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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Building vs. Starting

Three lessons from building a successful event after an amazing start.

As you read this (clearly not as I write this), I am in Cozumel, Mexico, on the second PromoCruise. As with any time I write about Promocations, it presents a challenge as I don’t want to assume everyone knows about Promocations, but, at the same time, I don’t want it to be a commercial for the company. So, if you want to learn about Promocations, our goals for elevating networking, and our future events, you can visit the website here.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog.

In April, during the first PromoCruise, and in June, during the first PromoQue, we proved to people that we were serious about changing the usual “room show” style events that permeate the promotional products industry. To be clear, when I say (or write) we, that means myself and my business partner, Josh Robbins. We knew many people were watching to see if we could pull it off, and it was a tremendously gratifying experience to validate the support of many and even prove a few others wrong.

After the PromoQue, Josh and I went into full PromoCruise 2 mode while, at the same time, running our own businesses in Vault Promotions and brandivate. As we marched closer to the sailing date of November 4, 2023, we realized that building and growing an established event is very different than creating the event in the first place. Below are some lessons we learned that apply to any business as they seek to grow.


Some things are easier – Many of the tools we built to launch Promocations provided us with more time because they didn’t need to be developed from the ground up. The obvious ones are the website and the event app. However, there is so much behind the scenes that no one sees that because they were built, made our lives easier: sourcing memorable excursions, templates for dinner seating and one-on-one meetings, and established hotel and restaurant relationships. While quite a bit of time was still involved, it was more about changing data than building it from scratch. That being said, we did make numerous improvements – especially as it relates to the app. It’s always had the agenda, list of PromoCruisers, and ability to share information via notifications. However, we intended to make the app an integral part of the experience and added personalized table assignments for dinner, specific information on excursions, and even starting tables for the one-on-one meetings.


The Lesson: Don’t be tempted to reinvent the wheel when you improve it more efficiently.


Some things are more complicated – We know autumn is a difficult time for many companies and individuals in the promotional products industry, which makes it challenging for people to attend. Timing is always a challenging aspect for any event, and our events are no different, as there is no “perfect” time to have a five-day networking event. This is especially true if you look at the industry calendar, which isn’t for the faint of heart. However, the most challenging thing we had to do was to look at EVERY aspect of the first PromoCruise and be critical of it.

  • What worked?

  • What didn’t?

  • Why or why not?

  • What can we do that’s in our control?

  • What do we need to manage that’s not in our control?

This is something that every business needs to do consistently. In our case, just about everyone shared that the first PromoCruise was the “best industry event ever.” While that’s fantastic to hear, that doesn’t mean we can simply repeat everything from the first cruise and expect that subsequent events will hit the same standard.

The Lesson: look just as hard at your successes as you do your failures and ask, “How can this be better next time?”


It’s no longer new – In many respects, being brand new is an advantage because there isn’t anything to compare it to. Now that we are hosting our second PromoCruise (and planning the third, which will sail on April 15, 2024), we have something to live up to. Not to be trite, but almost everything went right during the first PromoCruise. To be sure, the biggest reason for that was planning – and a ton of it. However, there was also a bit of luck involved in things that are generally outside our control: the weather, attendees, and even the timing of the event. In this situation, people generally try to control that fate only to find that it’s simply not possible. Josh and I have only focused on the things that we control to make the second PromoCruise as epic as the first one was – and that was a very smart decision.

The Lesson: When looking to make incremental improvements, focus only on the things that you can control.

We still have a few days left in this PromoCruise, and everyone is having a fabulous time making professional connections. Sometime in the next few weeks, Josh and I will sit down with a bourbon in hand and review every aspect of the second PromoCruise – right down to every last detail. By doing so, we will focus on making the next event even better than the current one.

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