The State of the Promotional Products Talent Market | 2018

Finding great people is always a challenge. However, your odds of finding and hiring great candidates are significantly increased if you have a firm understanding of the talent pool that is available to you. In other words, knowledge is power.

Our team of sourcers and recruiters have hundreds of conversations with hiring managers and job candidates every week. To provide managers and candidates with a better understanding of the promotional products talent market, we’ve tracked these conversations over the past 12 months. The results of our analysis have provided the insights below.

If you’re planning to grow your firm and add to your team in 2018, here’s what the promotional products talent market has in store for you:




  • Within the distributor-side of our industry, executive-level job candidates are not available in the same abundance as they were last year. Many long-term promotional products industry professionals have retired or left the industry. Distributor executives continue to be challenged with ownership changes, private equity involvement, lack of movement within the C-Suite, and rapidly aging skill sets.
  • Equilibrium


  • Experienced distributor managers find themselves with fewer opportunities than in the past. Over the years, many growing mid-tier firms expanded their management team but are hesitant to add new six-figure salaries due to concerns about future growth. Supply chain and international sourcing managers are the only group in high demand. Many distributor principals are taking a “wait and see” approach regarding economic and trade changes. Hiring of distributor managers will remain slow until firms are more certain of what the future holds.
  • Supply exceeds demand


  • Both marketing managers and marketing support reps are in higher demand than they were in 2017. Distributor principals have embraced social media and email marketing to increase their business with end-users. Still behind with regards to cutting edge data-based marketing, distributor firms are sticking with what has worked in the past. Many firms are hiring email marketing professionals from outside of the industry. Creative marketing managers with graphic design skills are in strong demand.
  • Demand exceeds supply


  • The talent market for distributor-side sales reps contains two very different markets. Demand has been (and always will be) very strong among distributorships with a commission compensation structure. The reason for this is simple economics. Demand for sales reps with firms using a salary plus bonus compensation structure is growing, as well. These firms have fine-tuned their boutique-style business model and are investing in new sales people with promotional products experience. The time has never better for experienced reps who wish to move from a commission model to a salary plus model.
  • Commission compensation structure – Demand exceeds supply
  • Salary plus bonus compensation structure – Equilibrium

Customer Service

  • Distributors, large and small, are having a difficult time fully staffing their customer service teams. An increased customer-focus within many distributorships has put these job candidates at a premium. The growth of many distributorships with a commission compensation structure also adds to the demand for these candidates. Experienced, knowledgeable customer service people are very valuable in today’s talent market.
  • Demand exceeds supply

Vendor Relations/Sourcing/Merchandising

  • Vendor relations, sourcing, and merchandising professionals are highly sought after on the distributor side. There just aren’t a lot of job candidates who have strong experience in this area. Those candidates who do have experience in this area are highly concentrated in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.
  • Demand exceeds supply




  • Despite the high number of mergers and acquisitions on the supplier-side of our industry, executive-level candidates aren’t in high supply. Many of them are kept on board during mergers and acquisitions. Additionally, their backgrounds and experience make a transition outside of the industry far more likely than their distributor-side counterparts. Several firms are looking to expand or make changes to their executive team in 2018. True innovators, candidates who are embracing the large-scale changes coming to our industry, are in particularly high demand.
  • Demand exceeds supply


  • At the management-level, there are more many more opportunities than in 2017. We’ve seen a lot of movement at the Vice President and General Manager-level over the past six months. Supplier management roles are no longer jobs for life, as they have been in the past. Suppliers are taking chances by hiring younger, forward-thinking National Account Managers and Sales Operations Managers for roles at the management-level.
  • Demand exceeds supply


  • Suppliers have continued to embrace marketing, as an important differentiator. Over the last 18 months, more and more suppliers are putting their money where their mouth is and investing in marketing talent. Most firms have seen these investments and new hires pay off. Despite the high demand, candidates who understand the promotional products industry and the trends of modern marketing are very rare. Suppliers in need have had to reach outside of the industry to hire young, savvy marketing talent.
  • Demand far exceeds supply


