Salt & Pepper September 2017: Are Regional Associations Still Viable?


NOTE: Salt & Pepper is intended to foster intelligent dialogue between professionals. This is not a dagger throwing contest. Be honest and authentic, but please also be kind and keep it classy.


For decades, regional associations have been the “front line” of the promotional products industry by producing local trade shows, education opportunities, and networking events. With the continual shifting demographic, Kirby “Salt” Hasseman and Bill “Pepper” Petrie share their thoughts on this topic. One thing to note: Bill and Kirby wrote their parts independently of each other and, as such, their views may be more in alignment than in past Salt & Pepper blogs.

Salt – Kirby Hasseman

In a word…yes.  

Regional associations are not only still viable, they play a huge role in the industry.  As a distributor that has recently added sales team members in other regions, I am excited and relieved that there are associations nearby that will help to educate and motivate my new sales pros.  

The question, then, is about execution.  

The fact is, there are regionals that are amazing.  They have strong board with committed and competent leadership.  These regionals are constantly looking to provide value to their membership, by doing what has worked.  But the best of the best continue to ideate on new ways to help their members reach their customers.  They not only create cool events and education, but they actually communicate these events well!  They create enthusiasm and build professionalism.  Not only are the viable…they are imperative.

Unfortunately, there are regionals that are stuck.  They do not have strong leadership.  Their boards are uninspired and the directors are uninterested. These organizations struggle.  And frankly, these regionals are the reason we ask the question at all.  

Yes, Regionals are still viable.  But like everything in life, the real value is in the execution.

Pepper – Bill Petrie

The short answer is, yes, regional associations are still viable. The longer, and more accurate answer, is that they are still viable today but they must innovate to remain viable in the future. Full disclosure: I am not only current President of my regional association (PPAMS), but I’m also on the Regional Association Council (RAC) board. For those unfamiliar with RAC, it is the core organization that fosters relationships between PPAI leadership and Regional Associations to ensure local membership interests are served and supported.

Now, back to the question at hand about the viability of regional associations. For years, they have provided valuable services to their members: networking events, social affairs, service opportunities, and, of course, trade shows. As technology continues to shrink the world around us, the regional associations must not only listen to their membership, but be the force that drives innovation. To simply rely on the annual trade show model of the past is as dangerous as the reasoning behind it: because that’s what’s always been done.

Regional associations are only as viable as the Executive Director/board team and with 27 regional associations spread across the United States and Puerto Rico, the mileage does vary. However, with a strong Executive Director and an engaged board focused on serving the membership, great things can be accomplished.

Regional associations that are strong are the ones that have a clear vision and continue to innovate: creating networking events that are different from the usual pub gathering, designing different ways to add value to supplier members instead of continually asking for more, and providing avenues to give back to their communities. By comparison, regional associations that struggle tend to repeat the same events annually, have a membership that is generally disinterested in volunteering for board service, and lack a vision for the future.

Simply complaining about your regional association isn’t going to make them more relevant or innovative. If you want your regional association to not only be viable, but thrive, get involved: volunteer for events, advocate for innovation, and run for board office. To remain viable, regional associations need volunteers like you.