The group is back together again.
For the first time since May 2019, Promotional Products Professionals of Canada (PPPC) hosted its annual Women’s Empowerment Event (WEE) in person after virtual events in 2020 and 2021.
Held at the White Oaks Resort & Spa in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, 2022, the event, with the theme “Challenge Accepted,” welcomed members of the Canadianand U.S.promotional productsindustries for two days of dynamic speakers, networking and professional development, as well as an expert panel, gourmet dinner with afterparty and even a magic show.
“The energy of WEE was back in full force,” said Ann Baiden, CEO and founder of Innovatex Solutions Inc. (asi/231194) and a member of the WEE committee.
“The speakers and entertainers were blown away by the group and how much fun they were,” Baiden continued. “I spoke to a new attendee who couldn’t believe that this event existed in our industry. There was fierce competition at game night, tears shed during the panel, dancing, reflection during our morning walk, minds blown with the magician, new juggling skills gained and endless laughter.”
The professional development sessions began with Samantha Kinoshameg, a member of the Anishinaabekwe Turtle Clan from the Odawa, Ojibway and Potawatomi Nations and the communities of Wiikwemkoong and M’Chigeeng on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron. Kinoshameg spoke on resiliency, healing and empowerment with song and storytelling from the Indigenous community.
Yvette Raposo, a former champion combat fighter and Canada’s first female professional boxing ring announcer, shared lessons gleaned from the ropes, including setting intentions, being self-confident and maintaining calm in the midst of challenges. Rina Rovinelli concluded the sessions on Day 1 with a message on building personal and professional momentum after a challenging few years during COVID.
“I’m still getting emails raving about the event,” said Kate Plummer, vice president of sales and marketing at Clearmount (asi/45440) and a member of the WEE committee. “It was fantastic to have everyone together. Virtual has been great, but there’s nothing like connecting with new people in person. Being able to host the event and have a space for personal and professional growth for women in this industry is so special and unique. It’s easy to think that WEE is just another educational event, but the attendees will tell you it’s so much more.”
Attendees received swag bags with items available from industry suppliers, including a boat tote (B9530) from Ecorite (asi/51654); Ora tumbler (DW305) from Spector & Co. (asi/88660); hot chocolate bombs (HCB2) from NC Custom (asi/44900); handmade soap with seed paper wrap (UOS5011) from BotanicalPaperWorks (asi/41273); Eccolo Groove journal (TBC408) from St Regis Group (asi/84592); and a Turkish towel (40281) from Kanata Blanket (asi/73520).
April Chu, executive vice president of The Kanata Group (asi/73520), parent company of Kanata Blanket, said she has a newfound appreciation for the community of women in promo that the committee and loyal attendees have created over the years. “I’m thankful I get to have a small part in it now and can’t wait to see where we take it in another 10 years,” Chu said. “It was hard to stay connected during the pandemic, and events like this prove we need human connection and to spend time with like-minded individuals. It’s essential to our personal and professional growth.”
Committee member Carol de Ville, owner of The Branding Company (asi/145376) and Counselor’s 2020 Woman of Distinction, said she was heartened to see a number of newcomers this year. “We all networked, learned, shared and enjoyed each other’s company,” she added.
To wrap up theday-and-a-half-long event, ASI Vice President of Editorial, Education & Special Events Michele Bell moderated a discussion that delved into the event’s overarching theme of “Challenge Accepted” with a panel of four respected women from the promo markets in Canada and the U.S.: Ashley Colautti, strategic account manager at Spector & Co. (asi/88660); Angela Jamieson, marketing & brand manager at Brand Blvd (asi/145124); Dana Porter, vice president of information services for SAGE; and Tonja Zander, bilingual merchandising specialist at TPS Promotions & Incentives (asi/341409).
The panel touched on timely topics such as dealing with burnout and mental health challenges due to COVID; creative ways to mitigate staffing shortages; areas where the promo industry needs to do better; and the “quiet quitting” movement in which employees – mainly in the Gen Z and millennial demographics – are doing their jobs adequately and professionally but don’t have the interest or desire to go over and above if it means infringing on their work/life balance.
The closing panel addressed the theme of “Challenge Accepted.” From left: Michele Bell, ASI; Ashley Colautti, Spector & Co.; Dana Porter, SAGE; Angela Jamieson, Brand Blvd; and Tonja Zander, TPS Promotions & Incentives.
Zander, an 18-year industry veteran, quit her previous job where she had spent her tenure in promo, due to realizing that she needed to rejuvenate herself, find new motivation and reignite her passion for her career. “I decided, especially in the wake of COVID, that being ‘not unhappy’ in my job wasn’t good enough anymore,” Zander said. “And even though it was scary to quit a job where I had worked for so long and start a new job with a new company, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Porter, when asked about areas where the industry needs to do better, pointed to technology. “This industry is still behind where we need to be, and certainly behind other industries,” she said. “If we can all focus on making improvements in that one area, this industry will see such a difference in being more streamlined in its efficiencies and productivity.”
Jamieson, whose company, Brand Blvd, is a repeat winner of PPPC’s Best Distributor award, a past winner of Counselor’s Best Places to Work award and the recipient of the 2017 Counselor Distributor Entrepreneurs of the Year award, just moved into a new location replete with a state-of-the-art gym, showers, a game room, a bar, and swanky meeting rooms created around themes like the Rolling Stones. Jamieson noted that while they’ve hired 20 new staffers over the last few months, the company was still challenged in finding temp workers to help with cyclical, seasonal jobs like kitting.
“We came up with the idea to bring in the retired moms of some people on our team,” she said. “We call them ‘the Golden Girls’ and there’s a group of them that come in when we need them. We set them up in our warehouse and they’re dependable, detail-oriented and really enjoy coming in and working together. We give them lunch, champagne, swag and they just love it – as do we, because they’re filling a real need for us.”
Colautti, who, when working from home during COVID, had “an energetic three-year-old running around,” admitted how an upside of the pandemic was that she became better at delineating an equitable division of household and parenting responsibilities with her husband, and that while she loved being able to spend time with her young son, seeing clients in person again and going to live events have revitalized her motivation. “It’s just so good to be back in person at events like WEE and see everyone face-to-face. Zoom calls served their purpose during COVID, but nothing beats this.”
The event marks a continuing return to in-person gatherings for the Canadian promo industry after stringent COVID lockdowns. PPPC’s NATCON was held at the International Centre in Mississauga, ON, last month for the first time since before the pandemic.