PRESS PROMOTION: Freebies may not provide a direct route to a
journalist’s heart, but they can create interest
GIFT IDEAS: Everything you need to titillate clients, from lighted
juggling balls to solar-powered fan hats
STAFF INCENTIVES: What’s good for the morale of the staff can’t help
but do long-term good for the company
They don’t need to cost a bomb, but well thought out promotional items
can make all the difference.
No PR company wants to think that its message only gets through because
it has a bribe attached, and it seems that this fear is holding back
some agencies from using promotional items in mailings. ‘We don’t find
that we have to do much of that,’ says one account director. ‘Our
campaigns are strong enough to create interest without gimmicks,’ says
Promotional items may be gimmicky at times, but that doesn’t mean they
can’t help create interest and lend excitement to an otherwise standard
piece of activity. Band and Brown has utilised a number of creative
promotional ideas to publicise BT pricing, a fairly dry topic. When BT
introduced by-the-second pricing, the agency sent watches with a penny
face and the BT logo to journalists along with details of the changes.
The agency’s Applevert campaign used stickered Cox’s to publicise BT’s
reduced call prices to the America and ‘the Big Apple’ and picked up
last year’s PR Week award for Best Promotional Activity. Managing
director Gill Brown says this sort of activity lends itself well to
picture stories. ‘Our brief was to extend the life of the story and come
up with new reasons to go to the media.’
GCI made a watch the star of the show for the launch of Irony, Swatch’s
first metal-backed timepiece last August. Journalists received their own
model theatre DIY press conference containing a VNR and a copy of the
watch, batteries not included ironically. Fiona Rollo, associate
director says the activity was well-received because it was imaginative
and office-based at a time of year when many publications are running on
Promotional items need not be expensive. Imagination is more important
than cost. ‘People are always interested in finding out things about
themselves,’ says Pippa Sands, managing director of Sandpiper. For the
launch of Lyons Signature instant coffee, the agency asked journalists
to sign and return postcards which were analysed by a graphologist and
returned. The teaser generated 98 per cent response and enabled
Sandpiper to negotiate coverage in titles such as the the Mirror, Good
Housekeeping, Me, Living and Chat.
For an Andrex promotion, signed boxed sets of Gerald Durrell books were
sent to key contacts in the media. Although they had limited value, they
had tremendous emotional appeal. ‘We triggered more media opportunities
than we were able to cope with,’ says Sands.
Desk top items such as mouse mats are increasingly popular as they are
cheap, easy to mail and tend to stay put. CNBC mailed branded mouse mats
and mini rugby balls to journalists for the launch of the channel in
Promotional gifting on press trips has rules of its own. Since 1991 John
Goss, director of Pilot Communications has been running Arctic Shock, an
intensive series of face-to-face meetings beween European journalists
and Finnish industrialists.
Goss says he emphasises that gifts should be unique and useful. Last
year’s trippers were presented with traditional Finnish ‘four winds’
hats and Finnish drinking cups, Kuuksa. Goss says gifts should be of
personal use during the trip and not end up as a throwaway gift for
someone else. ‘A gift for gift’s sake is wrong. There has to be a
strategy behind any gift scheme,’ says Goss, ‘and imaginative
hospitality is a gift in itself.’
Gill Brown warns that at the end of the day, it is the story which
should be at the top of the promotional agenda. ‘There needs to be a
sanity check with all of these activities. Journalists are not as
receptive to promotional devices as the public. It can backfire if it’s
Stuart Derrick is deputy editor of Promotions & Incentives
A-Z: Corporate gifts
A is for Awards
Not just for long service or retirement, awards such as individually
designed glass sculptures by glass artist Elizabeth Swinburne for
Everything Corporate, or laser-engraved reproductions of photos in
acrylic from Laser Technics, can make attractive and unusual promotional
B is for Badges
Novelties include Bourne Publicity’s colour-change badge which makes use
of heat-sensitive inks, and big, cheery, 3D rubber badges from The Big
Badge Company, while more refined pins and emblems can be had from
Korporate Kreations, Toye Kenning and Spencer and J Shaw and Company.
C is for Clothing
Clothing specialists such as Things, Pelmark and CDA Marketing can help
you sport your own corporate colours and logos on everything from
baseball caps to T-shirts, also taking in baseball jackets and polo
shirts on the way. (See Z is for Zoot suit).
