Each month, as part of our monthly e-newsletter, we provide advice to our clients to help them improve their return on their promotional product expenditures.  If you would like to learn how to increase the effectiveness of what you give, reduce costs and mistakes, and stay current on industry trends, rely on our over decade of experience.  Subscribe now. 

Adding a Date to Your Imprint Could Cause You to Waste Money Unnecessarily

We produce a lot of imprinted gifts and apparel for events - graduations, conferences, annual dinners, grand openings, etc.  Often, clients ask about including the date of the event as part of their imprint. We generally advise against this for three reasons:

  1. The number of attendees who show up for an event can vary, sometimes significantly, from projected estimates. If you guessed too high and the item or clothing you've chosen to give away has a specific date on it, you can't use the leftovers for any other purpose. 
  2. If the dated imprint forces you to order only what you need for that event, you may be just short of a quantity price break that would allow you to reduce your price each. For instance, 450 of the item may be $3.75 while 500 may be only $3.25.  
  3. The date can limit the exposure you get from recipients wearing or using the item in the future.  People will wear a shirt or use a backpack or tote bag for years if it has their college or a company logo on it.  Wearing something from an event that organization sponsored four years ago, however, clearly communicates to the public how old the item is. 

Including a date isn't always a bad idea. But if you choose to do so, be aware of the inherent disadvantages. 

Why Your Salesperson Should Ask as Many Questions as Your Doctor

If you visited a doctor, and he or she made a recommendation to you without asking any questions beforehand about your situation, would you take his or her advice or continue to go there?  Would you trust a car mechanic who wrote up a repair ticket without first finding out more about your needs? 

While these scenarios seem obvious, buyers of promotional products do this every day by purchasing from local salespeople who show them a catalog and ask only one question, "What do you like?"

If you're looking for ideas for an upcoming program or event, there are several questions you should be asked so that the most appropriate recommendation can be made for your specific need:

  1. To whom will these be given?
  2. How and where will they be presented?
  3. What would those recipients find practical and useful and really appreciate?
  4. What is your budget for the project?
  5. Do you have a theme or message you'd like to communicate?
  6. Can you share the art you'd like to use?
  7. Are there other marketing materials with which this should be consistent?

If you want to improve your results, do business with a company that cares enough about those results to ask you the questions necessary to determine what solution will be the best fit for you.

How Choosing the Shape of An Item Can Improve Your Impact and Results

We are currently working with an educational client who wanted to do a paperweight to communicate their new logo to donors and other VIPs. Their previous paperweight was oval in shape. This resulted in their circular logo being only an inch in diameter and there being much unused space on the rest of the oval.

We advised switching to a circular shape paperweight so that their new logo, also circular in shape, would fill the entire face of the item. As a result, their imprint increased in size from one inch to over three - tripling the visual impact of the piece.

What you want to imprint on your gift should play a significant role in the decision making process of what to give. If your logo is square shaped, a small horizontally shaped item is not going to communicate it very well. A long horizontal logo won't look good on a small circular item.

One of the first things we do when beginning a project with a client is ask to see their art. Being familiar with it allows us to caution against some ideas that the client may already have in mind. And, as in the example above, it gives us the ability to use our experience and product knowledge to suggest alternatives that may offer a significantly greater visual impact.

3 Reasons You Shouldn't Use Catalogs to Look for Imprinted Gift Ideas

1. They all feature the same basic items.

Have you ever flipped through several catalogs consecutively and noticed a pattern?  Regardless of the name on the cover, each features essentially the same most commonly used ad specialty items. If you've been giving gifts for several years, you may have even tried every one of them.

2. You Can't Search by Criteria Important to You.

Want to see only items that fit your budget range or come in your organization's primary colors?  Want a Made in USA item or one that's eco-friendly?  You can't do that with a catalog. Instead, you must waste time flipping through page after page of ideas that don't meet your needs. 

