I Grew Up In Two Industries That Are Now One
The merging of premiums and ad specialty. 6/27/2019 | Joel Schaffer, MAS, The Take Away
Listen To Article

While teaching in the late ’60s, I worked part-time for a distributor (called jobbers back then). When I left teaching for private industry, my part-time job launched a 50+ year career in “ad specialties” that I still pursue. But, this is not about me. From my early career with Jostens, I have always had my foot firmly planted in what we now call the promotional products business and the “premium industry”.

The premium industry was similar but different. Manufacturers in that market wanted their products to be used as premiums and incentives - incentives meaning …reach your sales quota and earn a new car, boat, mink coat, etc.  A premium generally had a condition for the consumer to get it as opposed to something being free. It could be yours for two box tops. It could be yours in a sweepstake or you will find it in the box of Tide or Cheerios you just bought.

The primary difference between the two was most often the condition of purchase. The manufacturers were brand name products. The same names we know today. They simply were not interested in imprinting and they wanted to ship an appliance in a box the same way as they did retail. There was a fleet of “premium reps” covering the U.S. and they were exclusive multi-line people who worked on a commission selling directly to the companies who wanted a premium promotion. While the two industries were similar, the premium industry tended to look down their nose at ad specialty people and were reluctant to work with yet another intermediary between the end user and the manufacturer. As time went on, this changed.

Annually, I would go to two HUGE, and they were HUGE, shows in Chicago and New York. Here and there, new shows popped up in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and other cities but none approached the scope of the two big ones. The shows took up all of the New York Coliseum and a wing at McCormick Place. You would see products on the floor ranging from a car and RV or boat to a piece of fine jewelry. As many as 25,000 buyers would visit the 3-day shows. In later years, these shows were heavily dominated by gift card companies and travel destinations for meeting and incentive travel.

Associations, some still around, grew and I was a member of some like NYPSE and IMRA. Some, not many, distributors saw early on that to be a full service “agency”, they needed to offer premiums. I recall attending a seminar put on by PPAI Hall of Famer Bill Schwartz of Sheboygan, WI. His session was “How to Source and Profit by Selling Premiums”. At that time, it did not make me happy to hear Bill teach distributors how to source outside our industry but, it was not long before I realized how important it was to the development of our industry to have “agencies” offering more than ad specialties and bring brands, travel and other incentives to the table, as well. It took time and still needs a bit more time, to sort out. I recall sitting in Nabisco’s reception area with a distributor and bumping into a direct selling premium rep coming out of a meeting with the same person.

Today, effectively, the premium industry, as it was known up until 2010-ish, is gone. It has been, in Woody Allen terms, “engulfed and devoured” by our industry. Our trade show aisles are filled with the very same brands who really were not interested in us back then. They know now that, to go to market, they should go through us because we are there. We have diversified and professionalized our service to the overall market.  The smart consumer product companies will have a person assigned to the premium market or a special market customer service rep. The smart companies who may still work through premium reps will direct them to make sales calls on distributors. The smart companies may even make it easier to sell their products by outsourcing with someone who can personalize or imprint their products. Where there is a will, there is a way. Hardly a day goes by where somebody does not ask “how can I get” this or that branded product. Most of this commerce is driven by the end buyer who now, more than ever, looks to their promotional consultant for premiums, as well.

There is a lot of good in this merger of two into one. Among them is the rich history of the effectiveness of premiums in marketing. We all grew up on something in a box of cereal. We all knew to save the box tops. Many (PM – pre-millennials) got a glass at Mickey Ds or with a gas fill up. Henry Babbitt and Cracker Jack are now part of our history and lore. All of this should be used by every distributor to tell a more comprehensive story, earn better respect and understanding and offer a fuller spectrum of service to make your agency more vital to your client’s and prospects.

However, once again, if you don’t set the table in your first meeting, on your website, and in your social media … then, never mind, have a nice day.

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.

You may also be interested in...
Chauncey The Gardner & You
Planting The Seeds to Grow Your Business
Joel Schaffer, MAS
A Courtesy Review
A marketing strategy to add to your toolbox.
Joel Schaffer, MAS
Suppliers In a Box
The push-pull relationship of suppliers and distributors.
Joel Schaffer, MAS
More from PromoJournal...
The Winning Side of 45
Borrowing inspiration from one of my passions: music
Bill Petrie
The PromoEffect - Red Eagle Distillery
Industry veteran, Dana Zezzo, surprises Red Eagle Distillery with a collectible barrel game filled with bourbon chocolates!
Dana Zezzo
Have you seen Miller Light's new promo?
When to stop content, the PPP FB group, Jon Stewart's trip to Congress, The Promo Person of the Week, Fill in the Blank & more!
Kirby Hasseman, Bill Petrie