Bill Petrie entered the promotional products industry with a job at HALO because someone else didn’t show up for their first day.

Managing the Sterling, Illinois-based company’s salesforce, he parlayed that opportunity into a 23-year (and counting) career in promo, brimming with ingenuity, generosity and leadership.

“I was never the best athlete, the smartest person in the room or the most creative, but I learned that if I partnered with people, I could go farther,” says Petrie, founder and creative director of brandivate, a business services agency based in Hendersonville, Tennessee. “As I gained knowledge, experience and maybe even bordering on expertise, I realized that if people partnered with me, I could help them go higher.”

At The PPAI Expo in January, Petrie will be presented with the 2024 PPAI Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes a member who consistently contributes their skills and expertise toward the betterment of PPAI through volunteer service or leadership within the Association.

“Bill Petrie is a giver and leader in the promotional products space,” says Kirby Hasseman, CEO of Coshocton, Ohio-based Hasseman Marketing & Communications, Petrie’s co-host on the Promo UPFront podcast and Petrie’s nominator for the award.

“Bill works tirelessly to elevate the industry through creating valuable content and through mentoring. In addition, Bill is a leader who’s willing to say the challenging thing in order to make things better. While that can be a thankless role, it’s imperative. The promotional products space is lucky to have Bill Petrie and I am honored to call him my friend.”

Giving Back

A longtime advocate for the industry, Petrie has been giving back for more than a decade.

Currently a Promotional Products Education Foundation (PPEF) trustee and incoming vice chair for 2024, he has served in various roles on the boards of both the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS) and the Regional Association Council and has volunteered with many PPAI committees.

“A ton of people would tell you I’m not the greatest leader in the world, but in those moments, someone needed to step up,” Petrie says. “You can make a lot of money by working in this industry, but you take yourself and your organization to the next level when you intentionally become part of the industry. Volunteerism is near and dear to my heart. I would like to see more people set aside time to do it.”

Petrie has been a Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.) participant on Capitol Hill and a frequent speaker at PPAI and regional events. In 2016, he was named a PPAI Fellow.

“L.E.A.D. is one of the greatest things that PPAI does,” Petrie says. “It’s so vitally important that we advocate for small business owners, how they conduct their business and how they hire new employees, especially salespeople. It’s always an honor to go to Capitol Hill. You see the same people over and over again, and they remember you brought something with a logo last time. It shows the power of our medium and then we can have a really serious discussion about whatever legislation is on the table and how it will impact small businesses.”

He’s also a founding board member of PromoCares – a volunteer-driven group of industry members dedicated to corporate social and environmental responsibility – and a former chef and board member with PromoKitchen, an all-volunteer organization that provides education and mentorship in the industry.

“For my money, no organization has done more to truly nurture, foster and help people grow – at no cost – than PromoKitchen,” says Petrie, who has mentored nearly 20 industry members through the organization’s mentorship program. “When someone asks for help, it will take a lot for me to say no. It’s important to give back and I’ve learned so much more from the mentees than they’ve ever learned from me.”

Sharing Wisdom

A devoted educator within the industry, Petrie has contributed content for industry media outlets and regional association newsletters. He’s also written a weekly blog for more than a decade and has recorded more than 175 podcast episodes with Hasseman, who he’s known for 20 years.


“Kirby is a great straight man and will let me be a little silly and fun because, let’s be honest, we’re in an industry that should be fun,” Petrie says. “We’re giving decorated nuggets of awesomeness to people. He’s a great sounding board and comes from a very different perspective. He’s a serial entrepreneur. I’m not, I’m an accidental entrepreneur. I’ve learned so much from him. I wouldn’t know what to do without him.”

Although Petrie considers content creation to be a crucial part in giving back to the industry, it has also been a catharsis for him, especially after his wife Sandy suffered an episode of sudden cardiac arrest in 2016. On a Friday night in the summer, he found her “slumped in a chair, unresponsive, with shallow, labored breathing.” He began administering CPR and called 911. 

Miraculously, she was part of the roughly 10% of people who have a sudden cardiac arrest outside a hospital setting and survive, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. As a result, the couple dedicates a lot of their time and donates a lot of their money to the American Heart Association.

“I wouldn’t be a quarter of the person I am without her,” says Petrie, who documented the harrowing experience and aftermath in journal form. “I’m not a hero in this movie as I did what anyone would’ve done in that situation: everything I possibly could.”

What’s Next? All Aboard!

At 53 years old, Petrie shows no signs of slowing down.

In addition to all his efforts highlighted above, he is also the co-founder of Promocations, which creates experiences that allow professional and personal connections to flourish in a low-key, relaxed environment, such as a cruise and barbeque.

“What’s the best part of any networking event? It’s the stuff outside the prescribed networking sessions,” Petrie says. “It’s in the hallways, a pre-dinner drink, dinner itself or the shenanigans that happen after dinner. Those are the things that people bond over. At Promocations, we try to create those business bonds with something that’s more fun, and more importantly, can connect people on a level that they can’t in a 15-minute meeting in the middle of an Embassy Suites.”

As usual, Petrie thinks differently than the rest, challenging the status quo in an effort to improve the industry.

“The fact that I’ve bamboozled enough people to actually read what I write and hear what I have to say and think that it’s different and helps them in their business is something that makes me feel like a million bucks,” he says.