The days of grounded flights and Zoom meetings appear to be all but behind the promotional products industry. From an Association perspective, in-person visits are back in full swing.

The handshakes may have largely given way to elbow bumps at The PPAI Expo 2022 in Las Vegas, but the industry’s largest and longest running trade show signaled a new beginning. Distributors began shifting toward more in-person sales meetings earlier this year, and once again the industry and its Association are coming together.

PPAI is back to holding in-person board meetings, education and networking opportunities like Women’s Leadership Conference, North American Leadership Conference or Product Responsibility Summit, and, important as anything else, old-fashioned, in-person office calls. The Association’s business development and membership teams have begun traveling regularly to visit companies across the country, while PPAI Media is once again dropping in on regional shows and visiting companies to create content. At the same time, members have made it to Texas for visits to PPAI headquarters. In May, business services firms came together at the Association’s offices for a “digital dialogue,” and distributor HALO held two days of meetings on site.

As head of the Association’s day-to-day business, PPAI President and CEO Dale Denham is making frequent trips to member companies, which is proving valuable as he continues to adjust to the role he assumed in August. It’s a touchpoint the Association didn’t have at its disposal for most of the last few years, providing the chance to sync and work together.

“In-person conversations create much more value than Zoom, especially when working collaboratively,” Denham says. “Video meetings are a good bridge between in-person meetings or to maintain a strong relationship, yet they rarely create the opportunities that come out of an in-person meeting especially when the meeting has three or more participants.”

Since spending more than a week in Las Vegas for The PPAI Expo 2022, Denham’s travels have taken him from his home Florida all the way across the continent to visit Washington-based SanMar and IClick. He’s made several stops at client-facing events and checked in with regional associations, such as last month’s two-day PPAW show. This week, the work takes Denham to the Northeast, where he’ll participate in an iPROMOTEu event and meet with HPG, Gemline and Geiger. A visit to PCNA is on the near horizon as well.

Working from home as the month of June got underway, Denham took advantage of the wealth of member companies in Central Florida. Joined by PPAI Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Josh Ellis on June 1-2, the two made stops at suppliers Gempire, Hit Promotional Products and Koozie Group, while also meeting with leadership at distributor Proforma.

For Ellis, it was the first chance to visit member companies in person. “I really am looking forward to doing it again,” Ellis says. “Seeing the high-tech, high-volume operations at Koozie and Hit gave me a much wider perspective on that side of the industry. But I was every bit as interested when we talked to Harvey Mackler at Gempire, who runs a very different kind of operation, and saw all the creativity and entrepreneurialism that goes into his business.”
For Ellis, the visits provided updates on ongoing coverage, such as CSR initiatives like Koozie Group’s Keep It. Give It. campaign, and yielded upcoming story concepts on new product development, the use of robotics by large suppliers, digital security and technical innovations among distributors. Those ideas may not have been sparked without the in-person conversations.

“I’m lucky to have started when I did, back in December,” Ellis says. “Now that the Association is getting in front of our members, it’s that much easier to make the connections I need to serve our audience.”

Since unveiling a new strategic plan for PPAI in January, Denham’s meetings have largely focused on sharing with members how the adjusted course is intended to support them. Conversation topics range from the Promotional Products Work initiative, to PPAI’s enhanced content focus, to industry digital transformation.

“Seeing the factory or office location of a member company opens up a different dimension of conversations, including the random collisions that happen—similar to how they occur at The PPAI Expo,” Denham says.

During the stop-in at Hit, as an example, Denham and Ellis ran into CIO Raj Mukherjee, “who shared very interesting insights that have already been useful to PPAI, which wouldn’t have occurred if I wasn’t there in person,” Denham says.

It’s not about glad-handing. The meetings also offer members a chance to give pointed feedback on what they want PPAI to do differently. In Tampa, Profroma CEO Vera Muzzillo shared her perspectives on what should be improved by the fall Promotional Products Work Expo, for instance.

“Hearing so many different perspectives, challenges, and successes helps me tremendously in guiding PPAI and the industry in the direction we should go,” Denham says. “I enjoy engaging with people and creating success together.”

Companies of all types are encouraged to connect with their PPAI membership consultant. To connect on content ideas and updates, email