SPARK, PPAI’s conference for young professionals in the promotional products industry, improved on its inaugural success this year. Held on July 19-20 at several venues in Nashville, Tennessee, SPARK delivered education and networking opportunities for 80 practitioners who are at the beginning stages of their careers in the promotional products industry.

“This year is different,” says Kalie Herron, Augusta Sportswear Brands/Boxercraft multi-line rep, and SPARK work group chair. “With 33 attendees who are second-timers, there’s an idea of how it’s supposed to be, and how we’re supposed to grow and build from here. We’ve brought in speakers and education sessions that take it to the next level. SPARK gives people new to the industry an education on what it’s about, taking those next steps to become a better leader or employee, and how to take that leadership role forward.”

Delivering a unique take on education in the industry, SPARK moved through different locations throughout the host city, giving attendees a feel for Nashville, showcasing presentations in fresh environments and creating opportunities to network and collaborate.

“SPARK has been a really great experience,” says Rayan Horak, owner of distributor Pivot Communications Group and a first-time attendee. “I appreciate the opportunity to connect with other people in the industry with similar interests, [and enjoyed] the interactive sessions and the format of the event itself. Everyone is so collaborative and cooperative, and we all want the best for us and the industry. There’s a huge passion that’s great to be a part of. What I’m going to take from this are the relationships and connections, and reaching out to that network because we’re all in it together.”

The conference’s programming focused on creating an educational event that has a positive impact on attendees, getting them to think creatively and helping them network and learn from their peers. This year’s conference featured more than 15 speakers over its two-day run.

“I have been in the industry for two and a half years; my first week on the job was at The PPAI Expo in Vegas. It was kind of a trial by fire, but I’m a big believer in that being the best way to learn,” says Mason Linn, central region account executive with Raining Rose and first-time SPARK attendee. “SPARK has been great. It’s been a phenomenal opportunity for me to meet with different people throughout the industry and start building strong relationships. And I’m excited to go home and implement what I’ve learned from the speakers and education sessions.”

He adds, “One of the big things for me, being on the sales side of things, is the importance of communication. [We learned] how to do it properly and things we should be doing going forward. [Saying] ‘yes, and’ instead of ‘but’ is a big one that we’ve talked about, and I think it’s one of the takeaways from SPARK that is really going to help me going forward.”

In thinking about the full SPARK experience, Herron says, “This helps me grow every time. I don’t think I’ve attended a SPARK event and not taken something away I can use in my everyday practice. It’s really given me insights that I didn’t see before, or [helped me to] take a step back and take a better look at the big picture.”

Beyond the SPARK Conference, young industry professionals can stay involved by connecting on the SPARK Promo Connect page throughout the year, and planning to attend the SPARK After Dark networking reception at the PPAI Expo in January.