Turning the Corner, Heading for Home

I write this armed with the perspective of my recent attendance at PPAI’s annual North American Leadership Conference, held this year in Chicago.  At the event, industry participants gather to share their opinions on key topics as identified by a work group of peers that volunteer to help set the agenda of topics for the event.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate on the work group this year, and I cannot sufficiently express my admiration for the hard work that was done by your industry peers to ensure open and honest dialog between suppliers, distributors and service providers about those items most vexing to those of us that call the Promotional Products industry our home.

As the President of your Regional Association Council Board of Directors, I find it important to share a bit of information that came to my attention during a discussion at the event about the timing, frequency and necessity of trade shows.  After some instruction, we divided ourselves into discussion groups that followed supplier and distributor roles, where the perspective of each side was allowed to voice its thoughts. Once those discussions were complete, we rejoined one another so that each side might present its perspective.

What came out in the Supplier discussion is noteworthy.  When asked to stack rank the value of return on investment for the various types of shows that exist in the marketplace today, Regional Association shows ranked second to last.  I’ll say it again, when asked to stack rank the value of the various shows they pay handsomely to attend, Suppliers resoundingly agreed that ours ranked NEXT TO LAST in value.

This is troublesome, but not surprising.

Troublesome, as the chief economic engine for your Association continues to rank low for return on investment.  Not surprising, as it has been the opinion of the RAC Board for more than a year that an alternative form of revenue to supplement your trade shows is of vital importance.  However, make no mistake, this is a real issue, one that may be masked by an improving economy, but a real issue worthy of discussion and brainstorming nonetheless.

As we approach the event of rewriting your RAC strategic plan in October, we continue our laser focus on an outcome that intends to move the needle on your value proposition to your constituency.  If successful, we will have created a mechanism to allow for the spread of best-practices in real-time.  However, without bright minds offering opinions on what their true needs are, the possibility exists that the outcome may not match the effort.

I’ve asked each Regional Association President to participate in an exercise with me whereby we attempt to reach some consensus on the order of importance of the real challenges facing their Association.  In meeting with each of the Districts this year, we’ve used those discussions to identify the 3 biggest challenges faced by our Association leaders.  Those 3 issues are:

  1. Identifying and implementing strategies to introduce additional income streams to the Association economic engine
  2. Identifying and implementing strategies to recruit and retain non-members
  3. Identifying and implementing strategies to recruit and train Association leaders

This is where you come in.  You’ve heard me tell you that your Suppliers are weary of an increasing load of trade shows, ours provide the second least value to them, and their ability to continue to support us could be impacted as a result.  You see above that we have brought clarity of thought to the challenges facing you.  We’re prepared to do the work, but ours will not and cannot be the only avenue for this work to be done.  If you’re reading this, its clear that you are a part of this community.  Would you not want your voice to be heard?

As we turn the corner and head for home, it’s time to speak up.  It’s time to be creative. It’s time we as a community rallied around one another and used the time we spend together to solve the problems with which we are faced.  Many of us will come together in a few weeks at PPAI’s Leadership Development Workshop and Executive Director Learning Forum.  If you’re attending, expect that I will challenge each of you to share your opinion on this topic.  If you’re not attending, please use this interim time to share your opinions and thoughts with ANY attendee from your Board.  If you know of no-one going, share your opinions and thoughts with me.  Solutions do not occur in a vacuum, but from the hearts and minds of a caring community.

We must remember that one determined person can make a significant difference and that a small group of determined people can change the course of history.”—Sonia Johnson

I look forward to sharing with you the opinions and thoughts shared with me. Until then, enjoy this fleeting remainder of summer.


  1. Mark Shinn, MAS says:

    Great topic for discussion Roger.

    While our NALC and Safety Summit brought out some of the Best in our Industry and Leaders, I do hesitate to validate our polling we did on-site. As I recall the discussion, there were many, many varying factors and hardly a proper, scientific poll there.

    I suggest to consider a more scientific poll, with clear and concise, questions and choices. In addition, while we had many of our very senior executives from a number of top Suppliers there, I would propose, that some of their own, personal opinions, are not the ones from the field and National Sales, Business Development and Marketing Managers. In addition, a good number of the key Distributor Companies there, host their own, dedicated events for their National Sales teams, and these events have continued to cloud the benefits and successes of our National and Regional Events.

    Of course, when Regional Events, are compared to the ROI’s of our Expo, Key “Super-Regional” ASI shows, and other of the larger Regional Events, such as Expo East, SAAC, etc. Most all of the 50 or so add’l Regional events will not stack up against them in the grand scheme.

    I do propose, that a good percentage of all of the Regional Association events, when truly looked at for the ROI – Investment of their own, Supplier Regional Representatives and select National personnel that participate in those add’l events . . . . .I propose that most all of the local – In-Market, Representatives would say, that these In-Market Regional events are very important to “their” universe. Additionally, Distributors will bring out many of their local reps and many more support personnel to these more local events.

    . . .Off to AZPPA 2013 Showcase in Phoenix today. My 14th in the 14 years I’ve been in business. . . , and I’ll continue to invest in events that I know, are important.

    1. Perhaps I should make clear a particular point of my piece as well as Mark’s response. What I am reporting on is my interpretation of what was said. I agree to the unscientific nature of the poll, but that doesn’t change the fact that the response was far from overwhelmingly positive, which is what I would suspect any Association would want to hear when asked about the relevance of their event.

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