Salt & Pepper October 2017: Should Professional Development Speakers Exclusively be From the Promotional Products Industry?


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.


PPAI, Regional Associations, and other organizations do an excellent job of underscoring the importance of professional development by bringing in captivating speakers. With so many education-style events in the industry, Kirby “Salt” Hasseman and Bill “Pepper” Petrie share their thoughts on whether speakers at professional development events should come from the industry or from the outside.

Salt – Kirby Hasseman

I love going to educational events.  Both inside and outside of the industry, these events are a great way to get inspired and grow.  

But when it comes to education and speakers for industry events, I lean toward promotional products industry veterans.  We have a ton of rock stars in our industry and we need to value them more.  Not only is it cool to hear the stories of “how they did it,” but I find real tangible value from them.  I can take many tips I hear from industry pros and implement them right away.  

Sometimes as an industry, we devalue those we know.  We shouldn’t.  So many times, you hear that you need to be 45 miles from home to be an expert.  I think that’s the case when it comes to speakers.  We are willing to pay speakers from outside the industry, but we want our promo friends to add value for free.  Having just attended skucamp (a commonsku event) I can tell you there were some great educators that really know how to grow a business.  

We need to tap into them as we plan future industry events.

Pepper – Bill Petrie

The promotional products industry tends to be a closed off and somewhat private island with many justifying doing the same thing with a “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality. Sadly, there are quite a few instances where the only speakers at industry professional development events are from the promotional products industry. While a great many of those sessions are fantastic, by having speakers ONLY from within the industry we run the risk of having a myopic view of the solutions to very complex problems. Therefore, it’s critical we bring in thought leaders, sales experts, and marketing masters from outside the promotional products industry to speak at industry events.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of great speakers within our industry who provide a great deal of value while challenging the audience comfort zones. The key is to balance out the “industry” perspective with other trends to create a bit of equilibrium when it comes to content. Of course, I want to hear what Danny Rosin and Mark Graham have to say about how amazon is challenging our industry, but I also want to hear from leaders in other industries that have experienced similar threats and how they have met those threats head on. By doing this, I can take learnings from their industry apply them to my specific business challenges.

This perspective may seem odd from someone who speaks at many industry events, but we need more and varied voices if we hope to grow. And, the “varied” part is really the key: to develop, grow, and flourish, people need to be challenged on their ways of thinking from a variety of speakers that come from different industries.

For example, on October 5th, I’ll have the honor of speaking to the Print Services & Distributors Association (PSDA) about the challenges they face: maturing industry, ease of information, shrinking supply chain, supplier consolidation, commoditization of services, pricing pressure, and the difficulty of differentiating. If that sounds familiar, it should as it’s the same exact problems distributors in the promotional products industry face every single day. My hope is that as I share some of the great solutions distributors in our industry have employed to overcome their challenges, the PSDA attendees will be able to apply those lessons in their industry.

When we only listen to speakers within our little world, we essentially stick our heads in the sand and embrace the comfort of our narrow focus. It’s a big tent vs. little tent mentality. I, for one, choose the big tent.