Merchandise as a communication tool

From pens and diaries to lanyards, fleeces and mouse mats, the value of promotional merchandise has long been recognised by the public sector. Its applications are many and varied, from its use as a tool to communicate with citizens about issues that affect their lives, from health and education to benefits, rights and welfare, to internal reward and recognition schemes, such as long service awards.
    
The value of merchandise as a communication tool was substantiated in a recent survey by P&MM, a marketing services agency that specialises in performance improvement, which revealed that almost 95 per cent of respondents believe that branded promotional merchandise increases awareness of a brand, campaign or initiative.

Awareness campaigns
Richard Wood, managing director at High Profile, a manufacturer of standard and bespoke made plastic promotional products, has seen an increase in the use of promotional merchandise to support government funded initiatives such as the Love Food Hate Waste and Change4Life campaigns, which are targeted at consumers to make them aware of current issues.
    
“Products such as sports bottles, skipping ropes, food can lid covers and bag clips are effective, practical products that are relatively low cost and ideal for mass awareness campaigns to either children or parents through local councils, schools or sports partnerships,” he comments.
    
Of course, it is not only new initiatives that make use of promotional merchandise. It is prevalent throughout public sector organisations in many every day ways from the branded pens used in offices to the jackets, fleeces and lanyards that form part of the uniform of many public sector employees. One of the most popular items of promotional merchandise is the pen, as Melissa Chevin, marketing manager at promotional writing accessories manufacturer Senator, explains: “There is no doubt that the pen is an integral part of the marketing mix, both internally and externally, in creating and maintaining brand awareness. It is as effective with employees as with the public in communicating a campaign, a launch or a way of thinking. The promotional pen has universal appeal and this is one of the reasons that it is utilised by a whole range of organisations.”
    
As well as consumer-facing applications, promotional merchandise is also used extensively in employee reward and recognition schemes, including long service award programmes. Here the challenge lies in offering employees appealing rewards that succeed in toeing the corporate line as Sheila Sheldon, director of European Operations at employee reward and recognition provider Michael C. Fina explains: “A reward and recognition programme should be designed to appeal to the employees of an organisation and the rewards must be aspirational and desirable. Branded merchandise is one solution, but there is an obvious line to be drawn between giving an employee a designer watch with a logo emblazoned across it on the one hand, and allowing the message to slip by totally unnoticed with a gift that has no obvious connection to the organisation at all.
    
“Staff will not respond well to having the organisation’s image thrust upon them at all opportunities. At the other end of the spectrum there is the problem that the employee will forget entirely who gave them the gift! Finding the right balance, therefore, is cardinal,” she concludes.

Green trend
Whether it’s for internal or external use a key trend in 2010 is the increasing prominence of green issues as Melissa Chevin explains: “The influence of social and environmental consciousness continues as more and more companies have pre-defined environmental targets to meet. Buyers sourcing promotional merchandise are looking for greater use of biodegradable and recycled materials, low carbon footprints and supporting documentation to reinforce the eco credentials of the product.”
    
This is a view echoed by Richard Wood who notes that High Profile has seen a large increase in demand for recycled or environmentally friendly products in government-funded campaigns.
    
This focus on socially responsible and eco-friendly products has extended to employee reward and recognition schemes, as Andy Philpott, marketing director at Edenred, explains: “We recently launched Compliments Green, the first fully integrated ethical incentives and rewards solution, in partnership with Green Rewards, so staff – whether they pride themselves on being eco-citizens or just want to feel they’re reducing their impact on the planet – can be motivated by rewards that appeal to them.
    
“The points-based programme enables participants to choose an environmentally-friendly reward at Green Rewards, an existing internet store that specialises in independently assessed ethical products and services. This range of reward options is expanding dramatically as demand for true green products increases.”
    
In summary, promotional merchandise will continue to play a key role in the public sector as it can be used to help achieve a myriad of objectives, from raising awareness of issues among consumers to incentivising employees across the board. The key lies in selecting the right product which is high quality, has longevity and will succeed in getting the right message across to the target audience.

Helen Martindale is an account manager with specialist PR agency Clareville Communications.

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