“Experience Extraordinary”—that was PPAI®’s marketing message and expectation for The PPAI Expo 2019 Las Vegas in January. Based on reactions and feedback from many of the thousands who filled the Mandalay Bay Convention Center over the four days—extraordinary definitely happened.

“I feel compelled to write and let you know what an incredible first experience I recently had at The PPAI Expo,” wrote Tammi Cooper, sales representative at Destination PSP in Palm Springs, California. “I was overwhelmed with the magnitude of opportunity afforded to me, as well as by the vast number of top-notch vendors and floor space I needed to cover in a very short time. Miraculously, I covered every single inch of showroom floor—a completely exhausting experience but so well worth the challenge. I found everything on my two-and-one-half-page list that I was searching for! You have earned my utmost respect and I look forward to attending many more shows in the near future.” She signed her letter, “PPAI Fan For Life.”

Above: Opening day at the PPAI Expo 2019, the world’s largest and longest-running promotional products industry trade show, was ripe with anticipation as attendees flooded in to see the thousands of products on exhibit. 

The Expo, which ran January 14-17, drew a record-breaking 13,000 attendees representing 4,000 distributor companies—the largest attendance in the past 10 years. Long recognized as the industry’s largest show, Expo featured more than 1,220 exhibiting companies occupying nearly one million square feet at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

Often referred to as the industry’s “big tent” where everyone who is serious about doing business in the promotional products industry is assembled, the show is the much-anticipated gathering place for meetings between industry leaders, their companies and sales teams, and vendors and their customers. It’s also the perennial showcase for new product introductions and best-sellers across a vast array of categories. Even more, an upbeat and busy Expo often indicates an upbeat and busy year ahead for the industry.

Above, left: The PPAI Expo presented more than 130 education and networking sessions during show week in addition to a strong increase in overall show attendance, participation in the education events was up as well. Above, right: This year’s PPAI Expo drew a record attendance of 13,000 distributors from more than 4,000 companies and with representation from nearly 30 countries. 

“There was great energy at the show and education was packed. It was definitely the event to be at to kick off 2019,” says Brittany David, MAS, PPAI board chair. “The show floor was very busy with distributors looking for trends and projects. Its energy was a good indicator of sales for the year. Coupled with an optimistic attitude about end users’ marketing budgets, we are in for a good year.”

Above, left: Distributors from Mark’s Quick Printing in St. Louis, Missouri. Right: Representatives from exhibitor Agraffes Innovation prepare for another busy day in the booth.

Paul Bellantone, CAE, PPAI president and CEO, who has experienced more than a dozen Expos, was also delighted with the show. “From what I heard onsite and since returning to the office, this year will be remembered as one of the very best events we’ve ever presented—the most engaging, the best attended and the highest satisfaction among suppliers, decorators and distributors,” he says.

New This Year

One of the biggest challenges in delivering a top-notch trade show is finding ways to improve it every year. To do that, this year’s Expo included a new element that drove excitement and engagement on the show floor. Surprise pop-up experiences were strategically planned throughout the three exhibit days to drive attendee traffic to new areas of the show floor. The pop-ups featured foodie favorites such as chocolate-dipped bacon, meat balls and rolled ice cream, plus caricature artists, an illusionist and playtime with puppies (yes—lots and lots of puppies). There was also a 1st-Time Exhibitor Pavilion showcasing aisles upon aisles of new industry suppliers and their products. It joined four other product pavilions focusing on new, eco-friendly, American-made and quick-ship products. Popular show-floor attractions from previous years also returned including the brand. pavilion with its premium products, the Decorate pavilion showcasing screen printing, embroidery and digital technology, the Expo Live stage with product demonstrations and live interviews, and everyone’s favorite networking spot, the Beer Garden.

Left: Browsing the thousands of products on exhibit of the show are Frank and Lesa Demaria of Spectrum Enterprises in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. Right: This year’s show floor featured a new 1st Time Exhibitor product pavilion in addition to four other favorites: New Products, Express Ship, Green Products and Made In The USA.

New in professional development were the new hands-on learning labs for experience-oriented education and the post-show Next-Level Professional Development Workshop presented by the American Marketing Association and Sales & Marketing Executives International, Inc.—a program that focused on high-performance selling, unifying sales teams and the latest trends and topics related to social media, metrics, branding and positioning.

Professional Development

Throughout the week, Expo’s 136 educational sessions and networking events drew more than 21,000 industry professionals. Among the highlights were the keynote presentations, including the opening speaker David Goggins, a retired Navy SEAL and former U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Control Party member, who earned a standing ovation with his talk on resilience and self-determination.

Above, left: Opening keynote speaker David Goggins, a retired Navy SEAL, 
former U.S. Air Force Tactical Control Party member and best-selling author, inspired listeners with his presentation on resilience and self-determination. Above right: Nik Saija (right) of Red Bridge Clothing, Inc., was one of the lucky audience members called on stage by Power Keynote presenter and humorist Connie Podesta.

This year’s Power Keynotes on Monday afternoon featured two back-to-back funny, high-energy speakers who kept their audience laughing—Connie Podesta, author and expert on the psychology of sales, leadership, change and life balance and Scott Stratten, president of UnMarketing. The day’s luncheon speaker was author, comedian and world-class guitarist Mike Rayburn, who inspired his audience with storytelling, humor and world-class guitar skills.

