from their businesses and families—as well as those members who took action as part of our legislative fly-in. And it’s not too late to get involved. … If you want to become part of our advocacy effort, just let me know.”