The PPAI Expo 2024 is officially underway. The industry and PPAI had a busy, successful 2023, and there’s no better place to take in the fruits of that labor than at promo’s largest and longest-running trade show.

Setting everything in motion this morning, PPAI President and CEO Dale Denham, MAS+, and PPAI’s 2023 Board Chair Kevin Walsh took the stage with opening remarks on the past year’s milestone accomplishments, the state of the industry and big changes ahead, including a complete rethinking of the Association’s membership structure.

A Fresh Approach To PPAI Membership

The promotional products industry has recovered well from the pandemic years, moving from strength to strength. One thing that Denham and Walsh made clear was that PPAI hasn’t taken that success as an excuse to sit idle. The Association may be more than 120 years old, but through the work of its committed staff and volunteers, it continues to innovate and find new ways to make things better.

“Emerging from the pandemic, the board recognized that the PPAI of old needed to evolve to serve members on a deeper level and meet new challenges,” says Walsh. “We directed staff to go to work on building an Association for the future.”

Part of that future is a complete rethink in how PPAI structures its membership.

“For longer than most of us have been in the industry, PPAI has had a complicated membership model with 16 different levels of membership based on your sales volume, charging you more as you grow,” says Denham. “I bet most of you don’t know what level you are or what benefits you get. But that is going to change.

“Thanks to dozens of members working with us over the last few years, we are simplifying membership and eliminating the complicated structure, while at the same time adding valuable benefits.”

The Association will release further information on the new membership structure in March. Along with enhanced benefits, the new structure will make it easier for members to choose the solution that is right for them.

Promo’s Sales Success In 2023

PPAI Research collects, analyzes and shares data for promo business to take advantage of, pivot if necessary and keep themselves and the industry on the right trajectory.

“We all understand that the state of the economy is a bit cloudy at the moment and has been for a couple of years,” says Walsh. “Amid all the challenges of 2023, I’m proud to say that PPAI Research showed that our industry stayed on an upward trend in 2023, beating what had been a record year in 2022.”

In the coming weeks, PPAI will release its sales volume estimate for the promo industry. This morning, Denham and Walsh shared preliminary numbers pointing to U.S. sales volume climbing 3.1% in 2023. While some margin of error remains as the data comes in, this is exciting news for promo. The industry climbed past $25 billion in 2022 and PPAI Research’s latest data points to the promo market being north of $26 billion business in 2023.

Denham says, “The industry is strong and the investments we make are designed to help make the industry stronger and help you, our members, reach new heights.”

PPAI’s Expanding Sustainability Expertise

Environmental concerns and social issues are increasingly vital drivers in modern business. To ensure PPAI can support its members and the industry stay on top of this complicated, constantly evolving space, in August, it brought on industry veteran Elizabeth Wimbush as the Association’s first-ever director of corporate responsibility and sustainability.

“Liz comes from the industry,” says Denham. “She has worked for a distributor and has firsthand knowledge of what will bring value to you, your clients and our industry. Her leadership will make your corporate responsibility journey more meaningful and with less headaches.”

A Professional Development Rethink

PPAI is working to make its professional development services more available and useful to industry members. Denham pointed out that one small part of that effort, a color-coding system for The PPAI Expo Conference’s education, is visible to attendees today.

He also shared that PPAI has revamped its Trained Advertising Specialist program for employees new to the industry.

“This is big,” Denham says. “It will make a difference on your ability to onboard new employees quicker and have them contributing to your success faster. By the time we meet at Expo next year, our CAS [Certified Advertising Specialist] education programs will be in the new format as well, bringing even more value to all of your employees, including you.”

PDX Expansion Makes Strides

Attendees also received an update on Promotional Data eXchange (PDX), introduced to the industry at The PPAI Expo 2022.

“One of our most important projects is reducing industry inefficiencies through electronic data,” Denham says. “It is absolutely stupid that, in 2024, our industry is still making thousands upon thousands of phone calls every day to check the status of orders or to check inventory. It’s stupid! But PPAI efforts are starting to make a real difference!”

PDX has seen significant adoption since The PPAI Expo 2023. More than 120 important PPAI suppliers now have inventory available to the 45,000 users of SAGE.

Denham notes, “We still have a long way to go, but the progress this past year was significant, and the momentum is building.”

Find What You Need In The Solutions Center

Modern promo businesses need more than just inventory management and order status details. PPAI introduced its Solutions Center in 2023 – a detailed directory of the business services providers supporting the industry’s diverse needs.

“Our goal is to provide you an answer for just about anything your company may need, through firms that are committed to and understand the promo industry,” Denham says.

The Solutions Center is a place to learn about the many ways to take advantage of the growing list of business services providers, including SAGE – PPAI’s official technology partner – FedEx, Oracle’s NetSuite and more.

The Industry Leaders

Last year, PPAI highlighted the work of industry leading firms with the research-backed ranking of the Association’s first-ever PPAI 100. Firms weren’t scored just by revenue, but by eight different factors that tie directly to the PPAI Strategic Plan as well as the Association’s vision and mission. These include:

  • Revenue growth over time.
  • Corporate responsibility efforts.
  • Digital transformation efforts.
  • Industry faith in the organization.

And the recognition is not limited to the largest firms. Every PPAI member can participate and potentially receive recognition.

Denham says, “We are investing for the future and choosing to hold ourselves to higher standards. We want you to hold us to it and help us make the industry better.”