An Open Letter to Promotional Product Buyers

Why you should work with a consultant.

8/29/2019 | Joel Schaffer, MAS, The Take Away – Originally published on Promocorner.com

Dear Promotional Products buyer:

I am sorry for calling you a buyer. After 52 years in promotional marketing, I recognize that you are not a buyer but you may be tasked with building your business image or branding, or employee performance, motivation, safety, fundraising, membership development, etc. You may be a parent working to build pride or raise funds for a school. Perhaps 99% of the “buyers” I meet with your responsibilities did this as a small part of their job, not full time. I have learned they didn’t study creative and strategic brand marketing, etc. but were given the job. Even when it comes to motivating or recognizing employee or sales performance, most had little education because they just don’t teach it in college. 

I am called a 5 Star Certified Supplier. That means I manufacture quality promotional products backed with award-winning service and, most importantly, my company, people and products are certified to be compliant with product safety laws, product liability, environmental regulations, state regulations and more. To purchase my products, you will need to work with one of my exclusive agencies nationwide and you won’t find me on Amazon or through big E-marketers offering little more than price. 

I sell that way because, through my marketers, you not only get products at a competitive price, but you can also get peace of mind that you won’t risk your company being sued for purchasing inferior products, or for violating a law. If a child dies because the cheaper internet source didn’t know about child safety, it is you, personally, and your company who may be liable. How many times have you seen a kid sucking on the collar of their tee-shirts? Is that a risk to you? Yes, there are things you need to know and my people, my promotional agencies, and consultants bring that knowledge to you and more. 

I have to say, my people are some of the most creative marketers, branders, and sourcing experts on Earth and, incredibly enough, they give all this expertise to you free. There is always a cheaper price. So, the next time you want to make a decision based upon saving a few percentage points, think twice or even more than twice. However, if price is your sole criteria for purchasing, don’t call my people. They are way more than vendors, they are partners in every way. They are no doubt busy creatively serving clients who understand and respect their value add. 

Consider the future of you and your company. You don’t need the risk and exposure when you can get so much value-added for even the simplest of products or programs from the promotional marketing agency that forwarded you this.

I appreciate your reading this. My name and company really don’t matter. Your promo partner knows me and my company should you ever need us in a campaign or want to disagree with me that price is “everything”…

Joel D. Schaffer, MAS is CEO and Founder of Soundline, LLC, the pioneering supplier to the promotional products industry of audio products. Joel has 48 years of promotional product industry experience and proudly heralds “I was a distributor.” He has been on the advisory panel of the business and marketing department of St. John’s University in New York and is a frequent speaker at Rutgers Graduate School of Business. He is an industry Advocate and has appeared before the American Bankers Association, American Marketing Association, National Premium Sales Executives, American Booksellers Association and several other major groups. He has been a management consultant to organizations such as The College Board and helped many suppliers enter this industry. He is a frequent contributor to PPB and Counselor magazines. He has facilitated over 200 classes sharing his industry knowledge nationwide. He is known for his cutting humor and enthusiasm in presenting provocative and motivating programs. He is the only person to have received both the Marvin Spike Industry Lifetime Achievement Award (2002) and PPAI’s Distinguished Service Award (2011). He is a past director of PPAI and has chaired several PPAI committees and task forces. He is a past Chair of the SAAGNY Foundation, Past President of SAAGNY and a SAAGNY Hall of Fame member. He was cited by ASI as one of the 50 most influential people in the industry.

Brand Hijacking

Requests for artwork and designs using other brands’ intellectual property without permission—honest mistake or not—are a growing challenge for distributors. What’s the motivation behind the practice, known as brand hijacking, and how can industry companies address it?

by Joseph Myers

For Promo Marketing
August 2019

Let’s open with a hypothetical scenario. A nonprofit client comes to you with a request. The Super Bowl is right around the corner, and the organization is hosting a fundraiser viewing party for supporters with a pop-up shop on site to raise a little extra cash. The nonprofit needs a couple hundred T-shirts, a few dozen water bottles, maybe some stickers, all decorated with a special “Super Bowl Watch Party” design incorporating its logo and a silhouette of the Lombardi Trophy. You’re eager to help, of course, but you know that using the words “Super Bowl” is a no-go, as the NFL owns the trademark. You suggest that the organization go with “Big Game Watch Party” instead. The rest of the design remains the same. Your client places the order.