D is for Desk accessories
You can fill up your desk with the usual pens, blotters, paperweights
and card cases from suppliers like Solo, EMC, and Business Gift
Supplies. Alternately, try the Mind Maze - a range of environmentally
friendly wooden puzzles from Chuft Toys and Gifts to help executives
while away lazy afternoons.
E is for Entertainment
For a bespoke CD, cassette or video, call on promotional entertainment
experts EMI Premium, Sony Music, or Wienerworld. And for something a
little distinctive, The Shaped CD Company can supply you with fully
functioning CDs and CD-ROMs in any shape you like.
F is for Film and photography
Samsung and Fuji are busy in the promotional field, while Concord
Camera’s range of Concord, Keystone and LeClic cameras come in a host of
cheap and cheerful colours and styles. Or go for the so-chic-that-it’s-
painful David Bailey-branded single use camera.
G is for Gadgets
Swatch has produced what it claims to be the world’s first wristwatch
pager, while Betacom’s Voice It can record up to 90 seconds of your most
profound thoughts electronically. Workaholics can remind their loved
ones what you sound like with the Cardvox message card from Tornado
H is for the Home
Instrumental Furniture has been making totally groovy musically-shaped
furniture for years - try a cello-shaped coffee table, saxaphone
cassette rack or a set of musical note hooks for coats and hats. And
what can you get for the man who has everything? The Corby Tie Press, of
I is for Inflatables
No party is complete without balloons: get your bespoke inflatable
supplied and printed up by B-Loony, Festival Balloons, Icarus or Kulim
and have a ball. Or if you fancy a ride in your very own hot air
balloon, ask nicely and the Ascent Balloon Company will give you a lift.
J is for Juggling
The Astro Ball from The Cosmic Ball Co is the juggling accessory for the
hi-tech 1990s. Just whip in a nine-volt battery and your balls and you
can be the envy of your friends with a pseudo pyrotechnic display of
fabulous light trails that will have your audience fooled into
forgetting that you can’t actually juggle.
K is for Kick-off
Euro 96 fever means a host of soccer-related merchandise is on offer,
from the officially licensed Euro 96 badge collection from The Big Badge
Company, to SMT’s nostalgia edition of 12 hard enamelled badges
featuring the original crests of the founder members of the Football
League. Not to mention the special limited collector’s print of England
striker Alan Shearer, signed by the man himself, from Football Heroes.
L is for Luggage and leather
The bells and whistles mobile phone wallet from Mainline Promotions has
compartments for just about everything you could possibly think of,
including the penknife that comes with it. If you’re after something a
bit more compact you could try the attention-grabbing mini attache case
from G Ettinger which is just about big enough to carry your business
cards and a book of stamps.
M is for Money
Cash doesn’t have to be grubby. The Royal Mint (01443 238282) makes
regular issues of commemorative coins, and strikes a number of coins to
celebrate special occasions, such as last year’s World War II pounds 2
peace coin, and the obligatory football-themed coin for 1996.
(See K is for Kick-off).
N is for Novels and non-fiction
The gift of knowledge has never been better value, with publishing
houses like Harper Collins, OUP and Transworld aggressively targeting
the promotional market for books of all kinds from bonkbusters to
O is for Old-fashioned
Companies like Kingston Collection supply attractive corporate gifts
from hip flasks to handy travelling clocks and photo frames, all with a
well-executed Victorian or 1930s explorer theme. For authenticity, go
for one of Pieces of History’s antique letters, documents or
manuscripts, from 300-year-old Acts of Parliament to prints and
autographs ranging from TS Eliot to Queen Victoria.
P is for Pens
Go psychedelic with Prodir’s new range of groovily fluorescent pens
which come in dayglo pink, yellow, blue and green, or for a more sober
approach try the 1996 limited edition emerald green Edson fountain pen
from Waterman. For an absurd twist go for the Penculator - a fully
functioning ballpoint that produces a flexible electronic calculator
from the barrel.
Q is for Quirky
And that’s just one of the words for Coprom’s solar-powered fan hat.
Yes, you look really stupid wearing it, but there’s more to staying cool
than style - and at least it does work.
R is for Radio
The title may be a bit cumbersome, but Morphy Richards’ R157 FM Radio
Receiver offers crystal clear reception in an impressively tiny package,
while Bourne Publicity’s poptastic custom radio can be programmed to
broadcast up to ten seconds of your own jingle or corporate message
every time it is turned on.
