Digital transformation more closely resembles a living, breathing animal than a static industry topic. There are myriad ways in which evolving technology touches the promotional products industry, and it is part of PPAI’s mission to not only facilitate digital transformation in the industry but to help its members react to and stay ahead of the ways technology might affect them.

The PPAI Expo Conference 2023 made sure that digital transformation was top of mind so that attendees get the tips, tools and even warnings on what tech topics need to be acted on in 2023.

Below are a few of the digital transformation topics touched upon before the trade show floor officially opened Tuesday.


“People view [cybercrime] like a natural disaster,” AIA Corporation’s Senior Vice President Business Technology Chris Alfano said in his breakout session Monday afternoon. “It happened. It’s terrible that it happened, but you tend to think of it as something that will happen to someone else.”

As you might guess, Alfano’s analogy was followed up with a warning: This is the mindset of a future victim.

Indeed, fraud, phishing attempts and ransomware crimes are at an all-time high, and recent attacks have caused great inconvenience to the industry at large. Alfano used his time to explain that these cybercrimes are, in many ways, the modern-day evolution of the train robberies of eras past. Your business is simply the stagecoach without a police officer aboard, and unless you take all the proper precautions, it’s just as vulnerable.

Alfano laid out three key areas a company must focus to keep itself protected: educate, protect and recover. One in five small businesses are victimized by cybercrime, perhaps not because the criminals are after the revenue that they generate but rather the information held by their clients or the suppliers they do business with.

During the Q&A portion of Alfano’s session, Andrea Kramer, president of City Apparel, took the microphone and explained to the crowd that she was recently victimized by a cyber attack that cost the company over $100,000. The incident could have been prevented, but on the other hand, it could have happened to anyone.

“You’re not safe anywhere,” Kramer warned the crowd.

Promo Data Exchange

Promo Data Exchange, or PDX, remains an important development in PPAI’s facilitation of digital transformation. In the most simple terms, PDX operates as a set of rules that are meant to create a universal way to input and search data. Eliminating friction and unnecessary phone calls are goals that most of the industry understand can make business much more efficient.

PPAI’s digital transformation manager, Nick DiNicola, spoke to attendees about the reasons that such a standard is necessary, explaining that PDX answers two important questions: Do you have inventory and What is my order status?

PDX is a free benefit that PPAI members can choose to utilize to their convenience. At moments since its conception, it has sparked minor controversy due to the existence of industry group PromoStandards. DiNicola emphasized at the PPAI Expo Conference that the Association does not intend the two to be at direct odds with each other.

“There’s often more than one road to get to your destination,” DiNicola says. “High tides raise all boats.”

Also of pertinence is that PDX works in tandem with SAGE, another PPAI member benefit. PDX, which is currently live and will eventually incorporate invoicing capacities, can provide live inventory with detailed information about what and how much of a product is in stock.

Industry Service Providers

PPAI sees itself as a service and an advocate for its members in the promo industry. Within our promo world are plenty of companies that provide specific services that businesses can utilize, and the Association takes seriously the role of facilitating those services or raising awareness of their existence.

Pat Patton, PPAI’s distributor relations and membership manager, spoke at The PPAI Expo Conference about the various service providers, covering sectors such as technology, business, logistics, marketing, compliance, industry, financial and artwork.

“These services are more in-demand than ever,” Patton says.

Click here for a list of PPAI service provider companies. Individually and combined, these companies provide services that may be of great utility for any promo distributor, things as practical as helping facilitate insurance needs (“You’re automatically saving money for your employees and yourself,” Patton says) or PPAI’s “strategic” relationship with FedEx to ease the burden of your logistics.

Google’s Role In The Evolution of Sales

Promo products have been around for a very long time, and sales have continuously changed over that time. Malik Hemani, creative director, Graphic Stylus, explained at The PPAI Expo Conference that there has been an evolution of sales from cold calls to email campaigns and newsletters to social media, and now, Hemani says, we are in the era of the Google Business Profile.

“I put a lot more effort into my Google Business Profile [than social media or email campaigns],” Hemani says.

In order to get new clients, having a Google presence through platforms like Google Maps is essential in today’s digital landscape. This is the way to create a first impression for your business.  Hermani provided tips and tricks to best use what he considers a crucial route to a thriving business.

“It is important that you actively ask your end users to leave reviews on Google,” Hermani told the crowd.

NetSuite Best Practices

Perhaps you heard the news: Last year, PPAI launched an Oracle NetSuite program for PPAI members.

This means that Association members can use the ERP system at a discounted rate. Something of an ERP arms race has taken off among some of the industry’s largest distributors, and it is not a one-size-fits-all situation, but NetSuite offers many services that can boost any company’s efficiencies.

“I do have a love affair with NetSuite,” says Kramer, who spoke briefly at a NetSuite “best practices” session that included representatives from Oracle NetSuite, ExtendTech and others.

The session boasted that NetSuite “seamlessly integrates with PDX, PromoStandards, alphabroder Prime Line, SanMar, ASI and more.”

Attendees of the session were also briefed on some NetSuite best practice methodologies, which included, “improving cashflow and lowering average days to pay, gaining insight on customer or job profitability, accessing real-time supplier inventory” and more.