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Paul Kiewiet, Promotional Industry Vet, Sees Big Potential for Distributors Who Seize the Opportunity

The former owner of a promotional and incentive agency in Michigan who eventually became Chairman of the Promotional Products Association, and who is now the Executive Director of the Michigan Promotional Professionals Association, Paul Kiewiet probably knows as much about the industry as anyone. Despite major challenges, he sees a bright future for those distributors who can move away from selling products to solving problems.
 
Paul Kiewiet Having accomplished pretty much everything on his bucket list, Paul Kiewiet realized there was one item left: publishing a book. To do so, he decided to compile the key observations he had shared about his life in the promotional and incentive field  over the years that could apply both to his industry and to any businessperson. 
 
“Summit: Reaching the Peak of Your Potential”, is available on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.  The book is “geared for those who wish to turn their job in the promotional products industry into a profession that allows them to reach their full potential and become their best selves.” 
 
Kiewiet is somewhat unique in the promotional products field because he came to the field as a founder of an overall promotional agency, which handled other promotional needs besides products, including incentive programs and other services.
 
To sum up his own life’s lessons and their application to life and business, the theme of the book and Kiewiet’s approach is spelled out with the acronym PAIN RELIEF. 
 
P stands for positivity, maintaining optimism even during the most challenging of times.
A for asking the right questions, always trying to find out what a client needs or their areas of pain.
I for inspiration, continually searching the source for new ideas.
N for negotiating, always looking for win-wins.
R for reinvention, having a stable base from which to pivot. 
E for evaluation, taking the time, whenever possible, to examine the details and risk. 
L for life, living in the present, valuing the simple things.
I for innovation, always looking for new ways to relieve pain or solve a problem.
E for endurance. Persevere. Don’t give up.  
F for the future, always look forward and plan to the extent possible. 
 
Based on a series of articles and blogs he has written through his professional journey, the book shows how these principles apply both to business or any challenge in life, including one of Kiewiet’s passions: mountaineering. Summiting a major mountain, he notes, is a microcosm of how we must prepare for and endure challenges in life and business, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst and balancing the needs of our own survival with those of our colleagues.
 
Having a strategic approach to addressing PAIN RELIEF, Kiewiet believes, will help distributors prepare for a new post-pandemic world that will force many to change the way they do business if they wish to thrive.
 

The Need to Sell Products That People Keep

Kiewiet believes that the increasing focus on sustainability will reduce demand for low-cost cheap items that usually end up in landfills. “Selling junk is bad for the brand of this business; bad for distributors and clients, and bad for the environment.”
 
Paul Kiewiet has dedicated decades of his life to the promotion and incentive field. His promotion agency was an industry leader in the 1990s, and he dedicated years to what is now known as the Incentive Marketing Association and to the Promotional Products Association, for which he served as Chairman and from which he received a Hall of Fame Award. He is now Executive Director of the Michigan Promotional Professionals Association and is credited with helping to bring it to a new level of excellence.
 
“I have never felt this industry is about products. We need to be problem solvers. It’s not our client’s job to remember us, it’s our job to be unforgettable. We can’t sell junk. It will destroy the industry.” 
 
Despite his focus on positivity, looking to the future, Kiewiet sees headwinds. In addition to growing concerns about the environmental impact of some promotional products, “A big threat to the industry is commoditization. People selling the same stuff from the same sources to the same people, the same way. If the only differentiator is price, that becomes a race to the bottom.”
 

Stop Selling, Start Asking

Kiewiet believes that the industry must stop selling products. “The questions should be: what is our client trying to accomplish? Who is the audience? How do we select promotional products that people will want to use? What other services might they need? The fact that so many of us have promotional products on our desks, in some cases for years, is an endorsement of what can be achieved if the right products are selected. That expertise can’t be easily commoditized.”  
 
This new focus on selecting items of enduring value, he notes, will favor retail brands, especially those with an ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) emphasis. “Look at Yeti. I would have never guessed people in this industry would be clamoring for water bottles costing $40 or more.” He urges distributors to learn about other engagement solutions they can provide. 
 
While he believes that the distributors that continue to sell products are endangered, those that become problem solvers will thrive. “Distributors should be looking at what problems they can solve, not what they sell. In too many cases, salespeople simply listen to what the customer asks for and goes out and shops it, without taking any time to figure out what problems the customer is trying to solve, the audience involved, and the other tactics they are considering to engage those people.”
 

