This week, PPAI is hosting several up-and-coming figures in the promotional products industry as part of the debut of its Emerging Leaders Conference. The Association has brought together its 2023 Rising Stars along with other invited emerging leaders in the industry for ELC – held on October 25 in conjunction with the 2023 Leadership Development Workshop in Grapevine, Texas – and a day of education and networking.

Invite-only, ELC is intended to encourage and educate young professionals in the promotional products industry to get involved, make connections and position themselves and the field for unlimited growth.

“We were so excited to invite our 2023 Rising Stars to the Leadership Development Conference,” says Lindsey Davis, MAS, director of business development, PPAI. “We want to give these emerging leaders the space to network with each other and the leaders of the regional community because they represent the future of our industry, and their collaborations can shape the changes that allow promo to keep evolving. What better setting to bring them together?”

The Shared Experience

Attendees’ ELC experience began with an evening of networking and celebration. After arriving at the Hilton DFW Lakes Executive Conference Center on Tuesday, they took part in a welcome reception at the hotel’s bar, Bonnie & Clyde ’s Hideout, before joining the LDW Celebration at the neighboring Austin Ranch event center for dinner and recognition of the 2023 Regional Volunteer Award recipients.

Wednesday morning, ELC’s education began in earnest, with attendees joining several LDW sessions in the morning before breaking off for their own programming in the afternoon. The morning education included:

  • A panel discussion, moderated by Ellen Tucker, CAE, MAS, PPAI’s vice president of revenue and expositions, and featuring Dan Edge, president of Peerless Umbrella; Emily Codner, director, affiliate services, at iPROMOTEu; and Kara Keister, MAS, PPAI board member and co-owner of Social Good Promotions, examined the characteristics of a successful leader and on what it takes to become one.
  • Jodie Schillinger, MAS, executive vice president of Maple Ridge Farms, and PPAI’s Davis and Jessica Gibbons-Rauch, MBA, manager of professional development learning programs, held a Next Level Networking panel, sharing the lessons they have learned over the years regarding branching out in the industry and expanding their circles.
  • Dr. Jason Jones, organizational psychologist and founder and CEO of LeaderPath, spoke on evolving our thinking, and how we work together.

“I really enjoy being the guinea pig group,” says Simi Kasakwe-Welsch, a 2023 Rising Star and public relations specialist at American Solutions for Business. “We get to see all of these super great ideas come alive without it being filtered in any way and we can say truthfully how they worked. We get to see this come to life and help make it even better.”

The ELC Agenda

After lunch, ELC attendees broke off for sessions tailored more specifically for their needs.

  • Jill Begun, CAS, PPAI’s professional development manager, led a panel of past PPAI Rising Stars – Melissa Bettua, director of sales at HPG; Brian Deissroth, MBA, CAS, director of national accounts at Edwards Garment; and Charity Gibson, chief marketing officer at Proforma – in a conversation on what they wished they knew as they and their careers grew.
  • Mid-way through the afternoon, attendees broke apart for series of roundtable discussions on key points and takeaways from the conference so far, and strategizing on the challenges they face and what they need to advance their careers.
  • In the final session of the day, attendees took quick, two-question assessments to learn their unique Culture Index Patterns identifying their strengths and weaknesses. PPAI’s Tucker, Davis and Josh Ellis, publisher and editor-in-chief, guided the audience through the survey, reviewing and explaining results and how they can work with and benefit each other.

“The panel of the previous Rising Stars and some of the things said there was super impactful for me,” says Kasakwe-Welsch. “I loved Charity’s lesson that ‘While you’re on the way up, be sure to reach a hand back and pull someone up with you,’ because it reminds you that leadership is not only what’s in front of you but reaches back to who you know and who you’re willing to talk to.

“Also, Melissa’s comment that you should be the leader that you wish you had when you first started. That’s definitely coming home with me.”

Wednesday evening, ELC concluded with a dinner and shared experience at Meow Wolf in Grapevine, an immersive art and storytelling installation.