PPAI’s Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D.) returned last week, connecting industry pros with lawmakers and their staffs on Capitol Hill for two days of virtual meetings. After 10 years of in-person events in Washington, D.C., the annual series of in-person meetings—intended to inform and educate legislators about legislation and issues affecting the promotional products industry—was suspended in 2020 because of the pandemic. It resumed last year in a virtual format.

Running June 8-9, L.E.A.D. 2022 brought 37 industry participants together in 67 meetings with senators, representatives and their offices. Dozens of their peers and colleagues from across the country lent their voices to the conversation through calls and emails to their members of Congress in support of the issues addressed during the meetings.

“Sharing our industry’s story with your legislators and their staffs is an important action,” says Steven Meyer, MAS, national sales manager at Arch Promo Group. “Not only for our association’s members and their livelihoods but for the communities we live in. To establish members as the real experts when it comes to the effects of proposed or existing law gives them an upper hand in being the resource that is turned to by legislators when they need information.”

Brian Deissroth, CAS, senior key accounts manager at Augusta Sportswear, has participated in L.E.A.D. at both the national and state level, with the Association’s L.E.A.D. Local program. He says, “L.E.A.D is an important event for our industry as we have the ability to advocate on behalf of the nearly 500,000 workers who make up our industry. Having the ability to communicate directly and to educate our elected representatives and their staffers is invaluable. I encourage everyone to get involved and advocate for our industry at the State and Local levels through your local regional association.”

Mary Jo Tomasini, MAS+, founder and CEO of distributor CE Competitive Edge, has taken part in L.E.A.D. six times. She says, “It’s important for us to get in front of our legislators. For them to know us and our industry. They are very appreciative of the depth of our industry and the business and jobs that are in their state.”

L.E.A.D. has historically drawn a broad cross section of the industry to Washington, D.C. and the virtual format welcomed several first-time participants to add their voices to the discussions. Dan Edge, national sales manager at Peerless Umbrella and L.E.A.D. first-timer, says, “These are all relevant topics that effect our industry and our individual companies. Topics such as tariffs effect all of us through final costing and increases in pricing. If given the opportunity to voice our concern and give feedback to legislators, it’s important we do that. It’s a short amount of time taken from our days with what could lead to big results.”

Another first-time L.E.A.D. participant, David Vander Bloomen, owner of distributor Branding180, says, “For me, personally, every day conversations with clients come back to something related to government regulations—tariffs, shipping concerns, etc. For those of us that participated in L.E.A.D. to be able to feel as though we have a voice and can express our concerns first-hand is, to me, an invaluable tool we can possess on behalf of our clients and colleagues.”

Anthony McNally, CAS, operations manager at Vanguard Promotions, also in his first year, says, “I think it’s important for suppliers and distributors to be collaborative on issues that deal with the supply chain. It keeps all parties knowledgeable and up to date. I feel like personally I can more effectively communicate this to my team and clients as needed. I look forward to the opportunity to do these meetings in person in the future.”

Misty Friedrichs, CAS, contract national sales manager at 3M Promotional Markets, says, “I think L.E.A.D. allows us to see the industry outside of just being a distributor or supplier and selling or shipping daily event product.”

L.E.A.D. participants came equipped to address several issues important to the $22 billion promotional products market in their meetings. These included:

While everyone is eager to return to the in-person meetings of L.E.A.D.’s first decade in Washington, D.C., the 2022 event’s virtual meeting proved rewarding for those involved.

“My experience was very good,” Tomasini says. “Even when they didn’t agree with our position on an issue—independent contractors—they were polite and appreciative of our content. We left each meeting feeling heard. Each person was engaged.”

Deissroth says, “The experience this year was incredible. We had productive and engaging conversation with both legislators and their staff members. We received support on the issues we raised from both sides of the aisle and we were able to educate our representatives and their staffers on the power of promotional products. PPAI, the Leadership of Maurice Norris and Anne Stone and the information they provided allowed us to have deep and meaningful conversations.”

Furthering the discussions L.E.A.D. sparked, Deissroth is working to set up tours of Augusta Sportswear’s facility in South Carolina for Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolinaand Rep. Rick Allen of Georgia.

“I was pleasantly surprised that the staffers I met with actually seemed to listen, as they were taking notes and asking appropriate questions,” says Vander Bloomen. “In one instance, for sure, some questions and experiences raised were new to that staffer, and she seemed to be somewhat taken aback as to the impact on our industry—and my company in particular—should legislation pass as written.”

Giving his assessment of the meetings, McNally says, “I would say for the most part all of the staff members were extremely engaged and knowledgeable in the issues we brought up. I think that the team I worked with was a good blend of personalities as well to bring out the best in each conversation.”

Edge sums up his experience, “I went in with hesitation and not sure what to expect. Everyone we spoke to was very happy to listen, didn’t rush us and engaging on the various topics. I enjoyed giving real case histories about how some of these laws effect Peerless and our customers. It was a great experience and happy I volunteered my time to do this”