Kelli Denes; Christine Marion, MAS+; and Christine Strobl wear capes provided by supplier Yorkn during WLC’s superhero themed-networking reception.

The PPAI Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC) opened Monday evening in Atlanta, Georgia, with nearly 160 industry attendees—40 percent of them first-time participants—representing supplier, distributor and business services companies from across the U.S. For more than 10 years, the conference, which sold out in early spring, has been the go-to event for education and networking for women in the promotional products industry.

Sixteen early arrivals spent half a day on Monday packing meals for clients of a local nonprofit organization, Open Hand. Since it was founded in 1988, Open Hand has been preparing and delivering freshly prepared meals to meet the daily nutritional needs of low-income men, women and children who are dealing with a critical, chronic or terminal disease; and homebound seniors. In three hours the group packed 1,700 meals and prepared food for 1,300 more meals for the clients of Open Hand.

Sixteen WLC participants joined local nonprofit Open Hand on Monday to help prepare meals for low-income families.

Sixteen WLC participants joined local nonprofit Open Hand on Monday to help prepare meals for low-income families.

This was the first year that WLC included an opportunity for attendees to leave a positive impression on the host community through volunteerism.

In addition to the philanthropic activity, two other groups of attendees spent the morning immersed in local culture at their choice of optional outings—a tour to the World of Coca Cola, a museum showcasing the history of the world-famous beverage, or a visit to the Margaret Mitchell House, the turn-of-the-century former residence of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gone With The Wind author.

WLC attendees learned about the world-famous soft drink during a tour of the Coca-Cola Museum.

WLC attendees learned about the world-famous soft drink during a tour of the Coca-Cola Museum.

The conference officially got under way Monday evening with an opening session featuring a presentation on industry change by PPAI Chair-Elect Mary Jo Tomasini, MAS, followed by a networking reception and welcome dinner honoring this year’s Woman of Achievement Award recipient, Mary Dobsch.

New this year is the addition of a conference app that works with Apple and Android devices, and gives attendees instant access to the agenda, a speaker list, a hotel map, a roster of attendees with headshots, and an event feed where attendees can interact with each other in real time. The app is sure to get a thorough workout today as the conference features eight general and break-out sessions on topics ranging from leadership and personal strategic planning to technology.

A full day of education sessions is also planned for Wednesday, and the conference will wrap up with a progressive networking dinner on Wednesday evening.


(Clockwise From Top Left) Leslie Roark, CAS, and Jessica Hiner; Mary Jo Tomasini, MAS; Lisa LeMond, CAS, and Carrie Sabo, MAS; and Mary Ellen Sokalski

First-time attendee Sara Cole Schneider, logistics manager at supplier BamBams, LLC, says she thinks the event fills an important role in the industry. “I don’t feel like going to the trade shows affords you the same kind of attachment with women in the industry that you get here. It’s important to empower each other and develop relationships. I’m excited to have the opportunity to come here to meet so many women in our industry.”

Another first-timer is Jae Rang, MAS, principal of Great Canadian Promotions, a division of JAE Associates Ltd., who will lead a session on sensory media on Wednesday. Rang says, “It’s not as much about what I expect to get as it is about what I expect to give at this conference. There is no shortage of superheroines here so I already know I’ll go home beaming just by being in their company, but if I can add just a little value through our conversations at breakfast or during my breakout session, I’ll consider the time well-invested.”

Jamie Watson, chair of the WLC Work Group for the second year and a partner at Certified Marketing Consultants, welcomed attendees at the opening session Monday night. Speaking earlier in the day, she was eager to get the conference started. “I’m excited that this year’s conference sold out so early,” she said. “I’m also pleased to have offered a philanthropic element to the conference and the new app will make it even easier to network and connect with peers. We are off to a great start and I’m looking forward to another fantastic event.”