Promotional Products Association International ( PPAI), is the trade organization for suppliers and distributors in the promotional products industry.

Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) has been providing award-winning products and services to the advertising specialty and promotional products industry for over 50 years.

Q: ASI and PPAI—Are they different? 

A: These two entities are seemingly different due to their tax status. ASI (Advertising Specialty Institute, Inc.) is a company that exists to make a profit, while PPAI (Promotional Products Association International) is a non-profit organization. 

Q: What effect, if any, does that difference have on distributors? 

A: ASI is similar to other suppliers in the industry in that it sells its services, while PPAI functions as a trade association charged with serving its members. In fact, ASI is a member of PPAI and exhibits at PPAI-sponsored trade shows. PPAI, on the other hand, has a presence at most shows, primarily to provide information and services to its members. 

Q: As a member of both ASI and PPAI, is a distributor paying for the same thing twice? 

A: The answer is “no.” For years, ASI has referred to distributors who buy their various services as their “members.” Most people, who have been in the industry for a good amount of time, would not agree with that conclusion, instead feeling that distributors buying ASI services are that company’s “customers.” PPAI primarily offers different kinds of services than ASI. Belonging to one is not dependent upon the other. 

Q: How do ASI and PPAI charge for their services? 

A: ASI charges for a wide range of services depending on what someone needs. PPAI charges its members an annual dues fee, based on the amount of sales volume a distributor generates during the year. PPAI also sells educational materials, as well as offering a number of training events. These take place usually in conjunction with PPAI trade shows; some events are free, while others have a fee. 

Q: What do the numbering systems mean? 

A: When we joined the industry over twenty years ago, we were assigned an ASI number, and it has remained the same ever since. That number is our identifier, and many suppliers use it to learn about our business. We were also given a number by PPAI when we joined many years ago. It has never changed either, and is used for the same purposes. ASI has done a superior job of marketing themselves as the premier number identifier in the industry; and suppliers feel that by knowing your ASI number, it is easier for them to serve you. For years, the practice of the suppliers asking for your ASI number was the only way they knew how to find out about you. This practice is leveling off since other service providers like DistributorCentral and SAGE have arrived on the scene. They also assign numbers to distributors, and many suppliers will accept those numbers as a way of identifying your company. 

Q: What is UPIC? 

A: A few years ago PPAI created UPIC system. Its purpose was a bit unclear to many until recently. UPIC was developed to be an industry identifier that can be used instead of an ASI number. With UPIC, suppliers have a chance to see your company information on the PPAI website, along with a current credit report about you that they can buy on line. 

Q: Why do both ASI and PPAI out on trade shows? 

A: They do so to make money. For years, PPAI was the only game in town when it came to shows. Their annual January show, EXPO, in Dallas, must have been their biggest yearly moneymaker. Since moving to Las Vegas, EXPO appears to be even more successful, based on the large number of exhibitors and endless educational activities. ASI entered the show business several years ago, and it seems they use their shows for revenue and as a forum for selling their products. ASI currently offers five shows a year: in Dallas, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Orlando. ASI has also purchased the Discovery Shows, which travel around the country throughout the year. 

Q: Why can’t ASI and PPAI get along? 

A: No one will really say, but perhaps it’s because one exists to make a profit, and the other to primarily serve its members. And they have different visions on how to service the industry. Since non-profit organizations tend to be less aggressive than for-profit companies, ASI has taken advantage of that situation and plodded ahead with growth. It seems, however, that recently PPAI has changed its stance somewhat, and is trying to compete head-on with ASI in some arenas. Its recent affiliation with DistributorCentral seems to be an attempt to offer for free some of the same services that ASI charges for. 

Q: What the heck is DistributorCentral? 

A: DistributorCentral is a new entry into the promotional products field. It offers FREE services to distributors seeking information and help. Tom Mertz, the owner of “Top Twenty Supplier,” Tradenet, started DistributorCentral three years ago as a place for distributors to find everything they need. That includes things such as product searches, a place to enter orders, do color proofing, and customer invoicing. Once the new kid on the block, DistributorCentral has caught on and its popularity grows every day. 

Q: How is SAGE different from DistributorCentral? 

A: SAGE is a search engine that distributors buy for a yearly fee, while DistributorCentral is free. As it relates to searching for products, they basically offer the same thing. 

Q: Do I have to be a customer of ASI, or a member of PPAI to be successful in this industry? 

A: Not really. Even though we have been members of both and have enjoyed our associations, a distributor with good selling skills can do well without either one. 

Q: What is a traveling show? 

A: It is a group of suppliers who travel to different cities in order to exhibit their products. Any given show primarily exists to generate a profit for the show’s owner, since suppliers pay to be part of the show. The three traveling shows that are currently visiting many parts of the country are NSA, Discovery, and SAGE. They are basically the same in concept, just different in size. They all offer some kind of education sessions and provide table top space for the suppliers traveling with them. 

Q: Why are there so many people in this industry? 

A: The promotional products business is highly visible and easy to get into. Just look at me. In 1981, with few cash resources, I needed to generate some income while looking for a full-time job. As it turned out, I was able to make it in the industry, because I used the proper steps in the selling process. Many others do not and leave the industry pretty quickly. 

Q: Is it true that SAAGNY almost sold the Promotions East Show to ASI? 

A: Yes. The deal appears to have fallen through after eight months of negotiations over the issue of who would control what. It’s unlikely that anyone will ever know what really caused the deal to fall apart.