Paul Bellantone and Mary Jo Tomasini Are Looking Into the Future, and Want You to Do the Same
As the voice on the intercom announces that the 2018 PPAI Expo show floor is open, Paul Bellantone is sitting on the couch adjacent to the association’s booth. He’s excited about the way the show has gone so far. Both he and PPAI Board Chair Mary Jo Tomasini have used the word “buzz” to describe the general feeling on the show floor.
“There are a lot of metrics that we use to measure how the show’s been successful,” Bellantone says. “We have the feedback from our attendees and suppliers, but did it have the buzz that we hoped it would carry past the show itself? I feel like there’s a pretty good buzz on the show floor, so we’re feeling good about that.”
Just one day prior, PPAI announced that the association welcomed its 15,000th member. It’s a milestone Bellantone and Tomasini are proud of, but they say it’s the implication of the milestone that means more.
“It feels good because it means that we’re putting the value proposition into the marketplace that people are responding to,” he says. “But, every new member gives us more resources to be able to do the grow-and-protect part of our business—the advocacy work, the legislative work, the product safety work, educating buyers on our projects. It’s not just the numbers. The number is a milestone to reflect something, but those dollars actually get pumped back into the industry in order to do the work of the membership.”
“It’s really exciting,” Tomasini says. “We had our 10,000th member in 2011, so from 2011 to now we’re up to 15,000 members. That membership growth, we see it as a market share. Those people are already doing business as promotional products professionals, but now they understand the value of being members of the trade association.”
One of those values that Bellantone is stressing going into 2018 is the collective task of making members feel secure and comfortable with the rapidly changing world around them, in terms of business and beyond.
“I’m looking forward to helping members deal with change, and recognize that the ‘good old days,’ whatever it might mean to them, are over, and that they have to evolve to a different type of marketplace,” he says. “One that is demanding more, wants to pay less, and wants both of those things to happen quickly.”
To Bellantone, the most successful companies are the ones that offer competitive (not necessarily lowest) pricing, speed and a consultative approach. It’s the companies that find ways to address new problems their clients may have.
“It’s not a new message, but I think it takes on a new urgency,” he adds. “Because we’re no longer dealing with change, we’re dealing with an evolution. Things are happening so quickly. And they’re not happening in a linear format. And, sometimes, it’s even more difficult to decide exactly what is happening. So, we’re looking forward to finding ways to add value to our members. We think we can do that.”
PPAI is hoping to do that by putting a physical playbook that deals with change and preparing for an uncertain future into the hands of its members. The goal is to allow members to try new ways of doing business to achieve growth, rather than become stagnant or repeating past mistakes.
“My job is not to make it so you’re not uncomfortable,” Bellantone says. “It’s to make it so you’re comfortable with being uncomfortable. We’re uncomfortable in our personal lives, we’re uncomfortable in our consumer lives. We can’t suspend reality in this industry. We’re dealing with the same issues that are driving other things.”
Tomasini added that a lot of folks in the industry might see current evolutions, like the growth of e-commerce, as a phase or passing trend that doesn’t require their attention.
“I think that there’s still a whole contingency of people who are expecting things to go back to the way things used to be,” she says. “They’re thinking, ‘This is just a fad.’ We’re looking to help them understand that change is going to be constant, and that you have to be responsive to it.”
As Bellantone put it, today is already boring, and the association wants to join its members in looking toward the future together.
“Today is already here,” he says. “Let’s deal with it, but let’s look forward and really move this industry forward by not focusing on the way we’re doing it today or the way we did it yesterday. Let’s figure out a way to do it differently tomorrow. And I think the association has a role in making that happen.”
For more information on PPAI, visit www.ppai.org.