The PPAI North American Leadership Conference (NALC) brought more than 135 industry leaders and business executives to the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, Texas, in August to examine
and discuss top-of-mind issues affecting the industry, learn from leading innovators in many critical areas of today’s businesses, and network and exchange ideas.
“The leaders who participated in NALC are up for the challenges our industry is facing and are embracing the need to continuously engage in an approach called Strategic Foresight,” says PPAI Chair Mary Jo Tomasini, MAS, CEO of CE Competitive Edge.

“This approach gives members the tools they need to understand and navigate the dynamic and fast-moving marketplace. Throughout the conference there was clarity in our need to get ahead of change, and be the change that our customers desire and will ultimately demand. There was also an abundance of optimism about the future of the promotional products industry at this year’s conference. I left energized and inspired.”

NALC kicked off with a reception and dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin recognizing the 2017 PPB Rising Stars spotlighted in PPB’s September issue, and a welcome from Steve Adler, mayor of Austin. Adler shared an insider’s look at the city and talked about its unique culture. “This is a city that lets people be who they are. It’s just part of the culture,” he said. “There is an opportunity and an expectation that people will take risks in this city. They try and may fail, but try again and become folk heroes.”

The next morning, the conference opened with keynote speaker Roy Spence, partner at GSD&M Advertising and CEO of the Purpose Institute, who shared personal stories and insights based on 40 years of creating powerful campaigns for a variety of major brands. Spence was followed by two days of powerhouse speakers explored a wide range of issues critical in today’s business climate, from an examination of the economy and how it is effecting business, strategic foresight and the advantages it affords, creating highly effective word-of-mouth marketing, and the promotional products industry’s changing landscape. The schedule included panel discussions and breakout sessions, giving attendees multiple viewpoints and opportunities to tailor their NALC experience to their own needs and interests.

“NALC provides attendees with a great forum to explore ideas, trends and topics that will be important to the future of their business and the industry, and to discuss the implications with other industry leaders,” says NALC Work Group co-leader David Nicholson, president of Leed’s.

“Our goal is to provide engaging topics and speakers geared for the leaders of the industry. We hope attendees leave with new ideas that will help shape business strategy, leadership effectiveness and managing change.”

Debbie Abergel, NALC Work Group co-leader and senior vice president for Jack Nadel International, adds, “This is the place to hear speakers targeted to our industry, and network
with equally passionate industry professionals. Our hope is that people will leave inspired and ready to tackle current and future issues.”

Under the leadership of Nicholson and Abergel, the NALC Work Group was instrumental in designing the educational components of the conference, selecting speakers and planning the networking and social opportunities to ensure the conference not only met but exceeded the highest level of attendee expectations. NALC Work Group members include Larry Cohen; Marc Held; Jon Levine; Bill Petrie; Leslie Roark, CAS; Nate Robson; Nichole Stella and Ruth Verver, CAS.

This is my second time attending NALC,” says Kenny Ved, vice president of sales at Goldstar. “Last year was good; this year was even better. Great topics and speakers. One of
the main takeaways is that it’s not the products, it’s the people and technology that will drive growth in our industry. Suppliers and distributors must continue collaborating to strengthen their partnerships.”

“NALC was valuable in two ways,” says Matt Gresge, president and CEO of AIA Corporation. “First was the opportunity to collaborate, commiserate and brainstorm with valued and trusted industry peers. The second was the thought-provoking content delivered through the speakers and presentations. In a business where we’re constantly stepping on the proverbial gas, it was invaluable to have time to learn, synthesize and be challenged by new ideas.”

Jon Levine, president of The Image Group, says, “What a great conference full of tomorrow’s thought leaders. This leadership conference is an opportunity to expand our visions, and it challenges us to plan for the future. I am excited to take what I learned and share it across our organization.”

“The networking is amazing,” says Henrik Johansson, CEO of Boundless Network. “To be able to meet with the CEOs of most of yourpreferred suppliers in one place is really valuable. The intimate setting sets the stage for in-depth conversations that would not happen otherwise. To collaborate with other distributor principals and discuss our industry’s biggest challenges was great too.”