  • The traditional game of supplier sales rep musical chairs has slowed down over the last 18 months. In general, sales reps are staying put longer. Additionally, there’s a significant pool of experienced sales reps who are underserved by their current supplier.
  • Supply exceeds demand

Customer Service

  • While not suffering the same sharp shortage as distributors, suppliers are adding staff to their customer service teams. An increased customer-focus that has brought on these new positions. Distributor sales reps are placing more and more importance (as are end-users) on communication, responsiveness, and results from suppliers. A customer service rep makes it easy for distributors to do business with suppliers. They are, also, few and far between.
  • Demand exceeds supply


  • Sourcing, merchandising, and purchasing professionals are in even higher demand than they are on the distributor side. There is a significant shortage of experienced job candidates for these positions. It’s a real challenge for the suppliers looking to squeeze savings out of a more efficient supply chain. Suppliers have had to look outside the promotional products space to get the needed talent for these roles.
  • Demand exceeds supply



Geography continues to play an over-sized role in the promotional products talent market. Supplier and distributor firms are slow to accept the need for relocation allowances. This number is growing but remains small compared to similar industries. Candidates in the center of the country hesitate to move to higher CPI cities on the coasts. Remote employment opportunities continue to grow in our industry.  Technology has made staying connected and activity tracking much easier.


What are your growth and hiring plans for the rest of 2018?

PromoPlacement has the insight, network, and expertise to ensure that your team is made up of the best our industry has to offer. Contact our team today to discuss your business goals!

“Active” vs. “Passive” Hiring

In 2016, LinkedIn found that 36% of the talent market is actively searching for a new role. This includes those that are currently unemployed, underemployed, and unhappy in their current role. These people are often referred to as “active candidates” because they will actively seek out your firm and apply for a position. Active candidates have read over your job board, done their research, and determined that they are interested in what you have to offer.

From a talent acquisition standpoint, relying on job postings to grow your team can be effective. Active candidates are likely to see or hear about your opportunity. That 25% of the talent market will come to you. The challenge is that you’re certain to miss out on the vast majority of industry talent.

So how do you attract the interest of the remaining 75% of the workforce to increase the odds of finding the most qualified individual?

The answer is in your process. It is important to realize that you cannot treat the “passive candidate” the same as someone who actively sought you out. Passive candidates are typically successful and content in their current role. They need to be shown why working for you is better than what they have now. You will need to sell the role, the opportunity, and your company to generate interest.



  • Recruited candidates don’t know much about the job opening you have and tend to not be invested in the interview and application process.
  • It is unlikely that this type of candidate will be willing to take several hours off from their current job to come do lengthy interviews with you before hearing specific details about the role.
  • Passive candidates are often available for a longer period of time because they aren’t testing the job market. Once you engage with a passive candidate you should still move with a sense of urgency to keep their interest in your role.

To combat these issues, there are a few things that you can do. When reaching out to someone you have found that could be a fit, you need to use a bit of salesmanship.



  • Give them a job description, tell them about the company and explain why their experience is a match for your organization. The more personal it is the more likely you will receive a response.
  • When you do get a response, it is a good idea to start off with a shorter phone interview. This allows you to explain the role, sell the benefits of your organization and spark their interest.
  • This is the point where you can ask for a survey or application to be completed if necessary. Never try to get someone to put forth a great deal of effort before you’ve generated interest in the role. You will likely be ignored.
  • You can ask for an in-person interview after this step. Make sure that you don’t drag the process out too long or you run the risk of being seen as a waste of time.

The takeaway from this isn’t to change the process of interviewing entirely, but rather to restructure the steps to maximize your response rate. Keep in mind what the recruitment process looks like to both active and passive candidates. This will help you to better connect with candidates, expand your pool of potential hires, and increase your likelihood of hiring the most qualified person!

11 Essential Things to Take to Your Interview

11 Essential Things to Take to Your Interview

11 Essential Things to Take to Your Interview

Job interviews are stressful. Unfortunately, nothing can change that. There’s a lot on the line. However, you can minimize the stress of interview day by being prepared. A big part of that preparation is having everything you could potentially need for the interview. Bring these 11 essential items with you to your interview to reduce your stress and maximize your chances of landing the job!

