Promotional Products - INACTIVE

Promotional Products - INACTIVE

Buyer's Guide

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Introduction Pros & Cons Options Artwork & Logos Distributors Pricing Buying Tips

Promotional Products Introduction

Promotional Products

The power of "free" is undeniable. Whether it's a giveaway at a tradeshow, an in-store freebie, or a fun gift for your employees, giving out something for nothing is a proven way for your business to get people's attention.

Whether the freebies are clothing, clocks, mugs, pens, or any of a thousand other items, they fall into a broad category called promotional products. The category includes free products distributed as "advertising specialties," "premiums" that are given to in response to specific actions, tradeshow giveaways, business gifts, and employee incentives or rewards.

Promotional products are almost always emblazoned with your company's logo and/or message for maximum effect. They can be great tools to generate name recognition and create customer or employee goodwill, often at very little cost.

While individual promotional products are usually inexpensive, the total sales add up: industry estimates indicate that promotional products racked up over $19.6 billion in U.S. sales in 2007. They're popular in all types of industries, from construction and service trades to academic and government.

Almost any business can benefit from the right promotional product, but you need to get the right item for the right price. This BuyerZone Promotional Products Buyer's Guide will introduce you to the process of selecting and buying promotional products for your business.

Promotion Products Pros and Cons

When used correctly, promotion products can have a positive impact for almost any company. Here are some of the benefits, as well as a couple of potential pitfalls to avoid.


Because people love freebies, promotional products have a value far beyond their cost. This is particularly true when they become something the recipient uses on an ongoing basis: a $2 coffee mug can provide constant reinforcement of your brand if a customer uses it every morning, and promotional clothing turns your recipients into walking advertisers for your business!

Flexibility is one of the key features of promotion products. They can work within different budgets and as part of many types of programs, and can be given to any audience: customers, prospects, dealers, employees, and vendors. You can also easily tie them to other marketing efforts, either as incentives for desired actions or as branding tools. And the actual product itself can be almost anything.

The benefits of promotion products as marketing tools are well established. Studies have proven time and time again that promotional items increase response rates, boost brand recognition, and create more favorable impressions of your company.


To achieve the best results, a promotional products campaign must be carefully planned. No matter how "cool" or compelling the giveaway item is, you have to have a plan in place to publicize the promotion, distribute the product, and measure the results of your campaign. Tracking can be difficult, especially for marketers used to the precise measurements of online advertising. Starting with a small, focused campaign can help you get a handle on how to be successful with promotional products.

In addition, the product you choose may carry restrictions as to the size and/or colors of the logo and other printing you can apply, which can put a damper on your plans. However, these types of restrictions are usually fairly easy to work around - simply switch to a product that allows more imprinting or scale back the amount of printing you want to do on each item.

Getting your customized items produced also takes some time. Depending on the items you choose and the manufacturer's workload, you might get your products in a few days, or it might take six weeks or more. If you're planning on using your items at a specific event, make sure you leave enough time to get them produced. Be especially careful in the last two months of the year: many businesses order holiday gifts for customers and employees, making the end-of-year rush a big one for the promotion products industry.

Choosing the Right Promotion Items

Anything a logo can fit on can be a suitable promotional item. The challenge can be narrowing down your choices to just a few, when there are so many different types of products that you could use. Here are some of the major categories and their relative advantages and disadvantages.

Clothing - the most popular category for promotional items. Promotional t-shirts are the most common, and other popular items include hats, fleece vests and blankets, rain jackets, scarves, and more.

  • Pro: free advertising, popularity, great for employee items.
  • Con: styles change, ordering multiple sizes can be hard, sometimes costly, items are seasonal.

Food - includes fruit baskets, candy, gums, coffee, and more.

  • Pro: wide range of costs, appreciated by most people.
  • Con: limited duration, allergen problems.

Office gifts - stress balls, photo holders, sticky notes, even USB flash drives, anything designed to be used at the office.

  • Pro: many items very cheap, used in the office environment where you want your message.
  • Con: popularity makes it hard to stand out; high-end items expensive.

Useful items - coffee mugs, pens, calendars, bags - can be for the office or the home.

  • Pro: everyone uses them, good branding opportunities.
  • Con: can get used at home or by kids, outside your target audience.

These are just a few examples - the variety is nearly endless, including golf balls, squirt guns, yo-yos, umbrellas, ice scrapers, breath mints. You can find anything ranging from serious and useful to amusing and silly. With all the options, it's worth spending some time to make the right choice. The best promotional items effectively associate your company's name with an item related to your industry.

For example, a financial services company that wants to build customer loyalty might have success with pocket-sized solar calculators. A car repair shop may want to give away tire pressure gauges with a logo and phone number. And a popular choice for technology-driven businesses is mouse pads with colorful logos.

In many cases, it's possible to obtain custom items that aren't found in any catalog, so if you have a unique idea, don't hesitate to bring it up with your vendor.

Before you start talking to potential vendors, take a look at some promotional item web sites or catalogs. You don't have to know exactly what you want - vendors can help you decide. But having some ideas and an understanding of what's available beforehand will help speed the process.

Artwork and Logos for Promo Items

Once you choose the promo items you want, you'll need to supply your logo to the distributor for imprinting. Sending the logo file via email is fairly straightforward, but getting the right type of file in the first place can be a challenge.

First, it's important to know that the logo used on your web site is not sufficient for the job. It may be the wrong format, the wrong size, not detailed enough, or all three. Sending non-standard graphics can result in delays and additional charges when the distributor has to covert the file for you before printing your promo items.

