Key Rules You Can (and Should) Break in Your Marketing Copy
Aubrey Collins, Creative Challenges
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sponsored by Next Level Apparel

The other day at the office, a coworker and I had a bit of a debate about grammar and proper writing. During the discussion and my subsequent rounding up of facts to prove that I was, indeed, correct, I uncovered a realization most people have deeply ingrained thoughts about grammar, but it turns out that many of those thoughts are either myths or rules you can (and should) break in modern writing.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be aware of the rules of grammar or that you shouldn’t take them seriously, but by knowing the rules, you can feel comfortable in your decision to break them. This is not to say that I never make a grammar mistake or that I don’t have more to learn, but I have made a concerted effort to learn all I can about grammar rules, and I am here to assure you that there are many opportunities to break the real and imagined writing commandments.

You Can’t Write in Fragments

From the time you were a small child, you were told that fragments – or incomplete sentences – are errors that need to be corrected. Since fragments are incomplete, generally, they lack a subject or a verb. They can make a piece of writing confusing, so in formal writing, avoiding fragments often makes a great deal of sense.

That said, marketing copy exists to influence. To persuade. Using sentence fragments, like I just did in the previous sentence, help you to break up elements in your copy and can help you emphasize particular points. When used deliberately, sentence fragments help to create a wide range of effects.

Don’t Start a Sentence with “And” or “But”

Again, this one goes back to childhood. As a child nearly every one of us was taught that you should never start a sentence with a conjunction like and, but, or or. Despite this, nearly all style guides, even the most rigid, have stated that starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions (like and, but, and or) is perfectly acceptable and that examples of such use goes all the way back to Old English.

With experts agreeing that it is fine to start a sentences with a conjunction, how did a rule like this proliferate amongst children for decades? It is thought that back in the 19th century, some schoolteachers took a stance against the practice of beginning a sentence with a conjunction, likely because they noticed young children overusing them in their writing. So instead of educating them on effective use, teachers banned it altogether. I hope you begin at least one sentence with a conjunction today, if only to get back at this decades’ old education conspiracy.

You Should Avoid Slang Expressions in Your Writing

On the surface, avoiding slang expressions is actually sound advice. You don’t want to confuse your reader. That said, when it comes to modern writing – especially marketing copy – it is so important to write in a conversational tone. Write the way you talk. Vary your sentence structure. These are all ways you can keep your reader’s attention.

So as long as you use caution when implementing slang, it is absolutely a rule that can be broken. Using slang correctly can help an audience relate to you better. It can make the reader feel as though you are all a part of the same group or club. It can make you more relatable. Tread lightly and see how your audience responds to your writing and make adjustments when needed. When used effectively, slang is a very simple and subtle way to add some authenticity to your writing.

I hope that loosening the tie on your writing, so to speak, helps you to have a little more fun with it. Sometimes we use the rules rules of grammar to handcuff ourselves and our creativity and, in the end, we bore our reader. Stay tuned for part two of this topic for even more ways to cut yourself a break in your efforts of writing effective copy.

Aubrey Collins is the director of marketing and communications at MediaTree, a supplier of branded digital entertainment cards. She fell in love with the promotional products industry in 2011 at her first PPAI Expo. She shares her perspective on everything from the industry, what parenting continues to teach her about business, to what marketing campaigns make her cry on her blog. Connect with her on Twitter or email her atacollins@mediatreegroup.com.

Weekly Poll Results
How often do you use social media? Identity Marketing Staff, Identity Research
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Not Everyone is Your Target Audience
Bill Petrie, Petrie's Perspective
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Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that your target audience will remain static – it won’t.
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It’s common knowledge that promotional products are both purchased and used by a wide variety of industries. In fact, this is the exact reason so many people started selling promotional merchandise in the first place – the need is across all industries. And, while perfectly decorated nuggets of promotional marketing appeal to an enormous group of people, it simply doesn’t make sense to try to market to everyone.

Think of it this way: the more potential customers you want to reach, the more time, effort, and money it’s going to cost you to influence them. It’s not about excluding potential clients; it’s about deciding where to burn the necessary calories to maximize your resource investment. Placing your focus on a targeted portion of the companies interested in buying promotional merchandise will allow you to communicate more directly and engage with that segment more deeply.

A target audience is unique to each business, product, and service. Therefore, it’s critical to observe the following three steps to ensure you are spending your resources to maximize the return.

1) Know Your Value – Understanding how you can leverage promotional merchandise to fix specific marketing issues for potential clients is the critical first step. What unique aspects of your expertise and/or brand message relates directly to potential clients? Do you have extensive experience in ecommerce solutions, employee retention, new product launches, or something else? Think in terms of how your company has solved business problems that potential clients wrestle with daily. As you go through this exercise, keep in mind that it is ultimately about the value your clients see in you, not value you hope they see.

2) Develop an Ideal Client Profile – An ideal client profile is far more than just a list of potential accounts in your geographical area; it’s an in-depth description of who the target client may be and includes the following:

Primary attributes – What main traits of a target company fall into your wheelhouse: size of organization, number of employees, type of organization, annual revenue, how they go to market, etc.
Secondary attributes – These are other aspects of target clients that cater to your value proposition: type of culture, diversity initiatives, specialty markets, etc.
Industries – Target where you feel your organization can add the most value, including examples of past work, but drill down to specifics. For example, stating you want to focus on the hospitality industry isn’t enough. List resorts in specific areas, meeting planners in distinct markets, etc.
Contacts – Keeping your specific brand message in mind, identify the people within your target industries where you can provide the most tangible value. Some examples might be the obvious (marketing managers, human resources, sales directors) while other may not be as apparent (diversity managers, safety directors, procurement).

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All this information is essential for developing the client profile by not only identifying the targets who will find the most value in what you offer, but also will target the people in the organization that will best respond to how you differentiate yourself through brand messaging.

