The PPAI Expo: More Than A Show


My first column of the year is traditionally dedicated to sharing my thoughts on the most recent PPAI Expo. It is a good way to reflect and recap the event, speak to some highlights, announcements and initiatives, and to kick off the year.

I was about halfway through writing it when I heard from Rod Brown, CAS. In traditional Rod Brown fashion the conversation went something like this: “Hey buddy! I have some thoughts about Expo I want to put to paper. I will send it over to you. I promise it will be from the heart. Use it as you see fit. I hope you like it.”

If you’ve been in this industry for more than a minute it is likely you’ve crossed paths, broken bread with or been energized by Rod Brown, chief financial officer of PPAI distributor member MadeToOrder. The PPAI Expo marked the conclusion of Rod’s four-year term as a PPAI Board director. His infectious personality, savvy expertise and put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is attitude will be missed by the board and staff.

Well, Rod, I am sharing your take on The PPAI Expo 2015 with several thousand members. I think they will enjoy it as much as I enjoy my time with you.

(Yo: use a different typeface for the following text through end of next to last paragraph to differentiate a different speaker)

Are the Beatles just another rock band, is the Super Bowl just another football game or is Burning Man just another campout? The PPAI Expo is not just another trade show. It is the singular event, attraction, gathering and exchange of ideas in our profession. It is the focal point, the apex of another year in our professional lives. I so much believe this event is worth not just supporting or preserving but, indeed, investing in.

I have been a lifer in the selling of promotional products. For years I could only dream of attending the industry’s national trade show in Dallas [PPAI held its show in Dallas for 26 years before moving it to Las Vegas in 2003]. I could not afford the travel cost nor the time away from my business. When I was finally able to go, I bought a new suit and prepared for my meetings.  I couldn’t wait to meet others in the profession and those who supplied products for me to sell.

I was blown away at the size and scope of my first PPAI show, and I was overwhelmed and energized at the same time. Some 40 years later I still have the same feelings, but the event has blossomed into so much more. As my career has grown and my responsibilities have changed, so has the Expo. Now when I attend the show my time is filled with an array of meetings, breakfasts, dinners, events, in-suite presentations and on-the-floor explorations. My days are spent in business discussions, face time with CEOs and entrepreneurs, and in sharing ideas, nurturing friendships and learning.

This year alone there were board meetings for PPAI and Promotional Products Education Foundation (PPEF) with meaty issues to discuss on the future of our industry and membership, strategic plans to be fleshed out and voted upon, scholarships to be awarded and money to be raised. There was a golf tournament where I greeted some of my long-time peers and friends while raising much-needed funds for PPEF. In some cases, I only see these business colleagues in person once each year, but while supporting a cause, I am allowed some real fun and time to reconnect with professional friendships.

I enjoyed a dinner with 10 CEOs, founders and executives representing more than $1 billion in distributor sales, as we shared what happened last year and what we see for the year to come. Where else but at Expo would I get an opportunity to break bread and share a glass of wine with 10 such influential leaders, all at once?

The next day I met with half a dozen MadeToOrder staff members who are all in their mid-20s and have joined us in sales support roles over the past two years. These employees had never experienced an Expo. They had no idea of the scope of the business. Immersing them in this experience, just for a few days, fired them up, and seeing the size, the variety and number of people making their careers in the field all helped to stimulate their interest in a long-term career working for our firm and in the business. This is energizing juice for me to serve up to these fresh, new teammates.

Our sales force was on-site at Expo working to see and share new products, and to build relationships with each other and with vendors. We bring salespeople to the Expo from as far away as Maryland and Montana, as well as from San Francisco and San Diego.

On Thursday afternoon, the team headed home and I had a moment to breathe. I enjoyed a glass of champagne before heading off for a date with the girl who worked Expo 30 years ago and is now my wife, Barbara. We put our feet up and toasted to our good fortune and the blessings we have enjoyed before taking a cab over to catch “O” and enjoy a quiet dinner with just the two of us. I’m thankful that another Expo week has delivered such great value and experiences.

So my message is this: The PPAI Expo is the exclamation point on the industry—it closes out one year and sets the stage for the next. It is more than a show—it is a conclave, a gathering of the tribes; it is an exchange, an energy and an opportunity.  To not participate, to not invest in the expense, the time and the planning, is to surrender something of huge value to our industry, our profession and each other.

Thank you, Rod, for sharing your PPAI Expo experience. I suspect that if you changed a few names and events during the week, your experience wasn’t much different from the other 20,000 or so professionals who made The PPAI Expo 2015 such a productive, worthwhile and exciting event.


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