It was almost a good catch, but there’s a problem. The NFL owns the rights to the Lombardi Trophy design, too—even the silhouette. Depending on how litigious the league is feeling, that pop-up shop merch could bring legal action against your client. That may only mean a cease and desist. But it could mean more. Either way, getting caught with your hand in the IP cookie jar is a bad look for everyone.

If you’re even a casual follower of trademark infringement cases, you’d probably have caught the trophy mistake. The NFL is notoriously protective of its intellectual property, after all, and these kinds of cases make headlines all the time, usually as the Super Bowl nears. Here, it was an honest mistake. Your client was just trying to have some fun and raise some money for a good cause, not deliberately rip off another brand. But, sometimes, the requests are not so innocent—they’re attempts to quietly cash in on someone else’s hard-earned IP.

The practice is known as brand hijacking (not to be confused with the similar practice of using competitors’ names or trademarks in paid search keywords). And far too often, cases of it—intentional or not—are much murkier and harder to spot than the Super Bowl example above, especially when the IP in question isn’t as well known as the NFL’s.

To explore what it all means for distributors (and suppliers), the psychology behind its increasing presence in the field, and what can be done to combat it, Promo Marketing connected with Craig Davidiuk, owner and marketing director, Ultimate Promotions, 100 Mile House, British Columbia; Joshua White, general counsel and senior vice president of strategic partnerships for BAMKO, Los Angeles; and Rob Ross, president of Chamberlain Marketing Powered by HALO, Taylor, Mich.

Through these conversations, it became clear that though we live at a time where industry businesses can fulfill clients’ orders faster than ever, that quick pace can end up being a double-edged sword, owing to the temptation to make a quick buck, even if it means skirting the rules and jeopardizing reputations. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Elephant in the room

Even in the time it took you to read this article’s introduction, the world’s population grew significantly, and that immense total will swell even more as your eyes scan the rest of the contents. Since mathematics reminds us that we have never seen more people gracing the face of the earth than we are doing now, we could feel that the vast numbers make us seem disconnected because we are all doing “our thing.”

A little something called the internet has played the role of unifier in the commercial sense. Thanks to its global emergence, the world has become smaller, according to Ross, with that figurative shrinking coming as a source of hope for business-minded folks, but also one of worry for those who always want integrity to be the hallmark of economic transactions. The initial part of that equation means that brands are expanding their scope internationally, but no matter whether companies are dealing with domestic requests or gaining clout overseas, the perennial pest, brand hijacking, is there to be its irksome self.

“When I was in private practice, it never even occurred to me that brand hijacking was something that took place,” White said. “However, I saw a lot of other instances of companies taking deceptive actions to try to mislead consumers into placing a higher value on their product. That’s really what brand hijacking is—trying to exploit the value of someone else’s brand to create an artificially inflated value on your own brand or product.”

In many respects, brand hijacking—the deliberate kind—also resembles the I-wish-I-could-have-created-that mentality that we hear among writers and creative individuals who are looking to commend their contemporaries. With these situations, though, hijackers, rather than attempting to contribute something unique for consumers’ consumption, simply yield to an I-can’t-outdo-them-so-I’ll-steal-from-them yearning and compromise the legitimacy of those on the straight and narrow.

On our website, we’ve covered numerous high-profile instances where businesses have gone after equally renowned institutions and smaller establishments for alleged copyright violations and trademark abuses. Nirvana and its confrontation with Marc Jacobs over T-shirts. Harley-Davidson and its gripes with, well, lots of brands, including SunFrogAffliction and Forever 21. The NHL and its legal tussle with a drinkware company over Stanley Cup mugs.

These and many more examples (see graphic below) all inspire causes for concern among promotional products industry constituents. With so many people involved in the manufacturing, supplying and distributing of goods, one bad apple does not have the power to spoil the bunch.

But what about the effect that many such tarnished presences can have on everyone? We would have a difficult time in thinking of a field that does not, in any way, occasionally find itself defending its standing due to judgment errors by practitioners.

The promotional products industry specializes in being an efficient, trustworthy and professional partner—a solutions-provider for clients. Putting them at risk of legal trouble due to lack of preparedness—or, worse, intentionally engaging in questionable practices—can harm that reputation.

“I feel that brand hijacking is more prevalent now than ever,” Davidiuk said. “There’s no pretty way to put it. I see it as a huge problem because there are some people out there who just fail to place any respect in brands and the hard work behind them.”

