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Q&A – A Sense of Purpose

By defining what it does, to itself and to its clients, the product media sector can move towards greater professionalism and create commercial advantages. Andrew Hill considers the way ahead.

Q. There are some great ad campaigns involving promotional products, such as the Meerkats. Why doesn’t the industry celebrate this more?

A. It depends on your perception of ‘the industry’. While the Meerkats are high profile, at any one time there will be many other campaigns vying for attention. Whatever the mechanic, they are all there to increase sales incrementally, meaning they have a lifespan.

In our niche of the industry, the perspective is slightly different. Whilst there are, of course, several examples of through-the-line campaigns impacting on our sector, the overall value of promotional products is, arguably, strictly below-the-line where ongoing awareness is the impact trigger rather than a short-term increment-driven burst. Perhaps this is why the larger part of our discipline does not directly connect with campaigns such as the Meerkat but it does, I am sure, recognise the value-perception that these campaigns bring to product advertising!

Q. Is it better to be product focussed or solution focussed?

A. I prefer the focus to be on providing a solution, as this raises the profile of promotional product marketing and contributes to the value of the industry in the longer term. This can only come, however, through great communication and an awareness of the end-user’s needs. This is not always possible, so product is seen as a commodity, without a true understanding of its net worth being transmitted to the advertiser. Thankfully, things are changing as distributors with a longer-term focus, recommend products for their intrinsic campaign value rather than getting involved in a dogfight over price.

Q. The clothing sector can overwhelm the buyer or distributor with too much choice. Is there a danger of this affecting promotional products?

A. The danger to our sector only comes from poorly made products. Choice always has value as it relates to the intrinsic requirements of individuals, as well as those of the business. We need to be able to show clients that we have a choice of products which complement their commercial requirements, albeit the final selection is normally made from a much narrower perspective where the most important factor, quality, can be both ensured and maintained.

Q. BPMA research highlighted that the number one frustration with buying promotional products is that not enough companies understand their needs. How could more distributors and suppliers address this?

A. This is a two-way street. There are a growing number of distributors who are switched on to their clients’ needs and work in advance to provide a successful solution, therefore gaining more business in the process. However, I have also heard of numerous situations where the client is not interested in a consultative approach. Nevertheless, the fact remains that product is included in the process and this will always provide opportunity. Perseverance usually wins the day, with each request for product/price accompanied with the argument that only a complete understanding of the reason the product is being chosen will help ensure a more successful application. Sooner or later the message gets through, allowing for a more astute commercial dialogue to begin.

Q. The BPMA sees high quality training as the vehicle to help support the industry. What’s your view on this and what else could be done?

A. The BPMA training programmes are completely unmatched within our industry. The advantages to both the individual, and the company he or she works for, are incalculable in the medium to long term. Consequently, it is important that the industry is provided with a better understanding of this wonderful support mechanism providing advantageous commercial opportunities for those wishing to exploit them.

Getting this across to commodity traders who are not in it for the long haul is not a feasible process, but to those who genuinely wish to develop, grow and be profitable, it is worth spending a little more time explaining how the BPMA family can be there for each member. In turn, members need to be encouraged to provide recommendations for future training and/or support processes which they see as essential to maintain and develop growth. The two are mutually compatible, and will help take our industry to the next level.

Andrew Hill is the MD of Senator Pens in the UK

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