Capitol Hill was teeming with more activity than usual this week as nearly 80 PPAI leaders, industry professionals and staff were in town to educate legislators from all 50 states on the most pressing issues facing the promotional products industry and small businesses in general.

Those who participated in PPAI’s ninth annual Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.), which started on Wednesday and wraps up this afternoon, were focused on protecting the promotional products industry and preserving the interests of small businesses by emphasizing the value of promotional products and discussing key issues such as independent contractors, advertising expenditures, tariffs and the global value chain.

L.E.A.D. began Wednesday with a luncheon presentation by former lobbyist and advocacy guru Stephanie Vance, a 25-year veteran of the Washington, D.C., political scene, and an author of five books, including the recently released The Influence Game. From her experiences as a legislative director and Chief of Staff on Capitol Hill, she provided an entertaining, informative lesson on how to conduct effective political advocacy.

Following a full day of appointments on Wednesday and small-group dinners that evening, today began with the presentation of PPAI’s Legislator of the Year to Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) (see story below).

L.E.A.D. participant and PPAI Chair Dale Denham, MAS+, who is CIO at Geiger, is a passionate believer in the value L.E.A.D. provides to legislators and to the promotional products industry. “Advocating on behalf of the industry is something that a lot of people talk about being important, but that very few make the effort to do,” he says. “It is easy to discount the value of the effort until you sit in the meetings and see the connections—especially during repeat visits where you learn your previous visits made a difference. For example, yesterday we visited with Jonathan Vecchi from Rep. Gus Bilirakis’s office. Upon seeing me he said, ‘I remember you from last year, you gave me hand sanitizer!’ Needless to say, that made our job of telling him about the power promotional products much easier. Jonathan remembered most of the topics we discussed last year and was very supportive of our efforts on behalf of the industry.”

Chris Piper, vice president of business development for Proforma who was part of a group from Northwest Promotional Professionals Association, conducted visits on Wednesday with Katie Myers, staff aide for Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), and Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), a former PPAI Legislator of the Year recipient. “We had a very productive day,” Piper says. “The issue of the global value chain was a top discussion point in all our meetings.”

Loren Richardson, an Alabama-based territory manager for alphabroder, was glad to build upon past meetings he’s had with his legislators. “It’s nice to see consistency in meetings year after year and that the senators and representatives understand the value of promotional products. They also value the jobs that our industry creates as well as the revenue our industry drives. Having examples to show, as well as finding examples they use [in their work] makes it easy for them to relate to our industry.”

“L.E.A.D. was an awesome and eye-opening experience,” says Kara Keister, national account solutions manager at City Apparel. “As a first-time attendee, I was so impressed with the hustle and bustle in the halls, and the attentiveness of the staffers. And, I loved having the opportunity to explain the value, benefit and employment opportunities our industry offers to the U.S. economy.” 

Jeff Franklin, national accounts manager for Headwear USA, also had a busy day on Capitol Hill—and a few surprises as well. “It was refreshing to hear that a few people on the Hill have some close ties to our industry. One senior counsel grew up with all our swag because his mother worked for a large liquor company and was in charge of purchasing all of the great products we offer. Another legislator has an uncle in the embroidery business. Ultimately, our industry’s key points on preserving the Safe Harbor Rule for independent contractors, maintaining the current 100 percent deductible advertising expenditures, and educating them on our industry’s stance on the global supply chain were all well received, and their alliance on these issues was reassuring. It was also great to see firsthand the smiles on their faces when we handed them a few promotional products.”

Bob Levitt, who handles California sales for Staples Promotional Products, says that explaining the concerns of small business to congressional staffers and the representatives and senators they work for is a great way to spend a day in D.C.

“I was proud to be representing the nearly 6,000 promotional products companies in California,” he says. “With our state, in particular, where nearly 97 percent of employers are small businesses, our messages were critically important. One of the highlights of my day was having a dialogue with a particular staffer who knew all about organization from previous years’ visits and was taking notes on our concerns, and gave a commitment to convey those to the representative.”

Industry members who want to address L.E.A.D.’s issues remotely with their state senators and representatives can do so by visiting and following the prompts.