One adjective you’ll never hear being used to describe the promotional products industry is “monotonous,” says Dawn Olds, MAS, senior vice president of operations at Sterling, Illinois, distributor HALO Branded Solutions. But it’s the industry’s ever-changing, constantly evolving and highly adaptable nature that adds an element of excitement and appeals to many professionals, like Olds, who thrive on the variety each day brings.

Olds, who is serving a four-year term on PPAI’s Board of Directors and will lead the Association as board chair starting in January 2022, began her career working in the office of a local mechanical engineering firm where she quickly learned that she disliked the repetitiveness of the role. In pursuit of something new and much more varied, she applied for an accounting position at Lee Wayne Corp.—now HALO Branded Solutions—before knowing what the company did; something that was typical of job-seekers pre-internet, she says. But the more she learned about the distributor, the more it piqued her interest, and more than 32 years after joining HALO, Olds remains devoted to its purpose. About the industry, she says, “I have loved it from the moment I started.” Throughout Olds’ more than three decades with HALO, she’s held a number of positions, beginning as staff accountant; a role that exposed her to the company’s full business cycle. From there, she  segued into a position where she represented HALO during the creation of a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. After the system was built, she was promoted to a manager in the IT department’s business systems group for a few years until moving into her current role.

“Every day presents a new puzzle or challenge to tackle, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Olds says, of her current position. And this past year has certainly brought with it many unexpected elements, starting with the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic. But Olds believes the industry’s ability to evolve, and to do so quickly, is testament to its longevity. At HALO and industry-wide, Olds says one of the biggest changes she’s seen is in how professionals collaborate, with a heavier reliance on virtual communications. As the industry continues to adjust to this new normal, she foresees virtual events continuing to be offered as an alternative to live events. With the pandemic resulting in tens of thousands of people working from home, she has also seen notable changes in client logistics as they work to reach their customers and prospects where they are. “Distributed workforces means that an all-employee branding initiative must be shipped to hundreds or thousands of individual locations,” she says. “Virtual events are on the rise. It is critical to have something physical in the attendees’ hands to remind them of their obligation to attend the virtual event and to reinforce the feeling of experiencing something together as a community.” She adds, “Creating those feelings is exactly what promotional products do, so it’s our time to shine.”

She also notes the strength of the relationships between customers and distributors, something she believes will contribute to the industry’s endurance in a post-coronavirus world. “Watching customers turn to industry sales partners first for PPE was a testament to how strong those relationships are. Most of those customers could not open their business without it, and they trusted their promo partner to deliver—just as we have done for years, in supporting them with just the right item to bring their branding to life.” She adds, “Our industry will be critical as customers seek to reinforce culture with remote employees and to maintain visibility with buyers in a very competitive marketplace, so I’m very optimistic about our future.” 

Outside of the industry, Olds is committed to making a positive difference by guiding schoolchildren on how to make good decisions about their financial futures. “I feel strongly that when you have been blessed with opportunity, you have an obligation to create opportunities for others,” she says. She volunteers for Junior Achievement, where she talks to kindergarteners about “the importance of saving, making good purchasing decisions and earning money,” and for the CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) program through Whiteside Career Center, which teaches high school students how to build a business. Olds serves as a mentor in the program, and works with students to help them develop a business plan and budget, which is presented during an end-of-semester class trade show.

When Olds is not working or volunteering, she spends as much time as she can with her family, which consists of her daughter, Stephanie, an ICU nurse; her son, Nick, a commercial construction project manager, and her three grandchildren, along with her “somewhat spoiled” husband of 36 years, Ken, their “very spoiled” goldendoodle, three horses, three cows and 15 chickens. She also likes to challenge herself with projects. “Each year for the past several years, I have set out to try one new hobby. Some are still high on the list of things I like to do, like canning my own Bloody Mary mix, driving a motorcycle and deer hunting, but others were very short-lived. I learned that I do not have the patience for calligraphy and prefer to buy my bread instead of make it.”   


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.