The term distributor in our market vastly understates the work and the value added, but it’s definitely better than what they used to call them.

The industry adopted distributor in 1963 when the ASNA (Advertising Specialty National Association) replaced the term jobber, which was synonymous with a wholesaler or intermediary. At the time, distributor was a huge step up in terms of professionalism, but I think it still does not go far enough in describing the value that has come to be added by the companies and people in these roles.

Other changes in nomenclature have been key to the success and growth of our industry over the years. In 1992, we adopted the term promotional products instead of specialty advertising. PPAI itself has undergone three name changes since 1963 reflecting the changing markets, yet our industry distributors are still called distributors. Supplier hasn’t changed during this time to reflect current value, either. 

Furthermore, as far as most buyers understand, the distributor is the supplier, making the term supplier confusing. Speaking of our buyers, outside of purchasing departments, very few purchasers of promotional products would prefer to be called a buyer. 

It’s time we recognize the value added by all the firms in our industry and ensure the terms we use reflect this value while also reducing confusion for the clients who purchase promotional products.  

PPAI’s new vision for the industry is, “Promotional Products are universally valued and essential to every brand.” And our new mission is, “Be the voice and force to advance the Promotional Marketplace for the benefit of our community.” This means PPAI needs to expand our messaging even more than we have over the last few years.

As part of fulfilling that mission, we have launched Promotional Products Work, which includes providing valuable content on and hosting an online event exclusively for buyers invited by PPAI distributors where they can participate in inspiring education as well as visit exhibitor booths.

The Promotional Products Work Expo will leverage our Direct-2-You online platform, which ensures that only approved information is in the booth and will allow distributors to engage with their clients as well as access a history of all communication on the platform between their clients and the suppliers. You can learn more about Promotional Products Work Expo and the immense value of buyer-facing events in general in the cover story of the issue.

Our goal is to utilize the most appropriate terms as we further reach out to buyers through these new efforts. Please share your thoughts with us on what terms best reflect all our industry organizations by emailing us at

Here are the existing terms most often used in the industry today:

  • Overseas Manufacturer – The original factory or factories that produced the blank item
  • Domestic Supplier – The firm holding stock and decorating items, primarily domestically (including domestic manufacturers)
  • Distributor – The firm identifying the needs of the buyer and fulfilling those needs with suppliers and manufacturers
  • End Buyer – Purchaser of the promotional product
  • End User – The individual who receives and uses the promotional product

It’s been 60 years. It’s time we recognize the value in our supply chain by updating our terms.

Dale Denham is president and CEO of PPAI.