May 28, 2021

PPPC’s WEE Hosts Virtual Event

  • by Admin

COVID has much of Canada shut tight, but that didn't keep the women of the promo industry there from having a good time. The 12th Women's Empowerment Event (WEE), organized by the Promotional Product Professionals of Canada (PPPC), went virtual again this year. With the theme "Designing a New Tomorrow," committee members Ann Baiden, CEO and founder of Innovatex Solutions Inc. (asi/231194); Carol DeVille, owner of The Branding Company (asi/145376); Kate Plummer, vice president of sales and marketing at Clearmount (asi/45440); and Katrina Derksen, PPPC's membership manager, planned a jam-packed five-hour event over Zoom and wonder.me to bring together women in the promo industry during months-long provincial lockdowns. Attendees catch up during the cocktail networking hour. Canadian musician Bernadette Connors kicked off the day with a few minutes of singing with her guitar, and was followed by Rina Rovinelli, co-founder of Speaker Slam, who discussed building a personal brand through inspirational speaking. She told the story of having the coveted opportunity to appear on the business-pitch reality show Dragons' Den where she immediately got stage fright. But in the moment, she collected herself and started telling her story to the "dragons." It was at that moment that she got hooked on public speaking, particularly the personal and inspirational kind. "Inspirational speaking isn't motivational speaking," she said. "It's sharing obstacles, challenges and adversity you've gone through and how they connect and unify us. It's not educational and not a TED talk. It's a powerful personal story, where you're vulnerable and authentic, you share personal learnings and there's a profound universal lesson. The most inspirational voice is the most powerful voice in the room." To build your brand with your personal story, said Rovinelli, figure out your message, create an inspirational speech and then share it, preferably in front of groups of people on stages. "Find your uniqueness, define your story and build your brand," she said. "And live up to your brand." After a charcuterie board demonstration by Casey Thomson from The Cheese Gallery in Thornbury, ON, Michele Bell, ASI's vice president of editorial, education and special events, moderated a panel with four women on the state of the Canadian promo industry. (clockwise from top left): ASI's Michele Bell spoke with Lindsay Alcorn, Jennifer Tarnopolski, Kathy Cheng and Jessica De Mello about the state of promo in Canada after months of lockdowns. "When you're responsible for employees, it's hard to sleep at night," said Jennifer Tarnopolski, founder of Outstanding Branding in Winnipeg. "But we just have to stay positive and focused." Jessica De Mello, business development manager at St Regis Group (asi/84592) in Markham, ON, said it's been a "rollercoaster" year. "Things come at us from all angles, as women," she said. "We feel a lot and we're taking on employees' stress as well. It's a cycle of home, work, grocery store, and you don't want to spread sadness." Kathy Cheng, president of WS & Co. and founder of Redwood Classics Apparel (asi/81627) in Toronto, said her team immediately turned "community-oriented" as COVID bore down on North America and started making premium reusable face masks; $150,000 worth were donated through the company's ongoing #MadeforGood campaign, which provides them to vulnerable communities. "By nature, as women, we want to take care of each other," she said. "We're still under lockdown in Toronto, and the BBC just said it's the world's longest at this point. But it's nice when I come home and there's laughter from my kids and everyone's happy." In a poll question asked by Bell, 44% of the audience said their Q1 2021 sales numbers were better than Q1 of 2020, 40% said worse and 18% said they were the same (by comparison, quarter-to-quarter sales were down 15% in the U.S. on average). In addition, 40% of the audience said they were planning on returning to pre-COVID levels of travel after the pandemic, while 60% responded that they would not. During the event, an attendee decorated her official WEE apron and shared it on social. The apron (A9730) from Capco Sportswear/KC Caps (58760) and the USA-made permanent markers (9000) from Liqui-Mark (asi/67675) came in the swag box. It's been tough for Canada this past year, especially as the U.S. returns to a feeling of normalcy in many ways. "The supply of vaccines here isn't as robust as in the U.S.," said Cheng. "The border is still closed. It's like we're a little kid looking through the window. The U.S. is revving its engines, and we're miles behind." But one reality that neither countries can escape is supply chain issues. Cheng said the cost of a container has increased from about $4,000 before COVID to $12,000 currently. "Delivery companies will say the products are on their way, but they can't really tell us when they'll arrive," said Alcorn, while Tarnopolski said they've had to push clients to buy stock quickly or they might not receive it: "The stock is there, and then a couple days later, it's gone." Thankfully, said Alcorn, orders have moved into more traditional promo and away from PPE. The home décor and outdoors product categories have stayed strong this year as people continue to look for socially distanced ways to have fun. As a parting message, De Mello emphasized the importance of focusing on what can be controlled and letting go of the rest. "I can't change reality," she said, "but I can change my perspective on reality so I'm not helpless and hopeless." Following the panel, Ayanna Lee-Rivears led a "Socacize" cardio dance session, after which Judy Croon, a Canadian comedian, spoke about the importance of humor and positivity to deal with stressful times. "When you're happy and hopeful, it keeps your right-side creative brain open," she said. "You're also better at problem-solving. A positive attitude and humor help to manage stress levels." A cocktail hour on virtual networking platform wonder.me capped off the event; attendees could mingle and "walk" to different discussion circles to catch up with old friends and make new ones. "There were so many highlights in the action-packed afternoon," said Baiden, a member of the WEE committee. "It was incredible to feel the energy of the group lighting up the chat and to get to see their smiling faces and laugh together during the networking. The event hadn't even ended yet and many were already asking when they could sign up for next year. This makes all the efforts of our committee so rewarding." Nikki Sgro, business development representative at Debco, part of HPG (asi/61966), is a relative newcomer, and she now has plans to make WEE a regular part of her annual schedule. "It was so much fun," she said. "Two years ago was my first time. I was travelling so often to the States that I often couldn't make it. Now, I plan to attend every year." The first 100 registrants received a box of WEE merchandise from product sponsors, including a tote bag (B141) from St Regis Group (asi/84592); flip flops (COPA) from Neet Feet (asi/73520); tumbler (860404) from ASI and ETS Express (asi/51197); blanket (40256) from Kanata Blanket and more; the full product list is available at wee.pppc.ca/products . Committee member Carol DeVille said that more than 65% of attendees were first-timers, and 20% were American. "We all just can't wait for the day that we can all be together again," she said. "The event was filled with speakers and activities, and our panel blew it out of the water with their passion and openness to share. Remember, we're all ‘unboxable.' Don't forget to ask for help. Be kind to yourself, be brave, be a friend, do your best and be a superhero. We look forward to seeing everyone in May 2022."

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