S is for Stress busters
Stress shapes from Gifts for Business can be made in any shape and
colour you want, pounded flat, and bounce right back for more.
Incentives for Less supplies Chinese stress balls made from heavy chrome
steel and packaged in a silk-lined box. Roll them around in the palm to
produce a pleasant relaxing sensation, or just use them as a Zen
T is for Telecommunications
If your budget doesn’t stretch to Geemarc’s novelty InterCity telephone,
or a customised corporate mobile phone from CGT, you could go for the
Media Card - a pre-programmed telephone tone dialler cum phonecard
that’s ideal for world travellers.
U is for Underground
Concord Camera has produced a 35mm London Underground fun camera which
can be customised with the Underground station name of your choice, and
a Snap ’n’ Map single use camera is also available which comes with a
tourist map of 12 of London’s top tourist attractions.
(See F is for Film and photography).
V is for Vouchers
Among dozens of brands on offer, Virgin Vouchers give access to the
company’s entertainment and holiday range, while Whitbread Leisure
Vouchers major on food and drink. Theatre Tokens are accepted by a wide
range of theatres around the country, and Marks and Spencer and Boots
vouchers go great guns in the high street.
W is for Watches and clocks
Olympic Watches has launched an advertising watch which uses images on a
scroll to show a television advertising sequence or storyboard. EMC’s
talking watch promises an easy-to-set time which is related to you by a
voice with a Chinese-American accent and an alarm using the sound of a
X is for Xmas
Personalise your Christmas decorations with bespoke baubles and crackers
from The RedRof Company or spoil yourself with a hamper from The Hamper
People of Norwich, Spicers or, of course, Fortnum and Mason.
Y is for the Young at heart
The Kiddie Ball is made from squeezable vinyl that is so soft you can
throw it around without risk to your office PCs (Prime Designs), while,
on a more high-minded note, pounds 1 from each sale of Lledo’s charity
model van will be donated to the sales promotion industry’s dedicated
children’s charity, Promoting For Children.
Z is for Zoot suits and fab gear
When a T-shirt just won’t do, why not order up a made-to-measure suit
from visiting tailor Norton & Townsend. Choose from a wide range of
standard cuts, or copy your grandfather’s old 1940s nightclub wear. Bulk
discounts (quantity, not size) are available.
Incentives: Keeping staff keen
Traditionally staff loyalty and incentive schemes have been aimed almost
exclusively at sales teams. Sales is still perceived to be the cutting
edge of many businesses and also the department where results are most
However, companies increasingly realise that their performance doesn’t
begin and end with the sales department. As UK companies have been
restructured into flatter organisations and frontline staff have been
empowered to take more responsibility, recognition and reward have
become key issues in personnel management. Consequently, there has been
growth in the use of motivation schemes in non-sales environments.
The best motivation schemes are closely aligned with a long-term
communication proposition, so that when people are rewarded, they know
why and positive practices are reinforced. Bill Brown, managing director
of Whitbread Leisure Vouchers, says: ‘Incentives that are planned for a
quick fix tend not to be so successful as overall packages where people
know what is expected and why.’
Brown says internal media, such as newsletters are an excellent way of
maintaining the momentum of a scheme, along with face-to-face briefings
and monthly or bi-monthly updates.
Phillipe Gayton, general manager of Argos Premier Incentives agrees that
any motivation scheme has to communicate with its targets on a regular
basis, to ensure that the link is made between behaviour and the reward
The company has carved a niche for itself in the oil industry linking
the communication of safety issues to rig crews. Clients in this sector
include Smedvig, Texaco and Shell. ‘The cost of taking an oil rig out of
operation for a few days can be huge so these safety schemes encourage
teamwork and reward those which eliminate accidents,’ says Gayton.
The message of customer service is one which the Ansells chain of pubs
has tried to instil in employees. Argos produced a motivation scheme
linked to a mystery shopper programme where premises were evaluated and
rewarded with Argos points if they met certain criteria. Gayton says:
‘Many managers have grasped the importance of satisfying customers
through the scheme and have reinvested their rewards into the business
putting their points towards staff training, management consultancy or
promotions nights to stimulate the business.’
