President’s Message – May 2013

I began my year as RAC President with an address to the Delegate Assembly.  (A link to the address is found at ROGER’S ADDRESS).  In that address, I make reference to Not Kidding Ourselves.  It’s in keeping with that mission that I approach you today.

In my travels to visit with member Regional Association leaders, some patterns have started to reveal themselves that were sufficiently worrisome that I thought it was important to document them and get working on solutions, as the implications are reasonably serious.

This is about survival.

It’s not surprising to anyone reading this that the single largest contributor to the overall revenue for a Regional Association is that which is generated from their once or twice per year trade-shows.  Distributors and supplier patronage to these events has been the linchpin to the continued viability of the Regional Associations, and the revenue generated from those events provides sufficient annual funding to guarantee content to each Regional member, plus it ensures the continued existence of these trade associations.  Think of them as the “Black Friday’s” of the trade association industry.

What may be surprising is to know just how vulnerable this makes the entire Regional Association Community.

There are a number of forces at work to diminish the value of the trade-shows we produce.

  • The internet has diminished the need to participate in a trade-show in order to see product or gain access to information.
  • The perception of trade-show as for-profit enterprise has introduced a number of competitors into the trade-show space and exponentially increased the frequency of trade-shows in each market, thereby diminishing their value.
  • Many distributors or distributor groups hold private events that resemble a trade-show, reducing the need for distributor salespeople to attend other events.

In any business model, there are always threats, so to position the items listed above as the death-knell for Regional Associations is alarmist, and I won’t do it.  What DOES frighten me, however, are 2 things:

1)  I have not yet been able to identify ONE Regional Association that has found a way to develop a second (much less a third or fourth) viable income stream to prevent against a decline in trade show revenue.

2)  There does not appear to be a concerted effort at the Regional level to address the concern, and there doesn’t appear to be much collaboration at the District level about this topic.

So, it is by virtue of that fear that I state this intention.

                           It’s time to stop kidding ourselves.

As RAC President, I present this opportunity to the President of each Regional Association.  It’s time for the leaders of your representative organizations to come together and work toward possible solutions to this industry-wide problem, and use the collective knowledge of the leaders in our industry’s trade-associations to brainstorm possible outcomes.

Regional Presidents, this is your call to action.

Should you be willing to participate in this all-important initiative, I ask that you register yourself in this LinkedIn forum President’s Forum. (Click the link to be taken to the forum)  There, I will start and facilitate conversations around the topic and present possible solutions as they are articulated by the Group.

Additionally, I will host an ALL-PRESIDENTS conference call to serve as a kick-off on Monday, June 3rd at 4 PM EDT.  Once we have confirmed participation in the LinkedIn group I will distribute the conference call information for all attendees and provide a pre-meeting agenda to prepare you for the discussion.

Without input, we cannot change.  Without change, we cannot guarantee our continued success.  I look forward to your participation in this event, and welcome any discussion in the meantime.


Roger Burnett

President – 2013 RAC Board of Directors

Distributor Central

In this episode of Distributor Digest, we’re joined by Vice President of Sales for Distributor Central, Tiffany Tarr.  Tiffany is in the photo as the smiling lass on the left. (The smiling lass on the right is my friend Megan Erber from Jetline)


Our discussion focuses on what the impact would be to a Distributor as he or she considers the possibility of migrating to the Distributor Central platform, how she came to be Vice President of DC and her role as a Volunteer in the Promotional Products industry.

What I’m Doing Next

It’s Time for something Different, something Remarkable.

As distributors that talk with other distributors, many conversations have revolved around the nuances associated with the contract decoration portion of selling apparel.

I often have wondered if there was a way to strengthen the value proposition a decorator can provide a distributor. It’s time to find out.

We’re busy launching a new division of iClick Inc. Co-Founded and spearheaded by Jonathan Irvin and Roger Burnett, this new division marks the industries first ever National-footprint decoration company for the apparel and printwear markets.

We think the folks at iClick are pretty remarkable, and can’t think of a better place to call home. It just felt right. If you don’t know our friends there, watch this video. This is gonna be BIG!

Roger and Jonathan

President’s Message – April 2013

I write this as I recover from the whirlwind that is the two days of PPAI Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.).  I come away from the event with new respect for the talent, organization and dedication of Anne Lardner-Stone, Seth Barnett and those at PPAI responsible for producing this event.  I was equally impressed with the dedication and professionalism demonstrated by the group of volunteers who joined me in our efforts to raise awareness about the potential threats to our industry that PPAI has been able to identify by virtue of their role in advocating for our industry.  I was surrounded by some of the brightest minds in the industry and the value of the discussions I was able to have while in the presence of my peers was priceless.

And then John Boehner showed up.  Seriously.  Out of nowhere, John Boehner walks into our dining room at the hotel and gives us an impromptu 10 minutes off the cuff about his family and the small business that they had. I’m still not certain how that occurred, but Boehner is such a lightning rod that his mere presence energized the room.

If you’ve not had the chance, I would encourage anyone with even a small interest in politics to participate in this event.  I was skeptical about how our elected officials would respond to the talking points that PPAI put together for us, but was surprised at how staffers of our congressional members and senators were not only motivated to listen, but interested in how the information we provided could be their chance to assist in authoring legislation that could someday be a part of their own legacy.

For instance, we were meeting with a veteran staffer from Congressman John Dingle’s office when the topic of CPSIA came up.  I noticed a decided shift in his demeanor as he sat up straighter in his chair and proclaimed, “You’re talking to the guy that authored it.”  Jackpot!  As you know, there are a number of unintended consequences for distributors with respect to CPSIA and after a few minutes of explanation, this staffer looked at us and said, “Well, I can see how that could cause a problem for your industry.”  Jackpot again!  In the next few minutes, we were given the roadmap he saw as a potential avenue to overcome some of the challenges that legislation represents to our industry and concluded that he would do some reaching out of his own to see how else he might be able to assist. Incredible.

As with any client, success is bred by virtue of the strength of the relationship you’re able to forge with the person on the other end of the transaction.  L.E.A.D. and the advocacy activities of our industry in general need to be seen as a continuing relationship between the members of our industry and our elected officials.  The more we can expose those who represent us to the challenges of our industry, the better protected we can be should other unintended consequences of legislation occur.

So, what should you do now?  Work with your regional association to further develop those relationships.  Invite your congressional representative to an industry event.  Go to the many in-district events that your legislators schedule when they are back in town.  Reach out to your regionals legislative Committee to help create reasons for us to start, continue and facilitate conversations with legislators.  It’s important work – work that could someday prevent an attack on our industry and our livelihood.


Roger Burnett, CAS

President, 2013 RAC Board of Directors

Presidents Message – March 2013

President’s Message

I write this as I return from facilitating a meeting between the members of District 4 during the SAGE Show at the Ft. Worth Convention Center. My sincere thanks go to the participants from HPPA, PPAM, PPAS and RMRPPA for your candor and willingness to discuss the significant challenges facing your (and every) regionals. I’m hoping to facilitate similar sessions with the other districts during the course of the year, and the information received will play an integral role in our rework of the RAC strategic plan as 2013 draws to a close.PPWW_EventBannerBw

We’re also wrapping up the inaugural Promotional Products Work! Week. It has been interesting to watch the regional communities as they sought their paths to impactful participation in this event. We’ll highlight what we saw as best practices along the normal social media channels in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

As PPW!W draws to a close, we now turn our attention to the next important event that demands our attention and participation, L.E.A.D.

LEADGroup Photo_Looking up_jpg

During the District 4 session, I posed the following question to the participants:

Imagine a scenario where Congress is considering a bill that would be a “poison pill” to particular facets of our industry. Legislation, if passed, which would impose a tax on any item in excess of $10, used as advertising.  The effect of this bill would represent sea-change to our industry and could severely damage our ability to sell product.

Would we, as regional associations, be able to mobilize in time to prevent passage of such legislation?  Could we rely upon our industry’s legacy of cooperation and contact between us and those members of government to understand the impact of that type of tax on our businesses and our families?

In much the same way as pursuing a new client, the process to earn a politician’s favor doesn’t occur overnight. It requires concerted and concentrated effort over time to be successful.  While we may not be under immediate threat today, it’s important to create relationships NOW to ensure our ability to convey any message necessary to our elected officials should such a situation like the one I described above occur.

So, I ask, how can you and YOUR regional L.E.A.D. every day? See the April L.E.A.D. event not merely as an annual event, but as the culmination of an entire year’s worth of activity that begins and is sustained at the regional level. Activity of this type speaks to the core values of what your regional association should be doing for its members.

As frequently occurs when the leaders of regionals get together, the conversation turned to brainstorming ways to reach non-members.  It’s clear that non-member engagement is a vexing, top-of-mind topic for our member regionals. Consider getting our non-member partners to participate with us as we strive to promote and protect the industry that we call home by virtue of such activities as PPW!W and L.E.A.D.  How can you use these important initiatives that impact members and non-members alike to build relationships that will increase your membership ranks?  We’ll consider this topic in great detail for the remainder of the year and will seek discussion and best practices in these arenas.

As always, I look forward to the conversations these topics might create. Feel free to contact me or any other member of your RAC Board to share your critique or provide feedback.



Roger Burnett


2013 RAC Board of Directors

Presidents Message – February 2013

I write this as I am flying home from a week in Dallas. Two of the five days were spent with PPAI Regional Relations staff and Ted Fuehr, MAS, your RAC Board of Directors Vice President for 2013.

As I reflect on the time spent there, it strikes me how energizing this kind of work can be. I believe our partners on the Regional Relations staff when they tell me how energized and excited THEY are about the work that we put in while there.

What’s with the excitement? There appears to be a renewed sense of purpose among ALL of us as we approach 2013. I believe that sense of purpose lies in the notion that we are at a crossroads in the evolution of both Regional Associations as well as RAC, an entity formed to serve the common purpose of the 27 regional association members.

If you’re reading this, my guess is that you are somehow associated with a Regional Association, you volunteer your time and talent to the industry we serve, and you’re passionate about this industry. I also hope you understand the enormous threats posed to your Regional Association today. Many Regionals are struggling with stagnant and aging membership, a single economic engine in their tradeshows, and a somewhat nebulous, or “hard to define” value proposition for a potential member to consider. These challenges are real, and hard work must be done now to ensure the continued future of our member organizations.

While the previous paragraph may seem a bit negative, I’ll refer you to the speech I gave at the RAC Delegate Assembly at EXPO last month. It’s time we stop kidding ourselves. It’s time that we realize the unique opportunity that we have as members of our Regional Associations to leave our mark on the industry for years to come. With a concerted effort, we have the opportunity to set a course that ensures the continued legacy of serving our members and the industry as a whole.

As 2013 concludes, your RAC Board of Directors will gather to write a strategic plan for the organization going forward. In this plan, we’ll focus our efforts on ways to create opportunities to improve the value proposition of the member Regionals, their membership, AND their current non-member constituents. It’s the single most important thing we can do. In my year as President, it’s imperative that I lead your Board in creating, facilitating, and continuing conversations with each of you so that we might create a plan for success.

That’s where you come in. Without reams of information about the current realities facing you as volunteer leaders in this industry, it’s less likely that our plan will be reality-based. We’re creating as many opportunities as we can to give you avenues to communicate with us, and we will aggressively pursue you in search of this kind of information. Do not hesitate to share. Be provocative. Say what you ordinarily would not say. Challenge us. There are no sacred cows.

I look forward to the conversation.



Roger Burnett, CAS

2013 RAC Board President

You’re Not Who You Say You Are, You’re Who You ARE.

Hey, Facebook, your future started today, when, on the brink of the business world stopping to watch your massive money-grab disguised as an IPO, that often-crumbly but currently OK pillar of the old economy, General Motors, announced to the world that it was pulling its $10 Million advertising budget from your coffers.

It would have been my extreme pleasure to have had the opportunity to quietly wander the halls of whichever flat-screen TV and ping pong table-laden Facebook office that houses their advertising sales staff after THAT phone call was received.  It’s one thing to be an economy unto yourself, to break all of the conventional rules that have bound the rest of us mortals as you raced to accolades, worship and adulation.  But these are the days when you’re beginning to understand that, as a publically traded Company, YOUR rules no longer are the only rules that you must consider.  It will be very interesting to watch what your current struggles to justify the ad revenue you generate do to your business, and, consequently, what it does to your once seemingly guaranteed status as the new darling of Wall Street.

