The PPAI Expo 2020 promised to be a feast for all five senses. It was that and so much more. 

Now in its 18th year in Las Vegas, The PPAI Expo is the world’s largest promotional products trade show, which, this year, drew almost 13,000 promotional products distributors from nearly 4,000 distributor companies and 33 countries to visit with 1,220 exhibiting companies on the sold-out trade show floor. It was one of the Association’s largest and best-attended shows in its history. 

Over the course of the show, January 12-16 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, attendees were treated to a full sensory experience anchored by pop-up events across the show floor. Among the showstoppers were puppies ready for cuddling, crowd-pleasing bacon, fresh donuts, strolling magicians, virtual-reality experiences, a roaming photobooth, live music and playful goats that guaranteed popular Instagram posts. 

In the convention center registration lobby, attendees could stop and take a breath at the oxygen bar and, for lucky folks who snagged a coveted spot, two of the mornings started off with rise-and-shine goat yoga sessions.

Significantly moving the needle for a show as massive, as well-attended and as successful as the Expo is challenging, but PPAI leaders believe this year’s event moved it ever closer to the goal of achieving the extraordinary.  

“The PPAI Expo has once again delivered on its promise as the industry’s premier event and the ‘must-attend event’ for industry professionals,” says Paul Bellantone, CAE, PPAI president and CEO. “The show floor had a strong, confident, optimistic buzz. It was evident that exhibitors and attendees came ready to do business. The professional development was top-notch and the sessions were filled throughout the week. I don’t know that we could’ve asked for a better way to kick off the new year and the new decade.”

Ira Neaman, MAS, president of Vantage Apparel and PPAI’s new board chair, was also thrilled with the event. “The buzz on the show floor was very strong,” he says. “Everyone was engaged and very pleased with both the quality and the quantity of attendees. I spoke with several first-time exhibitors and they were very pleased with their first show and intended on returning. They, along with other long-time exhibitors and attendees, also enjoyed the pop-up activities, which were strategically placed throughout the show floor. It was a win for experiential show activities, making for a totally engaging Expo experience.”

Throughout the week, more than 115 education sessions were offered, including four keynote presentations on a diverse range of topics that drew huge crowds to the Mandalay Bay Ballroom. Professional development was also offered on the show floor in a unique learning environment—inflatable domes. Some of the 16 free sessions held there were part of the Expo’s new Trending Now track, which explored industry-leading ideas, trends and issues, and innovative processes and technologies. 

In addition, a mix of interactive elements added layers of vibrancy to the show floor while delivering more education, information and opportunities for networking. 

The Expo Live! interactive stage, adjacent to PPAI’s booth on the show floor, provided live-streamed product demonstrations and interviews with notable Expo speakers, exhibitors and industry leaders. 

The Product Pavilions, also on the show floor, showcased hundreds of products organized by category for easy browsing. New this year was the Giving Back pavilion, displaying socially-conscious products where all or a portion of the proceeds are donated to a charitable cause. It joined five other pavilions: New Products, Express Ship, 1st-Time Exhibitors, Green Products and Made In The USA. Back by popular demand was the brand. pavilion, which showcased high-end, name-brand and incentive products, and the DECORATE pavilion, providing a hands-on learning experience into screen printing, embroidery and digital technology.

A new fashion show on the Expo Live! stage also gave show attendees a look at the latest in promotional apparel and hard goods. 

Even the ever-popular Beer Garden was enhanced—the nearby backyard-themed concession area was upgraded with food truck facades and charging stations.

In addition to serving as the industry’s annual kick-off for product introductions and professional development, the Expo is the undisputed hub for first-of-the-year business meetings and events. Many member companies scheduled their annual awards programs and meetings immediately preceding the show. PPAI also took the opportunity to provide its annual PPAI Association Update, held mid-week, where Bellantone reported on PPAI’s latest achievements and continued growth. He also announced that the Association had welcomed its 16,000th member company during this year’s Expo.

PPAI award recipients were also recognized in various ways throughout the show. Banners, signage and other displays honored this year’s PPAI Pyramid winners; among them were 46 Gold, 35 Silver, 11 Supplier Stars and 10 Supplier Awards of Merit winners. Early in the week, the annual Chair’s Leadership Dinner brought together the industry’s luminaries, dignitaries and leaders to celebrate the achievements of two industry legends, Carl Gerlach, MAS, of Gill Studios, Inc., and Roni Wright, MAS, of The Book Company, as they were inducted into the PPAI Hall of Fame. The dinner also honored this year’s winners of the Distinguished Service Award, Rick Brenner, MAS+, and Kippie Helzel, MAS, and the H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award recipient, Rod Brown, CAS.

 Dates are set for next year’s Expo, January 10-14, 2021, at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. 

Highlights of the PPAI Expo included the induction of Roni Wright, MAS, of The Book Company (third from left), and Carl Gerlach, MAS, formerly of Gill Studios, Inc. (far right), who were inducted into the PPAI Hall of Fame, and PPAI Chair Brittany David, MAS, (above, right), passing the gavel to Ira Neaman, MAS, PPAI’s 2020 board chair. 


For the 13th year, volunteers and staff from the Kids In Need Foundation were onsite at The PPAI Expo to collect donated products and samples from exhibitors after the show. The opportunity to donate was available to every exhibitor and this year’s goal was to beat last year’s 18 pallets of donated products. This year, the team harvested a record 22 pallets, including five new bikes. The donated products will be redistributed to local, low-income schools. Supplier alphabroder also provided logoed t-shirts worn at the Expo by the KINF team.

Organizers reported that what pushed donations over the top were 500 tote bags filled with supplies for teachers, including products from BIC Graphic, Dixon Ticonderoga, BEBCO, Vera Bradley and 3M. The bags were assembled during an evening networking and community service project event sponsored by SPARK, PPAI’s network for young industry professionals. During the event, 90 participants spent just 13 minutes and 48 seconds assembling the bags that were later donated to teachers at low-income schools in Nevada’s Clark County. 

Since PPAI began supporting The Kids In Need Foundation’s Expo participation in 2008, generous exhibitors have donated nearly $400,000 in products for this purpose. 

Year-round, KINF can help suppliers and distributors solve inventory overload caused by misprints, overruns and out-of-date products by accepting unneeded products in all categories for redistribution to students and teachers at low-income schools. Find the donation form and details at   


“I experienced extraordinary! As a first-time attendee, I was blown away by how manageable and productive my days were spent. Having worked in fundraising and development for the past 13 years, I appreciated that your focus was on the attendee and wanting us to experience extraordinary. Your pre-event communications, discounted accommodations, ease of check-in, associates who helped me find my way, even the complimentary cup of coffee I received walking into Expo and the well-marked layout of Expo were superb. I underestimated how much I would enjoy and learn from meeting and interacting with others in the industry. Looking forward to next January!”
—Adrianne Carroll, Haymaker Promotional

“I’ve been attending the convention off and on for several years and taking the courses every time. I took seven this trip working on my CAS certification, and I can honestly say that I have learned a lot. The best presentation in all the years was, Crafting the Right Marketing Message, by Hank and Sharyn Yuloff. It was fantastic. The information was presented very professionally and involved audience participation.”
—Fred-Otto Egeler, Ph.D., Pacific Branding and Marketing

“What brought me to Expo is that everything is always changing; companies are merging and new products are coming out. You can’t keep up with it unless you come to this show.”
—Henry Pedroza, Market Plays

“This was my ninth PPAI Expo. It’s one of the highlights of my year because it gives me the opportunity to see what’s trending, gain insights in the education sessions and connect with colleagues from across North America.”
—Nenette Gray, Lemonade Creative Marketing


“The show was phenomenal with great people and a lot of great conversations. Traffic was really steady. I love this show because you get to see everyone—it’s a big family reunion of sorts. So, seeing people I know and getting to meet some new people is always a pleasure.”
—Dan Webb, The Webb Company

“The show was really good. We were constantly busy almost from the time it started. Customers were very engaged and there were a lot of them. It kind of reminded me of the early 2000s. It was a very good experience.”
—Murray Siegel, Towel Specialties

“The best part of this experience is being able to connect with people I’ve been on the phone with for so long. Putting a face with a phone conversation or an email has been such an exciting and invigorating part of my experience.”
—Corey Gerstenfeld, OrderMyGear

“This was our first time exhibiting at the Expo, and I’m happy to say we had a great experience and generated a lot of interest and excitement around our product, DIGI-note. I feel we made a lot of great connections with both attendees and exhibitors.”
—Kristi Brekhus, CP Lab Safety

“This was [our] first time exhibiting to the U.S. market. We chose the PPAI Expo as it’s the largest trade show in our industry and a perfect opportunity to test the waters. The clients who came to our booth were qualified, interested and engaging. We are so happy with the feedback and leads received. We came home with a ton of work but that’s exactly what we wanted.”
—Lianne Macrae, ATTRACTION

“From a supplier’s standpoint, the Expo is an extremely important way to start the year. All the people you need to know in this industry to build those relationships are at Expo. I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t been to the show to sign up for 2021.”
—Mason Linn, CAS, Raining Rose


Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.