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Young Pro’s “SPARK” it up in Denver

Unique conference format helped for effective 'masterminding.'

8/9/2017 | Sam Kabert, Success with Swag(ger)

No, that’s not what I meant… get your head out of the gutter ;). On July 27th, I joined over 60 other young professionals in Denver for the first ever “conference” designed by millennials for millennials in the promotional products industry – SPARK (a PPAI organized group).

Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a networking junkie – specifically, networking that caters to “young professionals.”  So, when I heard that PPAI was putting on its first ever networking conference for young professionals in the promotional products industry, I signed up without even looking at the agenda. I literally went into this conference not knowing what to expect at all.  

Marketing to millennials has been a hot topic for quite a few years now. I remember sometime between 2006-2010 (my college years) being at an office supply conference and one of the main focuses was about millennials entering the workforce. 

Some personal accolades:

• Board member of the Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce at 23 years old (this was when Levi’s Stadium was being built in Santa Clara, I’ve met and networked with a lot of movers and shakers at a “young age” from this opportunity)

• Chair of the Silicon Valley Young Professionals (SVYP) from age 24-27

• SVYP earned Volunteer of the Year Award in 2016 under my leadership

• Awarded Individual Member of the Year by Santa Clara Chamber in 2017

The fact that the promotional products industry is so behind in addressing a need for young professional development is a bit surprising. I come from the office supply industry and was involved in a comparable group to SPARK back in 2012. I’m not ripping on the SWAG industry (rather I don’t intentionally mean to do so) but the truth is we are behind and I’m THRILLED to see that PPAI is taking the charge!

It seems that in the past few years everyone is trying to figure out millennials. To me, this is just a bit late.

Think of it this way… Generation Z entered college in 2016. That means in 2020, Gen Z will be entering the workforce.  I’m 29 years old.  As much as by definition I am a millennial (and a young professional for now); I realize that I need to start preparing for the next generation.  

Some know this, some may not: I’m preparing to launch my personal brand, “SwagSam,” which is about professional development for young professionals (in the form of a weekly podcast, blog and book to be published Summer of 2018).  

Personal branding is just as much a hot topic right now as millennials.  

My vision is to capitalize on my experience in building my brand in Silicon Valley as a young professional and provide a how-to guide for those entering the workforce.

SPARK was a great event by all accounts. I loved that we were not forced to sit through a ton of presentations. The vibes were lighthearted and the focus was around networking. A funny thing happens when the focus is on networking over “education.”  Education becomes the result from networking with your peers. We’ve all heard of “death by PowerPoint” and yet some conferences are still centered around presentations. Whether there’s an actual PowerPoint presentation or not, it doesn’t really matter. If a presentation is not engaging, then people tune out. I really don’t go to a networking event to sit and listen to someone talk. We have webinars for that or my personal preference, podcasts (I heard the WhatUp Silicon Valley Podcast is good BTW). When I go to a conference I want to network. It’s not only about building relationships but it’s about “MasterMinding.”

One of the best “sessions” SPARK led was a peer-to-peer discussion about common industry challenges while drinking beer and other cocktails. The best part was that this workshop was held at a brewery in between sets of live music. I know my words will not do the painting in your head justice. But imagine... pedaling on a “bike” with new friends, then walking into a local brewery in a hipster side of Denver, followed by live music and, in between beers, talking about industry challenges with your peers. 

The enthusiasm from the leaders of SPARK along with that of the attendees was infectious. I know that SPARK will ignite the next generation of leaders in the promotional products industry.  

And good thing we’re starting now, because we’re only a few years away from really diving into what makes Gen Z tick.

To learn more about millennials or generational differences, I encourage you to check out GenHQ.com. Better yet, just click here to learn more about Gen Z (expect a ton of free downloads).


Sam Kabert is the creative director of ValueBP Marketing Group and the creator and co-host of the podcast “WhatUp Silicon Valley!” A risk taker who embraces permanent beta, Sam is leading the transformation of his family-run office supplies business into a promotional products powerhouse. Sam can be reached at Sam@ValueBP.com.

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