3) Monitor and Evolve – After the target audience has been identified, it’s important to monitor as clients, industry tendencies, market trends, and your competition will evolve. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that your target audience will remain static – it won’t. Track every touch point: sales activities, client interactions, quotes, meetings, presentations, marketing efforts, client feedback, etc. as it will allow you identify needs, trends, patterns, and potential areas of improvement. This will ensure that your brand message can evolve with your target audience and remain in alignment.

Marketing to every organization that purchases promotional products isn’t any more feasible than McDonald’s marketing to every person who likes to eat at a restaurant. Within the overly broad category, there are “potential clients” who eat out but prefer steak at Morton’s. In other words, there is a certain segment of the audience that won’t ever spend a dime at McDonald’s so placing any effort marketing to them wouldn’t make sense – the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze.

By narrowing down to a specific target audience, your unique voice will begin to align with clients who delight in the specific value you provide.

Bill is president of PromoCorner and has over 17 years working in executive leadership positions at leading promotional products distributorships. In 2014, he launched brandivate – the first executive outsourcing company solely focused on helping small and medium sized-promotional products enterprises responsibly grow their business. A featured speaker at numerous industry events, a serial creator of content marketing, president of the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS), and PromoKitchen chef, Bill has extensive experience coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, developing operational policies and procedures, creating and developing winning RFP responses, and presenting winning promotional products solutions to Fortune 500 clients. He can be reached at bill@PromoCorner.com.

This Deal Is On Fire!
Keep buying the knock-offs and they’ll keep burning up. Jeff Jacobs, The Brand Protector
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sponsored by Next Level Apparel

Earlier this month two young girls, ages three and 10, were killed in a hoverboard accident in Pennsylvania. Neither girl was riding it – it was just plugged in and charging. The hoverboard apparently overheated and created a fire that destroyed the sisters’ home, killing them both, and critically injuring another young girl. An adult jumped from the second floor of the house to safety, while three other occupants had to be rescued with ladders. A veteran firefighter also lost his life in a car accident on the way to the firehouse to help fight the fire. “They heard some sizzling and crackling in the hoverboard and shortly thereafter, it exploded in flames,” the local fire chief told ABC News after talking to the family. The chief continued, “We’ve seen too many fires and too many fire fatalities as a result of these hoverboards.” This house fire is like an earlier fire in Nashville, TN, where the family is suing Amazon for $1 million, and another previous home loss in Alabama. The only difference is, nobody died in those two house fires.

Half a million hoverboards were recalled last July by the CPSC, that list is here. But, the fact is that only a small percentage of those hoverboards have been returned to date, and the counterfeits with dangerous batteries continue to find their way into the country. Why? Because they are a DEAL, and who can resist a HOT DEAL? If you insist on owning, or selling one of these things into the promotional products market, UL introduced a new voluntary safety standard (UL2272) that addresses the charging issues. There is an online directory to find UL certified devices, and you can check an updated list here. Just enter “FKIS” into the category code field to find all currently certified manufacturers. Whatever you do, before you sell, or use, a hoverboard, please take the time to make sure it has not been recalled, and is on the current UL-certified list.

Electronics and their accessories, footwear, handbags, outerwear, home entertainment – the fake list goes on. The manufacture and sale of counterfeit goods is a global problem, and one that damages the businesses of legitimate suppliers. The International Trade Association is estimating the worldwide impact to be $4 trillion by 2022 – and yes, that’s trillion, with a “t.” So, even buying that seemingly harmless knockoff phone charger to complete a program for your client can contribute to the bigger problem.

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It isn’t just taking money away from the legit suppliers of product, there is genuine risk to your end-user clients. A genuine Apple adapter safely takes input voltage ranging from 100 to 240V AC and converts it to 5V DC. The idea is wherever in the world it is used, the adapter will convert high-voltage electricity from an outlet into low-voltage to safely charge the phone. But, in published research from IP Watchdog, 400 counterfeit iPhone adapters with unauthorized certification marks were subjected to two product certification tests – an electric strength test and a touch current test. The counterfeit adapters were obtained from multiple sources in eight different countries from around the world, including the United States, Canada, Colombia, China, Thailand, and Australia. Only three of the 400 samples passed the electric strength test – a 99 percent failure rate – and 12 of them were so poorly designed and constructed that they posed a risk of lethal electrocution.

Based on the number of phone chargers that I’ve seen given away as promotional items at events and conferences, it’s safe to say that a fair number of readers have sourced these products for customers, likely at their request. But how do you feel now about the ”deal” you have, or are, putting together for your best clients? Is it worth the risk to save a few bucks? Do your clients even understand the risk they are taking? If not, is it incumbent upon you to tell them about those risks before they decide to make a purchase? Hopefully, that’s food for thought for you moving forward.

Jeff Jacobs has been an expert in building brands and brand stewardship for more than 35 years, working in commercial television, Hollywood film and home video, publishing, and promotional brand merchandise. He’s a staunch advocate of consumer product safety and has a deep passion and belief regarding the issues surrounding compliance and corporate social responsibility. He recently retired as executive director of Quality Certification Alliance, the only non-profit dedicated to helping suppliers provide safe and compliant promotional products. Before that, he was director of brand merchandise for Michelin. As a recovering end-user client, he can’t help but continue to consult Fortune 500 consumer brands on promo product safety when asked. You can also find him working as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem, traveling the world with his lovely wife, or enjoying a cigar at his favorite local cigar shop. Follow Jeff on Twitter, or reach out to him at jacobs.jeffreyp@gmail.com.

Business Owner or Employee? Reading Your Clients.
The "value" of industry leadership events and more. Kirby Hasseman, Bill Petrie, UnScripted
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sponsored by Bay State

Industry educators Kirby Hasseman of Hasseman Marketing and Bill Petrie of PromoCorner discuss a variety of hot­-button industry topics in this weekly “talk show” column brought to you by Bay State Specialty. Click on the graphic to hear their “UnScripted” conversation.

New from Industry Suppliers
Identity Marketing Staff, New Products
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sponsored by Cedar Crest Mfg.

The Damali Stylus Pen from Hub Pen Company with tech details gives this European executive pen modern appeal. Deep enamel colors are accented with chrome grid pattern. It offers smooth twist retraction and a handy stylus.




