The Michigan Promotional Professionals Association (MiPPA), in cooperation and collaboration with other regional associations, presented the Midwest Leadership Conference virtually on March 16-17.

“The conference started with ‘why’ and ended with a ‘goodbye,’” says MiPPA Executive Director Paul Kiewiet, MAS+. “We began the conference with a keynote by Heath Slawner, an Igniter with the Simon Sinek organization, and our final session on Wednesday featured a conversation with ASI President Tim Andrews and outgoing PPAI President Paul Bellantone.”

The conference was themed around leadership and the importance of understanding purpose. The keynote reflected that emphasis with a focus on the idea that “when we’re clear about why we’re here, where we’re going, who we serve and how we’re getting there, people start to feel valued and fulfilled. Consequently, we will choose to do our best work and collectively bring bold visions to reality.”

On the opening day, the conference offered two breakout sessions. The first was presented by Latisha Marshall with ePromos on “Uncommon Leadership.” Marshall says, “An uncommon leader is one that embodies the typical core elements with a bit of a twist. That is an approach of performing common acts in an uncommon way.”

The other session featured Mercury Promotions CEO Jon Sloan on “Managing Enterprise Level Accounts” in which he described what it takes to create true customer partnerships and respond to client needs.

Tuesday’s final Main Stage presentation was a discussion on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) featuring Michelle Sourie Robinson, president and CEO of Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council; Julie Kwan, an HR talent consultant with Hilltop Holdings and author of PPAI’s guidebook on the topic; and Johanna Gottlieb, vice president of sales for Axis Promotions. They made the case for DEIB as a business strategy and requirement for leadership now and in the future.

On the conference’s second day, Dale Denham, MAS+, CIO of Geiger presented “The Future of Tech in Promo – Today.” Denham says, “Whereas our environment becomes more and more reliant on digital technologies, the promotional products industry is a laggard in adoption. Technology opens up new potential and new business opportunities for those with the courage and stamina to embrace them.”

The Wednesday breakout sessions included Bobby Lehew of commonsku, who spoke on “Street-red in the New Ethos.” His audience learned how 2020 totally changed the world and the presentation examined what changed, exactly, why it matters to industry professionals and how they can apply it to their selling practices. Lehew says, “The world didn’t merely pivot in 2020, the world catapulted. Our entire ethos changed: the clients’ expectations, the complexity of the projects, even the way we sell.”

The other breakout session on Wednesday featured Janie Gaunce, CEO of Grapevine Designs, on “How Creative Cultures Grow Sales.” Gaunce shared her formula for success that centers around building and maintaining a vibrant and creative culture in the workplace.

The final conference Main Stage event was a town hall-style conversation with Bellantone and Andrews, moderated by MiPPA Executive Director Paul Kiewiet, MAS+. They answered questions from participants about where the industry has been and where they see it going, and they discussed what it means to be a leader in a changing world. The two also reflected on the biggest crises they faced over their tenures leading the industry’s two largest organizations.

The conference, which drew 159 participants, also featured 25 sponsors’ virtual booths open throughout the conference and networking one-on-ones and chats.