Inside PPAI - October 2016

NALC Examines The Weighty Issues In Today’s Shifting Business Climate

The 2016 PPAI North American Leadership Conference (NALC) brought more than 130 industry leaders from across the country together for a high-powered education and networking event in August at San Francisco’s Hyatt Regency San Francisco.

NALC kicked off on Sunday, August 14, with an opening dinner recognizing the 12 PPB Rising Stars who are spotlighted in PPB’s September issue and featuring after-dinner speaker Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier who, at age 13, was forced to fight during the brutal civil war in his home country of Sierra Leone. Introduced by Jonathan Isaacson, CEO of The Gem Group, Beah, in his moving, inspiring and remarkable story, held the room captive as he recounted how he was eventually rescued by UNICEF, was adopted by an American woman and went on to become a human rights activist, bestselling author, husband and, his latest role, a father. In his extraordinary life story of redemption and hope, his message resonated clearly: enjoy every moment of life.


More than 130 industry leaders traveled to San Francisco in August for PPAI’s 2016 North American Leadership Conference.


Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, spoke during NALC’s opening dinner on the journey that took him from the battlefield to his life as an author and father.


NALC Work Group members are (from left) Jeff Batson, CAS; Rod Brown, CAS; Lee Strom; David Nicholson; Catherine Graham and Nate Robson.


NALC attendees take a break between sessions: Rick Brenner, MAS+, Jeff Lederer, Joe Hoffmann and Paula Schulman, CAS.


NALC kicked off in earnest with an opening session led by famed economist Dr. Arthur Laffer. Laffer, whose presentation focused on the economy and the potential impact of the election, has been called the father of supply-side economics and is credited with triggering a worldwide tax-cutting movement in the 1980s.


This year’s NALC was the result of months of planning by PPAI staff and a volunteer work group headed by Catherine Graham, CEO of commonsku, and David Nicholson, president of Polyconcept North America. “Our focus this year was on innovation, leveraging the San Francisco location to bring in some excellent speakers,” says Graham. “Wen brought in speakers on wide-ranging topics from artificial intelligence and innovation in technology to the impact of the election on the economy and our industry.”

Nicholson adds, “We also balanced the agenda with a number of sessions that connect these themes with our industry and highlight implications for the attendees’ businesses.”

This year, NALC’s sessions explored issues critical in today’s business climate, including the economy and the potential impact of the upcoming election; competition through business innovation and enterprise marketing; business models and innovation, business disruption and how demographics, technology and globalization could affect the industry landscape by 2020.

“NALC provided an opportunity to get away for a short time from the day-to-day business and focus on really impactful and strategic longer-term solutions for your organization,” says Bill Mahre, president of supplier ADG Promotional Products. “To be a successful leader you need to make that time for the benefit of your people and customers.”

More than 130 principals and key executives representing many of the industry’s top companies were in attendance from across North America and as far away as Australia. Of these, 25 percent were first-time attendees. Long-time NALC participant Bobby Lehew of distributor ROBYN, Inc., who led a breakout session on the most frequently used apps, readily shared his thoughts about the program. “There’s a spirit at NALC that I love, that of deliberate progressiveness. Disruption, in and of itself, can often be viewed as an incendiary act, something with clear winners and losers. But an open attitude toward deliberate progressiveness is a disruptive attitude we can all embrace, where change and the willingness to change becomes a rational response to our own creative evolution.”

“I felt Dan Barnett’s session on Flawless Execution provided terrific insight and an immediate game plan we could all start using within our companies,” says Ann Marie Baker, vice president of sales at supplier Aakron, adding that Eric McDermott’s session on innovation and enterprise marketing gave her several ideas on how to best help her distributor clients. “I loved his comment: ‘Innovate from inside your industry before someone else does it for you.’ We should be willing and able to change and adapt to the ever-changing business landscape. I really enjoyed the event and getting to learn not only from the speakers but also my peers as we discussed ideas and concepts the speakers generated. Well done.”

PPB Rising Star Kenny Ved of supplier Goldstar, says he is glad to have attended the conference. “As a first-timer, I really appreciate the education side of it. I’m having a different perspective just looking at the marketplace.”

His colleague, Howard Cubberly, explained his reason for attending. “We are trying to look to the future, to look to 2020 and say, ‘Where are we now, where do we want to go?’ This helps us get a little outside of ourselves, and see the world and markets as a whole and start to break it down as to how we can think about our business.”

Ruth Verver, CAS, of distributor Paperclip Promotions, one of the smaller companies participating in the conference, found a slightly different kind of value. “Being a relatively small fish in this pond, it’s fantastic to have quick conversations with people who have been in my shoes. They are so willing to give advice and suggestions and say, ‘Here’s the three things I wish I knew when I was your size.’ For me, sometimes I get more from this than the people on the stage.”

