The Changing Face of the Promotional Products Industry

Let’s start with some background on the promotional product sector

How big is the Promotional Product Industry?

PPAI is the US promotional product trade body. They sponsor research on an ongoing basis to understand the size, growth and changes within the Promotional Product industry. Their estimate of the promotional product industry, based on 2015 research,  is that is is more than $20.81 billion.

What is a Promotional Product?

Promotional products are items which are used to promote a product, service or company programme. They include advertising specialities, premiums, incentives, business / corporate gifts, awards, prizes, commemorative items and other printed or decorated items.

Why Use Promotional Products?

• Brand Recognition
• Brand/Product Awareness
• Corporate Identity
• Public Relations
• Customer Retention
• Generate Sales & Referrals
• Employee Communication, Recognition & Talent Recruitment
• New Product Launches
• Motivation and Incentivisation Programs
• New Customer Acquisition

Who Buys Promotional Products?

Essentially, branded promotional items are purchased by virtually every sector – public, private and charity sectors – be it for in-store promotional campaigns, materials to support government awareness campaigns (for example the ‘Change for Life’ campaign driving behaviour change) through to branded fundraising materials used by the NGOs in their ongoing fundraising campaigns and challenge events.

Ethical Promotional ProductEthical Promotional Product

In terms of who specifically buys promotional products, it varies across different organisations. It depends on whether there is a central or structured procurement process in place. Often products are bought by a variety of stakeholders including PA’s, Events Teams, Marketing, Sustainability, HR & Talent Recruiters and of course, purchasing and procurement teams.

Today the promotional product industry is well established around the world.  One of the earliest examples of a promotional product dates back to 1789 and was in the United States - buttons were used to commemorate the election of George Washington! In 1904, twelve manufacturers of promotional items got together to create the first trade association – the Promotional Products Association International, or PPAI. Today it has 14,400 global members and represents the promotional products industry of more than 22,000 distributors and approximately 4,800 manufacturers.

We love PPAI because it contributes so much to the industry in terms of education and continued personal development for its members, as well as its approach to embracing change.

The Sourcing Team joined PPAI 22 years ago when the business was first established, and we continue to be a huge supporter. Every year we attend the PPAI Expo in the US and indeed, with our expertise in Ethical Sourcing and focus on Sustainability, we have also led speaker sessions on these subjects, sharing our insights with the industry.

When I joined the industry, it was very different to how it is today. With a PA background, while working for a London Marketing Agency (tasked with buying merchandise) I wanted to ensure I did a good job for my account team and the agency clients. So I studied and qualified for the Chartered Institute for Procurement Supply certification – CIPS.

When I moved from the Agency to a traditional business gift company, having been on the client-buying side and working with some great suppliers -  and some not so great ! - I felt the UK industry really needed to up its game. I put myself forward to support the UK trade association. I volunteered for 19 years, ultimately becoming the Chair and President of that association.

During the last 20 years or so, I have seen a huge change to our industry and the wider business world. Improved production techniques, emerging supply markets and increased client expectations have seen a constantly evolving market and a need to stay ahead of the game.

In the past, people used to talk about ‘widgets’ ‘trinkets and trash’ when they referred to promotional products – it couldn’t be further away from that today. Today budgets are tight and we all want maximum value for marketing spend. We also want to ensure that everything we do says the right thing about our brand. There are many players in the market (with easy-entry level – set up a site, join a buying group and sell, etc). However, as with anything else, you need to do your due diligence. In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on consumer safety, brand protection and a more ethical and sustainable supply chain. Responsible businesses no longer want a ‘cheap throwaway’ but a carefully thought-out product that reflects their values and those of their customers.

In selecting a partner for your promotional merchandise, be curious and ask questions - do they have relevant accreditations? Who are they working for?  How established are they? And so forth. It is a complex space and you need to be sure you are getting the right quality of service and expertise. This is something we take very seriously. Each of our directors has expertise in one of our core values: ethical – compliant – sustainable.

‘Cheap and tacky’ doesn’t cut it. Branded merchandise is a powerful tool and to get the best solutions and advice, you do need to work with experienced professionals. You need to work with experts who understand how to source responsibly, how to manage supply chain risk, create stand out product and branding and who bring leadership for product safety and compliance.

As part of our environmental programme, we no longer print a catalogue however, for those clients who still like to ‘flick through the pages’ we have an online flip catalogue – click here.

If you prefer the more personal client service, just call the team and we’ll do all the leg work for you!
*Source: 2017 Promotional Product Fact Sheet – PPAI