Entering the summer months, I'm hopeful the COVID-19 pandemic is in retreat from our efforts at physical distancing and contact tracing, and the multiple vaccines entering various testing phases bring a sense of comfort and confidence.

It is hard to imagine how our world has changed. Three months ago, we were having face-to-face sales meetings and every industry company was looking forward to a banner year of growth and profitability.

Then this disease, apparently without boundaries or an existing cure, caught everyone by surprise and collapsed our world, leaving both physical and economic devastation in its wake. 

Almost immediately there was an incredible need for surgical gowns and masks throughout North America. We rapidly learned the term "personal protective equipment." One thing you can say for promotional product distributors and suppliers—we answered the call to help existing and new clients with a need for these critical health-care products.

Whether it be masks, face shields, gloves, sanitizer, gowns or floor signage, our members responded with amazing speed to satisfy the needs of their customers and help prevent a worsening spread of the disease.

And yes, marketing budgets were frozen, but the need to provide solutions for the new normal were answered. The reason simply is our industry is a scrappy and entrepreneurial bunch. We are at our best when challenged to address a need. 

There is no doubt that even when we have a vacation, there will be a permanent need to be prepared if and when there is a resurgence or a new outbreak. Our customers will stock masks and sanitizer like they stock paper and pens, but rest assured, PPE will not be the only game in town. 

Regular marketing and events will resume. Relationships require face-to-face meetings to be most meaningful, and we all must break bread at some point. We all have the anthropomorphic need to belong to groups, whether a sports team, a school, a company or a brand.

We will have a brave new world, but commerce will continue, brands will still be built and information will be distributed. 

The internet has proven to be a good resource for purchasing an item, but we are a long way off from the internet solving marketing problems, building campaigns and creating culture. Let's not forget, we may need to forge a new way to work with our customers by providing samples, ideas, logistics and being part of the gig economy—contract players making things happen for our clients. 

Each year, the PPAI Expo provides an opportunity to be a participant, see new products firsthand, and bring relevant ideas and solutions back to your clients. Be prepared for the PPAI Expo 2021 to be a new and different experience, but there is no substitute for being there—no more than you can experience Paris by reading a travel guide.

Your Association is taking comprehensive steps for the health and safety of attendees, as airlines are taking steps for safe travel and the hotel properties are doing the same. For those who are unable to make the trip, the Association will do its best to bring Expo to you.

Your Association continues to protect you through advocacy, education, dedicated membership and meeting opportunities. Anticipate a great show with lots of PPE, promotional products and, perhaps most importantly, your friends.


Ira Neaman, MAS, of PPAI's Board of Directors, and founder and president of Avenel, New Jersey, supplier Vantage Apparel.