PPAI’s Legislative Education And Action Day (L.E.A.D) got under way on Wednesday for two days of virtual meetings between industry leaders from 20 states and legislators on Capitol Hill. The annual series of in-person meetings intended to inform and educate legislators about legislation and issues affecting the promotional products industry was suspended in 2020 because of the pandemic and PPAI organizers were glad to be able to restart the program this year, albeit virtually.

“Although we’re not physically in D.C. this year, it’s critical to keep the promotional products industry’s message top-of-mind for members of Congress and their staffers, especially considering the developments we’ve been seeing regarding labor, trade and tax issues affecting the industry this year,” says Maurice Norris, PPAI public affairs manager. “We couldn’t be more grateful for the volunteers who stepped in to convey our industry’s message through virtual channels.”

Turnout was enthusiastic for the program with 25 industry leaders from supplier and distributor companies along with several PPAI staff members taking part in 51 pre-scheduled and confirmed meetings with their legislators.

Among key topics discussed was the PRO Act (H.R. 842) which, if passed, would significantly change how independent contractors operate in the promotional products industry and would result in significant job losses. L.E.A.D. volunteers also talked with their legislators about the value of global supply chains and how they work in the promo industry to bring a product from conception to the end user, as well as how American workers are involved in decorating and selling imported promotional products and how those products are used to promote U.S. goods and services. The issue of tariffs was another major discussion point and L.E.A.D. volunteers asked their legislators to say no to any proposed taxes or restrictions on promotional products, citing how bad taxes and restrictions are for our medium because they could prompt end buyers to shift their budgets to an advertising medium not subject to tariffs or trade restrictions. L.E.A.D. participants also used the face-to-face opportunity to educate their legislators about the strength of the promotional products industry with its more than 37,000 U.S.-based companies that employ more than half a million American workers and generated $19.6 billion in distributor sales in 2020.

“LEAD continues to be impactful for our industry,” says Virginia-based Harold Wood, strategic account manager at Koozie Group, who participated at L.E.A.D. this week. “The event empowers leaders throughout the industry to meet and discuss important topics with legislators. My meetings with members of Congress and staff were great. They were engaged and interested in our industry and listened about our concerns and issues affecting it. Meeting with them renews my energy and hope for the future of the promotional products industry and all its members.”

Bill Petrie, managing partner at Tennessee-based Brandivate, visited Wednesday with legislators representing his state. “While the remote nature of the event presented challenges, all of the meetings were extremely productive. Every legislator and staffer I met with was not only engaged, but they truly understand the value of promotional products and the needs of our industry—one that is truly comprised of small businesses,” he says.

Longtime L.E.A.D. participant Eric Ekstrand, MAS+, regional VP at HALO, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, met on Wednesday with his congressman, Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH). “We had a surprise as we thought our meeting was with a staff member when Rep. Balderson’s face popped up on the screen. My being in his district helped make an immediate connection,” he says.

Utah-based Brittany David, MAS, chief revenue officer at SnugZ USA, who is a past chair of PPAI and a frequent participant at L.E.A.D., met with Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT) and his assistant on Wednesday. “This is the first year we have held the event virtually and I felt that it was still extremely impactful even though some of us are across the country,” she says. “The meeting we had yesterday with Congressman Owens and his Legislative Assistant Ray Phillips was productive. Both of them are more aware of our hidden gem of an industry, the people and the jobs, the value of our medium and the issues that affect us. In addition, the meeting resulted in an invitation to participate in future roundtables with them and in setting up a factory tour in August when they are in town. Thank you to PPAI and all the volunteers who have made time over the past few days to make sure our industry is represented on the Hill and our voices and concerns are heard.”

Industry members who are not participating in L.E.A.D. can still have a voice in the conversation. Use this link to call or send a pre-written email your members of Congress in support of the same issues addressed during this week’s virtual meetings. Find more information on the issues here.