Pete Gleason, MAS, vice president, sales for Custom Plastics Specialties, Inc., adds, “NALC this year, like others, was an incredible two-and-a-half days of the industry’s top leaders and facilitators sharing knowledge and ideas about how we can best prepare for the future. The focus on strategic foresight, in my mind, was brilliant. I cannot wait to get back to my team and share. Moreover, I can’t wait to attend again next year. Thanks again to PPAI for another world-class event.”

The next NALC will be held in Washington, D.C., in August 2018. Watch for more information to come soon at; registration will open in the coming months.


David Woods, MAS, and Janelle Nevins Named To PPAI 2018 Hall Of Fame

PPAI has named David Woods, MAS, retired president and CEO of Neenah, Wisconsin, distributor AIA Corporation, and the late Janelle Nevins, formerly senior vice president at Silver Spring, Maryland-based distributor Summit Group (PPAI 105050), as the 2018 PPAI Hall of Fame inductees. “PPAI is incredibly proud to induct Janelle and David into the Hall of Fame,” says Paul Bellantone, CAE, PPAI president and CEO. “This honor is well deserved. They have made extraordinary contributions throughout their careers to the Association, the promotional products industry and the communities they have served.”

Since 1977, the PPAI Hall of Fame has been honoring leaders in the promotional products industry who have had an impact on the industry and their communities. The industry has grown and prospered because of the creative spark and dedication of many, but the Hall of Fame inductees’ selfless efforts and devotion to the industry are monumental. Woods’ retirement last year from AIA Corporation concluded an industry career that began in 1991 when he joined the Lee Wayne Company as president and CEO. In that role, he built a strong team and restored the distributor’s profitability and sales, and led its sale to HALO Promotional Products in 1993. He continued to lead Lee Wayne until he was promoted to executive vice president of HALO Promotional Products, and he served briefly as president of HALO International and senior vice president of HALO Corp.

In 2002, Woods was asked to join PPAI as COO while the Association was moving The PPAI Expo from Dallas to Las Vegas. He oversaw internal operations of the Association during the
move, freeing up its leadership team to manage the intricacies of establishing Expo in Las Vegas. With an established track record of managing diverse organizations through transitions, Woods was recruited in 2003 by 4imprint to stabilize and turn around AIA, then known as Adventures In Advertising. Under his leadership and with the team he assembled, the distributor’s business conditions and outlook improved, and in 2005, Woods led a private equity buyout of AIA. PPB magazine named AIA one of the 12 Greatest Companies To Work For in 2014, and Counselor selected it as one of its Best Places To Work for five years in a row, from 2012 to 2016.

Woods’ professional history is characterized by extensive volunteer service and leadership, and his relationship with PPAI spans 25 years. He served two terms on the PPAI Board of Directors, from 1997 to 2002 and from 2008 to 2011, and led it as chair in 2000. He served on the International Committee from 2002 to 2006 and was chair from 2004 to 2006. He was also a member of the Strategic Planning Committee from 1997 to 2002 and the Events Action Group from 1993 to 1997, and served as chair from 1995 to 1997. In addition, Woods served on the Promotional Products Education Foundation (PPEF) Board of Trustees from 2005 to 2009.

Janelle Nevins began her career in education and discovered the promotional products industry while on maternity leave. She started working part-time at a marketing business owned by her husband and her father-in-law, and her 34-year career in the industry grew from there. Nevins landed Coca-Cola as a client with a cold call, launching her love for the industry. Coca-Cola became her most prestigious and largest account, with Nevins serving as a liaison between its field and corporate offices. In the following decades, Nevins Marketing Group grew into a prominent Atlanta-area presence in the promotional products industry, and later became a part of the Summit Group.

An active member of the promotional products industry’s trade associations, Nevins served on the PPAI Board of Directors from 2003 to 2006, as well as on a number of the Association’s committees and councils. She served on the Public Relations Committee, the PPAI Centennial Committee, the Conventions Advisory Council, the Public Relations Advisory Council and the Distributors Advisory Council. Outside of PPAI, she was active in the Georgia Association of Promotional Products (GAPPP) and joined its board in 2000. Nevins was named the ASI Person of the Year in 1998 and the Counselor Person of the Year in 1999, and was a founder of the PeerNet Group, an alliance of promotional products and marketing distributors. Nevins passed away in August 2012 after a long illness.