Todd Gabel of supplier Toddy Gear says he was most inspired by speaker Eric McDermott, who spoke about innovation. “He recommended a book by Larry Keeley that breaks innovation down into 10 stages of a value proposition. You can break innovation down by logistics, product or customer service. That was an ‘aha’ moment for me because innovation is so huge—but, really, innovation can happen in the smallest parts of the business.”

Jeff Batson, CAS, president of supplier Next Products, Inc., a member of the NALC Work Group, was pleased with the conference’s outcome. “My biggest takeaway is that the industry is really a market. The market is nimble and changing fast, and multiple paradigm shifts are imminent. My favorite part was listening to economics legend Arthur Laffer. I was like a teenaged girl listening to Elvis.”

Attendee Steve Hettrich, Hit Promotional Products, was also drawn to the top-level speakers and topics. “It is great to have a chance for some big-picture discussions and learn thought-provoking ways to apply those ideas back into our daily business. I left the trip motivated and energized.”

Robert Fiveash, president of distributor Brand Fuel, sums up his attendee experience: “As great as the content is, and this year it actually set a new bar, my favorite thing about NALC is that it gives us a chance us to peel off the uniform, get away from the distractions and fires of the office, and allow our true selves to emerge among industry friends and colleagues. We get to know each other in ways that the traditional business setting doesn’t allow, creating much stronger connections and friendships. Who knew the “quiet” ops guy could set the room on fire with his impersonations? Who knew the “brash” owner was such a thoughtful philanthropist? This industry is full of so many talented people, and to only know the roles we think they play at their respective companies or organizations would be a shame. NALC gives us the opportunity to explore deeper, opening up far more opportunities for collaboration and friendship than the world we all head back to when it’s over.”

The 2017 PPAI North American Leadership Conference will be held in North Texas on August 13-15, 2017. Watch for registration to open in the coming months.

Tech Summit Draws Industry Technology Professionals For High-Energy, High-Tech Education

More than 100 industry technology professionals gathered in San Francisco, California, in August to share best practices and case studies, and discuss critical issues and solutions at the third annual PPAI Technology Summit. Introduced in conjunction with Expo East 2014, this was the second year the summit has followed the PPAI North American Leadership Conference.

“There are two great values to Tech Summit,” says attendee Stephen Lussier . “The first is that a lot of the presentations are things you’re not necessarily aware of, so you’re learning a lot. Different viewpoints are presented and it’s a great place for collaboration. The second reason to come here is the networking opportunities. Meeting new people, different companies, expanding your network is huge at this event.”

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 second annual Tech Summit Awards presentation. These awards showcase and celebrate technology advances that bring success to individual companies and the industry as a whole. Essent Corporation’s vice president of research, Stephen Lussier, was recognized with the Internal Innovator Award, while DistributorCentral’s IT director, Chris Schlemmer, and vice president of operations, David Shultz, took home the Industry Collaborator Award.


Gus Anagnos with cybersecurity firm Synack, speaking on stage with colleague Anne Marie Chun, opened Tech Summit’s session lineup with an exploration of cybersecurity, an area many companies wrestle with.


Dale Denham, MAS+, CIO of Geiger (standing at right) and leader of the Tech Summit Work Group, led a panel discussion with Ajay Kaul of SanMar, Eric Alessi of Essent Corporation, Eric Shonebarger of Hit Promotional Products and Irwin Goldstein of HALO Branded Solutions on PromoStandands, a data communication standard for configurable product data, pricing and decoration.


IBM’s Sherry Yazdi and Kunal Jain spoke on big data—extremely large data sets—and its potential to be a powerful disruption that could change long-standing business practices and interactions.


The industry and PPAI staff members in the Technology Summit Work Group guided the development of the summit’s agenda, speaker lineup and message.


Through speaker presentations and panel discussions, Tech Summit’s education lineup focused on issues, concerns and developments relevant to industry IT professionals and staff, including cybersecurity, data communication standards, big data, search engine optimization, legal issues, enterprise resource planning, project management and more. The Summit’s first day ended with its Technology Tips session, a popular part of the program in 2014 and 2015 that invited every attendee to highlight one thing they do well in their technology organizations. For 90 minutes, more than 50 attendees shared single-slide, 90-second presentations on success stories at their companies.

