Peer-to-Peer: Where can I find effective trade show and corporate promotional items?

Written by ProfitGuide Staff


A corporate communications specialist at an Ottawa-based technology company writes:

“I would love to learn about how companies select their trade show and corporate promotional items. How do they ensure they don’t look cheap and that they grab the attention of customers? Do they get assistance from professionals at promotional companies, or do they decide on themes and items in-house? I’m looking for suggestions for how to come up with creative ideas for creating lasting impressions.”

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Reader responses


“One way to tell what works and what doesn’t is go into your local Salvation Army or other thrift shop — or to check out garage sales. Although this sounds like a joke, I’m serious. You’ll see what people keep and what they toss or recycle.

It’s important to be the first one on your block with those giveaways. Remember when you got your first handy thermal coffee cup — you kept it, right? OK, so now that you have 12 of them rattling around on the floor of your car, who cares?

The other thing is to give away something that recipients will use up and then ask you for more of (sticky notes, for example). Make sure the contact info for your sales reps is on the back of the last one to be used.

Sometimes lesser-priced items give you more bang for your buck. During one of our area’s summer festivals, the major local employer gave out complimentary bottles of drinking water with a handy shoulder strap attached. Everyone snapped them up, and these straps are still in use around here.

Bottom line: promo giveaways are not given away for the sake of giving. They’re supposed to support and expand your brand, and carry the consistent and repeated marketing promo message that your company has chosen for the recipient’s target market.”

Dave Hanley, Insurance Systems Inc.:

“Rather than settling for pens and stress balls emblazoned with the company logo, we base our ‘trinkets and trash’ decisions on the following criteria: Nobody else at the show will be giving away the same thing, the receiving individual will most likely keep it on their desk — or at least not throw it away immediately, the recipient will use it during the trade show so others can see it, such as a beach towel for a Caribbean conference, or it appears to be of high quality.

Most graphic design firms have piles of catalogues from the suppliers of trade show giveaways, and flipping through them can give you hundreds of ideas to fit your theme. We tend to look for an item that supports our main theme or slogan. For example, we had a stopwatch to go with our ‘It’s about time’ theme.

Pamela Hamel, Mathieu Forest Inc.:

“Do you have a corporate logo, vision statement or knowledge-based assets? Use these as a formulation for creating the right promo material. I think your geographical setting really sets the flavour of your promotional items. What city or town are you located in? Something indigenous to your locale could also represent your company image and not look cheap. Another suggestion: test your product ideas with a sample group of your clients.”

Kevin Dee, CEO, Eagle Professional Resources Inc.:

“My company makes extensive use of promotional items and regularly receives positive feedback from the recipients. These are some of the lessons we’ve learned:

  • Determine up front who you want to target. New prospects, existing clients, senior management or lower-level staff? In large numbers, or very targeted small numbers?
  • Will the items be handed out or mailed? Will your sales reps and others distributing them have to carry them around? Is size and weight therefore an issue?
  • Draft a preliminary budget.
  • Identify two or three promotional companies to work with, which you can find through referrals from other business owners. Explain to them what you want, then ask them to advise you on their experiences and propose potential solutions.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Be consistent with your marketing messages. Ensure you have everything on the item you need, but not too much! If your URL is on there, do you also need to list other contact info?
  • Keep the messages subtle so that people will actually use the items.”

For his answer, Kevin Dee will receive a copy of The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company by Constance L. Hays.

Other questions.

Watch for another Peer-to-Peer Poll in the next PROFIT-Xtra.

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