An Introduction To The Industry

In December, PPAI selected Oklahoma City, Oklahoma-based PR agency Saxum as its agency of record for the Association’s Industry Branding Initiative. The initiative is a five-year plan to position promotional products as a top-of-mind and preferred advertising and marketing tool among professionals responsible for branding, advertising, media planning and media buying. In January, a Saxum delegation attended The PPAI Expo 2016 for an up-close look at the industry.

“How many promotional products do you have within five feet of your desk?” This is one of the first questions I was asked when we landed in Las Vegas to experience our first PPAI Expo.

The seemingly simple question was thought-provoking because the answer is, more than I realized. I suspect I’m not alone. On my desk, I have 18 promotional products. In my office, I have upwards of 30. By being exposed to industry leaders, suppliers and distributors who attended Expo, I have an even higher personal awareness of how these products influence me in my own purchase decisions.

Value + Influence = A successfully leveraged promotional products campaign for an individual.

As we fine-tune our message, we must remember that products must have value to their end-users and the product must tell a story about the brand that paid for it to reach them. If either element is missing, then the campaign is a failure and a waste of money. The world doesn’t need more pens, cups or paperweights, especially if they are paid for without a true brand purpose. We must encourage marketers to use their limited resources wisely and make sure there is a real brand connection and purpose for sharing more pens, cups and paperweights with the world. This means understanding the objective of giving away these items and asking our distributors to make this a part of their sales pitch. Is it for brand recognition, rewarding a customer or simply pushing a brand message? Or something else?

Saxum is eager to refine the brand positioning for the promotional products industry. Rather than focusing on promoting the association, we plan to capture the attention of stakeholders and arm PPAI members with a consistent message to present a united front to buyers of promotional products, members of the media and analysts. Our challenge is to determine how we can properly contextualize the value of promotional products in relation to other forms of marketing.

To steal an anecdote from PPAI Expo Keynote Speaker Seth Godin, black and white cows aren’t unique; they blend in. But a purple cow, now that would be a sight to see. It would be disruptive and attention-grabbing. Something one couldn’t ignore. We want to help the promotional products industry break through the noise in the advertising industry to do something truly remarkable—and help identify the purple cow that changes the conversation.

Thank you for welcoming us and sharing your ideas. We look forward to working with many of you as we launch this industry branding initiative in 2016 and beyond.

Renzi Stone



Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The PPAI Expo Experience

We had a great show. The PPAI team is terrific. Our rep [Account Manager] Jeff Rogers is responsive and focused on solutions that will help us grow our business. [Operations Coordinator] Sandi Linz has an amazing eye for detail and with all she needs to keep track of, it is impressive that she knows who has sent what and where every product is! Ellen [Tucker, business development manager] checked in with us and I was thrilled to know we were taken care of at so many levels. We were very fired up after Seth Godin’s opening talk, which really set the stage for three great days of selling our products.

PPAI has been a leap of faith for us, but is proving to be a great investment for our company. For years we sold jewelry, ties and scarves at retail, and it has taken time and money to educate distributors that although we are custom and “out of the box,” we fit in well with their solutions for clients and brands. We love PPAI!

Diane Katzman


Diane Katzman Design

St. Louis, Missouri

UPIC: dkatzman

The education sessions were great, but most of all, Seth Godin rocked it. What an amazing mind!

This was my first PPAI Expo and it was awesome. If I were to make one change, it would be the New Products area. It didn’t seem like some of the products in the new product area were new. I’m guessing they might have been new to a supplier, but they weren’t new to the industry. Maybe just have new products to the industry highlighted?

I learned, I had a great time, made new friends and strengthened the friendships that I already had.

Jeff Wickerham


Hasseman Marketing & Communications

Nashport, Ohio

UPIC: H314957

I had a great time at my first Expo. I expected a lot and it delivered.

