Inaugural SPARK Conference Hits Its Mark
PPAI’s inaugural SPARK conference for young professionals in the promotional products industry was a hands-down success last week in Denver, Colorado. Held July 27-28 at the Denver Marriott City Center, SPARK offered education and networking opportunities for more than 60 industry practitioners who are at the beginning stages of their careers in the promotional products industry.
“The industry is evolving and SPARK is a great reflection of that,” says Heather Clay O’Neill, national account executive with Walker-Clay, Inc. and a member of the SPARK Work Group. “We need to be always be thinking ahead, not only in products but in the next generation of both sales representatives and buyers. Many of the new reps to the industry have a strong focus on email for communication and use social media to research clients. They face rising internet competition and the need for speed is at a high. SPARK is designed to reach out to those individuals, both suppliers and distributors who are facing similar issues, and create a network where individuals feel confident in discussing problems and finding solutions to create a better industry.”
SPARK’s unique take on education in the industry was evident from the start, with participants taking a bicycle bar (an open-air, multi-seat pedal vehicle) from the hotel to the event’s opening general session. There, Mike Ligon, founder of concert promoter HomeVibe Presents, delivered a behind-the-scenes look at leadership in a shifting industry and staying relevant in a changing market.
The following day featured six hours of education, beginning with career development expert Ian Harwick, who encouraged his audience to ask themselves what success meant to them and shared ideas on building a foundation to support that success. Later, Chris Sinclair, owner of St. Catharines, Ontario, distributor Brand Blvd., explored leadership, coaching and team building from a young professional’s perspective.
Attendees also had their choice of two break-out sessions: Mary Ellen Harden, president of supplier Wall Street Greetings and owner of Mellen Designs, shared her perspectives as a young professional and small-business owner; and multi-line rep Mike Eaton brought his audience up-to-date on a number of industry topics, including Amazon and Alibaba, quality over quantity and increasing ROI. Over lunch, a panel discussion brought together SPARK Work Group members John Cudahy, CAS; Jeff Franklin and Kalie Herron on the voice of the young professional in the promotional products industry and why it is important that it be heard.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the event and the content,” says Alyssa Inkrott, a business development representative at 3M Promotional Markets. “Being new to the industry, it was really helpful to meet others around my age and talk to them about their journey within the industry. I hope to continue to grow my career within the industry and I feel that this event was exactly the motivation I needed to really push myself. I am hoping to attend next year’s event.”
The day closed with SPARK participants splitting off to work on two community service projects. Some joined the United Way to assemble hygiene kits for the Denver Rescue Mission Lawrence Street Shelter, while others participated in a river clean-up project with the City of Denver’s Park and Recreation Department.
SPARK returns with a networking reception at The PPAI Expo 2018 and the SPARK Conference 2018 will be held July 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee.