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Making The Magic Happen

We crisscrossed the country looking for premier party planners and found four who know how to score big. Read on for their tricks of the trade.

It’s no easy feat to organize an event that will attract a high volume of your target demographic, keep them fabulously entertained and sustain a priceless word-of-mouth buzz after the fact. We found four of the hippest promotional gurus in New York, Miami, Houston and Los Angeles and asked them to spill their secrets. These event experts are the straws that stir the soirées, crafting the perfect mix of theme, décor, location and favors to thrill even the most jaded party-goers. On top of their tip list? Using cool imprinted items in snazzy gift bags.

New York City
Grand Central Marketing develops marketing campaigns and interactive brand experiences that build brand loyalty and awareness. Matthew Glass, chairman and CEO of Grand Central Marketing, in New York City, shares with us some tips on choosing memorable products.

Successful Promotions: How do you decide what products to look at?
MG: In most cases we have themes, or at least something thematic that we can use as a center pull for our concept. We were asked to do an event for HBO in which we were promoting a film called, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. We were targeting the British American community.

SP: How did you decide what products to use?
MG: Because we had our theme, it was easy. We created an incredible gift bag that we filled with just every British product you can imagine, anything from Altoids to Ted Baker.

SP: Is there one product that’s used more than others?
MG: The most popular things are T-shirts. There are different kinds, of course. For instance, if we are going to do something that’s a college promotion, we’ll do a much hipper kind of T-shirt – something fitted, perhaps. You want to provide things that are relevant to the people you’re giving them to, so they’ll either wear them or display them. It’s a promotional gift in the sense that it’s meant to have a life outside the drawer. A lot of times when we do events, we’re trying to produce things that kids really want, like a hat that they’re actually going to wear. That’s what drives us to determine what we’re going to make.

SP: What product have you gotten the best response from?
MG: For a promotion for Da Ali G Show, we made these gold pennants, some “bling bling.” They read “Ali G,” which was really cool. It was a gift we gave out at events that we went to.

SP: Why was “Ali G bling” so popular?
MG: It so perfectly related to the audience that we were talking to. The most important thing about selecting an item like this is relevancy. If you create the wrong thing for the wrong audience, it’s meaningless. At the X Games we gave away snowboards. At music events, giving out MP3 players works great.

Deborah Elias plans all types of events in the Lone Star state. As owner of Elias Events in Houston, she tries to find new and exciting products to incorporate into her events, but sometimes her clients just want a pen.

SP: What’s a product you have recently used for an event?
DE: In the past six months, two events we did were for a home builder. At each of these, we gave away free music download cards that had the client’s logo on the front of the card. They were able to go download a few songs for free from the services. Those were very popular, people loved them.

SP: How did you decide to use a music card?
DE: It had to be something that was relatively inexpensive. It had to appeal to a broad base of people, and everybody likes songs, and everybody likes music. We wanted to do something different, everyone gives away pens.

SP: What was one of your most popular products for an event?
DE: There was a grand opening celebration, but it was also a tenth anniversary party for a company, because they opened a new facility. We gave the attendees martini glasses with the company’s logo on them.

SP: What made them so popular?
DE: They had a funky, z-shaped stem, and at the gala event, we had an ice sculpture that was like a luge for martinis. They were able to get their martini glass and use them. So they just didn’t get a martini glass to take home, they were able to use it with the martini luge, which was fun.

SP: How can incorporating a product enhance the experience of an event?
DE: Incorporating a customized gift is a wonderful way to leave a lasting impression with your audience. In addition to the memory of a great event, the gift will serve as a reminder of the event, and subsequently the host company, long after the event is over.

SP: How’s event planning in Houston different from planning parties in New York or Los Angeles?
DE: Parties in those spots are probably a little more cutting edge than we have down here. It’s all about the right client with the right product, but not everybody is willing to do something different. There are a lot of clients that are like, “that’s great, but we still want our pens.”

Los Angeles
Bob Gail Special Events of Los Angeles, provides services for high-end event needs. Bob Levine, president, shares how a simple product can help your event be memorable for years, with one universal love – free stuff.

SP: What kind of parties do you plan?
BL: Everything – we’re an eclectic company. We’re one of the largest of the production companies. We do all different kinds of events, so we do corporate, social, weddings, trade shows and conventions.

SP: For events, that use branded products, how do you decide what to use?
BL: The way we decide is really based around the theme or based around the objective of the client. If you have a pirate theme, you can use a patch, or something that would be associated to the theme. When it’s not a theme, it’s more of a judgment call – you present a bunch of different sections to your client and you pick one.

SP: Do you tend to use traditional products or cutting edge products?
BL: We, as a company, would go more on the cutting edge, because of our clients.

SP: Is there an item that you have used that stands out in your mind?
BL: We’ve used glow sticks a lot. People really like those. We also have great fancy chocolates we use for party favors, and they have gotten a lot of feedback. We use leather, either address books or calendars, imprinted, and those work very well. I have also done Swarovski Crystal, which had a big impact.

SP: How can incorporating a product impact an event?
BL: If it ties into the theme, it accentuates and brings the theme more to mind. And also, it’s something people can bring home, that reminds them of the theme. People love free stuff. I don’t care how rich they are, I don’t care what kind of event it is, if they can bring home something free, that’s an added value. And whatever’s imprinted on that, they will have for as long as they have that item.

President of Miami-based Creativas Group Branding, PR and Events, Liza Santana plans everything from small scale private events to large scale festivals, and says that when it comes to incorporating products or gifts into an event she tries to stay away from anything that’s typical, or anything that’s already been seen.

SP: How do you decide what products to incorporate into an event?
LS: Most events carry a theme, whether a theme’s obvious throughout or whether it’s just a theme you’re trying to use as the overall concept or idea for the event. Typically we’ll research way ahead of time to find the latest items, things that are new and innovative. Two months out, minimum, you want to find what you’re looking for, so you can get a sample and make sure it’s appropriate for what you’re trying to do.

SP: Who decides the theme?
LS: The majority of the time we’ll handle the entire event from concept to execution. Whatever the nature of the event is we’ll give clients a proposal, that basically outlines everything that we think they should do from décor to catering – that would include all the branding items, all the gift items, etc. We’ll recommend something that suits their overall brand and the message that they’re trying to get across.

SP: What product do you use the most?
LS: There’s not one thing more than another that we tend to use. My personal thing is, always try to keep it different. I try to stay away from the traditional pens and keychains; there are a lot of different things you can use that have the same effect. You want to have something made that someone will constantly use and see that can reinforce the brand message. I research and try to find the latest thing or if I see something that people are using a lot, I will find out if there’s somewhere where I can get that item logoed and branded.

SP: What’s a unique product you’ve used?
LS: Obviously for a ground breaking event, there’s nothing there, they’re announcing a high rise or a building that’s going to be built there. So for one of these events the gifts I gave were these little planter pins with foil in them, with bags of seeds and really cute shovels. I had the shovels branded, and everyone had a different pack of seeds. It was an effort to make everyone feel a part of something. And that was something that everyone was really interested in.

SP: What can Miami offer that other place can’t? LS: Miami has its own subculture. You have a unique dynamic here where there are so many different types of people at the same time, within a very nice climate. Three-hundred out of 365 days here you can wear a tank top. That does lend itself to a lot of very cool stunts that you can pull of in terms of events. Tropical themes, of course, are really hot. How many places all over the world can say they have a backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, palm trees and really beautiful scenery?

Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2007

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