Giveaways. Promotional products. Swag. Call them what you will, handing out these corporate goodies is a standard part of doing business in North America.
Of course, a logoed golf ball is no substitute for high-quality service. Chances are, it’s not going to bring in new business or raise your profile substantially.
What an effective promo item can do, however, is drive traffic to your tradeshow booth, attract students at recruitment fairs, raise your profile at a conference, or thank valued clients. It serves as a visual reminder that keeps your firm top of mind.
But with hundreds of thousands of possibilities — everything from alarm clocks to zipper pulls — how do you make the right choice?
1. Start with the big picture
Promo products are just one marketing tool among many, so don’t throw money at those customized pens and ball caps until you’ve nailed down a comprehensive marketing plan. “First you’ve got to have the marketing strategy, and then you can determine whether they fit or not,” says Susan Elliot, a Toronto-based law firm marketing consultant.
2. Clarify your goals
Next, know what you want your swag to accomplish. Are you promoting a new practice group? Thanking someone for a referral? Announcing a move? Different items are better suited to different purposes.
3. Know your audience
A 50-something CEO has different interests and tastes from the 20-something law school students you’re trying to attract at a recruitment fair, so give some thought to who you’re targeting, what their needs are, and how they spend their time.
4. Fit the item to your message
If your practice focusses in the IT world, Elliot recommends flipping through a magazine like Fast Company for ideas or checking out innovative tech firms like Apple. For an intellectual property group, fine art postcards would be a good fit. Practise real estate law? Consider tape measures.
5. Think inexpensive — but not cheap
The costs of promo items can add up quickly, so keep a close eye on the bottom line. At the same time, however, your product should reflect the quality of your firm.
“You can’t cheap out,” says Allison Wolf, a lawyer coach in Vancouver. “Anything you put your logo on is representative of your firm.”
Marie Seabrook of Seabrook Associates, an Ottawa-based promotional products supplier, agrees. “In this industry, you really get what you pay for,” she says. “If you want a $15 golf shirt, I can get you one, but when you’re charging $300 an hour, I don’t think a $15 golf shirt is effective.”
6. Build a relationship with a trusted supplier
The right supplier can help you narrow down the choices and save you hours of surfing. “A good promotional products provider will ask you the questions to find that perfect marriage of item and theme,” says Seabrook Associates’ Iana Harman.
Most suppliers have access to the same product lines, so choose someone who listens and whose advice you can trust.
7. Think subtle
Your firm’s brand doesn’t have to be in your face to be effective, especially if you’re targeting current clients who already know you and what you offer. Consider a subtle tone-on-tone approach — a logo embroidered in charcoal thread on black fabric, for example — or use a light screen or watermark instead of printing the colours at 100 per cent.
And don’t ruin good swag with a poorly rendered logo. If you don’t know the difference between an EPS and a JPG file, work with a graphic artist who can send your supplier exactly what they need.
8. Consider an unbranded gift
If your goal is to stay top-of-mind with an existing client, a thoughtful, unbranded gift will be remembered long after that logo-stamped mug is consigned to the back of the lunchroom cupboard, says Wolf.
Pick something that shows you listen to your client and understand his or her needs. “For example, if you learn that a client is going to be in a city on business and they’re going to be staying a few extra days to explore, then you might send over a city guide book,” she suggests.
9. Keep it in perspective
Ultimately, says Wolf, remember that promotional products are just a small part of your overall marketing effort. “If you can stay out of the game as much as possible, stay out of the game,” she advises. “This is not, at the end of the day, what makes a law firm survive or excel.”
Julie Stauffer is a freelance writer based in Guelph, Ontario.