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Motivate Me

This month, our experts help readers find appropriate gifts to keep employees motivated all year long.

Corporate America spends more than $46 billion on incentive programs, according to a new study released by the Incentive Federation. But not every company is getting enough bang for their incentive buck. Choosing the right item to motivate employees is they key to maximizing your return on investment.

With that in mind, our experts came to the rescue of four readers looking for the idea motivators for 2008. Whether to get employees psyched about a Caribbean cruise contest or to keep their minds on safety, our experts suggest the perfect products to get the job done.

Q I’m kicking off an incentive program where reps can win a Caribbean cruise at the end of the year. I need some items to give out to promote the event during the first three quarters. What items can I use that will get people fired up?

A Depending on your budget, a gift basket of beach goodies should do the trick. Keep the cruise in the forefront of your employees’ minds with a mix of hands-free sun block, lip balm and, just for fun, a pair of plastic sunglasses (maybe the extra large kind to keep them laughing) suggests Rose Stransky, regional sales manager for Designables, Inc., a promotional products distributorship.

Other items that could be added to the basket, or given on their own, are beach blankets imprinted with your company logo, imprinted plastic drinkware – the frosty kind with a tiny umbrella – and sandals. “They can wear them when they wake up in the morning,” says Kevin Berta, owner of Ad CafĂ©, a marketing firm. Since sandals will be one of the first things they see in the morning, they’ll be dreaming of the sunny Caribbean all day long. Another hot idea: Offer one sandal at the incentive kick-off announcement, and tell reps they’ll get the other one upon reaching their goal.

For an interesting desk accessory that also will keep employees’ eyes on the prize, try a conch shell. When reps are having a stressful day, they can sit back and enjoy the soothing sounds of the ocean – and then quickly get back to work to meet their goal. For a sweet alternative, try a 3-D chocolate molding of a conch shell, which will have employees craving a taste of the islands.

Q Help! I’m in manufacturing and about to kick off our first-ever safety program, but I’m on a limited budget. What types of inexpensive items can I offer as incentives to those who meet their safety goals?

A “You can’t tell your employees ‘Here’s a pen if you don’t get hurt,'” says Deanna Hall, a sales representative for Geiger, a promotional products distributor. “They’d take the six weeks and workman?s compensation.”

Hall says before figuring out what inexpensive gifts you can give your employees for not getting hurt, you may want to rethink your budget by asking the following question: What is the total dollar amount you spent on claims? “You can’t ask me to bring in a program and spend $200 on it while trying to prevent $10,000 worth of claims. Your employees are going to laugh at you,” Hall says. When confronted with this situation at her job, Hall says this conversation gave the employers a new point of view.

With Hall’s point in mind, Berta suggests “something workers can use everyday.” Leatherman’s multi-tool set would be ideal. “It’s really small so they can fit it on a key chain,” Berta says. One thing they don’t need: a hard hat. “They’ve already got one of those,” Berta says, so that type of gift might be insulting.

Since employees in a manufacturing plant are safety conscious, consider an emergency road safety kit to not only keep them safe at work, but safe on the commute as well. Imprint their accomplishment on the bag, such as “Two Years Accident Free.”

If that’s still running a little expensive for the budget, do what Stransky’s construction companies do – embroider the accomplishment on a baseball cap. Just make sure not to allow the award to become too flashy or the cap will wind up in employees’ closets rather than on their head. “You want to give them something that they’re going to use and appreciate,” Stransky says.

Q I work for a pharmaceutical firm and looking to launch a new incentive program for more sales reps. Previously, we gave gift cards to those who reached their sales goals, but reps are bored with those. What else can I offer that will have a high perceived value? Budget is about $500 per rep.

A “Give them something that is popular with a little twist,” says Berta. “One solution: an iPod placed in a nice leather case with the company logo on it.”

Leather items have a high perceived value. Stransky suggests a computer accessories kit, a travel set or a “beautiful wine and picnic set.” (Make sure to brand the bottle!) Given that most picnic sets won’t run $500, consider upgrading to caviar and a bottle of champagne.

Another thing that will supercharge reps is a themed gift. For instance, if you’ve got a team of sports junkies, consider putting together a sports enthusiasts package. Fill it with tickets to a local game and all of the items necessary for enjoying the day, such as logoed stadium blankets, imprinted seat cushions, team apparel and tailgating gear. Another twist on the tailgating theme is a logoed grill accompanied by steaks and all of the fixings for a great barbecue.

If your team has reps who like to pamper themselves, offer up a basket with luxurious spa items, along with a monogrammed bathrobe, slippers, white noise machine and PJs.

Q I’m looking for some spontaneous rewards that I can give out to employees who make suggestions that result in cost-savings for the company. I’d like to offer things in a few different price points – maybe $10, $50 and $100. What items would you suggest?

A “A great $10 item would be something the company is already using like a logoed shirt, cap or travel mug. But it must be packaged beautifully. You don’t just walk up, throw a cup on the desk and say, ‘Here. Congratulations,'” says Hall.

For $50 try a music download card or a ring tone gift certificate she says. If employees don’t have an iPod or MP3 player, they’re bound to have a cell phone.

Stransky also suggested a $50 gift card. “I would gear it towards what you think that particular employee likes,” she says. “If you personalize it, employees understand that you really care about them.” If the employee you’re rewarding is carrying a Starbucks coffee cup to work every morning, give them a Starbucks card. They will be more appreciative. One tip: Try to find a card that can be customized with your company’s logo, or at least packaged with a personalized thank-you message.

The $100 gift “has to be something that is memorable and useful that speaks to who the company is,” says Hall, “not something people are going to just throw in the trash and be done with.”

A gift certificate to a nice restaurant in the area would be a great incentive, says Berta. Or, for the movie buffs, create a basket with a variety of DVDs and gourmet microwave popcorn.

Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2007

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