You're probably familiar with the Five Ws and One H: who, what, when, where, why and how. In journalism, these questions are considered the basics in information-gathering; they comprise a formula for getting the complete story.
The Five Ws and One H are good questions to ask yourself when it comes to promotional planning as well. Don't rush a purchase until you've addressed these six topics.
1. Who is the intended recipient?
First and foremost, determine which market your campaign will target. Are you reaching out to college juniors at a career fair? Fortune 500 executives? Mommy bloggers? A product can easily impress one audience, and miss the mark with another.
Interns at the Human Rights Campaign, modeling some temporary tattoos.
2. Why are promotional materials needed?
"Why" goes hand-in-hand with "Who". Why do you want to distribute promotional products to this particular group? Promotional products are used to motivate a desired action. Do you want to drive website traffic? Encourage participation in a health and wellness program? Thank a loyal client?
It's silly to purchase branded materials "just because". If you look at it that way, your purchase is simply an expense, not an investment. Take the time to identify your objective, your goal. You want to be able to look back at the end of the campaign and assess whether the product effectively achieved the desired outcome.
Stadium cups for a .CO happy hour at SXSW 2012.
3. When is the event or program launch?
If possible, take some time at the beginning of each fiscal year to create a promotional marketing calendar. Note all major events (like trade shows, conferences, career fairs, and company picnics) and projected program launch dates. Reviewing this long term timeline will help you avoid rush situations. You might even spot opportunities to consolidate purchases and order in bulk. For example, if you have career fairs scheduled for both spring and fall, order enough inventory for both events in February, and store the extras.
Moreover, when you have several months of lead time, you open the door for overseas production, allowing for greater customization and potentially smaller spend. More time will give you better options, and ultimately better results.
4. How much money can be spent?
Budget a specific amount for each promotional purchase. You will find that each product category- drinkware, for example- offers an overwhelming variety of products across an extremely wide price range. By determining ahead of time how much or how little you're willing to spend, you automatically narrow the field of potential choices and simplify the decision.
Communicate your budget's parameters to your distributor partner, if you're using one (see #5), so that they can help you find a winning solution.
5. Where to purchase?
Here comes a personal plug. Obviously my response to this question is biased, but I strongly recommend sourcing promotional materials from a trusted distributor partner. Your company will benefit from the distributor's product knowledge, branding expertise, and their established relationships with manufacturers.
Additionally, you alleviate some risk by going through a distributor. Should something go wrong (a misprint, a missed deadline, defective product), your account representative is responsible for providing a solution.
6. What item is the right choice for my campaign?
It's smart to approach this question with a mind open to suggestions from your distributor rep. The reason being, a product often sounds great in theory, but fails in practice. Your branding might have certain properties that render it unsuitable for a particular piece. Perhaps the delicate lines of your tagline will bleed when sublimated on a lanyard, or the finer details of your logo will close on a pad-printed flashlight.
You might have your heart set on one product, but if a similar piece can be done in 1 week instead of 4 weeks, or can save you in shipping because it's produced in the same state as your event, it should be considered. A knowledgeable distributor will proactively spot production conflicts and opportunities, and he/she can guide you toward the best possible product for your campaign.
Think like a journalist when it comes to promotional planning, and remember the Five Ws and One H. These six questions will show the way to successful campaigns and responsible spending.