PPAI’s SPARK conference, the Association’s annual event targeting young professionals in the promotional products industry, drew 67 attendees—39 first-timers—to Charlotte, North Carolina, on July 17-19 for high-energy involvement and unmatched enthusiasm.

SPARK was designed to be mobile, giving attendees the opportunity to experience some of the host city’s treasures while learning and networking. Early on July 17, before SPARK officially commenced that evening, 10 attendees toured the 75,525-seat Bank of America Stadium in uptown Charlotte, a main attraction of the city. That evening, the conference got under way at a kickoff event at Lucky’s Bar & Arcade, a venue that encouraged networking in a playful environment complete with classic arcade games. SPARK’s first full day of workshops commenced the following morning on the pool deck of the Omni Charlotte and wrapped up that afternoon at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Its second day began at the Mint Museum Uptown and later decamped to Coco and the Director, a coffee house in Charlotte.

The conference, now in its third year, drew speakers from both in and outside the promotional products industry. Bill Petrie, president of PromoCorner, began SPARK’s first full day with a session on who shared the importance of having an accountability partner to leverage your own success. Also taking the stage during the conference were Alyssa Inkrott, national account manager for 3M Promotional Markets and chair of the 2019 SPARK workgroup; Mason Linn, CAS, national sales representative for Raining Rose; Danny Rosin, CAS, co-president of Brand Fuel and PPAI board member; Stephen McFadden, CAS, president of Perfect Promotions & More, Inc.; and Brittany David, MAS, vice president of sales for SnugZ USA and the chair of PPAI’s Board of Directors.

SPARK also drew speakers from outside the industry. Joining the conference’s education lineup was Dr. Leah Flynn Gallant, associate dean for the student activities office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led a workshop on increasing leadership skills and getting out of your comfort zone; and Blair Potts of Potts Chocolate, who spoke on quality materials, fair labor practices and why it matters.

At the end of the first day of workshops, attendees shared some of their key takeaways. Tosha Everhart at Sock 101 says her biggest takeaway was that “once you fail, have your moment and get back up, because good things are around the corner.” Tasha Garcia from HALO Branded Solutions says, “Hashtag #BeIntentional. I loved what Bill Petrie said about that—having intention, do what you’re intending.” She also shared that during the conference, she started looking for an accountability partner.

Every year, SPARK includes an annual giveback to its host city, and this year participants helped assemble 166 bags of food for local schoolchildren through Blessings In A Backpack, an initiative of the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Foundation, a Mooresville, North Carolina-based charity that provides underprivileged individuals with opportunities to succeed. SPARK’s community service project was facilitated by McFadden and Meghan Kory, key account sales manager for Hit Promotional Products.

On Saturday, July 20, an optional whitewater rafting trip was held at the U.S. National Whitewater Rafting Center in Charlotte, which drew 14 attendees for a morning of adventure, including ziplining, biking and, of course, a few trips down the whitewater “river.” The activity put to use much of the material learned at SPARK: teamwork (paddling in the right direction), helping one another during times of need (assisting a teammate who went overboard) and celebrating wins (being grateful to have reached the finish line).

Read more about what some SPARK attendees have to say on current issues in the feature, Fresh Voices Of Promo, on page 46. SPARK returns in 2020, heading to San Antonio, Texas, on July 15-17. To learn more about SPARK visit www.ppai.org/spark.


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.