This year, the annual Leadership Development Workshop (LDW), hosted by PPAI and the Regional Association Council (RAC), was delivered to attendees’ homes and offices. Now in its 21st year, LDW was held virtually on October 14-16 as LDW at Home. The event continued to support regional leaders and foster relationships among regional associations in the promotional products industry with comprehensive training and networking opportunities.

“What a strange year! With the sad news that the in-person LDW event in Texas was cancelled, the question was, ‘Well, now what?’,” says Rena Ashfeld, an LDW co-chair and incoming RAC board president. “We knew that we wanted to get the community together still, but how? Will it be as good? Will people attend? All the doubts and worries vanished as we discussed how strong our LDW group is. We knew we wanted to do the event live, so we got to work. We were very pleased that we were able to open it up to the full board of each regional to attend and benefit from this terrific event. Our speakers were tremendous, and it really turned out great; we were so pleased! We know that everyone’s time is valuable, and it is our hope that everyone who attended benefited from LDW at Home.” 

Brandon Samuel, account manager with commonsku and Tri-State Promotional Professionals Association (TSPPA) board vice president, says, “This year marked my second LDW, and like everything else in 2020, it was very different, but that didn’t stop it from providing exceptional value and having a blast. By this point in time, we are all used to Zoom meetings and probably digital events, too. Some have been good, some have been ... ‘learning experiences,’ but LDW at Home was one of the good ones.”

First-timer Laura Munari, MAS, executive director for the Arizona Promotional Products Association (AzPPA) and the Rocky Mountain Region Promotional Products Association (RMRPPA), adds, “I love this community. I have been in the promo industry for 10 years as a distributor and started as an executive director last December. I have always felt welcome no matter the location or event, however, the camaraderie at this event was stellar. Even though LDW was virtual, you could still feel the warmth and friendship. I loved the banter on the main stage, just casual conversation as people were beginning to filter in. I also appreciated that you could still have those side conversations and shout outs that were going on in the chat feature.”

Over its three-day schedule, LDW at Home ran on a 2 – 5 pm CT schedule on Wednesday and Thursday before transitioning to a 9 am – 2pm CT schedule on Friday. 

“Transitioning from an in-person event to a virtual one is challenging; to make that virtual event engaging in a world deluged with Zoom meetings was infinitely more difficult,” says Bill Petrie, LDW co-chair. “However, we took on that challenge and developed targeted content, ensured it was relevant to the audience and worked diligently to make each and every touchpoint as personal as possible. We did this by keeping sessions shorter, adding more breaks, delivering tangible promotional products to the door of each attendee, and by taking some of the fun of the in-person LDW (social hour at the bar) and taking it to a virtual level (a 45-minute interactive mixology class). All in all, I’m beyond proud of what we were able to accomplish and believe we honored the past editions of LDW while providing a framework for future virtual events.”

LDW opened with a short networking session before Dana Geiger, PPAI’s regional relations manager, got things started with a welcome message for LDW’s 300 registered attendees. PPAI President and CEO Paul Bellantone, CAE, and Harold Wood, account manager for BIC Graphic NA and RAC board president, began LDW’s education programming with a “screenside chat” on the state of the promotional products industry and the regional community. Wood noted, “Overall, it has been a year of change and challenge. With challenges come opportunity. The regional community, as a whole, has an opportunity to change our thought processes.”

LDW featured speakers from within and outside the promotional products industry. Nonprofit management educator and speaker Bob Harris, CAE, delivered a presentation, “Virus to Value – Positioned for Recovery and Rebound,” on the opportunities and changes in the market due to the pandemic and later led a session on board orientation and responsibilities. Harris said, “I don’t think it’s going to be an ‘old normal.’ I don’t think we’re going to return to normal. I think, as associations, we’re going to adapt. The ‘next normal’ is what you’re doing to make your association better. I want you to focus on value and make some lasting improvements.”

Maura Mitchell of Brandology also joined LDW’s line-up, speaking on “Rapid Re-planning – From Surviving to Thriving,” while a series of breakout sessions, presented by industry experts and regional association leaders, explored subjects including connecting in today’s virtual world, hosting in-person events during the pandemic, tips and tricks to make the most of virtual connection technology, personal branding, identifying an association’s unique value proposition to its members and developing the tools necessary to thrive in 2021 and beyond. 

“I have been on many boards, to include leadership positions, and I still learned a ton of new and valuable information,” says Munari. “Bob Harris is a wealth of knowledge. I have many things on my to-do list that I need to implement, tweak and even some things that are deemed unnecessary and need to be discontinued. It was almost as if he gave us permission to eliminate those things that just don’t matter anymore. Obviously, these are interesting times, so it was nice to hear from Maura Mitchell on ways that we can overcome some of the hardships we are facing and come out stronger on the other end.”

Networking opportunities at LDW included several dedicated sessions, a virtual happy hour with a mixology lesson from Petrie and an online morning yoga session led by Roni Wright, MAS, of The Book Company. LDW wrapped on Friday with a working lunch for regional association board leaders.

“LDW isn’t just about education, although the education is top-notch; it’s about bringing together like-minded people in the industry, who outside of their work activities, have volunteered in their respective regions to be a driving force for promotional products professionals. These people are incredible, and one of the reasons I was so excited to go back to LDW this year. Then the pandemic hit, then it stayed ... and never left,” says Samuel. “I was so disappointed. Moving this event online, I wasn’t going to see my friends and make new ones. I wasn’t going to be able to learn through those accidental hallway collisions. It’s just another blow dealt by 2020. Then I made a choice; I would give it a chance. I would put just as much energy into it, if not more, getting the most out of it. Thankfully, I did because it paid off big time. The event was executed flawlessly. I got to see my friends and made new ones. I learned to be a better leader for TSPPA and actually got to see all the sessions instead of just picking one and missing another. Sure, it isn’t the same as being in person, but I couldn’t have asked for a better-executed event given the circumstances.”

Munari adds, “I am blessed to enjoy my new position as much as I do and after attending LDW I look forward to encouraging my boards to be the best that they can. We need to continue to offer the services that keep our communities close and further our relevance in our members’ eyes.”


James Khattak is news editor of PPB.