Monday morning, thousands of promotional products professionals entered the Mandalay Convention Center in Las Vegas for the start of The PPAI Expo, looking to forge new connections and apply new skills and knowledge to their businesses.
Monday night, the PPAI Chair’s Leadership Dinner recognized four men and women who have set a standard for excellence in the world of promo – not only as successful entrepreneurs, but as industry ambassadors who have given back to their profession and their communities.
The night also included a salute to the Promotional Products Education Foundation and 2022 PPAI Rising Stars.
Late in the evening came a traditional ceremony at The PPAI Expo, the passing of the gavel from PPAI Board Chair Dawn Olds, MAS+, to Incoming Chair Kevin Walsh, CAS.
Olds' term will expire at the conclusion of The PPAI Expo. She opened the evening with a welcome to all attendees, and over the course of the night gave way to Walsh, who wished everyone a successful experience at The PPAI Expo 2023.
In addition to the induction of new Hall of Fame members, the night was also a reunion of six previous Hall of Fame inductees and numerous former PPAI Board Chairs.
The PPAI Hall of Fame Inductees: Carol D. Aastad, MAS, and Mary Ellen Sokalski, MAS
Aastad and Sokalski, both industry trailblazers, made history Monday night as the first two women ever inducted into the same PPAI Hall of Fame class.
A promo veteran of nearly 30 years, Aastad didn’t join the industry until her 40s but quickly found her calling as an entrepreneur and volunteer. She recalls attending her first PPAI show in Atlanta in 1983, when women comprised only 7% of the industry. Now, that figure is well over 50%, she said.
Aastad played a significant part in that development. Not only did she find individual success at multiple companies, including Harlan & Davis, which she founded, and Geiger, where she worked until her retirement, Aastad served as PPAI Board Chair in 2004 and helped establish the PPAI Women’s Leadership Conference.
“For 29 years, I enjoyed an exhilarating, fun, satisfying, meaningful and, yes, profitable business,” she said. “Having a career in this industry changed my life. It truly changed my life. It gave me the independence, the realization and the satisfaction that I could support myself. And I had so much fun doing it. I loved this industry.”
For decades, Sokalski also has demonstrated a special talent and passion for promo. Since joining the industry in 1981, her “superpower” at multiple companies has been creative marketing – finding unique ways for distributors and suppliers alike to reach customers. (See: the bags of dirt she once mailed to clients, symbolizing a ‘dirt cheap’ product offer.)
And, like Aastad, Sokalski has paid it forward as an industry volunteer on various committees and the PPAI Board.
“It is with the utmost humility that I thank all of you for noticing me, encouraging me to serve, to teach, and for the unforgettable experience I have had working with you, volunteering with you, learning from you and playing with you,” she said.
Aastad was introduced by Geiger President and CEO Jo-an Lantz, MAS. Longtime industry pro Julie Heller introduced Soklaski.
The PPAI Distinguished Service Award Recipient: Roger Burnett, CAS
Burnett, founder of Ohio-based distributor Social Good Promotions, discovered at an early age that his first career choice – music – just wasn’t in the cards.
“No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make the thing [a cornet] make a sound,” he said.
He found satisfaction and inspiration through writing – instilling happiness in others with thoughtful letters. Years later, he has applied that approach to promo through “the power of collaboration” – working with peers to not only advance the industry but also help others in need.
“I’m grateful for the many collaborations that have presented themselves to me during my career,” he said. “Many of you have heard me talk about how exciting it is for me to happen upon a new opportunity to work together with others whose skills and talents I so admire, and in no other community have I been afforded as many opportunities as I have been as a part of this industry,” he said.
Burnett has been a determined advocate for the industry. His company, Social Good Promotions, focuses heavily on corporate social responsibility in its work with partners and clients. Burnett founded PromoCares, which encourages social and environmental responsibility in the promotional products industry and the community. And he’s a “founding chef” of PromoKitchen, which provides education and mentorship in the industry.
PPAI H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award Recipient: Danny Rosin, CAS
Like Burnett, Rosin’s path to promo started with teenage setbacks – specifically, detention.
To wipe school demerits from his record, Rosin – now president and co-owner of North Carolina-based distributor Brand Fuel – started a community service club called The Happy Club. Unique fundraising events brought students together to help people in need.
That was the spark for Rosin’s career in marketing with a higher purpose. In addition to his outstanding work at Brand Fuel, Rosin has demonstrated a philanthropic spirit in projects and initiatives such as PromoCares, Band Together and Reciprocity Road.
“Every single one of you has the potential individually and even better, collectively, to rise up and do something in the face of adversity,” he said. “Helping our fellow humans is a responsibility. It’s a moral imperative.
“…We spend too much time trying to gain things we think we need. Life needs to be measured by who we are, how we treat people, our attitudes and kindness. We need to start looking out for each other as well as ourselves.”
Rosin introduced Burnett to the stage, while Rosin was welcomed by Brand Fuel co-founder Robert Fiveash.