Unlike other lip balms, the new Lip Fusion from Raining Rose is a combination of natural ingredients that provides a bold flavor experience. This non-SPF offering is free of petroleum, PABA (a chemical often used in sunscreen), and paraben. Ingredients include natural beeswax, organic sunflower oil, organic extra virgin olive oil, and rosemary extract. Customers who love uniquely fused flavors will love promoting with this lip balm.




This new Wine Bottle Pouch from Clava is now in fashion colors. Simple and to the point, grab your delicious bottle of wine and go enjoy at your favorite BYOB restaurant. Giftable and functional, lightweight, easy to carry and easy to store when not in use. Personalize with someone's name or initials – or with VINO. Cheers!




Whatever industry you're in, custom printed table tents from Warwick Publishing are perfect for advertising directly to customers who visit your establishment. Bars and restaurants love table tents to promote drink and dinner specials, as well as upcoming events. Banks and financial advisors use them to advertise account options to walk-in patrons. They are available in horizontal or vertical orientation. Made out of sturdy, smooth white paper stock, and printed in 4-color process to provide vivid graphics.




The new Tuscany Cell Phone Holder from Prime Line is a two-piece wood and PU phone stand. It is available in black, navy or tan.



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The Elyse Award
Use awards to enhance your image and grow your sales. Joel Schaffer, MAS, The Take Away
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Everybody likes a winner and everybody likes doing business with winning companies.
sponsored by Next Level Apparel

It was a Wednesday morning in Los Angeles. The room was filled with eager students yearning for promotional product knowledge. Here is the story. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Way back, before the turn of the century, I was a member of The Principal Connection. It was a forerunner to what EME is today. We were 16 suppliers traveling our nation from 1992-2001, giving seminars to our distributors. It just so happened that one of our “guys” was having major problems with customer service. To say it was bad is an understatement. Frankly, his record tarnished all of us. I don’t know why, I know I didn’t have too much to drink the night before, but for some reason I modified the way I introduced him when it was his turn to present. I said, “Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to introduce Mr. X and his company XYZ. They are the most recent winners of ‘The Elyse Award’ for outstanding customer service.” The room erupted in applause and his presentation began.

Did you ever wonder who voted? How many times do we simply accept “voted the number one car dealer,” “number one restaurant.” If you and I vote right now and I vote for you as the sexiest person alive, you can now advertise… voted the sexiest person alive. Go ahead, you have my vote.

Everybody likes a winner and everybody likes doing business with winning companies. It builds an inherent confidence in the relationship. If the award was for quality, service, creativity or another more esoteric reason, it is a point of differentiation that no money can buy. I say no money because if it is a true award and true recognition, no money can buy it – it must be earned. This point of differentiation can be touted in many ways. From a subtle emblem on a business card, to a full-page ad in a local business journal; from a P.R. release within your geographic area to an online statement via all the business and social media platforms. Above all, every introductory meeting and every proposal can, in some way, highlight the award.

Knowing you’re an award winner can help in recruitment; it can build enthusiasm and a positive competitive spirit within. It can foster more respect for you and your agency within your supplier chain. Everybody loves a winner. It can answer the question, “Why am I working with them?” Well, because they are an award-winning agency.

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Our industry is the go-to source for recognition and motivational programs. We know how to help clients recognize their award winners. Nobody does it better. So, it is logical that we recognize our own for jobs well done. Through a host of sources, you have the opportunity for you and your business to be recognized for accomplishments. ASI, PPAI, Regionals and other industry publications are just a few of the entities with award programs. There is a requirement – most often, you have to be in it to win it (yet another reason to join).

I have seen many friends win Pyramid Awards over the years. I have seen them use their recognition to their advantage. I have walked into scores of distributor offices to be greeted by a shelf or trophy case displaying their awards. It immediately tells me this is a professional shop, a house of winners, people who dwell in the upper levels of professionalism in this industry. “Bull” says someone who is reading this right now. “I can win it, I am infinitely more creative than them.” If so, prove it. Show us your stuff. Get into the race, show us what you’ve got and let your peers be the judge. If you are right, your reward will be greater than anything you can buy to boast. It is not only personal validation, but your parents and family will be proud of you, too.

I have studied Pyramid Awards for decades. When PPAI tells you about the achievement and what was needed by the client, what was done to satisfy the need and the results validate the award, this is a great case history for clients to see, even if you didn’t win the award. When a client sees how a tiny budget is used to solve a big problem, they will acknowledge the value added you bring to the table vs. your competitors and direct sources.

There is a dirty little secret: too few people and companies submit their programs for award consideration. Supplier Star Awards, Distributor Pyramids, etc. It seems many of the submissions are from the same companies each year. The odds on winning are much greater than many gambles you take in life. I recall the early days of the SAAGNY Diamond Award when there were less than a dozen entries for some awards. It’s tougher now, but take your chances and show the world you’re a winner. The benefits you get are priceless.

My apologies to the people in the room in L.A. who clapped for “The Elyse Award” winner. There is no such thing. Elyse is my wife and she has no award program, not even for me, her faithful companion of 49 years. I simply made it up on the fly and her name was the first name I could think of. She is great at customer service here at Soundline and a great president of the company. Who knows, maybe there will be a second winner one day.

The take away: go for it! Go for your “Oscar.”

Congratulations Gail and Julie, your recent awards inspired me to write this.

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 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.

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In the News
Regionals Join SAGE Affiliate Program Identity Marketing Staff, Business News
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PPAM, SAAGNY, AzPPA, NWPMA Join SAGE Affiliate Program
SAGE announced that several regional promotional products associations have joined the redesigned SAGE Affiliate Program, including the Promotional Products Association Midwest (PPAM), the Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York (SAAGNY), the Arizona Promotional Products Association (AzPPA), and the Northwest Promotional Marketing Association (NWPMA).

The SAGE Affiliate Program is a unique, customized program designed to give regional associations in the promotional products industry and their members special benefits from SAGE through access to business management products and services for members and the association.

