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A Lasting Impression

Promotional products are becoming an integral part of meetings and events. Here is what successful companies are using and why.

On a stage so big that the Guinness Book of World Records has recognized it as the largest, the entertainment better be dazzling. Especially when it comes to impressing 200 top potential clients. This was Jeanne Corey’s thinking. Corey is the vice president of sales for the newly renovated Grand Sierra Resort & Casino in Reno, Nevada. The 30-year-old hotel, which was formerly the Reno Hilton, has been remade from top to bottom. In an effort to lure back business to a property that had previously become run down, Corey and the hotel executives threw a party in February. The site was the acre-large, three-elevator-lift-sized Grand Theatre where the 200 guests were seated before a curtain.

At the beginning of the event, a “pilot’s” voice came over the public address system telling guests that they were coming in for a landing. Lights and sound effects exploded, the curtain dropped and before them was a full-sized DC-10. New hotel president Michael Carsch stepped down from it and made his presentation.

The purpose of the Grand Sierra Corporate Customer Appreciation Reception was “to thank existing clients and welcome new ones, to show them what we are capable of in the corporate meetings and incentives business,” says Corey.

While the presentation was spectacular, the thank-you gift for those attending had to be as well. The goodie bag included a glossy magazine the resort produced, logoed chocolates created by the hotel chef and a logoed deluxe leather business card holder.

“We wanted them to have something they would use regularly, so the Grand Sierra Resort will be hitting their brains,” she says. “The business card holder fits in with our marketing message, which is that we’re higher end. It’s something they will like and they will use.”

Whether it is a meeting, an incentive program or special event, promotional products always play as big a role as the guest speaker, the decor or the main course. Why? Dave Peer, senior director of merchandise and fulfillment for Carlson Marketing Group, Minneapolis, sums it up simply: “Because afterwards promotional products reinforce what the event was about.”

You Can Bank on It

There are certain strategies planners must abide by when it comes to selecting promotional products for their select shindigs. When giving away an item, the product must be carefully chosen according to who the audience is. In Corey’s case, she wanted to spoil her potential clients and show them that the renovated property is high-end For Home Banc mortgage company, the goal was to give brokers and financial planners who attended its quarterly meeting something cost-effective yet useful. In the end, the company selected the Prime Line Illusions calculator. The item, which opens several ways, changing the look, is also functional, because it is a tool attendees need to use every day. Plus it functions as a conversation item when brokers are doing business with their own clients. The item was such a hit “that attendees keep coming back to the quarterly meetings to see what they’ll get next,” says Rich president of a promotional products distributorship.

The meetings offer information about the latest real estate market conditions, but most importantly, they give Home Banc a chance to reconnect with its customers. Understanding one’s customers is key to successfully choosing an item. “Anyone can present something pretty,” says Rich. “If you don’t understand the motivation of the recipient, then you?re wasting your money. You have to understand them as a human being.”

Elaine Baldwin, owner of Ad Dimensions, agrees that extensive brainstorming with the client is essential. One of her clients, a semiconductor chemical company, regularly holds an event for its top 400 clients during an annual trade show. Each year, it invests up to $20,000 on goodies to give out during the dinner as well as to attendees on the show floor.

“They ask for ideas, and I also send catalogs for them to look through,” Baldwin says. “They get together with their salespeople to get ideas, and then we talk about pricing.”

Dinner guests, this year, will receive a $22 wireless mouse. Glassware was used in the past. On the show floor they gave out five-inch glitter lamps that look like lava lamps; magnetic sculptures, light stick keychains and pens that write in four different colors.

It’s All About the Theme

When holding a meeting and selecting the items, it often helps to have a theme to work around, says CMG’s Peer. One of his favorite programs centered on the book Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. A giant pharmaceutical company needed to create some excitement surrounding its employee education seminars at its sales meeting, so it sent everyone a block of cheese. The teaser, which said there was more to come, created some buzz, says Peer. “It definitely got their attention.”

Once attendees arrived at the seminar they were told the theme was about embracing change and they were given a copy of the popular business book. Of course, the theme doesn’t have to center around a concept, it can center on the destination of the event itself. For sales meetings in Las Vegas, logoed poker chips and playing cards work “to get them in the spirit of the locale,” says Peer. “The chip can serve as entry into a nightclub for the company soiree.”

