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Promotional Products Best Practices: Setting the Game Plan

Article By: Devin O'Brien, M.A.


Have you ever started thinking about your next event give away only to shelf the task for a higher-level priority? You know, “I kind of know what I’m looking for and can easily do this later” line of thinking? It happens all the time and (as a promotional products distributor) we commonly receive last minute requests on top of “can you do a miracle” pleas nearly every day of the week. While we’re happy to make magic happen, starting a project late in the game can lead to major headaches down the line. Let’s think of it this way, one mistake on a custom job can easily render a project unusable. In rush situations, cost can quickly increase and logistical complexities become a dreaded reality.

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The goal of this guide to help you work through promotional product projects easier and without error. For the most part, each of us has had a bad experience that discourages us from digging into or next project. With so many things that can go wrong, it takes time to think through the details and we’re simply pulled in too many directions to attend to every possible variable. So, do you want that order back when you went seriously over budget? Maybe you would like a redo on the project where you missed your critical in-hands date? Every project is a learning experience, but we’re here to help you get your job right the first time . . . every time.

So, what are the most common set backs when ordering promotional products? Let’s take a look into three factors that can make or break your project. If well defined up front, you’re one step closer to eliminating the headaches and making the most of your promotional product experience:



It may seem obvious, but setting a budget is essential to maintaining control of your total spend. More importantly, it’s critical to outline the factors that contribute to your project’s total cost. As we begin thinking about the right items for your next project, keep the following factors in mind when allocating cost to your budget:

  • Product per piece cost
  • Set-up cost and PMS color matching charges
  • Run charges for additional imprint locations
  • Special packaging
  • Rush charges
  • Shipping
  • Tax

So, what could be perceived as a $1.50/ea price for 500 pieces ($750 total) could end up being more like: $1.50/ea + $55 set-up + $50 PMS color match + $85 in shipping + $68.40 in taxes = $1,008.40. Surprise! Your total cost just went up 26%!

The good news is we didn’t include rush charges in this example (which between expedited production and shipping) can quickly get out of hand. Having to reallocate budget, pick less expensive products, or simply start a project over due to cost is a major setback that can lead a more expensive project in addition to timing and logistics issues.



When working with moving parts a sense of timing can be a major asset. Promotional products take time to produce and several factors contribute to the overall project time (from initial concept to final distribution). Any snag or delay in one or more of the factors below can add days (or even weeks) to your project’s timeline. Keeping these factors in mind and planning accordingly will give you a leg up when utilizing promotional products. 

  • Product selection
  • Sampling 
  • Proofing
  • Production time
  • Shipping
  • Internal receipt
  • Internal distribution



We should ask ourselves a few questions before diving into a promotional product project. There are over a million product options and infinite decoration opportunities; however, is your project about the product, or is it about the end result of your campaign? The most effective projects always start with the latter and a strong sense of the next step for the end-user or recipient. Give aways are great, but there is definitely a difference between a “chotchkie” and a “strategic marketing tool” that communicates a strong message and has a clear call to action. Consider these questions when starting your project, as they’ll likely play an important role in defining your success:

  • Who is my target audience?
  • How will they receive my promotional product?
  • How do I want my promotional product to be used?
  • What “next steps” or “breadcrumbs” are in place to keep my recipient engaged?
  • How will I track results?



From a vendor perspective, a customer who has their ducks in a row up front is likely to receive better pricing (and ultimately) a better ordering experience overall. The more time a vendor invests finding answers to key questions is the more resources required – and ultimately – the costlier the project. It’s important to lay out requirements up front and follow best practices when working on a promotional products project. When one misstep can ruin an entire project, you should give yourself the best opportunity to be successful.


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