In 2013, she was honored posthumously as a recipient of the PPAI Woman of Achievement Award, and in 2016 was the first inductee to the Georgia Association Of Promotional Products Professionals (GAPPP) Hall of Fame.

Induction into the PPAI Hall of Fame reflects the legacies of Woods and Nevins, and their contributions to the promotional products industry and their communities. Their induction ceremony will take place during the Chairman’s Leadership Dinner on January 15, 2018, at The PPAI Expo in Las Vegas. Read more about them in PPB’s January issue.


Charles Duggan, MAS+, and Bill Lazarus Named  PPAI Distinguished Service Award Honorees For 2018

Charles Duggan, MAS+, and William “Bill” Lazarus have been selected as the 2018 PPAI Distinguished Service Award honorees. The award recognizes PPAI members who consistently contribute their skills and expertise toward the betterment of the Association through volunteer service and leadership. Duggan is the national and Charles Duggan, MAS+ strategic key accounts manager, West, for San Diego, California-based supplier Goldstar. Lazarus is owner and vice president of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, distributor Promotional Breezes.

“Charles and Bill are well-respected industry leaders and dedicated volunteers,” says Paul Bellantone, CAE, PPAI president and CEO. “They have both demonstrated a lifelong professional and personal commitment to the betterment of their communities and the promotional products industry. Their giving back through participation in countless advisory groups and committees has benefited us all, and increased the profile of the industry.”

Duggan is a former member of the PPAI Board of Directors, serving from 2009 to 2013. While on the board, he served on its Budget & Finance, Executive and Board Nomination committees, and was involved in several of the Association’s volunteer committees and action groups, including the Distributors and Membership Services Committees; the Marketing Information and Research, Public Relations, Product Responsibility and Professional Development Action Groups; and the MAS/CAS Certification Board. He also served on PPAI’s Global Task Force and Leadership Advisory Committee. He is a regular speaker at PPAI and regional association education programs, and is an active member of the Promotional Products Association of the Midwest, including serving on its board as president in 2015.

“Charles represents the value associated with volunteers,” says Bruce Felber, MAS, his nominator. “He has given of himself throughout his career in the promotional product industry. Every committee, task force, board position and group has felt the passion Charles bring to the table. He asks the questions most people dare not to ask. Why? Because he is a truth seeker for the causes he champions.

“Charles deserves this recognition for his years of service and support for the industry and for those who have been on the receiving end of his efforts, whether personal or on a wider scope,” adds Felber. “I can personally state that my life has been enriched just knowing Charles. I am sure I am not alone.”

As a long-time industry volunteer, Lazarus has lent his talents to both PPAI and the regional association community. His volunteer service with PPAI has included leadership roles with the Conventions Advisory Council, the Distributors Advisory Council, the Education Advisory Council and the Distributors Advisory Council, as well as with the Association’s Distributors Committee, Leadership Committee, Conventions Committee, Strategic Planning Committee and the Chairman’s Committee of 100.

He has also dedicated his time to the Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York (SAAGNY) and the Gold Coast Promotional Products Association (GCPPA), holding leadership positions at both regional associations, most recently as GCPPA board president in 2009.

Lazarus’ nominator, Joel Schaffer, MAS, says, “I have worked side by side with literally hundreds of volunteers in PPAI and regionals across America. I can easily say that no single person I have worked with personifies the volunteer spirit this industry has been built upon, and still needs, more than Bill Lazarus. In every way, Bill is the poster child for volunteer contributions … dedicated, enthusiastic, an affable ambassador of good will, a motivator inspiring others to join, an honest person leading by example, and a ‘roll up your sleeves’ participant in every aspect of an assignment. He is a leader’s leader and a worker’s worker. We, as an industry, need to have just a few more Bills, and the value added to association membership and benefits would be incalculable.”

Duggan and Lazarus will be honored during the Chairman’s Leadership Dinner on January 15, 2018, during The PPAI Expo in Las Vegas. Read more about them in PPB’s January issue.


