From humble beginnings in the basement of a Chicago office building in 1903, when a handful of advertising specialty manufacturers met to form an industry association, to today’s global leader serving more than 14,000 member companies, PPAI has truly evolved to lead the industry. And right alongside it, the Association’s magazine has been keeping step and marking the progress.

This year PPB magazine celebrates its 40th anniversary. Its debut in 1976 was indeed historic, but it was not the Association’s first publication. History gives that credit to The Novelty News, a monthly newsletter published by member Henry S. Bunting that served as the forerunner of today’s PPB.

Producing a newsletter, even a small one, wasn’t an easy feat in those early days because the National Association of Advertising Novelty Manufacturers (PPAI’s founding name) had no office, no staff and very limited resources.

In 1921, the organization, which by then had become the Advertising Specialty Association, hired its first full-time executive secretary, opened its first headquarters in Chicago and began publishing its own newsletter, ASA Journal. The bi-monthly publication reported on the Association as well as general business news of interest to the members.

Over the next 10 years, the newsletter underwent various name changes such as The Specialist, Specialty Advertising and Specialty Advertiser as new editors sought to put their own mark on the publication. In 1931, when the Association changed its name to Advertising Specialty National Association, the newsletter was updated to ASNA Newsletter.

By the mid-’70s, Specialty Advertising Association International, as it was then called, and the industry were growing rapidly and generating quite a bit of news on a regular basis. The news could no longer be reported effectively in a four-to-eight-page newsletter. Enter Sol Shulman, publisher of Specialty News, an independent monthly industry tabloid newspaper, who offered to sell it. SAAI Board Chair Harry Rosenberg, CAS, saw it as the perfect communications vehicle for the Association and recommended the board buy it. They did.

“At the time we had a little paper that we were sending out every month,” remembers Rosenberg, now president of Specialty Advertising Consultants, Inc. “We were big enough at that point. We needed a magazine!”

The first issue of the Association’s new monthly, Specialty Advertising Business, rolled off the presses in April 1976. The plan was to make the tabloid self-supporting right away through ad sales but it would be 20 years before revenues exceeded expenses.

The first editor of the magazine was SAA President Bob Rollings, a former editor at Hearst newspapers in Washington, D.C. He put his mark on the magazine and then turned the reins over to Leonard Strub, who joined SAAI as editor in 1979 when the Association relocated its headquarters from Chicago to Irving, Texas. This writer was the third editor of PPB from 1995 to 2001, and then reprised the role in 2009 upon the departure of Lisa Horn, who was PPB’s editor from 2001-2009.

When SAAI Board Chair H. Wayne Roberts, MAS, took office in 1990 and announced his theme, “Specialty Advertising Media for the Twenty-First Century,” it called for significant changes to the magazine’s content and design, among other initiatives. “It included developing a new look for a contemporary magazine, moving away from a tabloid size and adding more features and columns,” says Roberts, who retired from Pioneer Balloon Company in 2014. “The objective was to make the magazine a more important resource for industry professionals.”

To assist with the transformation, he appointed the first Editorial Advisory Council to provide direction and ongoing support. “This was pretty significant because it showed the members we wanted the magazine to be what they wanted it to be—we weren’t producing it in a vacuum. It brought in a nice cross section of members,” he adds.

One element Roberts says he pushed for in the redesign was a Letter to the Editor section. He believed it would be one of the most-read parts of the magazine—although some people thought publishing letters would be too controversial. “The magazine was a real good barometer of where the Association was going,” he says. In 1990, SAAI had just built its new headquarters in Irving, Texas, and change was in the air. “Having a new magazine with a fresh look showed members the Association was positioning itself to be a major player in the advertising mix,” he says.

When SAAI became Promotional Products Association International in 1993, the magazine followed suit, debuting as Promotional Products Business. Over the years, with the penchant toward acronyms, the full name of the magazine was used less and less frequently. Today, PPAI’s monthly print publication is called simply PPB.

PPB Through The Years

October 1965 web


A forerunner to PPB was the four-page monthly newsletter; this edition was published in October 1965 and reported Association news, membership changes and a legislative summary called Washington Report. It carried no advertising.


April 1982 web


Specialty Advertising Business, launched in 1976, was 50 to 100 pages and printed on coated stock with some color photos and display ads. In this April 1982 issue, the big news was about the Dallas Winter Showcase with a record 7,500 people in attendance.