3. They only feature a limited number of items.

If you're in a shopping mall looking for a gift for a special occasion, would you prefer your choices be limited to one kiosk or to have the variety available in a department store?  It's the same with catalogs.  If you limit your search for ideas to what's available there, you're missing out on the much wider and more creative selection available to you. 

In contrast to the typical 100+ items a catalog features, the industry database we use to do research for our clients has over 4000 manufacturers and  800,000 products. If you want the most creative ideas that will best reinforce your organization's brand or mission and hold the most appeal to the specific interests of your target group, catalogs are not the place to look.

Is What You're Planning to Give in Touch with Changing Trends?

When deciding what to give, it's natural to show preference for products you are familiar with and have used for years. Depending on your target recipient group, however, this may not be the wisest criteria to rely on.

The examples below are not absolutes, but general examples of differences based on age.

Over 40 - likely to make coffee at home or office and drink from a mug

Under 40 - likely to buy coffee at Starbucks or a coffee shop and drink coffee in a disposable cup

Over 40 - likely to pay many bills using a checkbook

Under 40 - rarely use a checkbook and pay everything possible online

Over 40 - likely to use a watch, wall or desk clock to tell time 

Under 40 - uses cell/smart phone to tell time and may not even own a watch

Some of this is common sense and can be deduced simply by looking around. But it's also where relying on an experienced company for advice can confirm or challenge your instincts.

Continuing education through attending industry shows and reading industry magazines combined with our service to customers in every state keeps us aware of changes in purchasing preferences. We are then able to share those with our clients to insure their gifts are well received and their results maximized.

Not Knowing Where Your Order is Produced Could Cost You Dearly

Often, when people choose to shop for imprinted items or apparel on their own rather than asking a salesperson for creative suggestions, "per price each" is the only factor they compare. $.99 for a mug on one site is better than $1.04 for the same mug on a different site, right?  Not necessarily.

What most sites and catalogs don't show you is where their items are manufactured.  If you're on the east coast and the $.99 mug ships out of Arizona whereas the $1.04 mugs ship out of Pennsylvania, you're going to save much more money total with the more expensive mug.

If you work with a knowledgeable, experienced sales consultant who cares about your bottom line - not just taking your order - he or she will advise you of this.  With many promotional products items being available from more than one manufacturing facility, a salesperson with access to an industry database can determine the most cost effective option for you.

With gasoline prices and freight costs at record highs, this line item on your invoice can severely impact your budget. Don't get sucked in by low prices upfront only to be surprised on the back end by shockingly high shipping fees. With large, heavy or breakable items, the potential savings can be in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Not Knowing Where Your Order is Produced Could Cost You Dearly

What Happens if You Receive Your Order and Can't Use it the Way You Intended?

Recently, I heard the story of a church that ordered name tags from an internet site for their greeters and ushers. They chose the option of a magnetic back so that those wearing them would not put holes in their clothing.

Unfortunately, it was not until they received their order that they discovered a sticker on the back warning that the nametag should not be worn by anyone with a pacemaker. Many of the greeters were elderly, and it was unknown how many had a pacemaker.

Not every situation will be a matter of life and death, but there are others that could leave you with boxes of unusable and non-returnable product. For instance, some license plate frame styles cannot be affixed in certain states. Essential information on the plate itself is unlawfully covered.  Some states have strict environmental laws that prevent the distribution of drinkware and other product categories that don't meet those rules.  

With almost a million products available to be customized with an imprint, no person or company can know or anticipate all the possible risks with every item. However, relying on a company with as much industry experience as possible can reduce the chances of you accidentally ordering something that may not be appropriate or allowable for your intended use. 

If You Want Your Gift to Stand Out, Don't Settle for the Basic Style of an Item

Flip through any promotional products catalog you receive in the mail, and you'll essentially see the same 50 to 100 items in every one. It's very convenient to pick out one of the basic pen, mug, highlighter or mint tin styles they all feature. 