There is also no attractive way to state that brand hijacking can be an elephant in the room for industry figures to discuss. In fact, Promo Marketing met with rejection from a few sources that found the matter either too controversial or too layered to address. Davidiuk, however, proved the most vocal, having approached us with the idea of covering the topic as a means to raise awareness for distributors.

Having made his pitch after reading one of our accounts on Harley-Davidson, Davidiuk revealed that clients occasionally come to him and his hires with requests to place such items as major brands’ artwork, “bastardized versions” of it and celebrities’ faces on goods.

All of these, if put to product, could count as instances of brand hijacking. Davidiuk said he turns these requests away. But for distributors with less knowledge of the legal restrictions and ramifications—or those who know the rules but just want to make a quick buck by looking the other way—these kinds of sales could be trouble.

Brands that use another entity’s intellectual property on promotional merchandise without permission are setting themselves up for legal trouble if the IP owners take notice. If that happens, it’s a problem for both the client who asked for the design and the distributor who delivered it.

“Staying focused at every turn has to be what guides your identity as a business figure,” said Davidiuk. “But, and this is going to sound surprising, I personally think that if I contacted 10 companies to produce off-brand Mickey Mouse pins, T-shirts or cups, nine of them would take the order. The urban myth that ‘If I change Mickey so that he has neon ears and no face, it’s my own art’ is alive and well. Unfortunately, it’s 100 percent wrong. I think we all have Andy Warhol to blame for that. He’s the most famous brand hijacker of them all.”

A growing concern?

While one could argue that the pop art pioneer gained significant regard for derivative work, that same person could say that anyone who tries that approach now, on a grand or minor scale, could be infamous for far more than 15 minutes. Like Davidiuk, Ross holds that brand hijacking poses a risk to the value that they and their peers look to bring to every project, and that it will likely remain a pest for a considerable period.

“We have the task of being brand police for clients,” Ross said of a duty that he and other promotional products professionals should treat with the utmost respect. “We have information-gathering and competitor-tracking as tools to assist in that regard. And though those are great, so, too, is the motivation that brand hijackers have to go against the grain, making policing increasingly cumbersome.”

Ross noted he supposes that brand hijacking most frequently occurs in the form of “one-off items for individual consumption.” That desire for quick fixes finds an ally in what he sees as a new generation of printers that is quite willing to overlook the securing of permission to use a protected piece of IP.

“It shouldn’t sound too surprising that most people who engage in [brand hijacking] feel they’re not doing anything wrong,” he said. “Their moral compass, so to speak, becomes stuck because they’re in it only for themselves. But there are so many complications for consumers, who could end up hurt, depending on the quality of the knockoffs, and the companies, who will have had their operations questioned—because people who run into trouble with bogus products are going to go after the trademark holder, or what have you, and not the people who had put them in the bind.”

“Proper usage,” therefore, resounds as a huge consideration for all parties, with everyone knowing that those who wish to go against reason to make a buck could not care less about the repercussions of their actions. No matter one’s business-related lot in life, the threat of brand hijacking is a real one, for even if a company has become well versed in warding off unlawful requests, any instance of a corruption of someone’s brand resonates among that enterprise’s whole identity.

It might not sour it, if we were to refer back to the “bad apple theory,” but it can, and does, inspire sympathy among industry heavyweights for their troubles. Even the possibility of it also leads legitimate industry movers and shakers to sharpen their diligence. For Davidiuk, who has come to prominence through selling enamel pins, that has been an educational experience.

“Every day, when I log onto Instagram, I see at least five new suggested accounts for new people who are planning to create and sell enamel pins online,” he said. “I’d say about 30 percent of those people are creating art that involves Marvel characters, ‘The Simpsons,’ celebrities and brand remixes, such as changing the words ‘Campbell’s Soup’ to another message but maintaining the look and feel of the brand.

“We really struggle with video game characters like Pokemon or Warcraft,” he continued. “I’m not a gamer. My staff is over 35 and doesn’t game. How are we supposed to know that we’re not creating art out of video game characters? In one case, our designer’s teenager picked up that his mom was working on a pin that was a Pokemon character. We had to turn the order down. There is only so much pop culture one 47-year-old man can absorb, and this issue does worry me as a business owner.”

One might argue that distributors and decorators signed up for this when they entered the industry, and, yes, that is true to an extent. But the strain can grow intense. Davidiuk noted that companies have become especially protective of their holdings, and that people have grown increasingly cunning with trying to see their commercial aspirations come to fruition.