The quality of the education was outstanding. In fact, it was difficult to decide what I wanted to pick from at times. And the new product showcase was perfect. I added a few vendors to my walk list because of the items I wanted to make certain to check out.

Dawn Shaver

Promotional Products Specialist


Lewiston, Maine

UPIC: geiger

A Question Of Ratings

For the second time in the past three years our company has found itself snared by what I consider a defect of the SAGE rating system. The problem is that SAGE accepts anonymous ratings no matter how good or bad. This is so wrong that I can't even begin to describe how un-democratic and damaging this can be to a company.

Only a couple of weeks ago, a glitch somewhere in the electronic world sent our company an anonymous, super-negative rating with a date of about 10 months ago. Alpi was allowed to reply, but not to know who presented this negative rating and why. Our reply comment had to be deemed “appropriate” before it could be published, but it does not appear that the rating from the distributor was scrutinized at all.

We initiated an inquiry through SAGE that ended up with the company removing the bad rating (no reason given or explanation) but in the meantime, we have to wonder how many potential customers saw that rating and thought: Why should I give them my business?

In a democratic world everybody has the right to defend themselves from slander and accusations, and is considered innocent until proven guilty. I guess that is not true at SAGE and by default at PPAI. This is totally unacceptable and borderline worthy of legal action.

My question to SAGE is this: why not change such a medieval and dangerous rule, and let people know who accuses them and why? After all, people can be mad with you just for asking them to pay a bill or for being sent to collections.

Francesco Indrio


Alpi International Ltd.

Oakland, California


Editor Tina Berres Filipski responds: I asked Bille Walchek, SAGE director of marketing, to tell us more about how their rating system works. Here is Bille’s reply:

Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to answer your question regarding supplier ratings.

Several of our SAGE research tools, including SAGE Online™, SAGE Mobile™ and SAGE Web™, contain supplier ratings. These ratings are provided by distributors for distributors. Just like at the voting booth, each distributor gets one vote, or in this case, rating. The rating categories are customer service, product quality, delivery, decoration quality, and problem resolution. For each category, the distributor can provide an A+ to F rating, or select N/A if the category is not applicable. In addition to the rating categories, distributors can provide public comments regarding their interaction, as well as private comments that only the supplier can see.

Suppliers are automatically notified of any new distributor ratings on a daily basis. Suppliers can choose to publicly respond to ratings to tell their side of the story. This allows other distributors to see the full picture when deciding on how much influence to give a particular rating.

It is important to note that distributor ratings in our services are not anonymous. We know exactly who made each and every rating in the system. Rather, I think the concern you have is regarding our policy to allow the distributor to choose whether or not to disclose their contact information to the supplier. As you may know, this is a very common practice among survey theory in order to ensure the authenticity of the responses and to remove any fear of harassment, annoyance or other potential repercussions. This is particularly important in an industry as small and close-knit as ours is. This is one of many aspects of the SAGE rating system that makes it the most respected and influential rating system in the industry among distributors.

It is a misconception that distributors only rate when they have a negative experience or that distributors only choose to not provide their contact information when they have something negative to say. On the contrary, in the SAGE rating system, 78 percent of all rated suppliers have an A or A+ rating. Among those that chose not to provide their contact information, the average rating is a B.

As mentioned above, ratings in our system are not anonymous. We know who submitted each rating. If a supplier wishes to have more information regarding a particular rating, or otherwise feels that a rating may be a mistake or otherwise inappropriate, the supplier may request that SAGE investigate the rating. In this case, we will contact the distributor to get more information. In some cases, the ratings are determined to be legitimate and therefore remain in the system. If no such determination can be made, we will remove the rating. In this way, we ensure the integrity of the rating system while still protecting the privacy rights of distributors who choose to not disclose their contact information to the supplier.

Last, we encourage suppliers to take a number of steps to actively encourage customers to rate them in our tools. The more ratings there are, the better for everyone. You can find tips on how to improve the number of ratings you have by visiting