Your competition is doing the same thing, however. If they're giving out the same items during their client or donor visits or at the same fairs and tradeshows you attend, how will recipients remember yours or favor using it?

If you like the idea of giving a particular item, ask your salesperson what similarly priced options in the same product category are available that might make your gift unique. For instance, instead of a basic pen, you might consider a combo writing instrument with a highlighter on one end and a pen on the other.

Mint tins are available in the shapes of cell phones, computer mice, and cars. Stress relievers come in hundreds of stock shapes - any of which are more likely to reinforce the mission and other marketing of your business or event.

Why settle for the plain and ordinary when there are thousands of unique items available you'll never see in catalogs or on most websites?  The usual goal in giving an item is to build awareness of and name recognition for your organization.  Your effectiveness in doing so - and the return on your investment - should be improved by making your item more memorable in some way. 

The Argument for and Against Consumable Gifts

Imprinted giveaways such as Post-it notes, hand sanitizer, and candy are among the most popular in the industry, and for good reason. They are something that nearly any recipient can use. When evaluated from a different perspective, however, they have a potential downside. 

The most frequent reason for customizing a gift with a logo is to keep the name of the organization top of mind with the recipient. The above gifts do so, but for only a short time until they are consumed.

If the goal for what you give is to remind your target group for as long as possible who gave them the gift, avoid choosing any type of item that will be used quickly and then discarded. Instead, select items that the recipient will use continuously and keep in a visible location.

A golf ball will eventually be hit in a pond or woods and lost. A golf towel could stay attached to a bag for years. A car air freshener will be hung or clipped and visible for a few weeks.  A visor clip that holds a pair of sunglasses will be hung or clipped and visible for years. 

How You'll Give a Gift Should Help Determine Which You Choose

Once you've developed a list of gift ideas you think might work for a particular purpose or event, it's wise to reconsider them in the context of how and where you'll give them.

Those logo shaped chocolates might look cute in a catalog. But they might not look so cute on the opening day of your July conference in Las Vegas after they've been transported and stored without refrigeration.

Customized luggage tags are a great idea to give out at an event to which recipients must travel and return home. However, the inexpensive ones are often shipped unattached in separate bulk bags. If your salesperson doesn't warn you of this and you envision distributing them as a complete set, you'll spend all night before the event assembling hundreds or thousands of them.  

Large items like a rolling cooler or stadium chair may be universally popular. But, if they are to be given by someone who must travel in a car to visit recipients, you must consider how many will they be able to take on the road at one time.

One of the first questions we ask when discussing a new project is "For what purpose are these being purchased?" Knowing this allows us to suggest ideas that will be just as good of an idea once received as they looked in a PDF presentation.

Full Color Can Cost the Same as One Color

In the past, a multiple-color imprint would cost much more than a one color imprint, especially with the additional set-up charges. Now, new digital printing technology offers the ability to get complex designs with many colors for the same or only slightly more than one color.

Don't settle for a boring bland design on your gift. Making it eye-catching with a more colorful imprint no longer has to break your budget.

When Should I Place My Order to Avoid Rush  Charges and Production

Improved production at plants have made it possible to get many items in as little as 24 hours. The majority of gifts, however, still take 5-10 days production + shipping after art proof approval.   

When possible, order at least one month before your event date. You'll get the widest selection of ideas possible at the lowest price with allowance for any issues that may arise due to stock, delivery, etc. 

Are You Using Year-end As An Opportunity to Stay Connected?

Out of sight is out of mind. This cliche has become more true than ever as people are continuously bombarded with attempts to gain their attention from old media combined with the new media of text messaging, Twitter, etc.

If you don't make a deliberate effort to stay in contact with your clients, donors, alumni, staff, etc., their affiliation with you will diminish amongst all the clutter.  There is perhaps no better time to say hello, thank you, and "we're thinking of you" than during the holidays.

While a card communicates that inexpensively, it disappears as soon as the occasion is over.  A strategically chosen gift with your name and logo on it, however, could be kept by recipients for years.