A few copies of your resume

  • Odds are your potential employer already has a copy of your resume in digital form. However, you may be interviewing with multiple people or might be asked for a hard copy during the course of the interview. Have several copies ready to hand out and you won’t have to worry about it coming up.
  • PRO TIP: Go to a print shop and have your resume printed out on nice paper. It’s cheap and will take about 10 minutes. It makes for a much better presentation than if you just run a few copies off your home printer.

A folder or bag

  • You’ll need something to keep your paper and notes in. I recommend a padfolio because it allows for paper storage and easy note taking. Whatever item you select for this purpose keep it clean, organized, and professional.

A pen and notepad

  • Taking notes during your interview is a must. It shows that you’re engaged, diligent, and actively listening. Make sure that your pen works and that your notepad clean and crisp. Keep these items simple. Your bobble head pen won’t be cute, it will be a distraction.

Some prepared responses

  • Read our blog post on tough interview questions. Make sure that you’ve written out answers to each of them and any others that you think might come up. Now, don’t read these responses during your interview, but keep them in a side folder in case you need to review them before your interview.

Some prepared questions

  • Much like your notes on responses listed above, you need to prepare questions for your interviewer. Nothing looks worse than when an interviewer wraps up an hour-long conversation with “So, what questions do you have for me?” and your response is “Um, nothing really.” Prepare insightful questions that display your understanding of the role and the business.

Job description

  • You should already be very familiar with the job description. It can be helpful when preparing responses and questions. Bring it with you if you have a particular question about the role or just in case you need to review it last minute to get in the zone.

The interview details

  • Bring MapQuest directions. Don’t laugh! Detours, accidents, and road construction are everyday occurrences. Best practice here is to drive to the interview location the day or evening before so that you can be sure you know where you’re going. Have your interviewers contact information handy in case something comes up.

Turned off cell phone

  • If you need to bring your phone turn it off. The best option is just to leave it in your car. If you’re bringing the other items on this list with you, you won’t need it.

Grooming essentials

  • Bring whatever you’ll need to spruce yourself up the last minute. Could be a hairbrush, comb, or lint roller for your suit. The more confident you are about your appearance, the more confident you’ll come across in the interview.

Mints or gum

  • There’s nothing wrong with freshening up at the last minute. No one likes coffee breath. However, don’t chew gum or mints during your interview. It’s distracting and unprofessional.

Bottle of water

  • Many offices will offer visitors water or coffee on arrival. Don’t rely on that. Bring your own small bottle of water. Few things are worse than trying to sell yourself for a job and struggling with a tickle in your throat the whole time.

Use this list when preparing for your next job interview. You’ll be ready for anything an employer can throw at you and will be significantly more confident when speaking with them.

Did we miss anything? What item are you always sure to bring on a job interview?

Two Offers, One Choice

Searching for a new job is always stressful, but it can be even more stressful when trying to pick between multiple offers. You’re faced with making a decision between two companies, two compensation plans, and two career paths. Needless to say, it can be daunting.

Compensation should never be the lone deciding factor when choosing between offers. It’s really more about what’s best for the individual on a personal level. To pick between multiple offers, you really have to consider what is most important to you. Here are a few top things to consider when comparing offers:



This is typically the very first thing that people ask. We all have basic human needs and want to ensure that wherever we go that these basic needs will be met. One thing to consider is that benefits are actually part of your pay. I recall calculating this issue for myself at one point, when deciding whether or not to accept a new opportunity.

My position at the time paid $12,000 more per year than the new offer, but they did not contribute to employee health plans. The new offer paid 100% of all healthcare costs, which amounted to a value of $10,000, and had significantly lower copays. The new offer also doubled the amount of PTO I’d receive in a year. This leveled the playing field between the two options, as I determined pay was in reality equal once taxes and healthcare costs were factored in.



You have your work life and you have your personal life. They rarely overlap but your job is really intended to support your personal life. When picking between two offers, take into consideration the workload expectations. I had a coworker at a former company that left an employer because of poor work life balance.