As you get into the world of digital artwork, you'll need to know the difference between vector and raster files. Vector artwork is easily scaled up and down without loss of quality, while raster artwork quickly gets "blocky" and jagged as it's enlarged. Raster file formats like JPEG and GIF are standard on the Web, but usually aren't acceptable for imprinting. Vector-based EPS files are almost always a better choice, but check with your distributor as to what type of files they prefer.

The files you send need to supply the correct color information for the printing process you'll be using. Distributors may ask for RGB, CMYK, or spot color, depending on the type of printing your project calls for. And the images will need to have an adequate resolution. Most web images have a resolution of only 72 DPI (dots per inch), but imprinting promo items works best with 300 DPI or higher.

This may seem like a lot of details, but to someone familiar with graphic file formats, it's all routine. The main point you should come away with is that to get the best results from an imprinted promo item, your images should be prepared by a qualified professional using graphics software like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, Macromedia Freehand, CorelDraw, or other publishing tools. You may be able to copy an image file into Microsoft Word and make it look good on screen, but you won't wind up with satisfactory results.

Working with a Distributor

According to the Promotional Products Association International, there are over 20,000 promotional product distributors in the U.S., representing over 3,500 manufacturers. This means there are plenty of specialty distributors that can set you up with almost any type of promotional item you can imagine.

You'll almost always purchase from a distributor. Most distributors work with multiple manufacturers to offer a range of products that will appeal to any client. They can also help you plan your campaign, from product ideas to distribution. Manufacturers, in most cases, don't sell directly to the public.

Although you may be choosing a distributor for one specific project, chances are that if you're satisfied with the work they do, you'll go back to them for future projects. Therefore, it's a good idea to run your evaluation as though you are choosing a long-term partner for your business. Some key considerations:

  • Turnaround time. The distributor should be responsive throughout the process of creating your items. They should deliver your items when they're promised. And you may want to ask what capabilities they have for rushing a job if necessary.

  • Professional service. Customer service reps should be well trained and able to offer assistance and advice as you organize your promotion.

  • Product quality. While the distributors don't actually make the products, they should guarantee the quality of the items and the imprinting.

Location generally doesn't make much difference: email and overnight shipping will let you work with a distributor halfway across the country if they provide the best service and a good price.

Once you choose a distributor

It can help your decision to get a sample of the product you're considering before you finalize your order. Often, distributors will send you a sample of smaller items for free; they may charge you for more expensive items or shipping costs, but the small price is usually worth the chance to examine the item before you commit to a large order.

Once you place the order and send your artwork, the distributor will work with the manufacturer to create your items. Depending on the size of your order, you may get a pre-production sample of the item with your logo, allowing you to give the go-ahead before full production starts. If possible - even if you have to pay a little extra - it's generally a good idea to get a pre-production sample, especially if you're new to promotional products. It may be jarring to see your logo drastically reduced on something tiny like a pen or key chain.

For smaller orders and for some types of items, you may simply get a picture of the item via fax or email, or a swatch of cloth (a "sewout") in the mail showing how your logo looks when translated into fabric and thread.

You'll often have a choice of shipping options, including drop shipping to a trade show or other third-party location. Again, be sure to talk to the distributor in advance if you have specific shipping requirements.

Promotional Merchandise Pricing

Pricing for promotional merchandise varies enormously depending on what items you choose. Prices can range from under a dollar per item for simple key chains and magnets to $5 to $20 for t-shirts, calculators, and leather notepads, to $40 or more for USB drives and lavish gift baskets.

Knowing the price per item that you're shooting for will help you narrow down your choices to a manageable range. Take a look at actual prices for promotional products as reported by other BuyerZone users.

As with any bulk order, your per-item price for promotional merchandise gets lower as your quantity increases. These discounts are tiered at pre-set levels, so be sure to ask what quantity you'd need to order to get the next price break: you can always distribute a few more of your items. Some distributors also get better discounts from manufacturers based on their overall volume.

In addition to the per-item cost, most distributors of promotional merchandise require a set-up fee of $20 to $100 to prepare your order. Many will also have a minimum order, which can be as much as 1000 pieces or $400. If you're looking for a small quantity of imprinted items, this can be an important factor in choosing a distributor.

If you don't supply the right type of artwork, most distributors will levy an expensive per-hour charge for converting your files into a usable format. If you don't have a graphics person on staff, you will save money by using a freelancer to prepare your files.

Whatever you decide, make sure you're getting the most for your dollar while not resorting to using shoddy materials. After all, whether it's a baseball cap or a bottle opener, the end result will be a tangible symbol of your company. Make it worthy of your company's logo.

Payment terms will vary from one distributor to the next. Some may require payment up front, while others may offer payment due on delivery only. Also, the longer you work with a particular distributor, the more likely you are to get breaks on pricing and terms. If your business demonstrates that you'll be making a couple of promotional merchandise purchases per year, you'll have a much easier time getting discounts and better terms.

Promo Products Buying Tips

Avoid the rush. If possible, give yourself at least three weeks from start to finish to ensure the smooth production of your promo products - more for very large or highly customized orders. Many distributors offer rush services - but they'll cost you.

Choose your item carefully. Don't choose your promo product based on the latest trend, or on the rock-bottom price. The right item will have value to your target audience and help you achieve the results you want.

Promote from within. Giving employees logo t-shirts or baseball caps can be a great way to increase external brand awareness while also building company loyalty.

Planning pays. Developing a consistent theme for your promotion and preparing a detailed distribution strategy will maximize the impact of the items.

Get some feedback. Test a sample of the promo products you're considering on members of your intended audience. You may get valuable information, for example that the item you picked was the top giveaway at a recent tradeshow, or that while your employees enjoy working for you, they're not interested in clothes made in the company colors.

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