As an example of the latter, he talked about Etsy as a location where there are “thousands of items that violate copyright law,” suggesting a search for “David Bowie” as an example. He also wondered just what businesses are to do when a customer can buy goods directly from China or through “five other distributors” with no questions asked.

Regarding the former point about better protection of intellectual property assets, Davidiuk, who also singled out Shopify, Squarespace and similar “easy-entry” e-commerce platforms as brand hijacking accomplices, explained the provocation behind brand hijacking, both among clients and those they approach, and relayed a personal example to detail the watchdog nature that companies should exact if they care deeply about their identity.

“I feel at the end of the day, morals will take a backseat to a $2,000 sale,” said Davidiuk. “People think they won’t get caught. What distributors do not realize is [that] big brands hire legal firms to go after violators. Google the term ‘brand endorsement,’ and there are thousands of results, so that industry is alive and well. [Companies] use employees posing as real people on social media, and they search for and prosecute violators, much like the insurance industry does to catch fraudsters.

“Fifteen years ago, I was the vice president of a mountain bike club in British Columbia in a town of 10,000 people,” he added. “One day, we got a cease and desist letter from Harley-Davidson regarding our logo. Note that Harley is located in Milwaukee, which is 2,000 miles away. Facebook wasn’t really around yet. We had 200 members and our website got maybe 400 visits a month. Our logo was a hand-sketched, line art drawing of mountain bike handlebars and a race plate. It didn’t look that close to their brand, but it was close enough to catch the eye of Harley’s legal team. Our choice of font, which was hand-drawn, was too close to their typeface. Our logo was black and white. Harley’s is color-filled. We had to change the logo at the end of the day.

“[Harley-Davidson] has been very aggressive about pursuing brand hijackers, and sued Zazzle a few years back and won,” he continued. “Zazzle is a platform that allows you to order merchandise easily online and even had a waiver for people to sign regarding copyright. Harley-Davidson successfully proved in court that knockoff merchandise produced without a license is a violation of copyright regardless of the waiver the end-user signs.”

Intellectual legwork

If we are to accept the statement, commonly attributed to P.T. Barnum, that “There’s a sucker born every minute,” that means that the promotional products industry is susceptible to attacks from numerous sources, including, as Ross noted, people who sell goods outside of such occasions as sporting events and concerts. Their rampant roles as brand hijackers, along with the aforementioned examples and instances where clients seek to circumvent conventional business transactions, comes down to, in so many words, laziness.

Though White has never needed to tackle brand hijacking head on in his employment with BAMKO, he nonetheless realizes the breadth of the conflict that it causes and the toll it takes on brands.

“Since joining BAMKO, I can’t help but develop a much greater appreciation for the value of brands,” he said. “It’s the world we live in every day, so it seeps into how I see everything now. I think when you’re a civilian outside of the industry, you don’t intuitively understand that it is the brand itself that is valuable. For Nike, it’s not the shorts they sell—it’s the swoosh on the shorts and the way that swoosh makes you feel that drive the bulk of their value. I think folks in the branding industry inherently understand that in ways that most people, including many of our customers, may not.”

White explained that BAMKO trains every employee on the significance of clients’ brands as extremely valuable assets, and on the importance of protecting and amplifying those assets. His employer relies heavily upon its IP Protection Protocol, which compelled him to contend that the potential for infringement is something “I think our industry, in general, is far too cavalier about.

“[The protocol] is a constant, tireless process, but it’s one you have to take seriously if you’re working with the kinds of high-profile brands we work with at BAMKO,” White said of clients that include Dunkin’, Peloton, Reebok and Taco Bell. As for what has come to make brand hijacking a too-common practice in the promotional products world, he chalked it up to his assessment that most bad decisions come from the combination of laziness and ignorance.

“People are generally ignorant about intellectual property, and they are usually looking for the easiest path,” he said of the mentality that views outright rip-offs and approximations as acceptable. “When you combine those factors with fear of your clients, that’s a wicked stew that can lead to some pretty dumb decisions.”

If your eyes lit up upon seeing “fear of your clients,” know that ours did, too. Asked to elaborate, White divulged that he thinks of that trepidation as being analogous to parents who are unwilling to set boundaries for their children.

“Simply saying ‘yes’ to your kid who wants to eat Oreos and ice cream for dinner might be easier, but you’re actually not doing the kid any favors,” he explained. “Sales reps who are afraid of saying ‘no’ to clients can fall in the trap of saying ‘yes’ to anything, even if doing so is harmful to the interests of that client.”