Tech Summit Delivers Deep Insights, New Ideas In Its Fourth Year

The 2017 PPAI Technology Summit began two days of education and discussion in Austin, Texas, on August 16, and brought more than 110 industry technology professionals at all levels together to share best practices and case studies, and to discuss critical topics and some of the solutions available. Introduced in conjunction with Expo East 2014, this was the third year that Tech Summit
has followed the PPAI North American Leadership Conference.

“Tech Summit this year was awesome,” says Jon Norris, vice president at supplier Starline USA, and chair of the Tech Summit Work Group. “It offered an increased number of breakout sessions, which allowed attendees to customize the experience to their business needs, and the general sessions provided strong, industry-relevant content. The focus on integrations and collaborations are always popular topics and gathered excellent reviews from attendees, and the networking opportunities were the best yet.”

Dale Denham, MAS+, CIO at Geiger and incoming chair of the PPAI Board, agreed. “The value of this event is tremendous to our organization and to the industry. With technology becoming more and more crucial to the success of all organizations, having an industry-focused event drives value that cannot be obtained anywhere else,” he said. “Suppliers, distributors and service providers all shared openly about technologies and processes used to help their organizations (without giving away too many secrets!). Networking between attendees generates all sorts of positive opportunities for ongoing collaboration and has been an important part of continued growth in improving electronic communications between suppliers, distributors and service providers.”

The two-day education event was developed to bring together the industry’s IT professionals in a forum that allows them to bond and collaborate on finding solutions to the technology challenges faced by the industry. It is also the site of the third annual Tech Summit Award presentation, showcasing and celebrating technology advances that bring success to individual companies and the industry as a whole. Liam Conlan, senior software analyst at Facilisgroup, was recognized with the Internal Innovator Award.

“Firms of all sizes were represented at Tech Summit, as were roles within companies including several chief executives of firms to keep their pulse on what is happening,” says Denham. “No other event allows industry technologists to learn about technology challenges and opportunities specific to our industry while also sharing valuable learning of technology in general. No matter how great the content, the networking remains one of the most valuable assets as connections forged have allowed firms to collaborate year-round to reduce the cost of doing business through better communication.”

Tech Summit’s first day opened with an exploration of big data and how businesses are using it to improve sales, manufacturing and targeting the right customers. Mark Moore, a data platform technical solutions expert with Microsoft, began his presentation with a capsule history of digital technology’s evolution to where it is today. Over this progression, data got “big,” and continues to grow. Moore’s session highlighted big data’s ubiquity, how it’s collected—from smart soda machines at restaurants to refrigerators connected to the internet—and how it’s being used. Moore noted, “Big data has introduced a new culture of experimentation. With big data and the speed at which we can process it, we can start doing analysis and take action.”

Tech Summit offered attendees an experience easily tweaked to meet their needs and interests. Throughout both days of the conference, participants had multiple breakout sessions to choose from, presented by experts from both within and outside the promotional products industry. The program also allowed for considerable interaction between speakers and their audiences. Tech Summit has always encouraged attendees to ask questions and share their ideas. Its tech tips sessions, which have become a fixture at the conference, invited attendees to highlight one thing they do well in their technology organizations. This year, 30 attendees shared single-slide presentations on what they were doing well in their organizations.

“The Tech Summit really delivered this year with great sessions on security, privacy and AI, along with a spirited debate over different technology platforms and tools,” says Catherine Graham, CEO of commonsku and a panelist at Tech Summit. “There was a continued focus on how we as an industry need to work together more closely from a technology perspective.”

David Shultz, vice president of operations at industry technology provider DistributorCentral, says, “We do a lot of work collaborating with our supplier and distributor customers on integrations and other things, so it’s an opportunity to come here and see them all face-to-face at one place, and have them together talking about the same problems they’re facing and ways to address them and make their lives easier. This event is unique in the industry in that it has all of us here in one place and time. It also gives us the opportunity to bring some of our newer members down who are working on some of the integrations in the industry, so in that respect it provides a ton of value as well.”

Tech Summit drew several first-time attendees, including Ty Combs, lead software engineer at Antera Software. “The value for me is in the collaboration and seeing these larger guys who have become very successful, and how I can apply to my company what I learn here to follow what they’re doing.”

Tech Summit will be held again in conjunction with NALC, in Washington, D.C., in August 2018. Watch for more information to come soon at; registration will open in the coming months.