Planning a campaign or event can be stressful enough without things going wrong when it comes to getting the right merchandise, at the right time and with the right message. Here we guide you though the top five mistakes that can be made - and how you can prepare well to avoid them.

1. Being boring!

    • Using merchandise can do wonders for recognition of a brand, but would a sector leading company want to be recognised for pushing out the same rollerball pens, keyrings and mouse-mats as their competitors are, year-in, year-out? Aim for a less generic campaign
    • Assuming that you want to be seen as pro-active, dynamic and forward-looking in your outlook, aim to choose products which reflect whatever qualities you are hoping to project with your campaigns and events. That means doing some thoughtful research into the products that you anticipate will end up in the hands of your staff and existing and prospective customers. Consider carefully the message you want to convey, the delivery method, and context in which your products will be used. Not looking at a wider picture could be damaging to your brand
    • Get creative with your product choices; items which people will actively want to touch, use, wear or eat can generate a buzz all of their own. The more they are talked about and used, the higher the value of your merchandise campaign to your brand. Practical and useful doesn’t have to be boring; if you’re stuck for creative ideas, or unsure about whether a product is right for your campaign, ask your supplier for direction. If they are any good, they will be able to advise you with creative experience and product knowledge
creative merchandise from Cape and Aruba Networks

Energy company Cape got creative with 500 completely bespoke figures made to give to high performing staff teams. Aruba Networks rewarded their on-the-road channel partners with a Mobility Survival Kit consisting of a laptop bag, power bank, portable mouse and jelly beans.

2. Absence of brand control and service levels

    • Having your company’s internationally recognised logo printed in the wrong colour on 50,000 carrier bags would be something of a marketing disaster for you - the likes of which should be avoidable by providing your supplier with your brand guidelines. Depending upon the scale and frequency of the supply, necessary agreements between you and your product suppliers may vary from a brief document to a lengthy Service Level Agreement contract
    • Whichever kind of contract is the most suitable, make sure that you and your supplier are crystal clear on your expectations and their obligations regarding your brand, the goods, prices and delivery. A good supplier will be transparent in its commitments and documentation
    • If you are relying on a supplier to provide international transportation, logistical, stock control or warehousing types of service, Service Level Agreements are even more crucial. These will give you peace of mind that your branding is controlled and protected, and that, should anything go wrong, it will be dealt with properly

3. Failing to plan timescales

  • Pre-planning in good time means you can avoid having to scrape the egg off your face when products don’t arrive in time for your campaign or event launch. Delivery times for promotional goods can vary considerably between products. Timescales are influenced by many factors ranging from volume and logistics to the branding process itself
  • Be sure to plan even further in advance if you are looking at having bespoke products made as these can go through multiple phases for design, production and branding refinements
  • Remember that the more suppliers you are dealing with, the longer you are likely to spend bringing the campaign to fruition - and the more people you have to communicate with
  • Leaving a generous period in which to plan and execute your campaign, and for products to be produced and delivered, will allow you to inspect samples, get creative with designs, and make sure that brand guidelines are met

4. Buying on price alone

  • Pricing is important to everyone - you’ve probably got marketing ROI targets to worship - and everyone loves a bargain. But consider the bigger picture when choosing promotional items based on their price or you may find that you really pay for it later
  • Will the product quality be of a level that reflects your brand?
  • Has the logo or message been applied in the right position, in the correct colours and according to your brand guidelines?
  • Will the products be reliably delivered in one piece and on time?
  • Will the supplier cooperate with you should any problems arise?


There is an old saying that when it comes to provision of service or goods, you can only have two of these three: cheap, good, fast. If you’re being offered all three by a supplier, be wary. Remember that the cost of sorting out a problem caused by suppliers cutting corners can often be higher than that of the initial order in both financial terms as well as your time to sort it out; not to mention how situations can reflect on you or your marketing team. If a supplier isn’t offering rock-bottom prices, look out for the added-value services they may include within the price like samples, creative services and dedicated account management.

We Have 3 Kinds of Service - Fast, Cheap, Good

Pick two of these - it's not possible to have all three!

5. Poor supplier choice

If you can avoid making this mistake, the hassle factor of dealing with merchandising will be reduced massively! All of the issued covered in 1-4 can be avoided or minimised by finding a competent, trustworthy and experienced supplier. There are a number of questions which you can ask of your supplier to help insure against costly mistakes.

  • What you need from a supplier will vary according to all kinds of factors ranging from product choice, delivery logistics, SLAs, timescales and volume, to the campaign size and duration. The larger your commitment, the more important establishing a good relationship with your supplier will be. They should do more than just provide you with the products you found on their website at the right price; they should be able to advise you on factors like the best products to use for your campaigns, samples, branding placement and timescales. Look for these added value factors and bear in mind that not all suppliers will offer in-house design studios
  • You should expect to have a dedicated point of contact at the supplier company, and it should be easy to get hold of them. Suppliers who value your business should be keen to establish a good long-term relationship with you, and this includes the personal relationship you’ll have with the account manager. If ordering multiple products they may be sourced from various locations; your account manager should be coordinating this, and keeping you informed of any issues within the supply chain
  • As mentioned above, buying promotional products from cut price suppliers is a risky business. But while suppliers who offer all the services and benefits you would like will have overheads to service, that doesn’t mean to say that they are unable to price competitively. The prospect of high volumes or a longer term or contracted relationship will give you leverage with most suppliers, so don’t neglect to raise cost when in discussion. It may be that within the contract you are able to negotiate a deal on additional services, like warehousing or a web store for internal use

Finding a supplier

Online product searches are the obvious choice if you know the product you are looking for. You could also use the industry association, the British Promotional Merchandise Association, to find accredited suppliers. This will assure a number of standards such as product conformity and financial security. Look at the supplier’s website for company information, certifications, customer reviews and evidence that they successfully supply companies of a similar size and complexity.

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