“We are continually evaluating our affiliate program and searching for the best opportunities to support regional associations, which play such a vital role in our industry,” said Jarod Thorndike, director of Strategic Relations at SAGE. “We are pleased to find new ways to offer even more benefits and services to our affiliate associations and their members.”

SAGE offers members a choice of Business Suite Packages, special product bundles providing product research solutions on all major platforms, online product searching for clients, a custom website, virtual showrooms, and SAGE Total Access subscriptions. The Total Access subscription consists of SAGE Online, the promotional product industry’s most popular product research and business management solution; SAGE Web, the browser-based platform to access SAGE products from any device with web access; and SAGE Mobile, the full-featured mobile application for iOS and Android devices.

As SAGE Affiliates, members of PPAM, SAAGNY, AzPPA, and NWPMA are eligible to receive special pricing on the Business Suite Packages as well as savings on their first SAGE Total Access subscription license.

Becoming and Staying the Expert
Diana Ennen, From the Business World
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One of the best ways to become known as the expert in your field is to regularly send out articles to targeted databases showcasing tips that you know best. Seems simple enough, but so many just don’t do it. And because of that, they are missing out on major opportunities, clients, and most important of all, exposure for their business.

Sharing your message is important as articles are known to inform and educate. These can be especially beneficial when changes are made that people need to be aware of (i.e., Facebook adding in job search options). And in business that happens frequently. People then look to you for guidance on topics when new changes happen and you become the hero always having the answer.

Here are a few tips:

Use a Consistent Format – Use the same format for pitches. It can take time to get the magic formula for a client’s pitch. But once you do, use that same pitch and only customize it for the article or pitch you are sending. Those who receive it will become familiar with your style and pay more attention to you as they have that relationship. This is especially beneficial if they have accepted your articles in the past.

Add Media Mentions – One great way to prove your expertise is to add your recent media mentions to the bio and also to the pitch. In the beginning you might not have a great deal of media to add to your articles, pitch, but as you gain more, be sure to add those to your bio in the article and the pitch itself. If you have TV coverage, say so.

Address the Right Audience – Be sure to use the appropriate language. If you are sending out to TV you don’t want to say “your readers.” Seems simple enough, but you wouldn’t believe how many pitches I see with this mistake. When in doubt, use “your audience.” That works like a charm every time.

Make it Easy to Be Removed From Your Database – Add a P.S. that states something along the lines of, “If you’d like to be removed from our database, please let us know and we will do so promptly.” Then make sure you do. Nothing gives you a bigger black eye than someone asking to be removed and you keep sending to them. Not as big of mistake as the Oscars naming the wrong best picture, but still not good.

Diana is the president of Virtual Word Publishing, www.virtualwordpublishing.com. She has been in business since 1985 and has authored five books including the best-selling book, Virtual Assistant the Series: Become a Highly Successful, Sought After VA. Today she specializes in PR and book marketing and helping her clients get amazing results. She has been featured in Forbes, Inc. Radio, Fox News, Women’s World, USA Today, CNN, and the Wall Street Journal.

Favorite Social Media Platforms
Kirby and Amy Hasseman, He Said, She Said
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sponsored by Next Level Apparel

Kirby and Amy Hasseman have over 35 years of combined experience the promotional products industry. Together, they own and operate Hasseman Marketing out of Coshocton, OH (the birthplace of promotional advertising). Hasseman Marketing has four full-time employees and six sales team members.

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Weekly Poll Results
What do you see as the biggest problems facing your business? Identity Marketing Staff, Identity Research
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sponsored by PPAI

Driving Success
Automotive market looks to multifunctional use, technological advancements. Sherry L. Baranek, Product Feature
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sponsored by Bay State

Take a look around, and there is no doubt that technology has permeated all aspects of daily life – including the automotive industry. Promotional products suppliers are well aware of this, and have responded in kind with charging devices, cords, earbuds, and mobile device holders – as well as standbys like air fresheners and keychains.

According to Grethe Adams of Southern Plus, people are spending more and more time in their cars due to increased traffic congestion making the work commute longer, busy family schedules with after-school practices and games, trips to the gym, etc. “Promotional products that will help make time in the car more enjoyable, safer, or more productive are winners,” she comments. She adds that coolers to keep drinks or snacks cold, blanket/pillow combos, beverage bottles or mugs, first aid or repair kits, and trunk organizers are also popular automotive products.

Evans Manufacturing has seen an increase in popularity with charging devices, cords, and phone holders. Jason Schmidt notes that utilizing mobile tech in vehicles has increased due to laws mandating hands-free operation for mobile devices. “There is the voracious appetite of users for power, navigation, and interconnectivity between the onboard electronics and mobile devices,” he asserts.

The technology trend is also hot at Beacon Promotions. According to Gwen Brey, techie items that people can use to recharge while they are in their car are still very popular. “With so many people relying on their phones for everything they do – driving directions, communicating with work or the family, grocery lists/coupons, etc. – they can’t afford to have a phone with a low battery or dead.”

In addition to mobile technology products, the core categories of bags, drinkware, and stationery are trends in the automotive promo products category, Brian O’Gara reports. “It is clear that the automotive industry is doing well and budgets have opened up for promotional products,” he states.

At EMT, paper air fresheners are the most trending item, per Steve Weinstein. “This follows retail trends as custom shaped air fresheners can be found on the shelves at many urban clothing stores,” he says. “Seemingly just as important as the air fresheners themselves is the packaging, optional coupon for tracking, and custom header cards. Clients are getting very creative with this additional imprint space.”

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Key chains are also well-liked automotive items, Weinstein continues. “They are always popular, however we've been seeing an increase in custom shapes, sizes, and colors, as well as a large demand for multi-function keychains with tools that aid in emergency situations,” he comments. “Demand for multi-functional items is strong across the board.”

To that end, Weinstein says challenge coins are a surprising item that is trending. “We produce a lot of them for trucking companies for driver safety,” he explains. “When they reach a milestone with no accidents they receive a coin. Belt buckles are also seeing a resurgence in the automotive safety market.”

