Interview: How A 100-Year-Old Company Is Breaking Through The Digital World

[The following is a transcript of an interview with President and CEO Paul Bellantone of the PPAI. Interview conducted on September 4th, 2019]

Promotional product marketing has been around for centuries, and is a tried and true marketing method that is still as effective as ever. The Promotional Products Association International, or PPAI for short, is an industry leader in the world of Promotional Product marketing, having been around for over an entire century. In the interview transcribed below, Brian Edmiston of The B2B Marketing Expo, had the privilege of sitting down with the President and CEO of PPAI, Paul Bellantone. They went on to discuss different aspects of promotional product marketing – from the history of it, to how targeted you can really get with it. 

If you’re not incorporating this into your marketing, you are giving up massive ROI. Check out the interview below to see how you can begin incorporating promotional product marketing into your business today.

So Paul, how long have you been involved in this industry?

Well I’ve been in the industry now in some way managing this association since 1998, so 21 years. I’ve been the president and CEO of the organization since 2011, so 8 years. But the association itself has been around since 1903. So we are a tried and true industry with a tried and true association representing it.

Wow that’s excellent, over 100 years!

Over a hundred years.

The promotional products industry is one that everyone knows without knowing they’ve been exposed to promotional products. Paul went into length explaining the value the industry has for businesses looking to get a boost in brand recognition.

Well promotional products are physical advertising. It’s actually putting the company’s brand on a product. What makes it useful and what makes them powerful is that they’re things that people keep with them. It’s an advertising medium that where when you give it to somebody, they actually say thank you. And I would challenge you, you probably don’t know of too many advertising mediums where you’re promoting something to someone and they say thank you. What makes them longlasting is the fact that they’re generally items that you would be using anyways. I happen to have on my desk right now a power charger, a power bank. You would be using the power bank anyways so you would keep this with you and you would continue to look at the logo on it. The same whether it’s a piece of drinkware with the logo on it. So they’re things that you would be using in your everyday life, that carry the brand of a company, and that leaves goodwill with the person who receives it.

Wow excellent! So when it comes to the PPAI, how do guys fit into that role of the promotional products industry?

Great question! So PPAI is an international trade association. We have 16,000 member companies all over the globe. And those member companies make promotional products and sell promotional products. So my members would be the people that the marketing attendee would speak to to help put together a promotional campaign. So when a marketer wants to reach say, a specific audience at a trade show, they would know the types of product to use or really any way whether they want to retain employees, recruit employees, change customer behavior, build brand awareness; our members help them build those campaigns that generally incorporate promotional products into it.

Ok, I see. Excellent. So I know that the promotional products industry of course is very old, especially with your company being over 100 years old now. As time moves on, industries change and technology comes out to suit the needs of the market. Were there ever any changes in the promotional products industry that took you by surprise? Whether it be something like mobile tech, or social media, or any new kinds of trends that came about in the industry.

Well, I think what surprises me most is the resilience of our industry. That the industry’s been around for more than a hundred years, the association for about a hundred years. But even through that, there’s been wars and depressions and up-cycles and down-cycles and changes in technology and manufacturing, but through it all, promotional products have been part of it. The first promotional product was a commemorative coin from George Washington’s inauguration. So we can track them back to then and we know that whether it’s something as simple as a coin or a medallion all the way up to a technology charger, that promotional products work. I do get surprised every once in a while, when I see something like a fidget spinner take off, and all of a sudden there’s hundreds of millions of them in the marketplace. But we tend to follow retail trends. So if something is happening on retail, you’ll see it in our industry as well.

Ok, I see. Excellent. And of course, like I mentioned before, you will be delivering a wonderful Keynote Session on promotional products. Can you give the viewers a little bit of a preview of what you’re gonna be talking about and what people will really get out of it, an understanding of what you’ll be speaking about?

Well, first I would like marketers to understand that there’s actually an industry that supports promotional products. And that gives it a lot of credibility. I have incredible research that I can talk to them about the power of promotional products in different environments. I’d also want them to know that promotional products are a way to break through the clutter. What we’re finding is that, even after over a century, we’re still the 5th or 6th largest and fastest growing marketing medium. And we’re recognizing that the more things get digital, the more people want to break through that digital and create a relationship. So while you can be using direct mail, or advertising in publications and newspapers, or tv, promotional products are really a way where you hand somebody something, you have a handshake, and you build a relationship beyond just advertising to the masses. Finally, I will want people to know, and we’ll be talking about how you can reach specific audiences with different products. There are certain things that are geared towards millenials, and some towards tech people, and some towards traditionalists, and we can even make it so that the person is wearing the product, keeping it in their kitchen, keeping it in their car, so we can be very targeted and we’re very cost effective with a low cost per impression. And I just want to give them an overview of the resources that are available to them in our industry. 

Ok excellent! So Paul, are you excited to come out to the B2B Marketing Expo?

I am!

When asked how well he’s been preparing, Paul had this to say.

Well I’m honing up on my research a little bit. I wanna make sure that all of my research is the most up to date possible. I’m excited to be getting out in LA. And I’m excited about participating for the first time in an event that my colleagues in the UK have actually participated in. So for us, this is the entry point for the U.S. and I’m glad to be a part of it on this inaugural event.

The B2B Marketing Expo is taking place October the 2nd & 3rd at the LA Convention Center, where industry leaders from the likes of Heinz Marketing, The Wall Street Journal, Google, Microsoft, PWC, and many more will deliver their KeyNote seminars. Paul Bellantone is among one of them, delivering his KeyNote session titled: Delivering Lasting Impressions: The Power of Promotional Products. The session will be taking place in the KeyNote Theater Thursday 10AM.

To learn more about the B2B Marketing Expo, be sure to check out the official B2B Marketing Expo website at and register for your free ticket to the big event by clicking HERE. If you’re interested in seeing what PPAI is all about, you can check them out at

[The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.]

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.