by Pamela Glatter


That’s the one word I’d use to describe 2020.

What’s scary is that the year is only half over. The reality of life is that it is uncertain. There are no guarantees. Throw in a pandemic and you take uncertainty to a whole new level. Business, like life, must go on if we’re going to recover and even prosper!

Me? I sell promotional products and have done so for nearly 20 years. I don’t sell tchotchkes. I enjoy helping people and their businesses survive and thrive by featuring alternative marketing to help them get their brand and name circulated. I cringe when I hear people refer to our industry as “SWAG” or “CPS” (cheap plastic $#!*”). I don’t sell products. I offer solutions.

My philosophy has always been this: When you hand a promotional product to your customers or an employee, it represents your organization. If someone tells me they want to hand out something cheap just to give something out, I think why… why would you do that? If someone handed me a junky pen or a tote bag with handles that rip as soon as it’s full, that’s the lasting impression I have of their business.

As a result of COVID-19, we find ourselves living more in a digital world than we would ever have expected. Business models suddenly changed—they had to, to survive. The majority of advertising is done online. If you are not Tik Tocking, Facebooking, Instagramming, Tweeting or Youtube surfing, and  Pintrest posting, what are you doing.  If you’re not directly hitting your potential clientele, you’re wasting your time and your dollars. You know the expression “Fish where the fish are?” Those fish are all online.

All good marketing campaigns have a solid strategy and utilize multi-faceted forms for advertising, including and especially promotional products. They’re tangible. They are successful by themselves or can be used to enhance any other form of advertising. A slogan that a national trade association used to use was “Promotional products remain to be seen.”  Look around your desk, even in your home office. There are logoed products everywhere.

Our industry has seen many changes and evolved over the years. Now COVID comes along and our whole world has been turned upside down. Many of my customers would buy items for trade shows and events. Those events have been canceled. Employees are working from home and a feeling of anxiety is in the air. I believe this is the perfect time to be resourceful and creative. This is the perfect time to make sure you are using promotional products for marketing and employee engagement. Just like everything else in life, things change. So now how do we adapt our marketing strategies to our current climate?

Here are a few ways the promotional product industry can change to be more effective during a pandemic. 

1.        The resurgence of direct mail.-If your clients can’t come to you, go to them. Trade show got canceled? Get the show’s pre-registration list and mail them a branded box with some branded promo items. All the ads in the world can’t engage you as much as physical product you can hold and keep. We get so much email; isn’t it refreshing to get something you can open? A touchable item that someone can keep has a lasting impression.

2.        Follow the flow. Today is all about COVID. Back in the day (one year ago), the top-selling item in our industry was a simple, classic pen. Everyone uses them and everyone hands them out. Two years ago, it was the fidget spinner. Fast forward to today and the number-one item is the face mask. If you’re not giving out a mask with your company logo on it, you’re missing out on the greatest walking billboard opportunity. It is in-your-face, literally on-your-face marketing! You can’t miss seeing someone’s mask as people pass you in the store. Your logo, front and center of someone’s face. Also consider hand sanitizer. Everyone’s using it, and appreciates receiving it. Having your logoed hand sanitizer is a great way to get your brand out and everyone wants hand sanitizer right now.

3.        Make people feel good. Employees are working from home. Many people are feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Consider sending a fun pair of pajama pants or fuzzy socks to your employees. A fun promo item wrapped up in a branded gift box. Think about how unique those Zoom meetings could be if everyone’s wearing something fun. Build or maintain team spirit. Making people smile, laugh, and feel good is a great way to get them to appreciate your brand.

4.        Be creative. You can choose to be practical or fun. I love the new lanyards that are “mask keepers.” Everyone has a mask and if you look on the ground in any location you’ll see random masks. There are moments when you have to take off your mask, like when you eat. A mask-keeper lanyard has two clips and you can take off your mask and not lose it. Another idea is a tin of mints. Sounds silly, but is it? Some of us have experienced that ‘euww what’s that smell?’ when wearing a mask, and sad but true it’s our own breath. If you’re not handing out mints, I’d highly suggest it.

5.        Laser-sharp focus. Know who your target market is but then tighten it. Why hand out 1,000 pens to random people? Pick 100 very specific targets and build a campaign directly for them. Have a definitive objective. If you’re hosting a webinar, why?  What are you hoping to accomplish? Once you have your focus you can use promotional items to help accomplish your goal.

Remember, this too shall pass. It sounds cliché, but things will change. They always do.  It takes creativity, sensitivity, and adaptability to succeed in challenging times.