Inside PPAI: PPAI’s Women’s Leadership Conference Brings Education, Camaraderie To New Orleans


After almost three days, six general sessions, two breakout sessions, an afternoon of roundtables, daily networking breakfasts and lunches, two early morning yoga classes, a city dine-around, and an elegant dinner and awards presentation honoring two top industry icons, PPAI’s 2019 Women’s Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, concluded on June 26 with an evening trolley ride from the hotel to the Grand Oaks Mansion, where attendees enjoyed a buffet dinner, live jazz and more opportunities to continue conversations, create connections and cultivate friendships.

The popular three-day event, running June 24-26, delivered a carefully curated mix of general and breakout sessions and roundtable discussions on highly sought-after topics, along with numerous opportunities to network with and learn from other women in the promotional products industry.

“This year we have worked hard to really make sure everyone feels welcome and included,” says Kelli Denes, co-chair of the WLC Work Group, which is comprised of 15 volunteers who worked with PPAI staff to plan this year’s program and every detail of the WLC experience. Included again this year was an app with all event specifics, including an activity stream where attendees were encouraged to post photos and messages from the conference.

This year the conference marked its 15th year and attracted 160 female professionals of all ages and backgrounds from companies across the industry; 61 were there for the first time.

“As a first-time attendee at WLC, I couldn’t be prouder of being part of an organization that really looks out for their industry,” says Danita (Dani) Smith, CAS, owner of Third Day Creations, LLC. “PPAI is continuously looking out for its members and it really showed with the ‘evolving’ session and the ‘strategic foresight’ session. I also truly enjoyed the ‘inner critic’ and ‘innovating’ sessions, and was able to walk away armed with strategies to improve my daily work and personal life. I recommend that any woman in this industry take the time out of her busy schedule to attend this truly engaging event.”

Another first-timer, Leslie Ayuko, account manager at OrderMyGear, says she gained even more than she expected. “I registered and traveled with expectancy and excitement, and what I experienced was far beyond what I imagined. Within the first hour, I felt as if I was part of a sisterhood just for being myself. I met women, such as Daryll Griffin [PPAI Woman of Achievement Award honoree], who intentionally poured into me from our first conversation. I am leaving with new friends and an even greater network and understanding of the promotional products industry.”

WLC began with an optional Café Crawl on Monday for early arrivals to explore, at their own pace, the sights and sounds of the French Quarter.

Over the years, WLC attendees have given back to the host city by participating in community service projects in conjunction with the conference. This year 30 attendees volunteered for a three-hour pre-conference project at the Edible Schoolyard, a New Orleans organization that maintains a vegetable garden at a local school. Unfortunately, rain caused the group’s participation to be cancelled, but there were plenty of other options as small groups departed the hotel, umbrellas in hand, and headed to nearby shops and restaurants to enjoy a few free hours.

The conference was officially underway on Monday evening with a networking reception followed by the Welcome Dinner and Woman of Achievement Presentation, held in the Royal Salon at the Omni Royal Orleans, the site of the conference. This year’s two honorees, Daryll Griffin, MAS, president of Accolades, Inc. in Norcross, Georgia, and the late Irene Kogutt, MAS, former owner of Dart Manufacturing Company in Dallas, Texas, were recognized for paving the way for women in the promotional products industry, as well as providing outstanding leadership and making significant personal contributions to the industry and their communities.

Vera Muzzillo, CEO of Proforma, was glad she chose to attend this year. “Thank you PPAI for an outstanding Women’s Leadership Conference! The networking and educational opportunities were invaluable, and I would highly encourage all female promotional product leaders and innovators to attend in the future.”

Longtime attendee and WLC Work Group member Kathy DiFrancesco, outside sales manager at SnugZ USA, explains the value she sees in the conference. “WLC is amazing! The value I get out of it is remarkable. It’s a well-curated event, where the content, breakout sessions, networking and speakers take you on a thoughtful journey from start to finish. Everything you do has purpose. I am able to apply the strategies and tips back to my everyday life.”

Joelle Tedford, vice president of sales and marketing at Lion Circle, also calls the conference amazing. “Each year I look forward to collaborating with distributors, suppliers and service providers on the latest trends, issues and opportunities. For anyone who hasn’t been I highly recommend it.”

Shari Garvalia, MAS, strategic account manager at Showdown Displays, was a five-time attendee. “WLC is a refreshing departure from one’s own daily work routines and an opportunity to expand one’s circle of influence. I always leave energized, a bit wiser and most definitely optimistic about the opportunities in our ever-evolving industry.”

The 2020 Women’s Leadership Conference is scheduled for June 22-24 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Look for registration to open in December.

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James Khattak is news editor of PPB.

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