Last week, the PPAI Expo Direct-2-You recreated the spirit and energy of The PPAI Expo, the promotional products industry’s largest and longest-running trade show, in the virtual space, allowing exhibitors and attendees to connect and learn from the comfort of their homes and offices. While it looked very different from what the industry has come to expect from the Las Vegas-based show, Expo Direct-2-You kicked off the year with a four-day multi-layered, virtual experience packed with new product introductions, live booth chats, education sessions, live interviews, fun pop-ups and networking events, including the presentation of PPAI’s top awards at the Icon Recognition event on Monday evening.

“The PPAI Expo has owned this week for decades and although Expo Direct-2-You wasn’t an in-person show, PPAI continued to dominate the week as we rolled out a new product and a new virtual experience for our members,” says Alan Peterson, PPAI vice president of business development. “I’m thrilled with the results and with the comments we’ve received from distributors and exhibitors. Our plan now is to work with our board, SAGE, D2U participants and our staff to consider the hits, misses and how we think about D2U as a new, important way to serve the members.”

While Expo Direct-2-You was a new experience for the industry, the industry welcomed it with open arms. More than 11,000 distributors attended the four-day show, which ran January 11-14. Attendees made 479,620 booth visits and took part in 331,833 chats with exhibitors; there were 178,181 attendee scans and 439,611 product views. Participants also made 31,000 education visits and dropped into the networking lounges 10,000 times. In comparison, between 12,000-13,000 distributors have attended the in-person Expo in recent years.

“PPAI Expo Direct-2-You surpassed our expectations,” says Ellen Tucker, CAE, PPAI’s director of business development and expositions. “The industry’s support and willingness to try something different played a key role in the success of this new approach. The feedback we have and continue to receive will help us as we shape the future of how PPAI brings the industry together for community, knowledge and a place to do business. We look forward to bringing the industry back together for in-person events and to finding the best way to incorporate the benefits of this virtual approach in the future.”

Through careful planning and execution, Expo Direct-2-You transitioned many of attendees’ favorite aspects of the Las Vegas show to the online platform. These included a lineup of Product Pavilions on the show floor, showcasing the latest in the key categories of New Products, Green Products, Made In The USA and PPE Products. And like the in-person show, it featured numerous extras and surprises each day, such as a live host throughout the show, special events and entertainment to allow participants to relax and unwind, games, pop-ups, prizes, networking lounges and more.

“Direct-2-You successfully connected industry participants in a live, yet virtual format, where attendees quickly adapted and found new ways to be successful,” says Todd Pottebaum, MAS+, president of distributor Quality Resource Group, Inc. and PPAI’s 2021 board chair. “Nothing can replace the experience of an in-person Expo, but attendees lauded the functionality, asking PPAI to incorporate various aspects into the in-person format. I can’t wait to see what the next Expo brings.”

Expo Direct-2-You experienced some technical difficulties over the course of its run as the platform accommodated the unprecedented scale of the show, but the SAGE technical support team and PPAI resolved disruptions quickly.

Response to the revolutionary new format has been overwhelmingly positive from both distributor attendees and exhibitors.

“I just have to give a huge shout-out to any and all involved in making this virtual PPAI Expo such a great experience,” says Jamie-Shelli Grimmelsman, owner of distributor Shell Yeah! And Company. “Of course, we would all prefer to be in-person and most certainly, there will always be technical difficulties but the thought, time and execution put into making this happen for thousands of individuals to learn, network and grow in so many ways for a successful 2021 is just beyond amazing! Thank you!”

Chris Wachowiak of North Star Identity, LLC, says, “Expo Direct-2-You made a way for many of us to connect this year in a safe and unique way. I’m not going to sugar coat how ‘weird’ it felt at first but the more I hopped around and explored, I quickly realized how much I was seeing and learning that will be very useful in the near future. Great work, and your efforts are appreciated.”

HALO Branded Solutions Account Executive Susan Heneson Kornblatt, adds, “I am happy to be among the many attendees to the PPAI Expo who are loving the show. Education sessions, supplier booth visits, instant communication with reps via chat and download of featured products and programs, all literally with the click of a button! I am already wishing these features would remain for convenience when we move back to in-person shows as well. Kudos to PPAI and participating suppliers! Fabulous job!”

Exhibitors also applauded their show experience. Patrick McConnell, owner of supplier Surf Snow Promo, says, “It's impressive that PPAI was able to put such a quality online show together so fast! We are so glad to be exhibiting. We had two days’ worth of visitors and booth scans within four hours. Nothing beats a live show, but Expo Direct-2-You has been nothing short of amazing!”

To add a little something extra to attendees’ Expo Direct-2-You experience, show participants racked up points as they visited booths, attended education sessions and took part in other activities during the show. The highest scorers earned prizes each day and at the end of the show.

They are:

The PPAI Expo Direct-2-You Top Three Overall Points Earners For The Entire Show
1st Place - Judy Ellington from The Vernon Company with 4,877,200 points. Winner of the Apple iPad Air.
2nd Place - Alex Fouse of What's Happening Promotions with 4,875,700 points. Winner of the Apple Watch Series 6.
3rd Place - Alex Spencer of CASAD Company, Inc. with 4,745,800 points. Winner of the iRobot Roomba 675

The PPAI Expo Direct-2-You Day 1
Andy Haffey, MAS of Creative Specialties Co., Inc., with 1,270,500 points. Winner of the Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 2 Portable Bluetooth Speaker.

The PPAI Expo Direct-2-You Day 2
Chris Stumpf of Stumpies Marketing Group, with 1,725,600 points. Winner of the Ryze Tech Tello Quadcopter with Camera.

The PPAI Expo Direct-2-You Day 3
Alex Spencer of CASAD Company, Inc. with 2,868,500 points. Winner of the Fitbit Charge 4 Activity Tracker GPS + Heart Rate.

The PPAI Expo Direct-2-You Day 4
Ariel McVety of CASAD Company, Inc. with 3,855,700 points. Winner of the Beats by Dr. Dre - Solo Pro Wireless Noise Cancelling On-Ear Headphones.

For an in-depth look at what Expo Direct-2-You had to offer and to follow it as it happened, visit PPB Newslink’s daily coverage of the four-day virtual show:

InTandem Team Tackles PPAI Expo Direct-2-You Together—And In PJs

Expo Direct-2-You, PPAI’s First Virtual Trade Show, Opens Today

Expo Direct-2-You Exhibit Hours Extended, Tech Issues Resolved

Watson Speaks On Crisis Management, Prevention In Monday Session

Industry’s Best Are Celebrated At Expo Direct-2-You’s Icon Recognition Event

Industry Women Catch Up At Annual Social Event

Small Business Coaches Share Steps To Update Company Marketing In Tuesday Session

Product Pavilion Trend Spotlight: Eat, Drink And Be Cozy

Exhibitors Experience Firsthand The Pluses (And Minuses) Of A Virtual Show

Wednesday Session Speaker Reveals Critical Steps For Selling Promo In ‘The New Normal’

Show Floor Trending in Eco-Friendly, Personal Safety And Personalized Deluxe Products

Kids In Need CEO Explains How Product Donations Strengthen Education

PPAI’s Association Update Highlights Effect Of COVID-19 On Business, Expo’s Virtual Format