For those of you who attended PPAI North American Leadership Conference (NALC) and/or PPAI’s Product Safety Summit (Summit) in Chicago in August, I want to thank you, on behalf of the PPAI Board of Directors and staff, for your enthusiastic and attentive participation. Based on the comments we have received, it is fair to say that NALC and Summit were enormous successes.
If you were unable to attend either conference, let me tell you what you missed.
First, a few numbers: We had more than 150 participants at NALC and more than 180 participants at Summit. Notably, these were largely different groups of people. More frequently, senior management attended NALC and a combination of senior execs and people responsible for product safety and compliance attended Summit. Approximately 300 people in total participated in various aspects of this great week.
There were two themes to these back-to-back conferences: content and volunteerism. Let me explain.
For both conferences, we recognized that everyone’s most valuable resource is his or her time. We needed to be certain that we used everyone’s time judiciously. Both NALC and Summit participants heard from recognized experts who were impressive and even entertaining.
Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), was NALC’s first speaker. Gary made the point that innovation is critical for an industry, for a company, indeed for an individual, to survive and prosper. He observed that innovation is cultural and spoke of the many ways in which the culture and diversity of the United States breeds innovation. He contrasted that with other cultures, including China. It was ironic that the CEO of CEA, the bastion of technology—which is often blamed for limiting human interaction—spoke of the importance of relationships, face-to-face experiences and five-sense experiences to build trust and confidence, which are the essential ingredients of innovation. Gary’s presentation gave reason for encouragement—innovation is cultural (our culture), and relationships remain vitally important.
Next, Northwestern University Professor Frank Mulhern led us through the evolution of advertising from the presumed monolithic, homogenous state in which we know what consumers want and where consumers are captive to where we are today and where we are headed. Brands are shifting from products and services to people and lifestyles. Content marketing is everything, and “earned” media is growing rapidly. Marketing is becoming organized by interests, and people connect based on shared interests. As a result, marketing is becoming more analytical and targeted. (And therein lies the reason our industry will continue to grow. What can be more targeted and analytically based than our solutions?) Also, gamification is growing in popular appeal, another trend that favors our industry.
Our most knowledgeable, interesting and entertaining NALC speaker highlighted Tuesday’s lineup. Austan Goolsbee was previously chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors and is now a University of Chicago professor. He made three key points: 1. The economy is in for another 12 to 24 months of sluggishness, 2. The government is not going to help, and 3. Pent-up demand, the most productive work force in the world and our culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism will eventually push through all the clutter to lead us to new economic heights. I could not possibly do justice to the wit, humor and delivery style Goolsbee displayed, but we all laughed at the unintended consequences of lasagna and plumbing bombs (ask someone who attended for the details) as well as the observation that no one ever died jumping out of a basement window. Goolsbee spoke for an hour and took questions for another half hour. The universal comment we all heard was, “I could have listened to him all day.”
Product Safety Summit speakers included a panel of brand-integrity officers representing three of the world’s most valuable brands—The Coca-Cola Company, The Walt Disney Company and John Deere—speaking to the challenges and goals they face every day. Directors from the Consumer Products Division of Underwriters Laboratories gave a primer in the product safety requirements our industry faces.
It was a huge honor to have Neal Cohen, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Small Business Ombudsman, as one of Summit’s keynote speakers. He spoke to the special considerations that exist in our laws and regulations to account for the practical limitations of small businesses. John Fuson, most recently the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s associate general counsel for major enforcement actions, was fascinating as he spoke of the practical requirements to which our industry’s food and drug niche (including hand sanitizers, for instance) is subject. Another government speaker, Jim Joholske, the assistant executive director of the Office of Import Surveillance for the CPSC, gave insights into new laws and regulations that our people now encounter every day. His interest in helping our industry was obvious—especially as he told listeners that if they couldn’t resolve an import issue, they were welcome to reach out to him for help.
The big hit of the outside expert Summit speakers was Katherine Cahill, an independent consultant. She spoke about the responsibilities that arise when product recalls are indicated. Her session, scheduled for 90 minutes, ran over by a full hour, as no one was willing to leave the room. She was filled with practical advice and everyone got a lot from her session.
Now for the second theme: volunteerism. None of this would have been possible without the tireless efforts and painstaking attention to detail from several PPAI members who volunteered their time to make this event so valuable for all of us—and each of these people has a full-time, demanding job outside of PPAI volunteer responsibilities.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to Gene Geiger, president of Geiger, and to Rick Brenner, CEO of Prime Resources, for their passion and commitment in personally attending to each and every detail of the Product Safety Summit. I also want to recognize CJ Schmidt of Hit Promotional Products and Marc Held of Bodek and Rhodes for their exceptional work as co-leaders of the NALC Work Group. Jonathan Isaacson, CEO of Gemline, had to have spent 100 hours doing the research, analyzing the results and putting together his highly informative NALC presentation on trends that are apparent on the supplier side of our industry. NALC presentations by Larry Cohen, CEO of Axis Promotions, on how suppliers can work more effectively with distributors and by Jeff Meyer, CEO of Certified Marketing Consultants, on mergers and acquisitions were just two of the many sessions that were both interesting and valuable. Thank you also to those peers who shared their valuable insights on a series of panels that explored relevant topics throughout both conferences. A final and personal thank-you goes to the dozen large distributor and supplier companies that quietly sponsored Austan Goolsbee’s appearance.
I was very proud to have my hometown show so well to all of our participants. Next August (August 10-12, 2014, and August 13-14, 2014, respectively), we are going to Boston, and the prospect of interacting with professors from Harvard and MIT is at least as exciting. So please join us!
For session summaries, photos and a video Q&A with Austan Goolsbee, visit http://ppblive.tumblr.com. To access on-demand webinars from these events, visit www.ppai.org. and click on Education/E-Learning/PPAI On-Demand Webinars and Videos.