Room For Good
Brian Porter has been in the promotional products industry for 25 years, but his enthusiasm for the industry’s people, products and “family feel” is, perhaps, more exuberant than ever. Porter, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Grand Island, New York-based supplier Starline USA, devotes a portion of his time to helping others, whether it’s through charitable initiatives or simply by coaching his children’s sports teams.
A long-time volunteer for the Promotional Products Association of the Midwest (PPAM)— he served as PPAM’s president in 2016—this month Porter begins his term as chair of the Board of Trustees for the Promotional Products Education Foundation (PPEF), which has donated nearly $2 million in scholarships to the children of industry professionals since its inception in 1989. According to Porter, there’s no shortage of opportunities to make a difference, there’s only a shortage of time.
Porter grew up around the promotional products industry, having lived in Newton, Iowa, as a child, which is the headquarters of family-owned distributer the Vernon Company and the former headquarters of Newton Manufacturing, which has since been bought by Sterling, Illinois-based distributor HALO Branded Solutions. Immediately following graduation from Iowa State University where he majored in marketing, Porter relocated to San Antonio, Texas, to serve as regional sales director for former supplier Norwood Promotional Products LLC. It was here that Porter experienced a “deep-dive sales training program,” which included specialty work in customer service, marketing, sample development, shipping and trade shows. “We even mixed inks!” he says.
After moving to Overland Park, Kansas, where he currently resides, Porter’s experience with Norwood segued into further opportunities, including roles as the national sales director for Barton Nelson, Inc. (now Bebco), national sales director-U.S. division for Spector & Co., and most recently as vice president of North American sales for Pro Towels. When the opportunity came to join Starline, Porter says, “It was just impossible not to say ‘yes’ to joining this team.”
Porter always has made time for others—and still does—regardless of how busy his career can be. “To me, whether it was my early years serving on a regional board, helping people expand their networks and find jobs, mentoring those who want to understand the industry better, or in my current role with PPEF—where you see an immediate impact from the scholarships that are given to these amazing industry offspring—it all comes together in the industry that I’ve always called ‘home.’”
Porter shared with PPB his thoughts on the importance of giving, both in and out of the industry.
How can philanthropic involvement benefit companies in the promotional products industry? How does it benefit individuals and those around you?
Supporting the people who make it happen for us is such a full-circle thing. Whether it’s an employee supporting a cause that’s close to them or a long-time industry friend, at the end of the day that’s what’s most important. I really like what I’m seeing with groups like Reciprocity Road and PromoCares, which are making sure that profits aren’t the singular bottom line, but part of a much larger picture.
What volunteer initiatives and/or organizations are you involved with?
Between work, which seems to be a 24-7 role in today’s world, and my time with PPEF, whatever time I have left over is spent with my kids. I make time to coach, as I think it’s the single best time I have with them. You’re teaching, learning lessons that go far beyond the field, and it also allows me to spend time with their friends and better understand the influences they have in their lives. We also make time to do volunteer work as a family, from ringing a bell for the Salvation Army every holiday season to buying and delivering meals. I always want them to see how blessed we are and how a little time and kindness can go so far for someone in need.
In a recent interview with Kirby Hasseman, owner of Hasseman Marketing, he mentioned a theme about you taking people under your wing who are new to the industry. What motivates you to help others succeed, and how have you helped them to do so?
What a great guy Kirby is, right? To give a voice to the industry like he has—talk about giving back in a selfless way. It’s that very thing that I truly believe defines our industry. In what other industry can direct competitors come together, collaborate, compete during the day and then sit down for a beer at night? That’s what motivates me. So many outstanding people—some who have been in the industry for years and some who have just started their careers—have taken the time to spend time with me. How could I not do the same? We each approach very common themes in our industry from different angles and to have a sounding board, someone who truly cares, means more than words could say.
As senior vice president of sales and marketing for Starline, and having two young children, how do you manage your time?
It’s a challenge, for sure. As a single dad, I have to juggle travel and work with kids, school, coaching and finally, finding the time to give back. To me, it comes down to the message I’m sending my kids: work to live—your career is what makes it possible—but make time for friends and family and give back to those who have given so much to you. In this case, I try to give back to my promotional family.
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.