White pointed to “a lack of sophisticated knowledge” around brand hijacking as a culprit, holding that the intangibility of concepts can cloud reasoning and lead to trademark violations. Considering the comprehension of an idea’s value component, he feels, will lead to a better grasp on the pretty-easy-to-determine difference between right and wrong.

“The good news is that some of that understanding is going to happen naturally over time,” White said. “As we increasingly lead digital lives and exist in a world where data is the most valuable asset sold by companies like Google and Facebook, people will better understand that intangible assets are among the most valuable.”

‘Not the easy thing’

So, what do you do if a client asks for a design that would amount to brand hijacking? White had some simple but powerful advice: “Do the right thing, not the easy thing.”

“You’re protecting your company and looking out for the best interests of your customers [when making the right choice],” he said. “There’s no order that’s worth enough to be worth compromising that trust.”

It’s certainly easier for a large distributor like BAMKO to turn down an order than it is for a smaller distributor whose fate depends more on each individual sale. But that size disparity only makes it more important for smaller businesses to avoid brand hijacking. For a large distributor, the legal ramifications of a bad case of trademark infringement might be an annoyance. For a smaller one, they could be devastating.

“You’ve got to ask yourself what the price tag on your integrity is,” White said. “Because that’s what you’re selling.”

In admitting that he does not see the battle against brand hijacking becoming any easier, Ross added that licensed goods will likely be among the most illicit products because of the tariffs placed on them. No matter the item or request, though, distributors should do everything they can to educate themselves on intellectual property concerns so they can be prepared should a client put them in a tricky situation. Plus, the ability to guide clients on these issues is another tool in the distributor toolkit.

“Yes, I don’t see matters getting much better in terms of brand hijackers suddenly deciding to choose legitimacy, but I think that brand hijacking, or rather its effect on us, is an opportunity,” Ross said. “I think that taking a stand against it provides value to clients and dealers and leads to added credibility. The business world can be quite cutthroat. You don’t want to help the competition by inflicting wounds to yourself.

”This is our August 2019 magazine cover story and the seventh story in PM Longform, a semi-regular web series from Promo Marketing going deep on the promo industry. Want to be the first to get more long reads like this one? Subscribe to our monthly magazine and daily Promo Marketing Headlines newsletter here. It’s free. Free is good.

Photo: Getty Images by peshkov

Storytelling Builds Better Brands (For Promo Businesses and Their Clients)

RJ Hagel for

The Perfect Employee Onboarding for 2019: Creating a New Employee Welcome Kit

By Will Harris for Impactbnd

The Perfect Employee Onboarding for 2019: Creating a New Employee Welcome Kit

There’s a lot at stake during a new employee’s first week of work.

Just imagine your first day. It’s exciting, but also scary.

You arrive full of optimism and eagerness to get started. Then, you walk in the door and the next moment can go two ways:

  1. You can wander around inside of a building you’re totally unfamiliar with, searching for someone who can help tell you where to go.
  2. You’re greeted by someone awaiting your arrival, who guides you to a tidy desk complete with a beautiful new employee kit and a welcome sign on it.

Onboarding is a perfect opportunity for employers to win over the hearts and minds of their new team members. First impressions are massively important, and on an employee’s first day, they’re making note of every detail, so you don’t want to leave anything up to chance.

You also don’t want to show up to this part empty-handed.

When welcoming a new employee, you want to make sure they’re greeted with their very own new hire onboarding kit — and we’re not just talking about paperwork and office supplies.

The Importance of Good Employee Onboarding

Employee onboarding is becoming increasingly important.

In a competitive war on talent, companies need to be doing whatever they can to attract, and retain top employees; and that all starts with your approach to onboarding new employees.

“Onboarding is a magic moment when new employees decide to stay engaged or become disengaged,” said Amy Hirsh Robinson of The Interchange Group in an interviewwith the Society for Human Resource Management.

“It offers an imprinting window when you can make an impression that stays with new employees for the duration of their careers.”

New hires who have a poor onboarding experience may conclude that the organization is poorly managed and decide that it was a mistake to take the job.

This is particularly true of millennials.

Notoriously labeled “job hoppers,” millennials are more likely than previous generations to bolt if they feel the fit isn’t right at a company.

Already, millennials are beginning to make up more and more of the workforce, so it’s important that organizations better prepare for their arrival.

Not investing in your onboarding experience is setting the stage for an early exit.

More than a Human Resources (HR) Concern

This responsibility of onboarding new employees goes way beyond just HR and People Ops.