And you don't have to spend a lot of money to show you remember and care. Many manufacturers offer 4th quarter specials making it possible to get a nicer item for less money. December is also the last opportunity to take advantage of current year prices before they typically rise with the release of new year catalogs.  

So don't miss this opportunity to reach out to your constituents. Build goodwill, show appreciation, and insure you'll be top of mind with them in the coming year by remembering them this time of year. 

How to Get Recipients to Advertise Your Organization for Free

Ever see someone wearing a Harley Davidson jacket or Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt and think how lucky those businesses are that customers actually advertise for them?  Would you like to get hundreds or thousands of people promoting your organization for free?

You can by carefully choosing the gift you give. Many items, by their vary nature, will provide thousands of impressions, potentially over many years, at no cost to you beyond their initial purchase. 

Your logo on a luggage tag or strap, for instance, gets viewed everywhere the recipient travels.  A car window sticker or shade is seen everywhere they drive.  Your logo on apparel is almost at eye level to every person they greet.

So if such free advertising could benefit you, when deciding what to give your clients, graduates, volunteers, students, etc., first ask, "What would they find practical that when used, would be in full view to others around them?" 

Can you trust your salesperson to care enough about you, your budget and your results to warn you when you may be making a bad decision?

Suppose you have an upcoming donor or client dinner and you've picked out a unique piece of glassware made by a plant in New Jersey. You're in California. The shipment of wine glasses across country will be astronomical with some breakage likely. Will the customer service person at that cool website you've found online warn you and offer to provide similar glass styles produced by plants in California? 

What if you're planning an upcoming marketing or college campus event aimed at students aged 18-22 and your committee members aged 40+ want to give out a CD holder or checkbook cover?  Does your local salesperson care more about an easy sale than a long term relationship and won't advise you that teenagers listen to music on iPods not CD's and pay bills online or with plastic - not checks?

Or, is someone in your office thinking that little multi-purpose tool with the knife, fingernail file and bottle opener would make a great idea for your conference attendees?  They used to but not anymore! TSA officials will take every one of them at the airport security checkpoint.

Although the internet has made it easy to research ideas, even the flashiest sites don't categorize items by "good" and "bad" based on the specifics of your individual audience or event. Relying on experienced professionals who have managed thousands of projects over a decade will not only save you enormous amounts of research time, but also protect you from costly and potentially embarrassing mistakes.

How to Ruin Your Event with Cheap Gifts Found on the Internet 

It's 5:00 and the banquet hall is being beautifully decorated for tonight's dinner. Two hundred guests including your top donors or customers will arrive soon for this annual event.  But instead of being at home getting dressed for the evening, you are still at the office desperately trying to reach a "live" person at the internet site where you ordered the gifts and awards for tonight's gala.

Why?  Because the gifts still haven't been delivered.  Sure, there were some early warning signs of potential trouble - exceptionally low prices that seemed too good to be true, not getting regular updates on the status of your order and the day or two it took to get a response to email or phone messages. But their product looked about the same as others you had seen, they had a really nice website, and you were saving so much money!  

Unfortunately, this experience is all too common. It takes little more than a business license, some business cards and a good web designer to start an ad specialty business. Many people enter this industry with no knowledge of the thousands of products available, experience in art design/brand management, understanding of the production processes, etc. They will tell you they can get you anything you want by when you need it and that they'll undercut any price you can find.

This creates a tough decision for you of whether to entrust your next event to someone with possibly little experience in the business, who cares more about getting your order than getting you results, isn't available when you need to reach them, or doesn't share your sense of urgency when it comes to your customers or constituents.

If you would feel less stressed knowing you paid a competitive price from a company with over a decade of experience, with whom it is easy to communicate and on whom you can rely to get your gifts to you on time and done right, I encourage you to give us an opportunity and see the difference.

Is Searching the Internet for Gift Ideas the Best Use of Your Time or Your Staff's?