Demand has been high for automotive products, reports Adams of Southern Plus. “With fuel prices low, interest rates low, and the economy continuing to gain strength, demand for new vehicles is growing,” she states. “Also, the automotive aftermarket is very robust with increased demand for services and parts to support an increasing average age of vehicles. This aftermarket is a great segment to focus on.”

In agreement is Polyconcept North American’s O’Gara. “Automotive company stores are getting remerchandised at least two times a year and the requests for larger drop ship orders is increasing significantly from several years ago,” he notes.

New wireless Bluetooth ear buds and HD action cameras are strong sellers for Polyconcept North America. “Many automotive clients are using the HD cameras (think GoPro) on test drives, client experience events and product testing drives to document the ride for their customers and/or executives,” O’Gara says. Beacon Promotions continues to see its USB car chargers and ice scrapers/snow brushes move very well, Brey maintains. Schmidt at Evans Manufacturing says the company’s dually car charger and hands-off vent holder are top-selling items in the automotive promotional products market segment. Southern Plus has a new auto-open/auto-close umbrella that is perfect for the automotive market, Adams notes. “The handle looks similar to a classic sport car gear shift and features a glossy black and grey pattern for a truly premium look and feel,” she elaborates.

Adams at Southern Plus has a number of helpful suggestions for distributors when they are selling automotive promotional products to clients. “They should advise their clients to provide a gift with the first scheduled service at the dealership,” she states. “Encourage ongoing business with the customer after the vehicle is bought. Keep in touch with the customer so you are top on mind when next vehicle purchase comes up, or to provide opportunities for trade-ins.”

Secondly, Adams recommends that distributors tell their clients to align the promotional product with the lifestyle of the brand. “Building brand awareness and loyalty is becoming a challenge with the Millennials whose focus is more on features and benefits than identifying with a particular brand.” She cites the following examples. With a four-wheel drive: a folding chair/camping chair; mini-van/SUV: picnic blanket or cooler bag; luxury sedan/SUV: high-end auto-open umbrella or premium chair; and electric/hybrid cars: eco-friendly jute tote bag.

The fact that people spend so much time in their automobiles is a great selling factor, Brey of Beacon Promotions points out. “About 90 percent of Americans owns a car,” she says. “It’s a great location for an advertiser – giving a great return on investment. Many people spend a lot of time in their vehicle commuting to work or on family outings. Everyone wants comfort and convenience while in their vehicles.”

Selling promotional automotive products is a matter of distributors familiarizing themselves with the technology before they recommend specific items to their clients, O’Gara of Polyconcept North America maintains. “If you do not know how an HD camera or virtual reality headset works, you will not be able to properly position it with your clients,” he details. “On PCNA.com we feature numerous product videos that will make it easy for you. Order samples and watch the videos. After a few minutes, you will be the expert that your client is depending on. Technology is rapidly changing and that frightens most distributors that we work with. I see that as a huge opportunity in a growing category. If you are not showing these new items to your client, someone else is.”

Case Study

Brian O’Gara, Polyconcept North America

Earlier this year one of the car manufacturers was looking for giveaways for a training class for their technicians. The training session was very important and was being conducted across the country to about 5,000 technicians. The objective was to provide them with a gift for attending the class and also remind them about the key points they were going to learn from the time spent in the class. The budget was in the $10 range per student. Since a story needed to be told we worked with the distributor on a custom journal concept from JournalBooks. It’s hard to take notes without a pen and paper, so this was the perfect start to this gift. To get the training message across long after the students left the classroom, multiple tip-in pages were created in the front of each journal—so important material would always be available with each use of the journal. In the past, the information used in the tip-in pages was distributed loose, and we all know where most of that ends up a few days after we leave a training session. Since this information was now part of the giveaway, it met all of the objectives; and the end user was able to pull from their print budget and allocate more money to the promo budget to afford a nicer giveaway than in the past. A decorated pen was inserted before leaving the factory so all the end user had to do was open the box and distribute the journals to the students.

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A Cheesecake Factory Problem
Too many choices not a good thing. Bill Petrie, Petrie's Perspective
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The more questions that are raised in the mind of the client, the slower the sales journey becomes.
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One of my least favorite restaurants in the world is The Cheesecake Factory. It’s not that I don’t like cheesecake – my belly will tell you that I do. My issue with The Cheesecake Factory is the sheer size of the menu and the absurd amount of choices available. As its website states, “with over 250 menu items and more than 50 signature cheesecakes and desserts, there is truly ‘something for everyone’ at The Cheesecake Factory.”

While accurate, I find the amount of choices to be overwhelming, which makes it difficult for me to ever decide on a dish. In fact, I feel more pressure trying to figure out what to order by the time the server comes back for a third time than Sgt. Martin Riggs did trying to figure out the correct sequence to cut the wires to diffuse a bomb in Lethal Weapon 3. When a decision is finally made, I feel a brief sense of relief which is quickly overshadowed by the feeling I ordered the wrong thing. In other words, I have buyer’s remorse before my food is even delivered.

I much prefer a “less is more” approach to a restaurant experience – and I’m not alone. Over the past five years, the nation’s 20 fastest growing restaurants (Five Guys, Chipotle, BurgerFi, Shake Shack), have developed focused, almost minimal, menus. This “less is more” approach leads to lower costs, efficient service, higher profits, and an overall excellent customer experience.

In the promotional products industry, distributors have access to well over 1.2 million different products from more than 7,000 suppliers. Because of this, distributor salespeople often inundate their target audience with dozens – if not hundreds – of merchandise options in the same product category with the belief that more choice will generate more sales. The reality is that the prospect becomes so overloaded with options that the sales journey grinds to a screeching halt.

The more options that are added to the sales process, the more questions that are likely to be raised in the mind of the client. The more questions that are raised in the mind of the client, the slower the sales journey becomes.

Instead of burying your target audience with options, limit merchandise offerings to only the most popular, necessary options – the ones that you believe will truly help them solve their marketing problem. If your client wants more choices, they will ask for them. Conversely, clients will rarely ask for less choice and instead will remain silent even as they are overwhelmed.

