At The PPAI Expo 2022 in Las Vegas, the Association announced its upcoming foray into major end-buyer facing events. These virtual shows reflect PPAI’s newly announced mission statement: “Be the voice and force to advance the promotional marketplace for the benefit of our community.”

The Promotional Products Work (PPW) Expo was created to help buyers boost creativity, inspire ideas and work more cohesively with their distributors. Invited clients will have access to supplier booths, content and education while engaging with their distributor hosts. The first Promotional Products Work Expo will kick off on May 18 as a precursor to what will become an annual event in the fall to help clients plan for holiday gifting and their promo budgeting in 2023.

By sharing ways to leverage promotional products, these virtual shows give distributors a way to remain top of mind for clients. While some distributors wonder about the potential industry impact of clients interfacing with suppliers, others expressed excitement about facilitating meaningful conversations that lead to sales.

PPAI President and CEO Dale Denham, MAS+, says, “Clients rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to learn about the many different ways promotional products can be used to inspire, attract or reward their audience. Distributors are often asked for what’s new, and while that is important and helpful, the PPW Expo will give them the opportunity to get inspired by successful campaigns and new trends in utilizing promotional products.

“In addition to inspiring education, clients will have the chance to hear and interact with suppliers who know their product lines the best, all while protecting and reinforcing the value of the distributor.”

Denham assured members that the virtual platform—the same used for PPAI Expo Direct-2-You—will be customizable, so that the program feels like it’s the distributor’s own event, just under the umbrella of Promotional Products Work. “We’re hoping by the fall show to have specific rooms for you that are unique to you, but there will be no ability for [clients] to interact with any other distributors,” Denham says. “Someday, we hope to allow pre-set appointments so clients can choose the places to go on a schedule.”

PPAI Board Chair Dawn Olds, MAS, says the Promotional Products Work Expo will support the existing supply line between clients, distributors and suppliers. Olds says, “During our strategy plan development sessions, the PPAI Board of Directors was very excited about the possibility of extending a D2U-like experience to end buyers.

“We know that the pandemic made it more difficult for industry salespeople to physically connect with their buyers, who are often working from home now. We saw this as a way to create reconnection opportunities and to showcase some of the best products and ideas in the industry at the same time.”

PPW Expo won’t be a disrupter. “From a distributor’s perspective, you have all kinds of representation on the Board, from large firms and mid-sized firms, and then also there is representation from independent distributors,” says Olds, SVP of operations at distributor HALO. “We’re going to make sure that line isn’t crossed over. Please be assured that we’re not looking to introduce anything that would break that channel. We all recognize how valuable that is. That’s really what our purpose is, to further the community. Violating that would be the complete opposite of our mission.”

As end buyers have become more aware of issues such as sustainability, DEI and product safety when making buying decisions, Olds says the industry can position itself as a guide. “PPW gives the Association an opportunity to support members by demonstrating our industry’s commitment and proficiency in these topics,” she says. “As we have learned from our industry-wide collaboration on product safety and in our government advocacy programs, there are some topics or initiatives that we cannot take on as individuals and are far stronger when we stand together. Educating end buyers about the value, power and trustworthiness of our industry is one of them.”

Olds says end-buyer facing events have always been and will continue to be important to the promo industry. “Many distributors, including my own, have successfully held end buyer events for many years. It is a terrific way to trigger conversations about the buyer’s upcoming events and remind the buyer how powerful our medium is,” she says.

Paul Zafarana, MAS, is one of these distributors. As founder of Michigan-based distributor Pica Marketing Group, Zafarana recently partnered with Cliff Quicksell, MAS+, as a consulting client to hold a buyers’ event in 2021. “We invited 90 people to this end-user event, and 100% showed up and stayed the entire time,” says Quicksell. “The revenue he generated was over $270,000 from just that hour and a half.”

Zafarana says he decided to put on this event to bring value to his clients. “If I could do more of them, I would,” he says. “It gives us distributors a chance to showcase our value. I think these events bring some polish to the industry.” As an engagement piece, Zafarana created a kit filled with products from presenting suppliers. This creative component was sent to each attending client and was tied to the diner-themed experience.

Quicksell says end-buyer events showcase strong supplier relationships. “The suppliers will make or break your event,” he says. “Having strong supplier presentations was critical. We set an expectation with our vendors on how their presentation should be. We told our suppliers that their rep should be someone with high energy. We spent a lot of time reviewing presentations to make sure they weren’t just reading the catalog.”

For a successful event, Quicksell says there must be a post-show action plan. “At the end of a show, you only have seven days to connect with attendees before you’re forgotten. How do you complete the circle? There has to be built-in key performance indicators (KPIs) so distributors can measure their effectiveness and make plans for long-term engagement.”

With more end-buyer shows, clients will better understand the best ways to use promotional products and likely increase their purchases through distributors. Denham says, “Clients will recognize how promotional products can be extremely targeted both to the recipient as well as where they want to be reached. You can target the recipient in their office, car, kitchen or other places in their home, as well as at events and many other places.

“No other medium gives more opportunity to remain visible when you choose the right product for the right recipient. As PPAI helps to elevate and reinforce the value of promotional products to buyers, we will remain top of mind to take a bigger portion of the marketing spend.”  

Kristina Valdez is an associate editor at PPAI.