Salt & Pepper September 2016: Should Promotional Products Service Providers Be Allowed to Serve on the PPAI Board of Directors?

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.


Last week, the elections for the PPAI Board kicked off with two people running for the distributor seat (Mitch Rhodus, CAS and Danny Rosin) and two running for the supplier seat (Andrew Spellman and Sharon Willochell). We encourage you to read more about the candidates here. Due to the bylaws of PPAI, individuals who work for a service provider are not allowed to run for the PPAI Board. In this month’s Salt and Pepper, PromoKitchen chefs Kirby “Salt” Hasseman and Bill “Pepper” Petrie debate on whether PPAI should allow service providers to have representation at the highest level of PPAI.


Salt – Kirby Hasseman

With the election of officers for the PPAI board in full swing, it seems the perfect time to address allowing service providers to be represented as board members.  The time has come.  

One of the things that really excites me about our industry right now is our willingness (many of us) to evolve.  Whether it’s the continuing Product Safety initiative or the new #GetInTouch campaign, we are industry is growing and changing in many productive ways.  Service Providers being on the board is another simple evolution that makes sense.

Taxation without Representation:  Okay, so maybe it’s not worth over throwing a nation, but the idea is simple.  We allow service providers to be members of PPAI.  They pay their dues. Why are we not allowing their voices to be represented on the board?  

Listening to Best Voices:  As I look around the landscape of the industry right now, some of the most thoughtful voices below to those of service providers.  These are the leaders who are creating content, creating great events and hosting (industry specific) training.  Mark and Catherine Graham, the good folks at Distributor Central and Bill Petrie (even though he loses all of these debates) come to mind…just to name a few!  If these are the people the industry listens to every day, why would we NOT want them on the board?

Best for the Industry:  On one side of this debate, we look at it being “fair” to service providers.  But more importantly, it’s about what is best for the group as a whole.  In nearly every endeavor, we want to have the best and brightest at the table.  The Promotional Products industry is no different.  We need to continue to look at issues from ALL sides…not just the two sides we are used to seeing.

This is a super interesting time for the industry.  It can be both scary and exciting.  I think the members of the PPAI board (and the leadership at PPAI) are doing a phenomenal job of working to elevate the industry.  This just feels like a gap in representation that is overdue.


Pepper – Bill Petrie

While Kirby makes some very good points, as a service provider in the promotional products industry, I believe I’m a bit more qualified to have an opinion on this topic. The backbone of this industry is the relationship between the supplier and the distributor. Suppliers create, manufacture, and decorate the product while the distributor serves as the vehicle to get those products to the end user client. Without one or the other, the industry ceases to exist.

Yes, one could argue that service providers play an important role in our shared industry – and I believe they do. Companies like DistributorCentral, commonsku, and ZoomCatalog do a tremendous job supporting both suppliers and distributors in the industry. But, to be clear, should any of these organizations cease to exist, the industry machine would find a way to move forward.

In short, service providers SERVE the industry. We don’t design, produce, manufacture, market, or sell promotional products like suppliers and distributors. On the contrary, we provide services that assist our clients in and out of the promotional products industry. In that vein, my company (brandivate) is no different than FedEx. No one would argue that FedEx doesn’t provide a very important service to industry organizations. At the same time, no one would suggest that FedEx is part of the promotional products industry.

So while my company may have explicit knowledge of branded merchandise, brandivate really isn’t part of the promotional products industry – I just happen to place a primary focus on serving members of industry. If I wanted, I could focus my efforts at a number of other industries which is something neither suppliers nor distributors can do.

The Board of Directors of PPAI is made up of industry suppliers and distributors for a reason – that reason being they are the ones who are most impacted by the decisions the association makes. Suppliers and distributors are the ones that have the most skin in the game and should have representation. Service providers, while important, simply aren’t part of the industry on the same level and, therefore, don’t require representation on the PPAI Board.