What's Cookin' in the PromoKitchen

The following was originally published in PPAI's Promotional Products Business Magazine, March 2012.

IN 1998, I STARTED in the promotional products industry as an inexperienced, yet enthusiastic, distributor entrepreneur. I was 23 years old.

It took me two years to figure out there was an industry association where suppliers and distributors met to do business. It took me another eight years to feel truly connected because I had trouble finding my footing in the industry. This all changed when I had had enough of sitting on the sidelines and volunteered to lead a class on social media at The PPAI Expo in January 2009.

My favorite education sessions at The Expo were always led by industry practitioners, so I was enthused by the prospect of giving back by sharing my experiences. I was expecting 20 people in my first session—200 people showed up. At that moment, my view of the industry changed forever.

Throughout the past few years, a group of young leaders met through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. We shared a common interest: helping each other to improve our businesses and the industry at large. We also shared a passion for change and what the future held for our respective businesses. A few of us were bored and frustrated with our businesses after years of economic turmoil. Some even felt lost in the industry because they hadn’t connected with like-minded people. The time, we believed, was right to formalize our discussions, debates and socializing into something that could help the industry.

Enter PromoKitchen.

PromoKitchen started as an idea in January 2011 and, by year end, blossomed into a full-fledged community with a passion toward sharing best practices and mentoring others.

As social media was a common thread throughout the group, we came up with the idea of starting an industry blog. Our vision was to create a Mashable for the industry, staffed exclusively by volunteer leaders (chefs) who were passionate about sharing their experiences with others.

The PromoKitchen community represents a cross-section of professionals (suppliers, distributors and service providers) raising the standard of working together by collaborating in an open, accessible environment. Its founding chefs include Bobby Lehew, CAS, (Robyn); Jonathan Irvin (EasyPromo3D); Mark Graham (RIGHTSLEEVE Marketing and commonsku); Tonia Allen Gould (TAG! The Creative Source); Lisa Horn, CAS, (Content Matters); Tee Hamilton (Aye Creative); Charity Gibson (Green Banana Promotions); Danny Rosin (Brand Fuel Promotions); Robert Fiveash (Brand Fuel Promotions); Kim Newell (World Wide Lines); Brad White (Boundless Network); David Verchere (PostHelpers); CJ Schmidt (Hit Promotional Products); Roger Burnett (Workflow One); Matt Kaspari, CAS, (Kaspo); Devin Piscitelli (Aakron Rule Corporation); Mark Godsey (Gold Bond); and Michael Legel (Continental Plastic Card Co.).

PromoKitchen has twin missions: best-practice sharing and mentoring. Here’s how we deliver on each: We publish content three times a week on www.promokitchen.com. Articles are classified into one of six categories: creativity, marketing, operations, productivity, sales and technology. We have established editorial guidelines, and everyone is invited to submit ideas for articles. Co-editors Bobby Lehew, CAS; Lisa Horn, CAS; and Tonia Allen Gould apply their strong editorial skills to this task. We’re looking to address the white elephants in the industry, encourage discussion around thought-provoking content and interview the leading minds in the industry (see our interviews with Paul Bellantone, CAE, and Craig Morantz as good examples of this).

We also introduced a mentor program where mentees and mentors are paired together based on common interests. To date, we have attracted 20 applications, and the program formally launched in February. Mentee and mentor applications can be completed online. All matches are made by our mentorship chair, Kim Newell.

We’ve been energized by many of the stories people have shared with us, including this one from a distributor who applied to the mentor program:

“I am looking for practical steps and guidance to turn our little family business into a profitable one. I need to steer this ship in a new and profitable direction. Thank you for those of you who dreamed up PromoKitchen and are willing to pay it forward.”

At The PPAI Expo in January, we hosted a launch party at the House of Blues for anyone interested in making the industry a better place. We attracted a capacity crowd of 360 people. It was exactly what we envisioned: bringing together a group of young and young-at-heart industry leaders looking to have fun, share best practices and connect. Long after the party ended, the conversations continued online.

In two short months, PromoKitchen has gone from an unknown and unproven concept to an industry-wide going concern. We are excited about the future of this community, and we are committed to providing rich content and a helpful hand in order to maintain a strong level of professionalism and success amongst our peers.