As companies begin to turn more focus on their employer brand –– an organization’s reputation as an employer, as opposed to its more general corporate brand reputation that is geared towards consumers –– marketing teams have to be ready to take on the onus.

A study from the Harvard Business Review shows that as companies shift resources towards their employer brand, the responsibility is also shifting from HR teams to the CEO and/or marketing.

Employee retention and engagement is a full-team effort, and your company can’t afford for your marketing team not to be involved in the onboarding process.

If there’s any place where onboarding and marketing collide, it’s the new employee onboarding kit.

new-employee-onboarding-swag-uber(Image Source)

Why a New Employee Onboarding Kit is a Must Have

A new employee onboarding kit is a marketing tool; it just serves a different purpose than most of your traditional marketing efforts, as it’s built to boost your employer brand.

No, an onboarding kit full of company swag isn’t a replacement for a strong company culture and good benefits, but it’s definitely a strong component of it, and when your new hire kit is well thought out, it’ll make a big difference. How, you ask?

1. Sparks Employee Engagement

One of the pros of a well-crafted employee onboarding kit is that it can help spark employee pride, engagement, and advocacy.

People tend to wear t-shirts, carry water bottles, or use other gear from companies they support or align with. Giving your employee new gear to represent your company will help turn them into a promoter and champion of your brand even outside of the office — plus who doesn’t love some free swag!

A common boast companies make is “Our people are our greatest asset.”

While this may sound cliché, it’s actually very true of employer branding.

People are far more likely to listen to what a company’s employees say about them than what their recruiting ad does. This means attracting talent relies heavily on employee engagement and advocacy.

Everything you can do to make this happen goes a long way.

2. Promotes Company Culture

The onboarding kit is also an excellent way to show your new hire what your company is all about.

Sure, they’ll have read up about your company, but this is your first chance at truly immerse them in who your company is, and what their experience here will be like.


The example above is from Ogilvy, one of the world’s most renowned advertising agencies.

The company’s founder, David Ogilvy, is known as the father of advertising, giving the company a really rich history in the \industry.

Ogilvy really leans into this reputation with its employee welcome kits.

The inside contains a book written by Ogilvy himself, as well as a list of his eight creative habits.

These components work well in that they reflect the company’s rich history, all while setting the stage for what your time will be like at the agency, while also offering something a bit fun and unexpected.

A well-crafted new hire kit will incorporate clever ways of welcoming a new employee and give them a peek into the company’s culture.

3. Makes Your New Hire Feel Welcome

When your company or team gains a new employee, it’s critical that you invest in making them feel welcome.


Studies show that during their first couple of months, new employees are still feeling out whether they fit in with the company/team –– an experience called belonging uncertainty.

Thoughtful company swag in an onboarding kit can be a great way to combat any uneasiness your new hires may be feeling.

Imagine the scenario where your new employee receives their kit, and the next day they decide to wear their new company t-shirt, only to walk past a coworker wearing the same shirt.

Yes, the situation is silly and maybe slightly embarrassing, but also disarming and provides an excellent icebreaker to approach a co-worker and get to know them.

These small moments help your new hire feel the part.

That feeling is important and inspiring it right out of the gate will give you a solid first step towards turning them into a lifelong employer brand advocate and promoter.

So, What Goes in An Employee Onboarding Kit?

It can include necessary things like a laptop, notebooks, a key to the building, or an employee handbook, but also consider some fun swag items like water bottles, stickers, t-shirts, etc.

Unexpected things like these get people excited, and let them know that your organization is thinking about you as a human being, not just an employee.

Kevin Spahn, Art Director at Element Three, a marketing agency in Indianapolis with serious authority when it comes to employer branding, says items in their kit are divided into three categories: informative, practical, and fun.

The informative. This is your baseline info that new hires need to know. Items might include:

  • Map of the office
  • Key to the building
  • A letter from the company president
  • Parking instructions
  • Information on benefits
  • A checklist of things you’ll get done in your first month

This may sound relatively boring, but it doesn’t have to be.

Element Three (seen above) actually turns their onboarding kit into a game of sorts. Inside is a checklist full of tasks for the first month, with each tab on the checklist helping them learn something important about their new surroundings.

The practical. These items are the ones that help your employees do their jobs, like these waiting patiently for a new team member on their desk at FanDuel.

(Image Source)

Practical items might include:

  • Laptop
  • Notebooks & pens
  • Flash drive
  • Monitor stand, mouse, and mouse pad
  • A professional development book

Now we’re getting a little flashier, but the excitement of office equipment wears off relatively fast.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance to make a strong impression here, however.