She was really into spending time with her young son and very dedicated to the triathlons she regularly competed in. She took a $45,000 pay cut to go elsewhere. The catalyst was being chastised by her boss “only” working 40 hours a week (her coworkers were putting in close to 70 hours) even though her work was complete. Her boss told her “You give your son love, you give your races love, why don’t you give us any love?”

It was then that she decided her family and her races were more important than the money. She is much happier now that she is in a place where she can be flexible with her schedule and take time off as needed.



We are all looking for that sense of fulfillment and progress in our lives. When we enter the workforce, we have big ideas of where we would eventually like to be. Finding a place that will help you sharpen your skills and develop new ones to help you move forward is invaluable.

Take a look at how each offer could help you on your desired path.

  • Does it make logical sense in helping you reach your long-term goals?
  • Does the company promote from within?

One way to check is by taking a look at the company’s LinkedIn page and seeing how long employees stay with the organization and if they’ve had title changes throughout their tenure. You could also ask your interviewers where they see the company heading and if new opportunities will be created as the company grows.



Comparing two job offers is a challenge in self-knowledge. What matters the most to you? Flexibility or opportunity for promotions? Low co-pays or casual Fridays? Performance bonuses or a high salary? There are too many variables to measure and track. Analyze them as best you can and go with your gut. At the end of the day, the only person who really knows what best for you is you.

Your PPAI Expo Networking Guide

Your PPAI Expo Networking Guide

The PPAI Expo is an event largely built around the products in our industry. There will be thousands of new products, specials, and closeouts lining the 7 miles of booths. With so much to see it’s highly recommended that you go into the show with a plan of what booths you need to hit and which products you need to learn about.

Having a pre-show plan in place will allow for plenty of time to take advantage of the real value provided by the PPAI Expo: NETWORKING. Over 12,000 promotional product industry professionals will be managing the booths, walking the floor, and pulling the levers at the slots. No one can connect with everyone, but stick to our PPAI Expo Networking Guide and you’ll optimize your networking time in Las Vegas.


Outside of the food court, the Starbucks that sits along the walkway to the Expo is the closest place to get a coffee or a bite to eat. It tends to be hectic but will be littered with fellow promotional product industry professionals from 6:00 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening.

Border Grill

The Border Grill is the closest restaurant to the show floor. It’s moderately priced, perfect for a mid-day margarita, and will be slammed by the lunch crowd. It’s a great place to grab a bit with old friends or talk about that new RFP opportunity with your favorite supplier.

Orchid Lounge

The Orchid Lounge is located on the casino floor of the Mandalay Bay and is the ideal spot to have an after-show cocktail.


eyecandy is in the center of the casino floor and, though a bit loud, is a very popular spot with industry folks. The small club has no cover charge. It’ll usually kick off around 10:00 and stays open until 1:00.

House of Blues

The House of Blues is at the Mandalay Bay end of the long (and expensive) walkway that connects Mandalay with the Luxor. The music and food are great. If you have to entertain a large group or want to treat your sales team, the House of Blues the place to go.

Shark Reef Aquarium

The entrance to the Shark Reef Aquarium is just to the left of the food court. It’s really the only major attraction close to the show floor. The aquarium is beautiful and can be the perfect, quiet break from the craziness of the show floor. Tickets are $25, but who can put a price on a little relaxation.

Cirque du Soleil

The Las Vegas nightlife presents a great opportunity for industry managers and team leaders to initiate some group bonding. Seeing a Las Vegas show is the perfect group activity and there’s no show better than Cirque du Soleil. It’s a bit

pricey with cheap tickets ranging from $40 to $70 depending on the show, but there’s just something about seeing a grown man bend himself into a pretzel that makes your stretch sales goals for 2018 seem much more attainable.

Regardless of where you spend your time at the PPAI Expo you will have a great time. It’s a wonderful show and you’ll be surrounded by all of the great people who make our industry. Have a blast!

Are you exhibiting at the PPAI EXPO or will you be walking the floor and checking out the new products? Read our top tips for success at our industry’s largest trade show!