May 2020 Perspectives: Change Is Happening; Make It Count


I am writing this as the country, health-care system, economy and our industry are in the throes of the biggest disruption in more than 100 years. Many are saying what we are facing is worse than the Great Depression of 1929. Yet, I will speak of optimism and the spirit of change. If you will, I will invoke many words from futurist Alvin Toffler and his signature tome, Future Shock.

Some of his famous quotes from the book resonate now more than ever, and perhaps that is because we will be facing a sense of urgency that we have never before encountered. 

“Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” 

Virtually overnight, the promotional products business came to a screeching halt. Everyone was thrown into a state of disarray—total shock. We need to take a deep breath and understand what has just happened and be prepared to respond.  

“Nobody knows the future with certainty. We can, however, identify ongoing patterns of change.” 

We are all aware of certain patterns. The aging Boomer demographic, an increase in online sales disproportionate to traditional face-to-face sales, technology skill sets of Millennials and Gen Zs increasing beyond most Boomer skill sets, the availability to buy products 24/7 and younger buyers who prefer doing business online to in-person meetings. 

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

With change seemingly coming at us at an unprecedented speed, we must be willing to learn new ways. Darwin had it right, adapt or die. Providing members with the tools, knowledge and support to adapt businesses for the next evolution of buying and selling is a primary focus for the Association and a key part of PPAI’s strategic planning.  

“You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”

Like golf, business is a short, middle and long game. Everything you do, big or small, should be consistent and get you closer to your target. Let’s use this time to learn and get the ordering and delivery systems right. 

"To think that the new economy is over is like somebody in London in 1830 saying the entire Industrial Revolution is over because some textile manufacturers in Manchester went broke."

Promotional products will still be a viable and important part of the equation as things return. We have many valuable solutions to a plethora of marketing and branding challenges. We just need to get them to our customers in the format they want. The economy is for sure changed, but our products and services are still very much needed. 

PPAI has, for years, espoused the confidence to evolve. Now, it seems we don’t have a choice. Hopefully, many of you have heeded the Association’s words and are somewhat prepared for what we are now going through. For sure, there will be many more changes and choices coming at us. We need to be resilient but also know what is inevitable. 

We have great products and great distribution. Let’s keep the good stuff while we rapidly build out the tools and systems necessary to keep us strong and get us to the other side of this terrible pandemic. Let’s go into our new collective futures; be thoughtful, be bold and stay healthy.  

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Ira Neaman, MAS, is chair of PPAI's Board of Directors, and founder and president of Avenel, New Jersey, supplier Vantage Apparel. 

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