Awards And Recognition 

PPAI presented its highest honors at the Chairman’s Leadership Dinner where two industry legends, Gene Geiger, MAS+ of Geiger and Chuck Pecher of Skinner and Kennedy Co., were inducted into the PPAI Hall of Fame. The elegant event brought out the industry’s luminaries, dignitaries and leaders to celebrate the pair’s achievements and to honor this year’s winners of the Distinguished Service Award, Michele Jennrich, MAS, and the H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award, Daryll Griffin, MAS.

Above: At the Chairman’s Leadership Dinner, PPAI inducted two new members into its Hall of Fame, Gene Geiger, MAS+ (right) and Chuck Pecher (second from left). Michele Jennrich, MAS, (second from right) was also presented with the PPAI Distinguished Service Award and Darryl Griffin, MAS, was awarded the H. Ted Olsen Humanitarian Award. Her son, Michael Griffin, CAS (left), accepted the award during the presentation. 

Above: Nine former Hall of Fame Inductees joined the two new members on stage following the Chairman’s Leadership Dinner. From left: Chuck Pecher; Bob Davis, MAS; Paul Kiewet, MAS+; Bill Bywater; Kurt Reckziegel; David Woods, MAS; Jo-an Lantz, MAS; Mark Gilman, CAS; Wayne Greenburg, MAS; Joel Schaffer, MAS; and Gene Geiger, MAS+.

The next evening, the 61st PPAI Pyramid Awards Celebration recognized 163 of the best promotions and products in the promotional products industry in five categories: Supplier Star, Client Programs, Marketing, Supplier Decorating and Technology.

Above: Supplier CPS/Keystone Line won a Supplier Star during the PPAI Pyramid Award ceremony. The coveted award is voted on by distributor members. Representing the company are, from left, Rebecca Mclaughlin, Kippie Helzel, Eric Enzbrenner, Pete Gleason and Jennifer Rogers.

Volunteer Appreciation

PPAI hosted its annual Volunteer Leadership Luncheon to recognize those who have generously contributed their time and resources to the Association. Members of the PPAI Board of Directors, committees and advisory groups, the Regional Association Council board, the Promotional Products Education Foundation board and new inductees to PPAI’s Fellows program were honored. The luncheon also marked the transition of PPAI board chairs as outgoing PPAI Board Chair Dale Denham, MAS+ passed the gavel to incoming board chair Brittany David, MAS.

At the Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon, ongoing PPAI board chair Dale Denham, MAS+ passed the gavel to incoming chair Brittany David, MAS.

An Industry That Gives Back

More than 120 golfers from 60 industry companies turned out to play in the Glen Holt & Fran Ford Memorial Golf Tournament supporting the Promotional Products Education Fund (PPEF). The tournament raised close to $50,000 for PPEF’s college scholarship program.

Volunteers and staff from the Kids In Need Foundation were onsite at the show collecting donated products from exhibitors after the show closed. This year marked the 12th that PPAI has welcomed the nonprofit group to the Expo and more than 60 exhibitors donated leftover products and samples. This year’s harvest resulted in 18 pallets piled high with products, plus six bikes and other items generously donated by Expo exhibitors. All products collected were funneled to donation centers for use by teachers in underprivileged schools across the region.

What Attendees And Exhibitors Are Saying About The PPAI Expo

“In all my years at Expo—Dallas to Vegas—I don’t remember more great conversations, meetings, traffic and overall energy. Kudos to the entire staff.”

Brian Porter, vice president/sales, Starline USA, Inc., Overland Park, Kansas

“The PPAI Expo continues to evolve to be more relevant, easier to navigate and educational. In fact, the range of topics for professional development was vast and current making me want to clone myself to take even better advantage. I also have to comment on the overwhelming willingness of the PPAI team to assist at every turn during the conference. [It’s] a professional and energetic group of individuals who are always responsive all year long.”

Jae Rang, MAS, principal, JAE Associates Ltd., Oakville, Ontario

“The thing I will remember most is when I went to registration to get my badge, the sweetest lady saw that I was from Simi Valley, which is right next to Thousand Oaks, and recently we’ve suffered from two massive wildfires, a shooting and now mudslides. She asked if I was okay, and how I was coping and handling things. As a first-time distributor, that’s going to be what I’ll remember most.”

Zubi Olin, owner, Central Coast Promotions, Simi Valley, California

“It is good to come and get new ideas and see the people I’ve had relationships with for years. I do business with a lot of breweries, and I saw games and dart boards that I can definitely use to market to them.”

Andrea Damian, owner, Swag Promo, Los Angeles, California

“I applaud every effort staff is putting in because they are gearing the show for the 22nd century. I love the mega data that we are getting on trade-show traffic and the testing they are doing with the pop-ups on the show floor. Everything is absolutely outstanding.”

Joel Schaffer, CEO, SoundLine LLC, Indian Land, South Carolina

“It was an amazing experience. We had very, very good, quality meetings with distributors based in the United States and Canada.”

Loic Lefebvre, vice president of sales/North America, Spector & Company

“We’ve been coming to the show for 29 years and it’s always the best. We love our new [booth] location, and our traffic and the quality of people have been fabulous. It’s been another great show—I look forward to next year.”

Brad Bartlett, president, Optigraphics, Dallas, Texas

“Coming out of the show we left on such a high. I couldn’t be happier with my staff, the amount of qualified leads we are chasing down and the seamless experience that PPAI puts into play each and every year. We cannot wait until next year!”

Daniel Roso, vice president/sales, TravelChair Company, Gig Harbor, Washington

Find Expo photos, videos and more at expo.ppai.org/gallery and at pubs.ppai.org/media.


Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.