You might see a lot of smiles at The PPAI Expo 2024, but you’re unlikely to meet anyone in the promotional products world who takes a casual approach to the biggest week in the industry. First-time attendees have probably been told more than a few times by now: You don’t really understand the scope of the industry until you’ve spent a few days at Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

With a couple thousand exhibitor booths and a staggering number of pre-registered attendees – not to mention myriad educational opportunities and festivities – The PPAI Expo 2024 can seem like an overwhelming experience. How does one maximize their trip?

PPAI Media solicited advice from industry veterans who have been through the Las Vegas experience their fair share of Januarys. Along the way, they’ve picked up tips that they’ll never forget. Whether you’re a first-timer or racked up double-digit trips to The PPAI Expo, you’re likely to find a tip worth jotting down.

Networking Takes Some Intention And Preparation

Whether in your office the week prior, on the airplane or in your hotel room, you’d be wise to put your organizational habits to work for this trip.

“Prior to attending The PPAI Expo, set aside time to plan your week,” says Katie Whitehead, director of Marketing at HALO. “Utilize your calendar to organize your schedule, incorporating reminders for training sessions, meetings and networking opportunities.”

Mykayla Goodwin, VP of strategy at OrderMyGear, takes this a step further, speaking from experience regarding the number of people she is interacting with. You’ll rarely get from point A to point B without a brief stop-and-chat. You might regret the tote bag you’re carrying.

“Take a backpack so your hands are free to shake hands, feel products and carry coffee,” Goodwin says.

This will be Jessica Gibbons-Rauch’s first time attending The PPAI Expo as an employee of the Association, but she’s no rookie to the trade show. PPAI’s professional development manager has attended multiple times while with promo companies including Concord Marketing Solutions, AIM Smarter and others. Looking back at what The PPAI Expo has done for her career, she says it’s a place to try to get out of your shell.

“Make sure you are participating in networking events, get-togethers and making the other connections,” Gibbons-Rauch says. “Go to the parties and meet other professionals. This was one of my favorite places to meet people I collaborated with through social media, and it is amazing what actually getting that one-on-one time can do to your relationship.

“Remember, we can all learn from each other.”

Goodwin adds a bit of practical advice when it comes to all the people you’ll meet.

“And take pictures of business cards/name tags,” Goodwin says. “Those can easily get lost in the shuffle, so it’s good to have backup so you know who you met with long after you leave the show.”

And don’t forget that networking can take the form of a little recreational fun. The show floor will also feature a pickleball court with first-come-first-serve availability for much of Wednesday and Thursday. 

There Are More Booths And Educational Opportunities Than You Can Handle – Don’t Be Overwhelmed!

The trade floor is enormous. First-timers couldn’t be blamed for feeling as though they should leave a trail of breadcrumbs. On Monday’s PPAI Conference, the educational sessions and panels coinciding with meet-ups and user groups make for a packed schedule before the trade floor even opens up. And don’t forget the sheer number of people you will connect (or re-connect) with during the trip.

But don’t panic. Many have come out the other side.

“Create a dedicated place for notes on your phone, whether that’s using the Notes app on iPhone or a note-taking app like Evernote,” Goodwin says. “Jot things down as they happen or come to mind. There‘s so many things going on that it’s easy to forget that thing you told someone you’d follow up on, the idea you heard during an education session you want to try or a personal detail someone you talked to mentioned during your interaction.”

Jason Emery, president and CEO of Toddy Gear, posted on the Promotional Products Professionals Facebook page, warning, “Do not try to conquer the show. It will win. Take your time and stroll at your own pace. Even if you don’t cover it all, take a slow pace and graze. You might miss something, but your slow stroll might find something as well. More than likely, you’ll find something you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. My best advice is don’t look from the aisle. Take a step in, commit, talk to someone. More times than not, they will show you something you couldn’t have seen from 10 feet away.”

Similarly, Judy Sharp, of Sharp Ideas, posted, “The most important thing I did before the show is have a note card (or note on my phone) of a dozen wants my clients were looking for me to find. I always send email to clients saying I’ll be at biggest industry event and what should I be shopping for that they dream of.”

There might be an understandable temptation to treat Monday as a day to take it easy in preparation for the trade show, but Whitehead suggests getting the most out of The PPAI Expo Conference.

“Review all available education sessions and plan to attend those you select,” Whitehead says. “These sessions offer valuable insights, trends, strategies and a wealth of knowledge shared by our expert industry leaders.”

You also don’t want to miss The Pitch, promo’s live version of Shark Tank or The Voice held at 3:30 on Monday. 

Comfort And Hydration Will Become Commodities

It’s not dramatic to say that this event requires stamina. Take action accordingly.

“Bring water,” Gibbons-Rauch says. “Las Vegas is a desert, and the dry air in the exhibit hall and casinos will dehydrate you. You never have enough water. Luckily, we have hydration stations so make sure you fill up your reusable water bottle on your way back.”

If you haven’t already been told that your feet will become tired, then you need to know: Pack accordingly.

“Take comfortable tennis shoes you can transition from the show floor to a night out,” Goodwin says. “I’m a big fan of classic white athletic shoes, which can easily be worn all day with jeans or slacks and also work well with a dress or blazer.”

Just about anyone who has attended will tell you two key reminders:

  • Bring snacks to keep your energy up.
  • Don’t forget the potential time zone change.

Gibbons-Rauch again stresses the importance of taking care of yourself.

“Get fresh air and snacks,” Gibbons-Rauch says. “Even if you are just heading out the double doors by the Shark Reef. Take a minute to see sunshine.”

Download The SAGE Mobile App

Ultimately, the trade show floor has more than any one person can see. If you’re going to have a plan, you might as well have a tool for your journey.

“Be sure to download the show app and create a walk list,” Whitehead says. “This is also a great tool while on the show floor for taking notes at each booth. Dedicate time for follow-ups once you return home from PPAI.”

Alison Peters, director of national accounts at PromoShop, posted that the app does more than you might expect and helps you stay organized on the trade floor.

“If you have SAGE, download the app,” Peters says. “There is a feature in there that allows you to map out your show experience and take notes. I think you can add pics, too. I take pictures on my phone of products with the supplier’s name somewhere in the picture so I can reference it later.”

Soak It All In

Emery may sum it up best in his Facebook post:

“Enjoy the experience,” Emery says. “It’s worth the ride.”