Per Gallup, something important to employees –– and millennials in particular –– is knowing that you’re invested in their growth. A small but potentially impactful gesture — give your new hire a book related to their professional growth.

Whether it be on something more general like leadership, or a book with industry-specific knowledge, the fact that their betterment was even a thought will mean something and might make them want to stick around and grow at your company rather than elsewhere.

The fun. Now we’re talking.

This is when you get to outfit your team with more exciting gear that may not be a need but certainly is a want. It could include things like :

  • Apparel (t-shirt, sweater, hoodie, polo, etc)
  • Water bottle
  • Stickers
  • A pennant
  • Enamel pins
  • A coffee mug

Add some excitement to your onboarding kit! These are the items that will make people really excited about joining your team, and help you come off as, well, cool.

Don’t think you can’t enforce company culture here, though. A thoughtful message on the inside tag of a t-shirt or a clever bit of copy on a company water bottle can help reinforce your brand and mission to employees in a memorable way.

One key here: when thinking swag, make sure you get swag that people actually want.

It may seem silly to put a lot of thought into swag items, but it’s all pointless if they’re not items people will use.

Plus, thoughtless swag doesn’t reflect well on your brand, so make the investment worth it and be sure to do it right.

Get Your Employees On Board!

In many ways, it’s an employee’s market and your company can’t afford to not have a well-thought-out onboarding structure. Now’s the time to get started!

Be sure to use these tips to put together the perfect new hire onboarding kit that not only gives your new employee everything they need to get their work done, but also some surprises that makes them excited about doing so.

It’s Free. It’s Fun. Why Silicone Valley Loves Swag – and how it’s changing.

San Francisco Chronicle – by Carolyn Said  July 21, 2019

Scan your closets and drawers. Chances are, you’ll find T-shirts, tote bags and baseball caps emblazoned with logos and slogans of conferences you attended, products you bought, nonprofits you supported, companies that wanted to sell you stuff.

A majority of Americans own branded pens, drinkware, T-shirts, bags, caps, outerwear and desk accessories — with the average household having 30 promotional products, according to the Advertising Specialty Institute, a trade group.

Swag or schwag — branded promotional merchandise — is a major marketing tool in almost every industry. But it feels particularly pervasive in the technology sector, which shelled out $1.43 billion for promotional products in 2018, up from $1.08 billion the year before, the trade group said.

For tech companies, which often deal with complex products, producing something tangible such as a water bottle or fleece vest helps make abstractions more appetizing to consumers.

“Most of Silicon Valley is intangible clouds of electrons tunneling down circuits,” said Paul Saffo, a futurist and longtime valley watcher. “That’s why we’re suckers for physical artifacts.”

There are other reasons, as well. Silicon Valley spawns scores of startups, which need to quickly establish themselves in the public eye. Companies hand out logoed apparel to create walking billboards for themselves as they jostle for new recruits and customers. As tech enterprises release new projects, T-shirts are de rigueur for fostering esprit de corps among team members. There’s even a book, “Apple T-Shirts,” that chronicles some of the company’s history through its apparel.

“Swag has existed for as long as the Valley itself,” said Leslie Berlin, project historian for the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford, in an email. “I still treasure my Fairchild Semiconductor pencil holder.”


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In an industry where companies and products come and go seemingly in the blink of an eye, swag can outlast them.

“We find that T-shirts are sometimes the only physical evidence” of a defunct product, alliance or company, said Dag Spicer, senior curator at Mountain View’s Computer History Museum. “We have quite a few shirts of glorious failures.”

The museum counts about 6,500 items of ephemera — T-shirts, mugs, buttons, hats, tote bags — in its collection. One exhibit wall showcases hundreds of button pins with slogans like “I pray in Fortran” — an early programming language — “Support your local computer dealer,” “The Joy of Unix,” and “NetWare, Dedicated to Serve All LANkind” — an artifact from the days when Novell dominated local area networking.

“I’ve always wanted to do a USB exhibit about all the crazy little devices and funny little shapes they make USB sticks into,” Spicer said.

But environmentalists worry that the deluge of knickknacks adds to landfill — and say their concerns are heightened as swag goes more high tech.

“Swag was always wasteful but now has become things with circuit boards, batteries and other toxic materials,” said Nick Lapis, director of advocacy at Californians Against Waste, an advocacy group. “It’s irresponsible to hand out a disposable item with lithium ion batteries.”