While the proliferation of websites offering promotional products has made a wider variety of gifts more accessible than ever, that ease of availability may have actually increased the time consumed in the research and decision making process. How?

With the knowledge that a multitude of resources is just a click away, you or your staff may get sucked into spending one or more hours surfing site after site for the perfect idea.  With most office staffs reduced to the absolute minimum during the recession, however, is it wise for you to be investing more than a few minutes in a task you can so easily delegate to outside experts?   

In just one short email or phone call, you can share with us the details of your project, and then move on to the next item on your to do list. While you're busy working on something else, we'll research what ideas are most appropriate for your purpose, message, brand or recipients. We assemble ten to fifteen choices into an easy to scroll PDF presentation.

It only costs you another five minutes to review those ideas and ask for additional information on those that appeal to you most.  So with your next project, try outsourcing to our staff so that you and yours can get on to the more critical tasks that only you can do. 

One Nice Gift Will Cost You Less & Impress More Than Giving A Few Less Expensive Items

Clients often share with us their budget for an upcoming program or event and request quotes on several items. While it can be appealing to some recipients to receive a bag full of "stuff", for most, the perceived value of the gesture is cheapened.   

Instead, we advise clients to put all of their budget into one nicer item rather than dividing it among several small. Not only will this make a higher quality impression on the recipient, it will allow you to have more of your budget go towards product and less towards fees.  How?

When you order three items rather than one, you pay for three set ups, three art proofs and three shipments. When you order one item, you can get a more expensive item or larger quantity for the same total budget expenditure.

Unless your event lends itself to more of a "goodie bag" full of trinkets for all participants, opt for one gift of value. Our search engine makes it easy to plug in the quantity you need and the price you to want to identify the nicest gift possible for your budget. 

Wrong Product at a Cheaper Price Will Cost You More

The proliferation of Internet sites selling promotional products has made it easier than ever to go online and find items on sale.  Inventory closeouts, in particular, offer a significant opportunity to save.  

While a budget range is likely to guide most purchases for a program or event, whatever can be found for the cheapest price shouldn't.  As discussed in our What's Hot, What's Not section below, a round wooden pencil may only cost $.17 each, but will the people who receive it use it?

A vinyl or plastic key chain may not cost very much, but what are the odds that the recipient will replace their current nice engraved metal or LED light key ring with yours?  In either example, pennies saved caused hundreds or thousands of dollars to be wasted.

Rely on expert advice to select the right giveaway, not necessarily the cheapest.  We can make recommendations based on your budget range that will increase the chances of your gift achieving your objective not adding to a landfill.

Will What You Give Away Match Your Brand and Image?

Before considering what gifts or apparel to imprint with your logo, first look at the other media you use for communicating your brand and image - your website, printed materials, billboards, business cards, etc.  Which main colors are used in all?  What style defines what your organization represents? 

The answers to those two questions should guide your evaluation of what products are most appropriate to use. Example: if your organization's colors are orange, black and white, choose an umbrella with alternating panels of at least two of those colors with the imprint in the third.  Or, if you're choosing a polo shirt for your staff, some combination of those same colors should be all that you consider - with preference given to the orange because of its distinctiveness.

If your image is "cutting edge", you'll want to convey that with the style of promotional items you purchase.  Example:  choose products with a silver or translucent finish rather than those of leather or wood. The ultimate test is to spread out on a table as many representations of your communications as possible and ask yourself, "Do these all match in color and in style?" If the answer is "no", you should reconsider your plans.

Request a free consultation with us and share as much of your media as possible. After a review, we will provide you experienced advice on ideas that will complement and reinforce your image and brand. 

Choose Giveaways that Reinforce Your Core Message

When trying to determine the best gift for your next planned program or event, look first to what message you're communicating in other media targeted at the same group.  Whenever possible, your giveaways should tie in with and reinforce that message.

If entering related key words into our search page returns insufficient results, share your details with us.  We can use our database of over 4400 additional manufacturers to assist you in finding the right idea.