“The audience included a strong mix of business and technical leaders and the content managed to meet each of their needs,” says Dale Denham, MAS+, Geiger CTO and leader of the Tech Summit workgroup, one of the guiding hands behind the event. “I heard from at least a dozen people how happy they were with the event and its content. The focus on distributor and supplier integration through SAGE and PromoStandards was very well received and will contribute to business success in 2017. And, as always, the Tech Tips session, where attendees shared their best tip was a favorite for everyone and encapsulates the power of the event as an ongoing collaboration, is one of its most valuable aspects.”

Joe Kane, director of application development with supplier alphabroder and first-time Tech Summit attendee, says, “Going to a promotional products conference, you get to see all the different technologies that folks use, and hear about their challenges. It’s great to connect with some of the customers’ IT folks, hear some of the issues they’re having, and make contacts so that we can respond and collaborate, and push the ball forward.”

David Stolper, senior vice president at IPROMOTEu, says, “Tech Summit is really relevant to the things I am responsible for. It’s talking about problems that I need to solve. The sessions on standards and recruiting were particularly interesting. During the recruiting session, the moderator asked who had a position to fill and everyone’s hand shot up. It’s remarkable how compelling the topic it is. It’s a big challenge in my job.”

Adam Taylor, vice president of development at Essent Corporation, was one of a number of attendees who joined both NALC and the Tech Summit. He says, “Tech Summit brings suppliers, distributors and service providers together, and it’s a way for me to get my finger on the pulse as far as how things like EDI [Electronic Data Interchange] are progressing, because it is a critical factor in the industry. Everyone’s backing it. We had a number of sessions this week on EDI, making the supply chain faster and more optimized. Everyone’s on board with it. That’s what I like to see, that we’re moving that ball forward. These initiatives have been going on for so long, I’m excited to see us get this thing rolling.”

First-time Tech Summit attendee Patrick Elliot, director of IT at SnugZ USA, says, “I didn’t know what to expect but this has been a really great experience. I found the sessions on what the industry is doing to integrate and security particularly valuable. There are security vulnerabilities out there and knowing that everyone else is in the same boat gives me a better awareness of the issues and ideas on what I can do to patch and fix them.”

A canceled flight prevented Michael Armstrong, CTO of commonsku, from making it to Tech Summit last year in Nashville. “I work with a lot of the people in this room but I’ve never met any of them,” he says. “I’m in Toronto and this industry is all over the world, so a good chance to finally see everyone and meet them. The agenda has been interesting and there have been some enjoyable sessions, so it’s been a good experience.”

Futurist Thomas Frey closed out Tech Summit’s schedule with a look at where technology is going in the coming years and decades. Frey shared observations drawn from his research and study on where certain industries are going and what their futures will look like. Ultimately optimistic, Frey says, “If we change people’s vision of the future, we change the way they make decisions today.”

Denham adds, “When the event ended last year, I thought to myself ‘How will we top that?’ Based on a few dozen comments I personally received, we absolutely beat last year. Now, the pressure is on to get even better next year and grow attendance to another record year.”

The dates for the 2017 Tech Summit are August 16-17, following NALC in North Texas.

Margie Price, MAS, and Joel Schaffer, MAS, Named The 2017 PPAI Hall Of Fame Inductees


PPAI has named Margie Price, MAS, president of St. Louis-based distributor Premiums Plus, Inc. (UPIC: PREMPLUS), and Joel Schaffer, MAS, president of Soundline, LLC (UPIC: 1SOUNDLN) in Randolph, New Jersey, as the 2017 Hall of Fame inductees. The announcement was made in August.

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 promotional products 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.

“Margie and Joel are part of a distinguished group of promotional products industry trailblazers,” says Paul Bellantone, CAE, PPAI president and CEO. “They are exemplary role models for their industry peers, as well as to newcomers to the industry. It is an honor to recognize their legacy and welcome them into the PPAI Hall of Fame.”

A 26-year industry veteran, Price has a long history of involvement with PPAI and other industry organizations. She has twice served on the Association’s board—once as the Regional Association Council (RAC) delegate in 2001-2003, and again as a director from 2005 to 2009—and on a number of PPAI committees. She currently serves on the PPAI Government Relations Action Council and is a five-time Legislative Education & Action Day (L.E.A.D.) attendee.

She served as chair of the Promotional Products Education Foundation (PPEF) in 2004 and advocated for the formation of the first PPAI Women’s Leadership Conference, volunteered on the Women’s Leadership Conference Work Group and worked collaboratively in the development of the Women’s Leadership Conference Grant program that was introduced in 2012. Active at the regional level, Price served on the Promotional Products Association of the Midwest (PPAM) board from 1995 to 2004 and held the office of PPAM president from 1997 to 1998.

In 2011, she was named the PPAI Woman of Achievement, and in 2012 was honored with the PPAI Distinguished Service Award and the PPAI H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award.