At best, too much choice in a sales transaction slows down the journey of the client because they will be overwhelmed and be unsure of which product to choose. At worst, the client will experience the feeling of buyer’s remorse after the purchase as they regret their decision. In either case, an overwhelming amount of choices does the opposite of the intent: it increases the amount of friction in the transaction and makes the purchasing journey painful for the client.

In a sales transaction, too many choices will stall the purchasing journey. By focusing on being Five Guys in a Cheesecake Factory world, you accelerate the sales process and significantly decrease the possibility of buyer’s remorse.

Bill is president of PromoCorner and has over 17 years working in executive leadership positions at leading promotional products distributorships. In 2014, he launched brandivate – the first executive outsourcing company solely focused on helping small and medium sized-promotional products enterprises responsibly grow their business. A featured speaker at numerous industry events, a serial creator of content marketing, president of the Promotional Products Association of the Mid-South (PPAMS), and PromoKitchen chef, Bill has extensive experience coaching sales teams, creating successful marketing campaigns, developing operational policies and procedures, creating and developing winning RFP responses, and presenting winning promotional products solutions to Fortune 500 clients. He can be reached at bill@PromoCorner.com.

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Amusing Branding Fails and Quality Control; Lazy Realties.
Amazon's impact on delivery and expectations; LinkedIn changes; Green beer, Shamrock Shakes and more. Kirby Hasseman, Bill Petrie, UnScripted
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Industry educators Kirby Hasseman of Hasseman Marketing and Bill Petrie of PromoCorner discuss a variety of hot­-button industry topics in this weekly “talk show” column brought to you by Bay State Specialty. Click on the graphic to hear their “UnScripted” conversation.

New from Industry Suppliers
Identity Marketing Staff, New Products
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The new Multi-Tool Carabiner from Aminco is a 3" black carabiner with knife, scissor, screwdriver and opener. It comes with a one color, one side imprint.

Champion Athleticwear has introduced the new Originals Collection, designed specifically for the wholesale market with a focus on printability. The elevated heritage collection redefines the intersection of life and sport with fashionable apparel ideal for both active and social occasions. The line features 12 contemporary men’s and women’s styles, all with premium materials. The collection’s new fleece and French terry styles combine the nostalgia of crewneck sweatshirts, hoodies and jogger pants with retail-driven styling and advanced fabrication. The triblend tanks and tees feature a mix of heathers, soft washes and varsity stripes.


The Storm Creek Men’s ‘Henry’ Polyester Full-Zip Raincoat from River’s End is fashioned from 3.38 oz. 100% polyester mini ripstop with 2.5 layer ceramic coating for comfort against skin. It is waterproof and breathable and fully seam-sealed with matching tape. Details include adjustable hem, cuffs and hood, waterproof zippered handwarmer pockets, unique hidden mesh underarm ventilation, droptail hem, contrast corded piping and more.

Leave the sand at the beach with the new Sand Repellent Beach Blanket from Pro Towels. The blanker is 45" x 65" and 100% polyester. It dries quickly, is allergen free and rolls up easily with a black woven wrap with Velcro strap that can also be embroidered. Colors: coastal blue, lime, red, orange and royal blue.


The new Venezia™ Smartphone Wallet from Prime Line is a PU Leatherette pocket with removable adhesive back for placement on smartphone, cell phone or mobile device. The non-residue adhesive sticks to the back of your mobile phone. The single pocket doubles as a wallet – insert transit cards, credit cards, IDs, and business cards. An elastic panel at top allows pocket to adjust to fit most card sizes (holds up to four cards).


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You’re Fired!
When it's time to get rid of a client, do it. Rosalie Marcus, Promo Biz Coach
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They have become very difficult and irrational when I try to educate them. I believe they may be shopping my ideas...
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In the best of all worlds, we would all have clients we love working with but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. Sometimes you need to set boundaries and let go of clients that just aren’t worth your time and effort. Read on to see my suggestions on when – and if – you should give up on a promotional products account.

Here’s a letter I received from a promotional products distributor that best illustrates this not-too-uncommon dilemma:

“I have an immediate question and something that has given me sleepless nights. I’m into keeping all my accounts happy, just like you suggest. But, I’m contemplating firing a client. The problem is, in the past they’ve sent in a lot of business. As a company, their revenue is large, but in the last few months of working with them, they have not been as profitable as we would like them to be. They have become very difficult and irrational when I try to educate them. I believe they may be shopping my ideas and only looking for the lowest price. Do I fire this client, or continue sleepless nights or devoting my time to an unhappy group of people?”

Here’s what you can do.

First, try communicating with the client about what’s going on. An honest discussion about your concerns may reveal some issues you may not be aware of. Be open to any feedback they may provide. Emphasize the benefits your company provides that they may not be able to receive from others. Keep the conversation positive and let them know how much you value their past business.

Next, use the questions below to evaluate not just them, but all your promotional products accounts. It’s a best practice to evaluate your clients periodically. This can be a real eye opener.

• Are they profitable? On average, can you make at least a 35 percent gross profit margin or more on the orders that you sell to them?
• Do they accept the price you give them or are they always haggling?
• Do they pay in a timely fashion – 30 days or less?
• Do they respect your ideas and your input without “shopping it?”
• Do you enjoy working with them?
• Do they have the ability to give you larger orders and repeat business?
• Are they part of a growth industry?
• Can they be a source of referral business for you?

If you answered yes to most of the above, it sounds like you have a good account. If not, it may be time to reevaluate your relationship. Not every client will be a good fit for you.

As a promotional products consultant, your good health and happiness are directly linked to your sales success. Think about what this client is costing you in terms of time, money and aggravation, and weigh that against profit. I am sure you’ll make the right decision.

Additionally, make a checklist of the characteristics of your ideal client. Use this when you’re prospecting for new business. It will help you weed out the wrong type of clients from the start and save you time and effort in the future.

Once you’ve made the decision to let go of a client, take the high road. Don’t say or do anything that may come back to haunt you. Tell the client something such as… your company is moving in a different direction and unfortunately you won’t be able to work with them in the future. Wish them well.