Let How and Where You'll Give a Gift Guide Which You Choose

If at an event like a tradeshow or sales meeting, you were to give out the classic and ever popular multi-function pocket knife key chain, what do you think will be the perception of your organization when recipients have your gift confiscated from their pockets and purses as they pass through airline security?

If you've given a ceramic mug to participants at a school Homecoming or a business conference, how will they feel when they unpack their luggage at home and find it smashed to pieces? 

In both cases, not only have you wasted your money in purchasing the gift, but you've also potentially made a negative impression by not thinking about the possible consequences of a gift.

When planning your next project, share with us how and where you plan to distribute your gifts.  We'll use our decade of expertise to advise you of any potential pitfalls with certain items and can suggest alternative gifts that might better fit your giving goals.

Choose Gifts from Your Recipient's Perspective, Not Your Own

When browsing for ideas for your target audience, it's important to exclude your own interests and personal or geographic biases from the decision making process.  Instead, focus on what your recipients - based on their interests and demographics - would appreciate.

For instance, although you might prefer a thin writing pen, if you were planning gifts for older adults such as grandparents, a larger grip instrument would be more suitable.  Although you might not like to read, their generation does - both books and newspapers.  Gifts such as a bookmark into which they can insert a grandchild's picture or a lighted magnifying glass would likely be deeply appreciated.

When planning your next project, share with us who you're trying to reach.  We'll use our expertise to advise you on what gifts would be most appropriate for your target audience.

When to Place Your Order - Save by Ordering Ahead

We're often asked how far ahead of an event an order should be placed. With many plants now offering 24 hour production, it may be possible - if you have perfect camera ready art and don't need to see a proof - to place an order on Monday, have it ship Tuesday and arrive on Wednesday. This service may only be available on certain products, however, and some plants charge differently for 1, 5 or 10 day service. 

So if you want the greatest selection of items, need help with your art and would like the peace of mind that comes with seeing a proof, we advise clients to back out one month from their event date to place the order. When you're able to do so, this can help lower your costs and permit any challenges that arise with an order to be handled and resolved with time to spare.

Reduce Shipping Costs - What NOT to order when you're in a rush

If you have a in hands date within three weeks, it's generally advisable not to order anything of glass. The combined additional air freight costs for the weight and double packing could actually exceed the costs of your order. Other non-breakable items to beware of in a rush may include magnets, sticky notes, sports bottles and Frisbees.  Their combined weight or limited quantity per box can make express shipping very expensive. We are always happy to provide a shipping estimate with your quote so you have a good idea of total costs.

Save Additional Art Costs by Providing Vector Art 

Vector-based art is created in a graphic design program such as Adobe Illustrator. It permits the size of your imprint to be adjusted up or down - without loss of proportions or image quality - to fit the imprint area of the item you have ordered. 

Is Your Goal to Give Away "Stuff" or Get Results?

I often hear promotional items referred to negatively as "trinkets and trash" or "chatzkes". Frequently, a budget has been set aside for giveaways and the responsibility for selecting them delegated down without any discussion of what they should achieve.

At large corporations, that is not the case. In this economic environment, executives are demanding from their ad agencies and marketing staff measurable results for every dollar spent. If you want to see a return on your investment, not simply expend an annual budget, what you give should be chosen based on two criteria:

  1. Will this be appreciated by - and practical and useful to - my recipients, generating goodwill with them?
  2. Does it effectively communicate our message, who we are and what we do as an office or organization?  

If you view gifts or apparel with your logo as unimportant meaningless "stuff", then ask yourself, why do Coca-Cola and Nike spend billions of dollars every year putting their logo everywhere? With your budget being much more limited than theirs, isn't it even more important that you get the highest return possible on the dollars you expend?

View the branding of merchandise the way they do - as an effective marketing tool to build awareness and strengthen relationships with a target audience. Changing your perception will improve your results.