Once the item is selected, the next question is where to put the logo. Whether it’s a business card holder, a calculator or a piece of branded apparel, “for logoed merchandise to work, it must not appear to be an advertising specialty type item,” says James Feldman, head of James Feldman Associates, an incentive consultancy in Chicago. “If the logo is an apparel brand, then the audience loves to wear it. If it is the logo from the company, it then becomes work-related. Value is in the eye of the wearer. If the logo appears that it is a ‘team’ uniform, it will be worn at the event and then discarded or used when mowing the lawn.”

For example, when a pharmaceutical company recently conducted a product launch meeting, Harith of a promotions company created logoed Tommy Bahama shirts. Only, “the drug’s name was very subtle though – subtle and elegant. If you place the name of the product prominently, no one is going to wear it.” He suggests placing the logo on the sleeve or the left-hand side lower than the pocket.

He notes that Fortune 1,000 salespeople are used to getting high-end products, so creativity is always a must. In the past, iPods and ad folios with pens have been used.

When using an iPod, Arnold Light, president of the The Light Group, an incentive company based in White Plains, NY, recommends preloading the meeting schedule and training materials onto the device. Other typical items are logoed portfolios, water bottles and imprinted pads. Light is also currently preparing a talking mouse pad for one client. “We’re exploring the numbers and the costs to see if it makes sense,” he says.

Setting the Bar High

When a seaplane bearing the company’s new logo circled the group of 125 sales associates, King Pharmaceuticals knew it had made an indelible impression. After all, what better way is there to cap off a seven-day Carnival Cruise tour of Alaska?

Indeed it had set the bar high. To kick off the incentive program, winners were lavished with high-end merchandise – from a terry cloth bathrobe, L’Occitane spa products and a leather bag to a down winter coat. Such logoed items “are an integral part of any incentive program,” says Harith. “You have to select items that will have a lasting impression. It can’t just be a paperweight.”

He has also used Maui Jim sunglasses, Tumi luggage and other “upscale items that the winners wouldn’t buy on their own.”

Using higher-end brand names is effective, says Feldman. “People drink Budweiser but buy more expensive brands when they are in airports. They want others to see their success. The same is the case with logoed items. Tiffany, Cartier and Rolex are all brands that show others you are successful. Logoed goods that are status symbols are worn with pride to show others of achievement.”

By placing the words “Chairman’s Inner Circle,” “President’s Club” and “Million Dollar Roundtable” on an item, it offers the recipient bragging rights, he says.

Of course, a lot of the same rules apply to sending corporate gifts. Grand Sierra’s Corey has given out Tiffany vases, crystal bowls and coffee presses. Not to mention crystal wine decanters and silver-plated flasks with cordial bottles.

On a practical note, “if you don’t put a logo on it, it becomes taxable,” says Wickrema. Still, welcome gifts don’t always have to break the bank. Light regularly gives clients’ recipients a bag that includes certain necessities: a hat, T-shirt, sunscreen, insect repellent and moisturizer bearing the trip logo, client name and date. Because of the airline travel restrictions regarding liquids, offering trial-size toiletries in a clear bag is often appreciated as well.

George, president of a promotional products supplier, is a proponent of giving attendees travel-related items before they depart. He has created a bevy of logoed luggage and travel accessories for the likes of Avon, Coca-Cola and Tupperware.

“They would rather get an incentive before they travel,” he says. “It gets them excited because it’s something they need.” Accessories can include eyeshades, a travel pillow, passport holder and alarm clock.

One way to perpetuate the memory of the event after the fact is to offer digital picture frames, says Peer. “In the old days you’d give a photo album. Today it’s all digital.”

He adds that if companies do elect to give away larger items, like a decorated golf club, “ship it home for them. You don’t want to add to the luggage burden.”

Corey agrees, however she says cost can become a factor if you’re not careful. For a recent incentive planner familiarization tour tied to a hot air balloon race, she gave away Galileo barometers. “Those are tough because they break. They are glass and they’re two feet tall. We spent a fortune sending them home after the event.”

Still, whether it’s a meeting or an incentive, “you have to give them something. You have to say ‘thank you’ and leave your mark,” she says. “Make sure to put something in their hands that will remind them of you.”

By Kenneth Hein. Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2007

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