I would like to hear from you. Have you ever had to fire a client? How would you handle this situation?

Rosalie Marcus, The Promo Biz Coach ™ is a promotional products business expert, coach and speaker. Combining her skills and years of experience in promotional sales, she helps her clients sell more at higher profit margins and dramatically increase their incomes! Get a FREE special report: 10 Proven Ways to Thrive in Promotional Products Sales in Any Economy at her website http://www.promobizcoach.com. Reach her at Rosalie@promobizcoach.com or 215-572-6766.

Innovate or Perish
Businesses that stand still stand to lose. Mayur Ramgir, From the Business World
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It’s easy to lose sight of your vision, and the kind of innovative thinking that got you to where you are, when you become bogged down in solving each day’s problems.

It’s often said that all it takes to change a person’s life – or the life of a business – is one big idea.

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While it’s true that many individuals and businesses have gone a long way on the strength of a lone idea, plenty of others prospered even further because they are constantly innovating – coming up with one good idea after another.

“Businesses usually start out with an innovative idea,” says Mayur Ramgir (www.mayurramgir.com), president and CEO of Zonopact, Inc. “But they soon lose that innovative edge as they just try to survive with their day-to-day operations.”

Ramgir has seen the problem often while working with the clients of Zonopact, which provides companies with software products that help them streamline their processes, carving out more time for innovation.

“It’s easy to lose sight of your vision, and the kind of innovative thinking that got you to where you are, when you become bogged down in solving each day’s problems,” he says.

So why it is important that companies keep innovating?

• Other companies can claim your market share. Apple has become a perfect example of what a gap in innovation can leave. There hasn’t been much game-changing innovation from Apple since it released the iPad in 2010, thus giving its competition time to make up the ground that separated them from the tech juggernaut. Whether it was the death of Steve Jobs or another factor, there is no doubt that the technology gap has narrowed.

• Failure to meet consumer demands could put a company out of business. It was the late 1980s; hair was big, neon was cool and there was a Blockbuster Video Store on every corner. Fast forward to 2017, where the hairstyles have flattened out and Blockbuster is nowhere to be found. At least neon has made a nice comeback! Blockbuster failed to meet the changing demands of consumers who were going to their local grocery store or pharmacy to rent a movie out of what looked like a vending machine. As a result, the one-time $5 billion company was liquidated and now lives with the VHS tapes that used to fill its shelves.

• Lack of product-storage innovation hurts supply volume. It seems as though we hear the same story every year around Christmas; there is a hot item that every child has to have. The only problem is that there aren’t enough of the toys to go around, leaving plenty of disappointed faces around the tree on Christmas morning. Companies that do not have an innovative supply plan run the risk of falling short on getting products to their customers. This lack of foresight could give those customers an opportunity to walk away and discover other items.

“My advice to businesses out there is don’t stop,” Ramgir says. “Keep innovating and keep moving forward.”

Mayur Ramgir (www.mayurramgir.com) is an award-winning author, speaker, innovator and entrepreneur. Educated at Georgia Tech, MIT, Oxford and the University of Sussex, he currently serves as president and CEO of the Boston-based Zonopact, Inc. An advocate of innovation, Ramgir’s book, “Unbarred Innovation: A Pathway to Greatest Discoveries,” was published in 2016. The book takes readers on a journey of self discovery and helps them realize that they are more than the sum of their parts.

Will President Trump's Policies Make You Rich or Poor?
Don Sanders, Drive-Ins
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Fixate on what you can control, not on political issues.
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Don Sanders is a 25-year promotional products industry veteran. Since 1982 he has sold more than $25 million worth of imprinted items. He has won two PPAI Pyramid Awards and hosts the industry’s first sales training site, www.sellpromoproducts.com.

Hats Off to Headwear Sales!
Lisa Schofield, Product Feature
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sponsored by Bay State

Headwear is everywhere – and promotional caps are as big as ever. The industry has come a very long way from traditional trucker and basic baseball styles, both of which had limited audiences and thus appeal.

The industry today truly has a style for any business and any promotion, any corporate or business personality, motto and goal. Therefore, seeking and selling what’s trendy can be both more fun and lucrative than ever.

According to Dan Saferstein of Sportsman Cap & Bag, several headwear trends are here to stay, including “athleisure.” This means high-performance, antimicrobial and moisture-wicking fabrics. Along with performance fabrics, poly blends, heathers and other visually or texturally interesting fabrics will be in-demand this year.

“An old favorite will be making a comeback,” he predicts. “The dad cap – traditionally an unstructured hat with a curved visor and fabric strap back – will be everywhere in 2017.”

Jenny Straub of Vitronic, believes, “This year is all about the classics! These include the snapback caps from the ’90s, and the classic mesh-back trucker caps. Flat bill snapback caps continue to appeal to 20- to 30-year old males, she observes, and these also are featured prominently in headwear sold by professional sports teams. “In addition, performance caps continue to be a trend for all outdoor activities. We have also seen gray as a trending color and have added it to our best sellers,” she points out.

Appearance-wise, Gary Mosley of Kati Sportcap & Bag notes that bold prints, neons and camouflage styles will continue to be hot items. Camo still rules – and in addition to all-over camo, camo accents and camo caps with mesh backs will, he emphasizes, see a surge in popularity. “An emphasis on camo in women’s wear will also be a trend in 2017,” he says.

Heathers are yet another trend with staying power. According to Emily Barbee, MAS, of Outdoor Cap, “In 2017, we’re seeing the heather trend increase significantly.” As such, Outdoor Cap now offers four heathered fabric styles: HTR-100, RGR-100M, MBW-800CB, and FWT-130CB. “Heavy washed fabrics with special dyes and treatments are also popular, and of course camo. There are all kinds of new tactical patterns and fabrics on the market; serious hunters love those, which makes them a perfect sale for hunting clubs and lodges.”

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Rob Hatfield of Graffiti Caps says what he sees as trendy in headwear in 2017 is not really what is being made, but where it is being made. Domestic production of any product, including caps and knits, has become a hot topic. “The phone calls and inquiries that we are receiving are reflecting that trend,” he relates.

