A Crash Course from 'Promotional University'

Tchotchkes! Premiums! Giveaways! Gifts! Gizmos! Gadgets!

Whatever you call promotional products, they are an essential piece to the puzzle of meetings, conferences and conventions. But with over 400,000 products to choose from, how do you decide which is appropriate for your venue?

Understanding the art, print methods, production times and costs involved can be confusing and often frustrating. In working through our company, Off The Wall Promotions, we had run into so many clients who had bad experiences with previous vendors that it became evident these clients needed to know more about the ordering process.

So we created a series of seminars we call “Promotional University,” or “P.U.,” with the tagline, “Did your last promotion stink?”

The purpose is quite simply to explain the promotional industry. Whether you own a company or are the person responsible for buying products, it’s helpful to understand the nuts and bolts of your order.

Generally, artwork is the topic most people have a tough time understanding.

Getting a grip on art

The most common problem is trying to fit too much information in a small area. Be sure to know what the imprint area is on the product you choose. Each product has a specific measurement for imprinting. Look for products with a similar shape to your logo or large enough for your message.

Another gray area — no pun intended — is color. A logo with many colors may be more expensive to reproduce on some products. Be sure to ask if full-color process printing is an option for your item. The cost-effective alternative is to have a one-color version of your logo on hand. Remember, PMS colors have long been a nightmare to work with. Most suppliers print in a variety of standard colors, and will charge a mixing fee to match a PMS color. A vendor should inform you before hand if there will be a fee.

Production time is usually our greatest challenge. The production schedule varies with each product — and quite often clients wait until the last minute to order their tchotchke. Here are a few things to remember when placing an order with a vendor: The greater the lead time the better.

Many products are now available with three-to-five day production with no rush fees. If the order is placed within a week of the event, it is better to use a guaranteed ship method. The additional expense is worth the insurance. Be aware of holidays that may affect the delivery of your goods.

The cost of your product is greatly affected by the quantity purchased. Quite simply, the more you buy the better the price. For the printer of the product, it is easier to keep a machine running on the same imprint rather than breaking down and setting up multiple times. Hence, the price breaks per quantity. Ask your vendor to quote on a few different quantities when researching items.

Consider other uses for the product too. If it can help put you in the next bracket, great! If you don’t have a date imprinted, they can be used for other events.

Successful mailings

So what is appropriate for your venue? Here are two different examples that may help inspire you in your search for promotional products.

One of the most successful series of mailings we produced was for a convention that moved to a new city in Florida. Three postcards were sent over the course of two months. The first had a miniature compass sealed to the front. We customized the face of the compass so that each directional point had an “S”. The message on the card read, “All directions point south for this year’s …”. For the second card, we sealed a sunscreen packet to the front to entice attendees to the new location. Finally, with only a few weeks before the event we sent out the third postcard. A two-part magnet was sealed to the front. The inner part of the magnet contained a “Don’t forget the date” message. The outer part, which can be used as a photo frame, had an attractive design with the event logo at the bottom. The bonus of the frame section was that it would continue to promote the event in years to come.

An interesting chain reaction occurred with this next promotion. A new conference center struggling to book open dates requested something “new” to help promote the facility. What we decided to do was redefine the local area by making it a destination. A hot new product referred to as a “mini-map” was ordered to highlight the property as well as some of the surrounding attractions. The Rand McNally-style map, which is the size of a credit card when folded, was printed in color with full detail. The legend at the bottom corresponded to numbered stars representing the various sponsors, which included restaurants, theatres, clubs, gyms and museums. On the back of the map was a description of the conference center with photos and contact information.

The maps were included in all mailings sent to potential conference organizers and meeting planners. The response was overwhelming, and new bookings poured in.

Ironically, the biggest request from the new clients booking was, “Can we include those maps in our attendee mailings?”

Why did it work so well for the conference center? The map validated the facility as a destination by showing it was accessible and had plenty of extracurricular activities. The facility’s costs were defrayed, thanks to sponsorship fees, as well as charging for the maps included in conference packages.

Val Wilson and Mike Liston are co-owners of Off the Wall Promotions in Bedford.

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