Simon Priestley, sales planner at Air Miles, claims its research
indicates interest in extending motivation schemes into other non-sales
areas where objectives may be less tangible. A recent Air Miles client
was Oldham NHS Trust which used Air Miles to reduce absenteeism and
reward good attendance levels. The Trust saved pounds 120,000 in sick
pay over the course of the scheme.
Air Miles has now launched a licensed software package enabling
companies to administer the programme, keep closer control of it and
monitor the recipients. ‘In all motivation schemes, some people will
perform better than others, so it is important to offer more targeted
communications,’ says Priestley.
Capital Incentives offers both paper and electronic reward systems in
the shape of Capital Bonds and Capital Card, a Visa charge card which is
backed by the Royal Bank of Scotland. ‘Incentives are just one part of
how employers can communicate with employees,’ says Graham Povey,
marketing and operations director, Capital Incentives.
Launched 18 months ago, Capital Card allows clients to credit cash to an
individual card which can then be used by the recipient at any Visa
outlet worldwide. Capital has found that senior staff are more
comfortable with the credit card than with vouchers.
At the end of the day however, it is what you can get for your reward
which matters to recipients. Virgin Vouchers launched last year with
clients including Abbey National, Royal Mail and Partco. The lifestyle
nature of the offering means there is something for everyone says Jayne
Howie, managing director of Virgin Vouchers. ‘The operational person who
comes into work after a weekend away is likely to be a better advocate
than the one who comes in wearing a new woolly jumper,’ she says.
Press freebies: Looking some gift horses in the mouth
Apocryphal tales abound of PR promotional exercises gone wrong. There
was the retailer’s agency which sent a corporate birthday cake to
journalists only to make them all ill. Or the vegetarian secretary who
opened a package sent to a food journalist and was confronted with a
tray of glistening offal.
Press trips can offer even greater cock-up potential with different
cultures colliding and the blurring of professional and personal roles.
Freelance travel writer and broadcaster, Gill Williams remembers being
presented with the biography of a notable Sheikh on a trip to Abu Dhabi.
‘I was proudly told that it weighed 4kg which was about a quarter of my
cabin luggage allowance. I kept trying to dispose of it, but it was just
given back. It’s now propping up a table leg.’
Williams suggests that if PR people really want to be your friend, they
should forget the gifts and mail back the pounds of fact packs
accumulated on an average trip.
Health and beauty journalist Jenny Baden says that cosmetics companies
tend to be quite inventive in their use of promotional gifts. For the
launch of its new foundation, Colour Stay, Revlon sent journalists a
white shirt and the product to demonstrate that it doesn’t rub off on to
clothes. ‘Funnily enough it arrived while I was laughing at how cheesy
the TV ad is,’ she says.
Sensique gets bottom marks for a launch of a range of gifts which failed
to live up to expectations. ‘Everyone was presented with beautifully
wrapped presents, but inside was a pair of awful earrings which looked
like they had come out of a Christmas cracker,’ says Jenny Baden.
In the car industry it seems that extravagance still rules. Ian
Robertson of Autocar says manufacturers are renowned for their
extravagance, particularly for launches. The Fiat Bravo launch is
reputed to have come with a pounds 13 million price tag and all 1,100
journalists were presented with a crate of wine and a ceremonial plate.
Robertson plumps for an electronic personal organiser from Mercedes as
his favourite freebie. ‘ I probably use it every day.’ A crystal
decanter from a car manufacturer is described as having no relevance.
Gary Crossing, music editor at The Big Issue says the days of payola for
music journalists have gone. The apocryphal caches of drugs secreted in
inner sleeves of records have given way to cream cakes and sweets
according to Crossing who names a promotional day out to Woking Football
Club for a Paul Weller book launch and disco as his favourite piece of
PR activity. Lizard Records get the thumbs down for sending a lollipop
with an insect frozen inside.
Frances Cottam, editor of the UK’s second highest selling men’s magazine
Men’s Health says press trips can often confirm your worst prejudices. A
press trip to Houston and Dallas to introduce British journalists to US
mall culture ‘proved conclusively that there was a cultural Grand Canyon
to be crossed’. A trip to French Canada left him with a plethora of snow
paper weights and badges ‘I think they had a badge fetish and they were
all stamped ‘made in Taiwan’.
However, top prize for the cringe-inducing mailing goes to the device
designed to help you grow a new foreskin. Which certainly brings new
meaning to the phrase maximising coverage.