September 1983 web


By September 1983, the magazine had gone to a four-color cover with bright, uncoated card stock comprising the first page for a section called Business Shorts, a list of quick news briefs.


March 1989 web


The logo and overall design for SAB was tweaked in the late ’80s, and key features sported color ink. A reader service card was added and, with the magazine now at more than 90 pages, the spine was perfect bound rather than saddle stitched.


May 1992 web


The magazine updated its logo again in 1992 and redesigned the cover and interior as well, adding pops of color on the headers of columns and departments.


November 1993 web


In 1993, SAB changed its name to Promotional Products Business to reflect the Association’s new name and introduced a new logo. That change was short-lived.


November 1994 web


In November 1994 the magazine introduced itself as PPB for the first time—with the full name and former logo on the cover as well. It was also the first time the cover included the Association’s name.


December 1995


In 1995, PPB’s design was outsourced for the first time and a fresh look was introduced, including a new logo.


December 1996 web


The new look was further refined by 1996, as reflected in this December 1996 issue featuring Kim Reinecker, MAS, and Larry Krause, MAS, in a story about supplier reps vs. multi-line reps.


December 2000 web


As the 20th century was winding down, PPB freshened its cover and design to meet the new century. In January, the page count swelled from its usual 220 pages or so per issue to 304 pages, the largest issue on record.


May 2012 web


By late 2007, it was time for a design overhaul. The new look continued through 2014; this May 2012 cover is a good example.


April 2014 web


PPB’s April 2014 issue introduced an updated design from cover to cover and, for the first time, organized content into four categories: innovate, grow, think and connect.

Wait For It … PPB is reinventing its look again next month to make it even more reader friendly and easier to find your favorite articles. Watch for it coming in September 2016.

The First 40 Years

1976 was a milestone year for the USA as it celebrated its 200th birthday with parades, speeches and thousands of red, white and blue promotional products. It was also a big year for the promotional products industry’s trade association, which took giant steps forward with the debut of the first all-hall trade show at the Dallas Convention Center with 367 exhibitors, 610 booths and 4,123 total attendees. That same year the first issue of what is now PPB magazine was published. Here’s a look at a few of the Association events that shaped the news and topics PPB has covered over the past 40 years.

1977 The first SAAI Hall of Fame inductees are honored. They are: Horace Adkins; Harold A. Lufkin; Richard H. McCleery; Carl E. Rosenfeld, MAS; Joseph M. Segal; William F. Vernon, Sr.; and Charles A. Ward.

1977 The Supreme Court rules that current advertising prohibitions on medical societies and bar associations that prohibited their members from advertising violated First Amendment rights. Soon there were t-shirts, pens and other items promoting medical, dental, accounting and legal practices.

1978 SAAI celebrates its silver anniversary with its summer show, ConExpo, in Chicago. President Bob Rollings retires at year end.

1979 H. Ted Olson is named SAAI president and the Association headquarters moves from Chicago to Irving, Texas.

1980 Industry sales reach $2 billion.

1989 The first PPEF scholarship recipients are awarded. SAAI membership reaches 4,000 firms.

1990 SAAI completes construction on its current headquarters in Irving, Texas.

1992 The board votes to change the Association’s name to Promotional Products Association International.

1995 Hot promotional products include pre-paid phone cards, chocolate molded into custom shapes and single-use cameras with pre-printed messages on the film.

1996 Steve Slagle, CAE, joins PPAI as president and CEO following Ted Olson’s retirement.

1998 The e-newsletter, PPB Newslink, is first delivered to email inboxes.

1999 The Association introduces the free Universal Promotional Identification Code (UPIC).

2003 The PPAI Expo moves from Dallas to Las Vegas. PPAI celebrates its 100th anniversary with a year-long series of events, programs, products and exhibits.

2008 The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act is enacted and PPAI dedicates key resources to educating members.

2009 The first Legislative Education And Action Day is organized in Washington, D.C.

2011 Paul Bellantone, CAE, is named PPAI president and CEO following Steve Slagle’s retirement. PPAI and SAGE announce their strategic Power of Two partnership.

2013 The first Expo East is held in Atlantic City, replacing Promotions East. Promotional Products Work Week makes its debut.

2014 Industry sales reach $20 billion after backsliding during the Great Recession.

2016 PPAI introduces its five-year, multi-million-dollar #GetInTouch industry branding campaign.

Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB..