As the NFL wrapped up its Super Wild Card Weekend, The PPAI Expo 2024 – the promotional products industry’s version of the Super Bowl – began at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for the 21st consecutive year.

At the South end of the Las Vegas Strip, attendees flooded into the massive convention center for The PPAI Expo Conference, a day-long slate of education and networking before the show floor opened on Tuesday, January 16. Over the next three days, promo’s largest and longest-running trade show delivered like only it can — with unmatched energy and opportunities for members to enhance their businesses.

“As I contemplate the success of The PPAI Expo 2024, what lingers most profoundly is the caliber of connections forged – the authenticity of conversations and the emergence of promising partnerships,” says Dale Denham, MAS+, PPAI president and CEO.

“It transcends mere statistics; it embodies the promise of substantial business expansion arising from these newly established relationships. Attendees and exhibitors arrived at Expo with a perfect blend of purposeful work and enjoyable moments. I’m grateful for the achieved success and eager for the prosperous collaborations that are poised to unfold. I take immense pride in the team at PPAI, along with our exhibitors and attendees, who collectively made this the best Expo ever.”

PPAI is still crunching the numbers on The PPAI Expo 2024, but preliminary data points to this year’s distributor attendance registering a marked increase over 2023. By Wednesday afternoon, the show had exceeded 10,000 in verified distributor attendance. More than 16,000 industry professionals made it to The PPAI Expo 2024.

Attendees were met with nearly 1,000 exhibiting companies filling more than 250,000 square feet of booth space inside the convention center, complete with pop-up experiences, the Expo Live interview booth and the always popular Promo & Pints for relaxation and networking.

“Wow, just wow,” says Andrew Spellman, CAS, current board chair of PPAI and vice president of corporate markets at Therabody. “From the amazing opening session on Monday until the close of the show on Thursday, The PPAI Expo 2024 exceeded all expectations. Memories were made, new products were seen, collisions new and old took place, and Expo continued to fulfill its goal to be the place to be in the promo industry. All signs point towards an amazing 2024.”

Here are some highlights and special moments from The PPAI Expo 2024.

Big News

PPAI President and CEO Dale Denham, MAS+, and PPAI’s 2023 Board Chair Kevin Walsh, CAS, kicked off The PPAI Expo 2024 by announcing a new membership structure for the Association, which is intended to make it easier for members to choose the solution that’s right for them.

Denham and Walsh also shared that the preliminary 2023 industry sales volume estimate – culled from an annual survey collected by PPAI Research – is more than $26 billion, an increase of more than 3% over 2022.

Denham also informed attendees that PPAI has revamped its Trained Advertising Specialist program for employees new to the industry in an effort to expedite onboarding. “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,” Denham said.

A couple of industry veterans also made headlines: Jason Lucash and Mike Szymczak, co-founders of Origaudio – which they sold to HPG in 2018 – have returned to promo with Rupt, the first supplier whose entire product line is made from recycled materials.

Learning To Adapt

Many attendees took advantage of The PPAI Expo Conference’s all-day education on significant topics pertinent to the industry and overall business-building.

As this year’s keynote speakers, futurist Anat Baron provided ideas and insights on how promo firms can leverage AI, and Alex Weber, former contestant and host of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, jolted attendees awake with some extra motivation to advance their business and make meaningful connections over the following three days.

The conference offered multiple breakout sessions on pressing industry issues, such as sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion. Digital transformation was also a central focus. PPAI Digital Transformation Manager Nick DiNicola led a session on leveraging technology tools to maximize profits.

At a certain point in the dialogue, Promo Data eXchange (PDX) – free and available to all PPAI members – became the topic of the room, with all four panelists discussing its potential to eliminate industry friction and attendees asking questions about its progress and implementation.
Icon Award Winners

During The PPAI Expo Conference on Monday, PPAI celebrated the 2024 recipients of its most prestigious awards with two distinctly special events to bring more significant awareness to their accomplishments. PPAI Hall of Fame inductee Dave DeGreeff, MAS, and PPAI Distinguished Service Award recipient Bill Petrie participated in a networking luncheon – along with 2023 PPAI Rising Stars Chelsea Williams and Nadav Raviv – that was attended by almost 400 industry professionals.

“When I got into this industry, the word was that it was founded on complete paranoia and mild alcoholism,” Petrie said. “There’s some truth to that, but I’m backing off on the paranoia part. We used to be so worried about competition, but now I see far more collaboration. That’s a testament to people looking at things differently and being open to sharing. We can really raise the entire industry.”

DeGreeff added, “I’m the oldest one up here, so I’ve done more evolving than maybe everybody else. And I feel that as you go through life, you become part of the people you are close to or come in contact with. They become part of you, and they mold who you are.”

Monday concluded for the 2024 PPAI Icons with the Chair’s Appreciation Dinner, an invitation-only event at Rivea, atop the Delano Hotel overlooking the Las Vegas Strip.

The Pitch Returns

Back by popular demand, The Pitch – promo’s version of The Voice mixed with Shark Tank – featured seven supplier participants having just three minutes to win over a panel of veteran distributor judges, as well as the audience, in a packed Mandalay Bay Convention Center ballroom.

St. Louis-based Sweeter Cards took first place with its flagship product, a fully customizable greeting card and chocolate bar all in one. All four judges – Amanda Clay, MAS, president and co-owner of Walker-Clay; Danny Rosin, CAS, president and co-owner of Brand Fuel; Memo Kahan, CEO of PromoShop; and John Vo, MAS, owner of WHOOPLA – turned their chairs to signal that they liked the product. Sweeter Cards founder Stacy Stahl also earned 55% of the audience vote.

“It was incredible,” Stahl said. “I was so shocked. And to win both, my heart exploded.”

Other exhibitors in the contest included HPG, Hirsch, Disrupt Sports, Threadfast, EZRI and Flyga.

Giving Back

Taking a quick break from the convention center, 100 golfers from 40 promo companies hit the links for a great cause, raising more than $40,000 for the Promotional Products Education Foundation during the Glen Holt & Fran Ford Memorial Golf Tournament at Bali Hai Golf Club in Las Vegas.

“Thank you to all golfers, sponsors, product donors and volunteers who participated or contributed to this year’s golf tournament,” says PPEF Executive Director Kathlene Brethowr. “This golf tournament is a major contributor to the scholarship fund that supports industry employees’ and their children’s education goals while honoring the legacies of two industry icons, Glen Holt and Fran Ford.”

The PPAI Expo Party

The PPAI Expo 2024 is the promo’s big top, under which every aspect of the promo industry is on display. Thus, it’s only fitting that The PPAI Expo Party, promo’s largest celebration, brought the circus to life at The Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

PPAI and SAGE played host to a capacity crowd at the party of the year. It had everything: drinks, food, dancing, carnival games, roving magicians, an aerialist performing suspended in midair and an energetic live band. At one point in the evening, past PPAI Board Chair Michael Woody, CAS, joined the band for a lively performance of Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally.”

The PPAI Expo Party, held Wednesday night, ahead of The PPAI Expo’s final day, was a fitting, celebratory exclamation point and ushered attendees toward a successful year ahead.

The Future

The PPAI Expo 2024 was a smashing success, and the Association is already getting started on next year’s event. The PPAI Expo 2025 is headed back to Las Vegas, January 13-16, at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.