In June, Anne Stone will mark 16 years at PPAI. It’s another milestone for the Association’s director of member engagement, but her tenure alone can’t fully capture the immensity of her contribution. For distributors and suppliers—perhaps more than Stone, who remains focused on the job at hand—the anniversary is worth reflection.
Because of Stone’s efforts, someone in these industry companies, both large and smaller, may have avoided unwittingly violating a government regulation. Maybe they returned from one of the conferences she spearheaded, having networked with soon-to-be collaborators. Or perhaps they reported back to their executives with a new plan for sustainability goals. She might have even initiated some facetime with their senator in Washington.
There have been various titles and responsibilities for Stone in those 16 years, but her leading role organizing events such as this month’s Women’s Leadership Conference, the North American Leadership Conference and Product Responsibility Summit are maybe the most tangible representations of the work she’s done over that time. Stone gets companies to put competition aside while they listen to the things they all need to hear to make the industry stronger, safer and primed to keep growing.
“Anne is dedicated and incredibly thorough,” says Roni Wright, MAS, Vice President of The Book Company. “She thinks through each question, comment and discussion, being certain to look at it from all perspectives.”
Sixteen years ago, though, Stone had been out of the workforce for over a decade. Previously working in public relations and communications for various associations and tech companies, she left that career behind to become a stay-at-home mom raising her two daughters. When she was ready to get back to a full-time job, it was Tina Filipski, PPAI’s director of publications for 26 years, who hired Stone as a public relations manager. “It was just kind of perfect,” Stone says. Immediately, the industry’s goals and needs made sense to her.
“I was on the board when Anne first joined PPAI,” Wright says. “I was impressed with how quickly she engaged with staff, with the board and with members of the Association.”
She had spent a few years working in public relations under Filipski when the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 passed. Relative newcomers to the industry may only have a passing understanding of how this act affected the promotional products landscape. For others who remember the changes that companies needed to make at the time, it’s very possible that it was Stone who helped you get up to speed.
The Association understood then that the industry couldn’t afford to go on with business as usual without taking seriously the new regulations and requirements that affected so many companies. So Stone moved from PR to government relations and product responsibility.
“A big part of what this department did was teach the industry what they had to do [to adhere to CPSIA],” Stone says.
Change was necessary for both Stone and the industry. She would grow into the role and help the Association and its members evolve. It began with relentlessly informing companies what they needed to be doing and keeping in mind. Companies took the work of her team seriously.
“It was a full-time job letting people know what CPSIA was, and then what California prop 65 [requiring warnings on products containing potentially hazardous chemicals] was, another big regulation,” Stone says. “So, we launched the Product Safety Summit.”
Increased regulations are difficult for companies that put a lot into the concept of efficiency. But once something becomes a reality, the real efficiency lies in how successfully a company can adapt. The Product Safety Summit was not only beneficial in that it trained companies in what they needed to change, but it was also a show of good faith by the industry to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which wrote CPSIA.
“Through the process, we forged a really good relationship with the [Consumer Product Safety Commission] itself,” Stone says.
It took almost a half-decade of holding that event before the Association felt that the industry at large had come to understand the intricacies of the CPSIA to the point it no longer necessitated an entire annual event. The event would not end, though, only evolve. It was renamed the Product Responsibility Summit, and it is PPAI’s most highly attended professional development event every year. It has expanded to include social responsibility, supply chain mapping, and making sure there is no forced labor used for sourced materials.
“And now, this year, we’re really leaning into sustainability,” Stone says of the event, which is slated for Sept. 18-20 in Newport Beach, California.
Stone is far more than an event organizer, those who have worked with her say. Her true talent lies in her ability to disseminate information and set up channels allowing Association members to understand how that information applies to their businesses.
“Anne is able to articulate and make sure members understand the scenario at hand,” Wright says. “I can recall government relations, compliance and product testing, to name a few important developments and challenges during her career.”
The same goes for information that needs to go in the opposite direction. Together with Maurice Norris, PPAI’s Public Affairs Manager, Stone spearheaded Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.) in which industry leaders take their messages to state legislators.
Stone is also the lead content curator for this month’s Women’s Leadership Conference (June 26-28) in Charlotte, North Carolina. She says the focus is to bring “top-notch education” to the first in-person edition of WLC since 2019. The event will include outside speakers and panels with industry leaders.
Women attaining leadership positions has been an uphill battle for decades in most industries, and while Stone says that she initially didn’t love the idea of a conference exclusive to any particular group, “this community loves the opportunity to come together.” Women in business so often face the double-edged sword of perceived passiveness or assertiveness, but many have overcome that with their own specific skills and lessons picked up a long the way.
WLC, Stone says, “is more focused on how you can enhance your leadership skills to move to the next place you want to be. I look at creating additional opportunities for the attendees.”
Wright, a member of PPAI’s WLC work group, argues the success of Stone’s initiatives lies in her willingness to immerse herself in all the activities that she is involved in, making note of Stone attending Wright’s WLC yoga classes.
“Anne still continues to impress me,” Wright says.
As her anniversary at PPAI passes this month, don’t expect Stone to rest on any well-earned laurels. Like just about everything else she has her fingers on in the promotion products marketplace, she will be working tirelessly on the event’s primary objective: to keep pushing the industry forward.
Jonny Auping is a news editor at PPAI.