I have been in the promotional products industry for a long time. A very long time. From before the days when you could fax an order into a factory, or before you could send artwork via some overnight service.
For as long as I can remember (and let’s face it: I’m old…that might not be a very long period of time), I stated that ‘we don’t save lives…we sell imprinted stuff’. While that’s not the most inspired elevator pitch ever, it might explain my (lack of?) success in this industry.
I usually felt that way after I’d heard someone getting upset about this or that…’the factory screwed up my order’, ‘we’re gonna miss a delivery date’, ’my customer is an idiot’ (you’d be surprised how often I’ve heard that one)…and my attitude was always “Relax…it’s really not that big a deal”.
Over the last few years my outlook has changed. A case in point is the wonderful case history I have presented time and again when visiting with legislators in Washington as part of PPAI’s annual LEAD trip. While there, I have shown a baby’s onesie…one given out by a hospital in Ohio to parents of newborns, imprinted “This side up” to educate parents that babies need to sleep on their backs to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Hmm….maybe we are saving lives.
For many years now, I’ve been involved with a great group of volunteers known as the SAAGNY Foundation, which is the charitable arm of the Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York. During that time, I’ve personally lead an annual coat drive, hitting up my industry friends for new winter weight jackets for some of New York City’s underprivileged children. I’ve also worked with other Foundation volunteers each summer at a camp for children with cancer, and at a school for developmentally challenged and at-risk kids. Maybe we’re not saving lives in these instances, but we have been making many lives better.
And then something happened this very month where I saw this industry gather together and help a family in need. A family in crisis.
A year or so back, I hardly knew Bill Petrie. I guess we qualified as “acquaintances”…crossing paths from time to time, and we clearly ran in the same circles, but I wouldn’t say we were friends. Friendly. Okay…he hadn’t pissed me off (yet). He got points for that.
It evolved, and at this point I’d say we are friends. No pressure to return the love, Bill...it’s just how I see it on this end. [Editor's note: the feeling is mutual, Mike]
And then almost two weeks ago ago Bill’s wife, Sandy…a person I’ve never met but look forward to doing so…experienced a cardiac episode (a much simpler description than it actually was…to hear Bill describe it, it was quite horrific and you can read about it/get updates here) which required hospitalization, tests, prayers, and all sorts of stuff like that. He being outside of Nashville, and I outside of New York City…distance made it difficult for me to be of any use to the Petrie’s as a family.
In discussing this with a few friends, we realized that the best way to help this family was to relieve at a least a portion of the burden on Bill (Sandy seemed to have her own issues to address). He was going back and forth to the hospital, running his business, and taking care of their family. When it was suggested that we send them some food so that Bill didn’t have to concern himself with feeding himself and the boys, I set up a GoFundMe drive, and posted it via social media.
And that’s where this industry really came through…that’s where we helped make a difference in this family’s life. I set a modest goal on GoFundMe, and posted the drive on my own and Bill’s Facebook pages, as well as in an a few of the promo industry’s Facebook groups. Many people followed my lead and shared the drive on their own.
Within minutes, the first donation came in. Within a few hours, the goal was attained. I raised the desired goal, and THAT was met.
What was interesting (but maybe not surprising) is that I was hearing from people who didn’t know the Petrie’s. Total strangers…their notes, either directly to me or via the GoFundMe page, stated that they just wanted to help.
Did we, as an industry, save a life? Hardly, unless you consider feeding three hungry men life-saving. Did we make a family’s life better? I hope so.
Has this restored my faith in mankind? Well…let’s not get carried away.
[Editor's Note: To say I've been stunned by the outpouring of support I've received during the events of the past two weeks would be a gross understatement. Thank you to all who have reached out, texted, emailed, called, donated, prayed, and kept good thoughts. I'll never be able to repay this debt other than to pay it forward, which I fully intend to do. So, in answer to Mike's question - can an industry save a life? All I know is that the promotional products industry made my life far more bearable than it would have been had I not been part of this special group of people.]
Mike Schenker, MAS, is an award-winning veteran of the promotional products industry, going back to the days when product searches were done on a large microfiche reader, instead of relying on the kindness of strangers on the internet. He’s been a distributor and a supplier, and has a vantage point on our industry which can best be described as “unique”. He takes the promotional products business very seriously, but not himself, and his reflections on all things imprinted can be found in his monthly column for Identity Marketing. He is one of the admins of the popular Promotional Products Professionals group on Facebook, a two-time candidate for the PPAI Board of Directors (but he’s not bitter), a member of the SAAGNY Hall of Fame, and the recipient of the 2014 PPAI Distinguished Service Award. You can connect with Mike via one of the following methods: