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American meets European promotional products market

Julia Bernert

Published on 26.02.2020

Paul Bellantone is the president and chief executive officer of PPAI. As a representative of the American promotional products industry, Paul visited PSI at the beginning of the year and spoke with us about the differences between the North American and European markets as well as future trends and the benefit of membership in industry networks such as PSI and PPAI.

Paul, could you please describe the current situation in the American promotional products industry?

The industry in the US continues to grow faster than the economy. More and more companies are using physical promotional products to communicate their brand. While digital advertising continues to drive the most spend overall, the promotional products allow companies to build stronger one-on-relationships with consumers. Companies are supporting their digital messages with physical products. Regardless of current trends, promotional products continue to be the preferred method of advertising.

Which are the significant differences between the American and the European Market?

The European market seems to be leading the North American Market in terms of design and social compliances, like sustainability, product responsibility and corporate social responsibility, overall. As I have walked around the PSI show, I have seen more companies here with that focus, whether it be sustainability, recyclables or give back programmes. This has been a focus of PSI and the marketplace is leading by a couple of years. The PSI show is a reflection of that and we are just starting to talk about it more in the US market place.

How important is the PSI network for the European industry?

It is very important, because it gives cohesiveness and a unifying force and voice in an industry that consists of many small components. Having a PSI here in Europe or having a PPAI in North America helps creating a strong industry out of many single and fragmented parts.

PSI has about 6,000 members. PPAI has even more than 15,000 member companies. What is the most important benefit, a member gets from being a part of these networks?

I have always been amazed by this industry: how competitors talk and share best practices. It is the collegiality, the networking and being part of a unifying organisation bigger than your own. That’s the real benefit. It is also a sense of sharing challenges and opportunities with colleagues, which makes being a part of the network so special. The network provides purpose and community. Furthermore, PSI in Europe or PPAI in the States represent our industries to outside organisations and make sure that our members know about things like sustainability, legislative issues and safety issues may affect their businesses.

Let’s talk about the products: There are always those that turn out to be bestsellers and even entire categories, which are always ahead. What are the most popular promotional products in America?

In our industry apparel accounts for approximately one third of the distributor order volume. Drinkware, writing instruments, business accessories and products that support technology, like cases, flash drives or speakers are also the most popular promotional products in the US.

If you had to make a prediction: what would be the product trends for the next five years?

As our customers continue to become more aware of corporate social responsibility and ask about safety, compliance or sustainability, I think that will be the big trends that drive much of the product development in our industry. I also see technology taking a larger role in how we reach and talk to our customers about products and our industry. To sum it up, I think we will see large investments on compliance, sustainability and technology.

Would you mind sharing with us? What is your personal all-time favourite promotional product you ever got?

I am fairly traditional in the products I use and value most. I appreciate good pens and a quality backpack. I use them every day and I always recall the brands fondly.

Why should nobody miss to take part in PSI?

If promotional products are your profession, PSI is where you learn how to add value for your customers. Whether it’s PSI or any other of the larger organisations or events like PSI: it’s where you go to learn and make yourself and your company more valuable to your customers.

What are you personally looking forward to, when you visit PSI?

PSI is a leading indicator for what may be coming down the road for us in North America. Many of the trends in Europe show up in the States a couple of years later. The exhibits here are always impressive and products are presented with a retail feel. Like walking through a retail store. The exhibits at PSI seem to be larger and merchandised in a professional manner. It is my hope that we take a lesson from your exhibitors in this area!

PSI network celebrates its 60 years anniversary this year. Is there something you would like to say?

Congratulations on 60 fabulous years of industry leadership. We look forward to working with you for 60 more years.