The issues facing the industry in 2022 are evolving, but many promotional product companies are facing similar problems, dynamics and elusive solutions.

Sustainability, DEI, digital transformation, labor shortages and cyber security are all buzzwords within the promo business. But roughly 100 industry leaders who got together in Colorado Springs, Colorado this week for PPAI’s North American Leadership Conference (NALC) claimed their companies were actively reckoning with all of these issues in various ways.

During NALC, those concerns were turned from industry terms into clear realities with actionable possibilities offered by experts on the subjects from in and out of the promo world.

“I think, for us, all the speakers today mirror what our key priorities are for our organization,” Melissa Ralston, chief revenue officer at Koozie Group, said on Tuesday. In addition to Ralston, a PPAI board member, Koozie Group’s contingent attending NALC also included senior vice-president Pierre Montaubin and CEO David Klatt.

The prevailing thought from many attendees was that the issues facing each company bounce around in meetings, brainstorming sessions and even the implementation of policies, but hearing directly from experts with well-researched, highly informational sessions allowed each attendee to not only take note of what they learned but also discuss it with their industry peers. They also sparked meaningful conversations in formal and informal networking at the event, which began with a reception Sunday night - sponsored by ArtWork Services USA - and continued with two full days of conference content.

“The topics are right on cue with what we’re facing in our business,” says Chris Vernon, chairman and CEO of The Vernon Company. “The discussions about digital transformation, sustainability, the work force environment that we’re all facing, they speak to everything we’re talking about almost daily in our own company.”

While the content involving digital transformation focused on the seemingly limitless potential of resources the industry can look to in the present and future, sourcing products in an environmentally sustainable way was presented as a core issue that needs to be top of mind for every company leader in attendance. The event was presented carbon neutral with assistance from sustainability sponsor 4Imprint.

“Unlike product safety, which I think our industry did an excellent job at, there is no looming legislation,” says Denise Taschereau, CEO of Fairware. “It’s more complex than that. It is critical for our industry, at a systems level and a strategic level, to start these conversations.”

An engaging and interactive presentation by James Pogue, Ph.D., of James Pogue Enterprises broke down the obstacles and errors that lead to failures in corporate diversity, equity and inclusion programs, forcing company leaders to consider their unconscious biases.

“I think everyone in the audience could relate,” Vernon says. “We need to do better than we are.”

According to Ralston, the sessions weren’t just informative, but they put attendees in a position to discuss the issues among each other with their guards down.

“DEI, as well, as digital transformation are on top of our list and a part of our strategic values as we go forward,” Ralston says. “I think it’s great that PPAI brought this to the table and to the forefront for other leaders within out space to hear some things and discuss things that we maybe don’t otherwise have the opportunity to do in this format.”

The labor shortage was addressed by Claudia St. John of Affinity HR Group, Inc., who made clear that increased flexibility, purpose and benefits are what employees want, and meeting those demands is the only way to prevent being left behind. Combined with DEI and sustainability, it represents an important shift in priorities.

“There is another wind blowing in this economic landscape, and it’s purpose,” Taschereau says.

Identifying issues can be easy in any industry. But NALC aimed to address those issues head on with as many industry leaders in attendance as possible. 

“I think the speakers chosen this year, whether it’s client speakers or expert resources, have been outstanding,” Vernon says.