Expert Advice: The Do’s and Don’ts

affinity programs

Tis’ the season for not only gift giving but also budgeting for next year’s promotional items at conferences, events, and those “just because” gifts for your special business relationships.

But, oh, what to give? Do we give the same thing as we did last year? If not, what do we want to do, and how much should we spend? All good questions.

So, I asked an expert—Bree Plude, the owner, distributor, and print production specialist for Ohana Brand Promos, what best practices marketing departments should employ for their promotional items, and what are some of the things to avoid. Beginning her career in 1995, Bree understands all facets of the print industry. She owned her own printing company for years and now focuses on helping people with their promotional gift-giving as a distributor, (an industry term for a consultant).

According to Bree, marketing departments everywhere are asked to do the nearly impossible with limited resources and time. It’s her job to make marketing managers shine like heroes in their organizations by not only coming up with ideas about what to give away but also managing the entire process. “I’ve been in their shoes before,” said Bree. “You must be extremely detailed, organized, and care about each job, as well as the person making the request.”

1. Match the Giveaway to Your End-User

The best promotional items, according to Bree, are items people want to use in their daily lives that last for a decent amount of time. And, with a printed logo on it, the item could be a brand reminder to the user for years to come.

When clients call her, Bree begins by asking marketers a series of questions to narrow the possibilities:

1.       Who is the recipient?

2.       What is the quantity and budget?

3.       What does the company’s logo look like?

4.       Do you need a specific color item?

5.       And, most importantly, what’s the delivery deadline?

As a member of the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), Bree has access to a factory database of promotional product manufacturers. These factories are rated “A+” to “F” by distributors like Bree based on several factors, including quality of items, dependability, and customer service. Bree uses only A to A+ rated manufacturers, and B-rated only if the item is tough to find or unique.  

Next, she’ll narrow down the options to provide a list of items that align with the needs of the client. Pens may seem common, but everyone uses them and they can be inexpensive. They are also great “shared” items for industries such as hospitals, where so many are left around to be used by nurses, doctors, patients, and administration staff. Pens are also great for executive gifts or special occasions with high-end options ranging from $20 to $100-plus.

2. Order a Sample

According to Bree, “Seeing an online photo doesn’t usually do the item justice. If possible, you should try to get a sample if you have the time. It’s best to see the product’s quality and test how it works.”

Having samples to test will help take some of the guesswork out of determining whether the promotional product will have the desired impact. For example, items with a light built-in (i.e., flashlights, keychains, etc.) may look flashy and cool on the screen, but the device may be too small to emit enough light or function as expected. “Having a quality, useful sample to see and hold helps marketers make a decision that best represents the organization’s brand,” Bree stated. A quality item will reflect well on your organization. If given at conferences and trade shows, high-quality promotional products make wonderful gifts that will remind new contacts how much they enjoyed meeting you and learning about your company.

Also, a sample may have another company’s logo to help you see how your logo and tagline could look on it together. You will get to see how your logo looks when a PDF proof is sent to you for approval as well.

3. Schedule Enough Time for Shipping

According to Bree, the number one thing to remember to avoid timing issues with promotional items is to schedule with enough time in the process to allow for production or shipping delays. Many items are manufactured overseas and may need up to a month or more to arrive, especially if they are not already warehoused in the US.

Bree suggests ordering promotional items six to eight weeks ahead of the delivery date to ensure the best outcome. This allows time to order and review samples, confirm pricing information, firm up quotes, and mitigate against any unforeseen delays in the production process. For example, the best time to order Christmas gifts for an organization would be the preceding September or October. The closer to the deadline, the fewer and fewer giveaways may be available and would need expedited shipping, which can be expensive.

4. Know Spending Budget

This may seem like a no-brainer, but some marketers call Bree not knowing the overall budget for ordering promotional items. As illustrated above with pen example, there could be more than a thousand options for items, and having a budget narrows the product field. Work closely with your promotional item distributor to find the best item price point for your intended audience.

Trending Promotional Items

COVID-19 changed just about everything, including what were once popular promotional items for association events and conferences. For example, one such item was branded lunch tote bags. While still useful today with their insulated interior, many people now work from home or in hybrid environments, leaving their lunch totes on the shelf.  

The same can be said for magnetic business cards. Many home repair businesses used to print magnetic business cards with their contact information to be stuck on the sides of refrigerators or metal file cabinets. With stainless-steel refrigerators and files stored in the cloud, magnetic business cards aren’t sticking any longer.

And, of course, food items such as popcorn, fruit baskets, and candy are always well received and appreciated, especially around the Holidays, but remembering the organization that sent the food will probably be forgotten by New Year’s Day.   

Here are a few useful promotional item ideas from Bree you may want to consider:      

·         Magnetic sculpture blocks. These items have been around for a while but are normally not thought of when searching for gifts. Forget branded stress balls, these playful sculptures allow you to create your own masterpiece while talking on the phone or even on a Zoom call.

·         Security webcam covers for your computer camera. “You can put your logo on these, and since they are small, they are great for sending in mailers. And the end-user is always looking at your logo.”

·         Keyboard brushes. “Who doesn’t need one of these?”

·         Screen cleaners with sprays and soft cloths. “Another very useful item for home or office.”

·         Whistles. “A great security item and you can have it attached to a keyring or a kid’s backpack. But again, get a sample first. The quality of whistles varies greatly.”

·         Tote bags with flat bottoms. “Great for groceries and just about anything else.”

·         Jar openers. “Everyone seems to have a junk drawer in their kitchen and jar openers are extremely useful while lasting for years.”

Speaking again of pens, one environmentally friendly idea Bree recently saw is a pen whose barrels have seeds inside them for planting. “You can even pick what type of seeds you want in them like wildflowers or tomatoes. The pen makes for a great conversation piece at an event booth.”

Another idea is to do what Bree does for her own company to avoid the deluge of Christmas gifts, and send out promotional items in Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day cards.


More than 95% of Bree’s clients are repeat business. Tired of the same promotional items, these marketers often call her wanting something “unique.” That’s the value distributors like Bree provide, working with so many people and contacts. While also having the database resources of a good association, distributors can find the perfect item that strikes the right brand balance of quality versus cost.

Promotional products are a great way to represent your association and organization without breaking the bank. Everyone likes gifts, but useful items can both delight and remind people about the quality of your brand. No matter what you choose, promotional items are a good, budget-efficient choice for next year’s marketing campaign.

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