For special events, promotional products are like icing on the cake – they take your carefully planned function and make it that much better. By building anticipation, accenting themes and creating positive impressions, promotional products help make your company’s event a corker!

You’ve spent weeks, maybe months, planning a company picnic, awards ceremony or other corporate event. But take a minute and consider – have you really thought of everything? If you haven’t thought about how promotional products fit into your event, you’re likely missing an opportunity to generate a long-lasting positive impression of your company. Promotional products can help make any event more memorable – creating excitement in the time leading up to the function, complementing its theme and making sure it’s fondly remembered for months or years to come.

Build Excitement

It doesn’t matter how much careful planning went in to your company’s affair if no one shows up. That’s why it’s important to start trying to generate interest well ahead of time. For example, when Chippenham & Johnston-Willis (CJW) Medical Center wanted to notify local medical personnel and community leaders about the future opening of its new cardiac care center, it sent out a promotional piece two months before the opening ceremony. “Basically, we were getting ready for the summer kick-off of the new heart pavilion in the months leading up to its grand opening,” explains promotional consultant Joe Winston. “And with February featuring Valentine’s Day and being National Heart Month, we thought it would be a natural to do it then because of the obvious tie-in.”

The product Winston and CJW developed was a CD titled Songs From Our Heart, featuring 10 songs with the word “heart” in the title or lyrics. It also included artwork and information about the new hospital.

Then, when it came time to actually open the cardiac center, Winston worked with CJW to carry the theme through the grand opening event. “For the doctors, we had hearts made out of crystal with the name of the heart center. We used the heart theme for the grand opening favors, reinforcing the event itself. It was so well received and was a really exciting project.”

For The Long Haul

Other events, such as trips awarded for achieving sales or other work-related goals, require even more advance notice and, consequently, more products to keep participants motivated and on-task. Promotional consultant Mitch Silver says it’s these types of functions that require extra careful planning and relevant themes that can be easily carried throughout the experience. “Let’s say the top salespeople in a company go to Hawaii with the president of the company. To kick off the contest, 12 months prior to the trip, they should have a theme, like ‘Race to the Finish,'” Silver says. “To announce the contest and the chance that people can win the trip to Hawaii, they would do some type of pre-event invitation mailer or drop it off on the desks of all the salespeople – something with a checkered flag or some sort of raceway message.”

Other logoed products then serve as small reminders throughout the year: stressballs, desktop accessories, computer products – all featuring the racing theme. Posters and signs can also help keep the goal in-mind.

The theme then carries through to the event itself. “The winners get to the event and there’s a gift on their pillow waiting for them, playing up the fact that they made it to the finish line. It could be a clock with a racing car on the base that has their name etched on a plaque. Maybe one of the evening events would be remote-control racecar driving. And then parting gifts: just before they go home they have a giant meeting and have the foam things that you see at sporting events but shaped like a racecar,” he explains. “There are a number of different ways you can tie it all in together, with analogies that work for almost any business. Once you know the theme you can take it in a number of different directions.”

Community Causes

An entire community can get behind an event that’s held to benefit a good cause. For the past few years promotional consultant Tony Genova, who is also president of his local Kiwanis chapter, helped organize a street fair to benefit local needy children. It’s a huge production – it offers more than 100 vendors, carnival rides, games and food and draws between 12,000 and 14,000 people.

When planning an affair of this scope, one important thing is establishing a team of people to help keep things running smoothly. “When you’re starting an event like that, you really need to get a team that’s going to pull together for the same cause. That way you can delegate responsibility, you can split it up and not one person is burdened so much that it takes over their entire life,” Genova says. He adds that you also have to work closely with your local fire department, police department, county government and other officials.

Vendors that participate in large events generally like to give away useful items to people who visit their stands, Genova says. Long after the fair is over, people will look at an item and remember the company, and that it was involved in the charitable event. “Pens, magnets, business card magnets, water sports bottles, letter slitters, jar openers … most of the time people use the inexpensive products,” he says.

“Typically you’re going to have thousands of people attend but you’re only going to see 600 or 700 people at your booth,” Genova notes. “So you want to make sure that you have at least 1,000 of something to give away.”

The sponsors of the fair also use lower-cost kids’ products as prizes for the carnival games. Items such as whistles, balls, walking springs, paddleballs, kazoos, puzzles, crayons, etc., don’t cost too much for the buyer, but are priceless to the children who win them. “We have one area for kids under 5-years-old where Kiwanis has games and prizes. They all get imprinted with the Kiwanis logo and they’re given away at the fair to every kid that participates – so nobody’s a loser,” he explains.

First Things First

When it comes to special events, the key to creating a successful one is careful planning. Here are some things for you and your promotional consultant to consider when planning the big day:

What do I want to accomplish? Cleary define the reason for having the event. Do you want to create goodwill? Find new customers? Reward employees for a job well-done? Determining the purpose of an event is the first step to designing one that will accomplish your goals.

What is my budget? How much is allotted per person? Does that include food? Gifts? Transportation? Let your promotional consultant know up front how much you have to spend on the affair. That way she can help tailor the project to meet your budget, and also alert you to any expenses you may not have considered.

What is the timeframe? How far in advance do you want to start hyping the event? Is it the culmination of a months-long contest? The more involved an affair is, the earlier you will have to announce it. An event that requires many people to travel, via car, plane, train, etc., requires much more advance notice than one that is held at work or at a local meeting place.

Who do I want to attend? Will your company be entertaining top clients? Successful employees? The whole company along with their families? Will the group primarily be men or women, young or old, blue collar or white collar, etc.? It’s important to realize who your audience is when planning other aspects of the affair.

What will the theme be? From the stately and serious to the fun and frivolous, there are all types of themes to help make your company’s event successful and, perhaps more important, memorable. The question is, how do you want the event to be remembered? Emphasize stability with classical, historical or monumental themes.

There’s lots of room for fun themes too. Many can range from the slightly comical to the downright silly, depending upon their execution. Consider: Mardi Gras, casino, circus, street fair, New York, Chicago, Paris, fantasy, futuristic, Mars, the Moon, Broadway, murder mystery, the four seasons, sports, Western, Southern hospitality, blockbuster movies, classic TV, ’20s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s … the list goes on and is only limited by your imagination.

Still need inspiration? See what celebrations fall near the event. What famous figures were born that day, week or month? (Check out Imprint’s “Day Tripper” calendar.). How about the city or town – either where your company is located or where the event will be held – can anything in its history complement the affair?

What types of products do I want to give out, and when? Starting with the invitations and products that generate awareness of the event, the promotional items chosen will have a strong effect on guests’ impressions. Will you be awarding trophies during the function? How about prizes for raffles or contests? Will all attendees receive a gift? Will there be children, spouses, etc., there requiring different types of gifts? Do you want to leave a pillow gift or other nicety in hotel rooms? How about parting gifts to remind attendees of the event?

What might I be overlooking? Will there be food at the event? Beverages? How about entertainers? Will you need to provide transportation or accommodations for the guests?

No matter what size function your company is planning, promotional products play an important part in how the event is perceived and remembered. By working closely with your promotional consultant, you can ensure that the products used convey the desired message and create goodwill among recipients.