Remember, Facebook is NOT Apple.  Apple makes products.  Amazing, beautiful, innovative products that often solve problems that we as consumers didn’t even know we had.  Before my 1st Ipod, I carried one of those soft-sided cases that held 96 CD’s(!).  Try grabbing that from the back-seat in the middle of a 6-hour road-trip by yourself, flying down the highway at break-neck speed.  Problem solved.

Facebook has the world in a room, speaking to each other and having an otherwise great time.  What it’s NOT, however, is a place where we’re interested in hearing (or looking at) ad’s.  Not in the traditional sense, at least.  Whatever revenue Facebook is generating in traditional ad revenue is under attack, as it should be. It’s the quintessential round hole, and real-estate advertising on the site is the all but ignored square peg. 

Now, that being said….General Motors….seriously?  What kind of dicks are you guys?  You know Facebook is on the brink of world domination, and you choose NOW to publicly pull the plug on a partner that you intend to continue to spend money with? (GM will still spend $30 million of its’ advertising budget with Facebook). Some partner.  It’s akin to telling all of your buddy’s potential girlfriends about a bout of venereal disease he USED to have…but he’s all good now….seriously.  Clearly GM hasn’t yet figured out how to behave in today’s social economy.

As a vendor to GM for years, this is typical of them.  They’ve gone to great lengths post-bailout to try and convince vendors that this is the “NEW” GM, but, this smacks of the legacy of arrogance and self-proclaimed superiority that we’ve been dealing with since ALL Chevy’s got less than 10 mpg.  You should be ashamed of yourself, and, in reality, the reason why you’re pulling this spend is because you haven’t a clue how to weave the necessary story to your “friends” on Facebook, the story that invites us to understand who this supposed “new” Company is…the content-driven story that Scott Monty and the guys over at Ford are kicking your asses with every day.

Operation “Make Sense of It”

At a ripe-old soon to be 41 years old, I occupy a neat little space in the world.

The orbit of people around me is vast.  I’ve managed to accumulate a lot of friends and acquaintances; I’m proud of the number of folks that feel comfortable in my presence.  What makes me even more proud is the way this sea of contacts has absolutely no rhyme or reason to it.  White people and non-white alike; male and female; young and old. 

While there are many, one common theme that I’ve identified is a notion that there are many, many people in the world that LOVE to participate in social media.  It’s the best party going, and everybody wants to be there.  The greatest part of this particular party that is social media is that EVERYONE can come….and they have…..BOY, have they.

So, the party’s been going on for awhile now, and people are starting to wonder, “Is there MORE I can do with this?”  Everywhere I go, as I’m surrounded by that same great cast of characters that I call my social circle, I hear this question, over and over again. 

“Roger, how do I make SENSE of this?”

I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to share ways that I have tried to make sense of it, and the response to those things that I do has been really good. 

So, with that, I hearby launch:

OPERATION: Make Sense Of It

The objective is simple.  Create a community where people who are trying to figure out ways to use the available tools can speak and learn from one another.  I’ll throw my two sense in where appropriate, and, as we learn from and about one another, I’m sure we’ll figure out even more than what the original mission of the OPERATION may have intended…’ll be part of the fun of the journey.

A word to the wise.  As I write this, I can hear the questions coming already, and I suspect that the biggest question is going to be around trying to define what “IT” is.  To those of you thinking of posing that question, I say, please, for all that is right and good, DON’T.  The idea of “IT” is that the “IT” will be different for different people.  If we do a good job of letting other people know this forum exists, then we’ll be better served to talk about as many “IT’S” as possible.  Savvy?

 Lastly, I’ll leave you with this.  Remember, social media has been likened to a party.  Please keep in mind, will you, that sometimes the reason for a party is to do nothing more than simply have fun.  So, while we seek ways to make sense of our own “IT’S”, remember to have fun, won’t you?