By Dawn Erickson
Part of the fun of attending meetings and conventions are the goody bags filled with freebies. Attendees stuff their new canvas totes with pens, paperweights, key chains, letter openers, travel mugs, ball caps and just about anything that can be stamped with a company logo.
They come in all types – useful, decorative, wearable, edible. Long after the meeting is over, the useful items collect on desktops and the less useful collect in bottom drawers. With hundreds of thousands of possibilities, choosing the right item to promote your business can be a daunting task.
Narrowing the field of choices
Lil Pfaff of Promark Solutions LLC in Jefferson City helps her clients by narrowing the field of products. She creates a virtual catalog of choices for each client when they don’t have something specific in mind.
“I find out first if there is a theme for the event,” Pfaff said, “then the target audience, age range and male or female. I find out how many items will be needed, and the budget, whether it’s under a dollar or $25 to $30 or more. I put all this information into a search engine and present them with several ideas. They will like some ideas more than others, and when there is time, I order samples of the favorites if I don’t already have a sample on hand. From the samples, clients can see the quality of the items and make their choices.”
Quality is a term Pfaff uses frequently in conversation. She worked in the promotions department at Brown Printing in Jefferson City for 10 years, and then bought the department from the printing company to establish her own business in April 2006. She retains a strong link to Brown Printing and works with the same suppliers and manufacturers as in the past 10 years.
Pfaff is a member of Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), which sets a standard of professionalism for its members. Pfaff has gained the title of Certified Advertising Specialist through PPAI and attends the organization’s annual conventions to learn about new suppliers, products and trends.
Pfaff has access to more than a thousand suppliers but depends on about 50 dedicated suppliers who, in her decade of experience, have provided quality products and service. She usually works within a two- to three-week time frame to deliver orders; however, products can be delivered in much less time when necessary.
“We deal all the time with orders that are needed in less than five working days,” she said, “but customers need to know that there are extra charges for rush manufacturing and extra charges for rush delivery.”
Cleanest, clearest artwork needed for quality message
Personalizing promotional items with a company logo or message requires the best digital files a customer can provide. Pfaff works with a graphic artist to clean or enhance artwork before it goes to the printer.
“A printing associate told me long ago, ‘garbage in, garbage out’ when it comes to printing quality,” she said. “You have to have the cleanest, clearest artwork. I know my business well enough to explain to the customer what I need to get the best quality product.”
The most enduringly popular logo products are beverage items such as coffee mugs, travel mugs and can coolers, as well as writing instruments, Pfaff said. Very popular right now are computer accessories such as flash drives and iPod hookups. And the number one wearable seller of all promotional items is the t-shirt, either silk-screened or embroidered.
Usefulness, quality and message are criteria
Vienna Bowling, director of meeting and convention sales for the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau, chooses promotional items based on three criteria.
First, she looks for an item that is practical and useful for business or personal use. She considers the needs of the person who will receive the item.
“Customers have to be able to get some good from the product,” she said. “But also important is whether or not the item has enough space to display our message.”
Then she compares the price to the quality. “Sometimes it’s better to order fewer items of a better quality,” she said. “The quality can reflect on the destination or organization.”
The third consideration is the message itself. “We try to tailor items to the theme of an event,” she said. For instance, she attended an expo called “Summertime in the Show-Me State” and handed out suntan lotion key chains. At a recent event with a magical theme, she ordered novelty magic 8 balls that displayed messages when turned over.
The Chamber/CVB has found that one of the most popular items it has offered is a pocket-sized 10-year calendar, Bowling said. And her personal favorite of all the items she has collected is an engraved lead crystal paperweight. “It’s understated and very nicely done,” she said.
Chocolate business cards are big hit at conventions
Technology allows Charlie Anderson to take his novelty product on the road for on-the-spot customized treats. He manages the family-owned Northwoods Candy Emporium at Branson Landing in Branson, and his chocolate business cards printed with convention attendees’ business information are a big hit, he said.
“I took the chocolate printer to the Missouri Meetings and Events Expo in St. Louis and printed out business cards on the spot,” Anderson said. “I handed the chocolate business cards back to them as a souvenir. I spent the entire time just taking business cards and printing them off.”
Northwoods has gained many clients for its various chocolate printed products. The staff members print chocolate in the shape of compact discs, business cards, picture frames, stars, hearts, circles, squares, lollipops and more. Logos, messages and full color photographs can be printed on the products.
“We get a lot of businesses coming in with their graphics or logos,” Anderson said. “A lot of times they will do it for an event or party they are throwing, or for gifts for their clients. And families come in for favors for their parties.”
“You can use printed chocolate for any event and it will be a hit,” Anderson said.
Printed chocolate can also be the centerpiece of a larger gift. Northwoods offers a large selection of novelty chocolates, boxed gifts and other types of candy on its Web site.
(Dawn Erickson is a contributor from Branson, Mo.)
Promark Solutions LLC
Northwoods Candy Emporium