Nobody Has a Promotional Products Problem

To underscore the point, he says: “Nobody has a promotional products problem. They have a problem of retention, recruiting, finding customers, or getting people to attend an event and remember it afterwards. They have problems with lost productivity, safety, wellness. Those are the problems distributors should be looking for. There are times a promotional product may not be the right answer. Distributors can increase their value by helping clients solve their problems.” That can’t be commoditized by the Internet, he notes.
 
“It requires learning new things. The train has left the station. Things are changing rapidly. That which works will endure.”
 
Kiewiet comes back to positivity by noting there has been a lot of improvement in the industry over the years. “The industry had grown solidly until the pandemic. We were the fourth-fastest growing advertising medium until 2019, and a lot of that has to do with the new focus on experiences and one-on-one engagement. But a lot of success came despite ourselves. There are just so many people selling stuff.”
 
His advice to distributors: “There’s plenty of pain out there. Be the aspirin.” 
 
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Education, Certifications, and Information to Activate
Brand Media and Enterprise Engagement 


A complete learning, certification, and information program and a course syllabus for educators.
 
Resources: The Brand Media Coalition, the only guide to the story-telling power of brands and where to source them for business, event, promotional gifting, and rewards and recognition. Enterprise Engagement Solution Provider Directory. The only directory of engagement solution providers covering all types of agencies and tactics as well as insights on how to select them.
 
Communities: The  Enterprise Engagement Alliance and Advocate and the  Brand Media Coalition free resource centers offering access to the latest research, news, and case studies; discounts, promotions, referrals, and commissions, when appropriate to third-party solution providers from participating coalition solution provider members.
 
Training and Certification
Enterprise Engagement Alliance Education: Certified Engagement Practitioner; Advanced Engaged Practitioner, and Certified Engagement Solution Provider learning and certification programs on how to implement Stakeholder Capitalism principles at the tactical level. 
 
International Center for Enterprise Engagement: The only training and certification program for ISO 30414 human capital reporting and ISO 10018 quality people management certification. 
 
A CEO's Guide to Engagement Across the Enterprise cover
The EEA offers a complimentary course syllabus for educators.
 
In Print: 
This is the definitive implementation guide to Stakeholder Capitalism, written specifically to provide CEOs and their leadership teams a concise overview of the framework, economics, and implementation process of a CEO-led strategic and systematic approach to achieving success through people.  (123 pages, $15.99)
 
The first and most comprehensive book on Enterprise Engagement and the new ISO 9001 and ISO 10018 quality people management standards. Includes 36 chapters detailing how to better integrate and align engagement efforts across the enterprise. (312 pages, $36.) 
 
Online:  
10-minute short course: click here for a 10-minute introduction to Enterprise Engagement and ISO standards from the Coggno.com learning platform.
 
Services: 
•  The Engagement Agency at EngagementAgency.net, offering: complete support services for employers, solution providers, and technology firms seeking to profit from formal engagement practices for themselves or their clients, including Brand and Capability audits for solution providers to make sure their products and services are up to date.
•  C-Suite Advisory Service—Education of boards, investors, and C-suite executives on the economics, framework, and implementation processes of Enterprise Engagement. 
•  Speakers Bureau—Select the right speaker on any aspect of engagement for your next event.
•  Mergers and Acquisitions. The Engagement Agency’s Mergers and Acquisition group is aware of multiple companies seeking to purchase firms in the engagement field. Contact Michael Mazer in confidence if your company is potentially for sale at 303-320-3777.
 
Enterprise Engagement Benchmark Tools: The Enterprise Engagement Alliance offers three tools to help organizations profit from Engagement. Click here to access the tools.
•  ROI of Engagement Calculator. Use this tool to determine the potential return-on-investment of an engagement strategy. 
•  EE Benchmark Indicator. Confidentially benchmark your organization’s Enterprise Engagement practices against organizations and best practices. 
•  Compare Your Company’s Level of Engagement. Quickly compare your organization’s level of engagement to those of others based on the same criteria as the EEA’s Engaged Company Stock Index.
•  Gauge Your Personal Level of Engagement. This survey, donated by Horsepower, enables individuals to gauge their own personal levels of engagement.
 
For more information, contact Bruce Bolger at Bolger@TheEEA.org, 914-591-7600, ext. 230.
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