Patagonia, the Ventura maker of outerwear that’s a coveted swag item, in April said it would decline to stitch corporate logos on its vests and jackets except for companies that “prioritize the planet.”

Tim Andrews, CEO of the Advertising Specialty Institute, says the industry is making a conscious effort to be more environmentally aware. Part of that involves higher-end merchandise and more personalized items — “you rarely discard something with your name on it,” he said.

“The time of cheap plastic items that people tossed away quickly was 15 or 20 years ago,” he said. “If you distribute a product that’s not kept, respected and appreciated, that’s not effective. We encourage members to focus on products that will be retained.”

Sendoso is one of many companies that have made a business out of facilitating swag.  Photo: Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle

The group’s studies show that consumers have more favorable impressions of freebies that appear sustainable and were made in the U.S.

Some new green forms of swag have emerged. Danielle Baskin of San Francisco started Branded Fruit initially as a joke but now has a thriving business of printing company names and logos on all types of produce, from avocados to peaches to sweet potatoes. Growing up with a mom who worked for a promotional catalog — her toys were branded stuffed animals, stress balls and maze pens — she already felt connected to the industry.

Fruits and veggies are “something everybody wants, and they don’t sit on a shelf forever and don’t go to landfill,” she said. “People now are more interested in experiences than objects; eating an avocado is an experience, and it can be a branded experience.” Also, branded produce is very Instagram-friendly, extending its reach on social media.

The logos, meant for produce with peels or skins, use the same nonedible, non-compostable material as supermarket produce stickers, but Baskin said she plans to switch in September to new inks that will be edible and compostable.

Other companies are harnessing technology to make swag more personalized and effective.

Kris Rudeegraap co-founded Sendoso, a San Francisco company that automates assembling and sending customized swag packages on behalf of customers, including personalized gifts, such as mugs from the recipient’s alma mater, bobbleheads of the recipient, handwritten notes and a variety of other items.

Now 3 years old, Sendoso has 150 employees and more than $13 million in venture backing, and it will send out about half a million packages this year for its 400 corporate clients. It integrates with customer relationship software like Salesforce. Rudeegraap said sending swag and letters delivers a 30 times higher response rate than simply emailing.

Jessica Cross, manager of demand generation at San Francisco’s RollWorks,which uses Sendoso, agreed that sending swag works.

“We don’t want to send a cheapie pen that will get tossed; we’re looking to make a memorable impression,” she said. “In an age of too many voicemails and overloaded email boxes, people still get excited to receive a package. It costs more, but there’s a big return on investment.”

One reason swag is so effective is that humans, like other primates, are hard-wired for mutual exchanges, said Jamie O’Boyle, senior analyst at the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis, a Philadelphia think tank. “If you give people something, even something small, then they feel obliged to you,” he said. “Reciprocity is an absolute in pretty much every culture.”

Museums in Silicon Valley are already collecting promotional items like T-shirts from companies; the ephemeral items provide a record of a fast-changing industry. Photo: Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle

In addition, swag works when it lingers in your personal space. “People see thousands of advertising impressions — on billboards, websites, TV and radio every day and rarely remember them, but almost everyone remembers brands represented by products that sit on their desk, in their kitchen, that they wear to work or sports games,” said Andrews from the promotional industry trade group.

Lots of people recall weird swag that they’ve received throughout the years, even if they tossed it. A random Twitter survey elicited tales of chocolate-covered crickets (from Cricket Wireless, appropriately enough), a 3-D-printed sandstone doll, embossed metallic ice cubes, underwear printed with data (“technical briefs”), a reel viewer, talking plastic figurines, a wooden eagle, autographed celebrity photos, a key fob with a condom inside.


“We’re all just big dumb crazy squirrels who instinctively collect things even if there’s no purpose to them,” Saffo said. “Future archaeologists will someday thank us for the sedimentary layer of swag of Silicon Valley.”

Find the original article here.

Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @csaid

Carolyn Said covers the on-demand economy (new marketplaces such as Uber, TaskRabbit and Airbnb that let people rent their time, goods and services), the impacts of automation and AI on labor, and the world of autonomous vehicles. Previously she covered the housing market and foreclosure crisis, winning awards for stories that shed light on the human impact of sweeping economic trends. As a business reporter at The Chronicle since 1997, she also has covered the dot-com rise and fall, the California energy crisis, the corporate malfeasance scandals, and the fallout from economic downturns.


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