On Capitol Hill this week, more than 60 promotional products professionals took the industry’s message to legislators and their staff.

The first in-person PPAI Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.) since 2019, participants spent the day in a series of meetings designed to make connections and educate lawmakers on the promotional merchandise industry and four key points important to it today.

The industry contingent held more than 80 meetings with congressional members and their staffs on Wednesday.

The Value Of In-Person

When COVID-19 put a stop to in-person visits with legislators, PPAI and the promo industry turned to virtual connections to educate lawmakers and update them on pressing issues. While effective, these interactions that were missing that certain something that had made 10-plus years of in-person L.E.A.D. events so valuable.

“Just as we found with our own events, people much prefer to be in-person because you create a more meaningful connection,” says Dale Denham, MAS+, president and CEO of PPAI. “By being here in person, with each other, we are able to explain things to the Congressperson and their staff in a way that doesn’t work quite as effectively on Zoom or on paper. They pay a lot more attention when you take time to visit them in person.”

This year, the industry, present on Capitol Hill, found what was missing. A staff member in Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office understood the COOL Online Act’s challenge to the industry through his own experience with printing fabrics. Rep. Beth Van Duyne’s opposition to the Pro Act stemmed from her time as an independent contractor. Rep. Bob Latta saw eye-to-eye with hometown business owners. L.E.A.D. 2023 generated myriad connections such as these.

“Usually, our primary goal is to make sure we stay top of mind,” says Denham. “This time, we also have the COOL Online act, which we are worried about creating problems for our industry. So, it’s important that we’re here even when there’s not an urgent issue, because when it is urgent, we want them to remember who are, and you do that best in person.”

Why They Came

L.E.A.D. draws its participants from across the promo industry, and all understand the importance of supporting their field.

“It’s important to me to give back and to the industry that’s given me my 25-year career,” says Chris Babiash, MAS, president and CEO of distributor Booshie. “It’s important that we are so that people understand that we are so much more than just ‘merch’ or ‘swag.’ We’re the ones that are putting the logos on nearly everything for every organization that is in Washington, D.C., and that we’re the driving force behind that.”

“Our industry is quite large, and oftentimes people don’t realize how much legislation effects it, says Chuck Machion, senior vice president and senior counsel at ASI. “And probably more importantly, our industry is full of small businesses. Big business can adjust and have the resources to take the impact, but small businesses just don’t have that. And so often when we tell legislators that we’re 98% small businesses and that if you do this, this is the result, they get it.

“And in-person is so important. You can write your congressperson all you want, but when they see a face telling them the issues and what they actually do and don’t do for us, it’s more impactful. It’s great we all get together, we all volunteer and it’s for the good of the industry.”

“This is an opportunity to become more informed of our industry’s role and how we fit into the bigger political picture in America,” says Lisa Greyhill, MAS, president of distributor Firebrand Global Marketing. “Also, I am here to represent our organization so that legislators can put faces to an industry. It was great to be here and be a part of L.E.A.D. And I think everyone should be a part of this. People are intimidated because they think it’s going to be scary, and it’s not.”

“It's important that we continue to show up,” says Jodie Schillinger, MAS, executive vice president at supplier Maple Ridge Farms. “Doing so helps show why promotional products are an essential part of experiential marketing and this industry’s role in creating a brand’s legacy.”