Price says, “I don’t know any words that will express how deeply moved I am to receive this incredible honor so I will simply say thank you and I promise I will try to be the kind of person who deserves to be in PPAI’s Hall of Fame. Thank you!”

Schaffer has worked in the promotional products industry for 47 years for a number of companies including Jostens and Leathersmith of London. In 1986, he started his own business publishing an audio magazine for the promotional products industry which ultimately became Soundline in 1991. He served on the PPAI board from 2004 to 2008 and participated in a number of Association committees, taskforces and work groups, most recently the Certification Committee from 2014 to 2015.

In 1976, as a member of the Association of Metropolitan Advertising Specialty Suppliers’ (AMASS) board, Schaffer served on the merger committee that brought it together with the Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York (SAAGNY). He served on the SAAGNY board from 1992 to 2000, including a term as its president, and as a SAAGNY Foundation trustee from 1995 to 2007.

In 2002, SAAGNY inducted Schaffer into its Hall of Fame and in 2005, into the SAAGNY Foundation Hall of Fame. ASI presented Schaffer with its Marvin Spike Professional Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 and PPAI recognized his accomplishments with the Distinguished Service Award in 2011.

“When you enjoy the work you do for others and then get recognized for it, that’s fulfillment,” says Schaffer. “I am so very proud and thankful to join so many marvelous people who are in the Hall of Fame. It is even better when the award is pre-posthumous.”

Induction into the PPAI Hall of Fame reflects Price’s and Schaffer’s legacies and contributions to the promotional products industry and their communities. Their induction ceremony will take place during the Chairman’s Leadership Dinner on January 9, 2017, during The PPAI Expo in Las Vegas. Tickets to the event can be purchased online during show registration. And look for a discussion on Price and Schaffer’s accomplishments from their points of view in interviews in the January 2017 issue of PPB.

Joe Scott Named PPAI Distinguished Service Award Winner For 2017


Joe Scott, vice president of Chanhassen, Minnesota-based distributor Scott & Associates, Inc. (UPIC: SCOTTASC), is the 2017 PPAI Distinguished Service Award (DSA) honoree. Scott’s recognition, announced in August, celebrates his consistent contribution of his skills and expertise toward the betterment of the Association through volunteer service and leadership.

“Joe Scott generously delivers his passion and expertise toward the betterment of PPAI through writing, teaching and servant leadership on committees as well as the PPAI Board,” says Paul Bellantone, CAE, PPAI president and CEO. “Throughout his career, he has remained at the forefront of what’s possible within our industry and has championed the role the promotional consultant can play in serving both the industry and the greater good.”

Scott co-founded Scott and Associates in 1993, and transitioned his distributorship into an agency that gets paid for its time and the results that it generates for clients. He is a former member of the PPAI Board of Directors, serving from 2009 to 2013. While on the board, Scott sat on its Budget & Finance, Executive and Board Nomination committees, and joined the Technology Action Group, Membership Services Action Group and the Distributors Committee as their board liaison. He has also served on the Association’s Professional Development Action Group, MAS/CAS Certification Committee, Suppliers Committee, Events Action Group, Leadership Advisory Committee and Public Relations Committee. Outside of PPAI, Scott has been an active volunteer with the Upper Midwest Association of Promotional Professionals (UMAPP), including time on its board, where he served as president in 2010.

His volunteer service in his community includes the Chanhassen Rotary and the boards of The Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta and Buy Chanhassen, and he currently serves on the board of the Island View Gold Club.

“I was totally surprised when Steve Meyer, MAS, told me that I had been nominated for the PPAI Distinguished Service Award,” says Scott. “I was shocked and speechless (just ask my wife, Katie–she was there) when Chairman Tom Goos told me I had been selected. It hasn’t sunk in yet. To be included in our industry’s list of who’s who is like having my name added to the Masters trophy.”

During his years in the industry, Scott has become a regular name on PPAI and regional association education programs. He has delivered sessions at The PPAI Expo and Expo East and presented a number of the Association’s webinars, and he has spoken at the SAGE Show as well as Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC), the Carolinas Association of Advertising and Marketing Professionals (CAAMP) and the Northwest Promotional Marketing Association (NWPMA). Scott has also written prolifically on the industry and related issues. He has contributed numerous articles to PPB, The Business Journals, Southwest Publications and American Business Journals.

His induction ceremony will take place at the Chairman’s Leadership Dinner on January 9, 2017, during The PPAI Expo in Las Vegas. Tickets to the event can be purchased online during show registration. Watch for a feature on Scott and his accomplishments in the January 2017 issue of PPB.

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