According to Charlie McGuiness of MV Sport, The Game Headwear has a few new styles that are trending in our industry at the moment. For example, he notes that the Boonie (# GB400), an ultralight fabric with performance sweatband, protects from damaging UVA/UVB rays, and is available in 18 colors. “It looks great embroidered and is a great gift item or for any outdoor activity,” he asserts. “Our custom overseas program, which ships in as little as four weeks, has really generated great interested, particularly in our ‘The Big Game’ (# G1555) – a patent-pending custom designed all-over applique and embroidery available in 18 cotton twill colors.”

New and Popular Styles to Sell

Performance fabrics and athletic wear continue to be some of Sportsman Cap & Bag’s most frequent requests, according to Saferstein. This year the company added Richardson to its brand lineup. The Richardson Surge Adjustable (#514), as well as two new Team Sportsman caps – Performance Ripstop Perforated (#AH60) and Performance Edge (#AH90) – “are great options for the performance enthusiast,” he intones. Sportsman Cap & Bag also has styles of the trending “dad caps” – Valucap VC300 and new Yupoong 6245CM.

He adds that “for a new twist on an old favorite,” digital camo patterns are now available in Valucap’s VC300. New in this category is Digital Camo Back (#SWM700DIGI) from Outdoor Cap.

In camo, Kati added “tons of new colors” to its popular Camo Mesh Back(#LC5M),” describes Mosley. This cap features a camo front with mesh back in bright colors. Kati’s latest feminine camo pattern, Muddy Girl, has been added to several of its popular styles such as the Specialty Licensed Camo (#SN200).

According to Barbee, meshbacks are still very much in demand. Outdoor Cap’s CT120M is a stretch-mesh “giving it the look of a fitted cap, but it’s comfortable for a range of sizes,” she says.

At Graffiti Caps, says Hatfield, “We are perfecting the 16 profiles that we currently offer. With 33 different parts to each cap, there is a tremendous ability to customize your caps. Industries that we have supplied promo headwear with include medical, government, transportation, energy and construction, among others.”

The Game Headwear’s The Heritage mesh (#GB438) is an enzyme-washed twill with soft “tea stain” trucker mesh, describes McGuiness. GB439 is an enzyme-washed canvas and both are available in 10 colors. Also, new style GB435 is a “Featherweight” garment-washed twill with two color backstrap available in six colors.

Vitronic focuses heavily on incorporating retail trends in its headwear line. Its Snap Back Flat Bill (#7222) and the Heavy Stitch Cap with Mesh (#7313) are, notes Straub, “fashion now” caps that can be sold in a company store or used as a promotion for a start-up company. Vitronic also sells caps that Straub describes “directly relate to being outdoors,” such as the Camo Cap (#8300) and the Rival Performance Cap (#7752), which features a polyester dry knit moisture wicking mesh. “These caps are great for any recreational and/or wellness programs,” Straub suggests.

Topping Off Sales

Saferstein says that one of the best sales attributes for headwear is that it appeals to various target markets. “Everyone has worn a cap at some point. It’s universal,” he emphasizes. “Whatever style your customer needs, whatever your budget – there is a cap for your clients’ promotional needs.”

Headwear, says Mosley, is a smart promotion for businesses, non-profits or other organizations to cost effectively highlight their brand. In fact, he adds, headwear is a more economical choice than other promotional wearables, and caps offer an abundance of decorating options, which increases the ability to have something unique.

“Any outdoors activity is a prime situation for selling headwear,” Straub. While caps can be sold to any sporting events, people are now spending more time enjoying life outdoors – such as hiking in national parks, participating in charity marathon events, attending outdoor concerts or art shows, biking or running for exercise, and attending tours offered by various cities. Headwear is perfect to shield from the sun and keep long hair restrained in windy days.

Hatfield agrees, noting that caps are generally less expensive than apparel and they have more shelf life, because generally, “a t-shirt sits in a dresser drawer or lays down on a bookcase out of sight. A cap sits up and gets noticed on that same bookcase or desk,” he describes. Graffiti Caps, he adds, does a lot of work with people having big events: gun shoots, employee outings, fundraising walks, etc.

There’s one thing that works for Outdoor Caps’ distributors all the time, says Barbee. Whenever they meet with a customer to deliver any other piece of apparel – jackets, T-shirts, uniforms, etc. – they bring a sample cap to show. “Since they already have the logo, they put it on one of our styles to show how it complements everything else. They obtain a lot of orders this way,” she emphasizes.

As Straub summarizes, “Whatever the event, using headwear as a promotional giveaway should be top of mind.”


New from BIC Graphic is the TaylorMade Performance Front Hit Cap. The sleek design features the TaylorMade logo on the side of the cap and a large area for embroidery.

Carolina Made carries Mega Cap’s organic frayed visor cap. Features 70% organic cotton front and bill/30% polyester, washed twill, unstructured, low profile, 6-panel, pre-curved distressed visor, contrasting undervisor, Velcro closure.

The FlexFiber™ Multi Function Head Scarf from ClothPromotions Plus is a versatile and reusable athletic scarf. Designed for running, cycling and any other outdoor activity. Using FlexFiber seamless technology, the lightweight construction and compact size make it an easy carry on for everyday use.

This cotton structured baseball cap from Jetline features digital camo pattern stock art in two fashion colors. Details include 6 panels, sewn eyelets and adjustable fabric strap with two piece Velcro type adhesive tab closure.


Enjoy the look of licensed camo with the breathability of a visor from Kati Sportcap & Bag. This visor is made of a comfortable brushed cotton/polyester blend. It sports a pre-curved visor with a 2” crown. An adjustable Velcro® closure ensures a perfect fit for all.

Pantone matched baseball hats for on and off the field are now available from
Pop! Promos. The caps are available in unstructured, structured and foam trucker styles.
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Eat, Drink and Be Profitable
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Weekly Poll Results
How long has your company been in business? Identity Marketing Staff, Identity Research
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