"Rock Stars of the Promotional Products Industry" Brings Promo Heavyweights to PROMOTIONS EAST
Familiar faces could be seen all around the PROMOTIONS EAST trade show floor on Monday, as suppliers and distributors attended education sessions and prepared their booths for Tuesday's exhibits. What was surprising, however, was seeing some of those faces in the same place.
Monday's big draw was the keynote panel, "Rock Stars of the Promotional Products Industry." Moderated by Joel Schaffer, MAS, president of Soundline, this roundtable discussion saw some of the industry's most active members on stage together for the first time: Tim Andrews, president and CEO of ASI; Paul Bellantone, president and CEO of PPAI; Jonathan Isaacson, president of Gemline; Jo-An Lantz, MAS, executive vice president of Geiger; Anne McKeough, vice president of global sales for Staples Promotional Products; and Ira Neaman, president of Vantage Apparel were all answering questions from Schaffer, which had been provided by industry members.
The discussion began with Schaffer asking the panelists for their industry forecasts, and they were nearly universal in being cautiously optimistic for the future. Paul Bellantone noted that the industry grew 7 percent last year, and that compared to other advertising mediums, "only Internet marketing and mobile marketing are growing faster." Other topics included questions about financing, the impacts of social media, how technology is changing sales and the importance of product safety.
China was a recurring topic in the conversation, although for a change, it was not centered around U.S. jobs being sent overseas. During a section on international developments and the influence of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), several of the speakers noted that these countries may be viewed as threats, but they may also be viewed as opportunities. Ira Neaman said that "BRIC has the largest bureoning middle class," and Tim Andrews added that China alone "will have 700 million people in the middle class."
The increasing middle class in these countries, most specifically in China, will result in a larger consumer audience, which naturally will lead to more companies looking for ways to promote themselves. As in so many other things, these emerging economies will look to America for queues on how to do things, and Jo-An Lantz said "BRIC countries will be looking toward us for help." With globalization making the world of commerce smaller, well-positioned distributors should begin to think of growing countries in Asia, South America and Europe as potential clients. Anne McKeough noted that Staples Promotional Products already has offices in many of the aforementioned companies for this very reason.
There was still debate over whether the increase of revenue (and costs) overseas would bring manufacturing jobs back to America. "American infrastructure is pretty much gone," Neaman said. Andrews, meanwhile, revealed that "the number of searches for USA-made products is small." Rebutting these facts, Jonathan Isaacson made the case that a return to domestic development is inevitable. "Everything will become local," he said. "Transportation is a waste."
After years of economic uncertainty, there was more of a sense of both optimism and community in the industry, and among the panel's speakers. "I think we can make a difference," Andrews said when discussing the impacts of laws and regulations on promotional products. Bellantone agreed, adding, "Anything that makes sense and benefits the industry, it makes sense to partner up and work together."