Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2023

Gifts and Giveaways: What You Need to Know Now

Dale Denham, President and CEO of the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI)

Not long ago, the prompt delivery of the promotional products you and your exhibitors and sponsors need for the next meeting or event was a given, like death and taxes only a lot more fun. Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic, which is upending that industry as much as it has most other aspects of the meetings and events world.

Even if they have come back to full capacity — and many have not — factories in Asia that make many of these products are still in a financial crunch. While they may be able to produce the products, all too often they are left sitting in containers at the port until the letter of credit is released. Which means the factories don’t have the cash on hand to get the raw materials and labor to make the next round of orders since their money is still tied up with the last order, says Marty Bear, President, Professional Marketing Services, Inc. (PMSI). Even a simple white T-shirt can be hard to come by right now, he added. So order early to secure the inventory you think you will need, even if you’re dealing with an American manufacturer, because they, like everyone else, are experiencing materials and staffing shortages right now.

What else do you need to know now to ensure you get what you need for your upcoming 2021 and 2022 shows? To find out, MeetingMentor caught up with Dale Denham, President and CEO of the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI). Here is his advice.

How have pandemic-caused challenges — labor and inventory shortages, supply chain disruption, etc. — affected the promotional products industry?

Denham: Like every industry, the promotional products industry has been impacted significantly and the situation is changing every hour of every day for varying products. Inventory levels are very low, which means that most event planners find themselves having to accept their second or even third choice for event promotions.

In fact, inventory levels are so low that nearly one out of every five orders that is being placed is rejected due to lack of inventory. Another one out of every five orders is unable to meet the target delivery date as demand is extremely high and labor to decorate, package and ship the products is constrained as well.  Fortunately, the promotional products industry is having a fantastic recovery, but the demand is causing meeting planners to be extremely flexible.

What advice would you give to meeting and incentive planners in terms of order scheduling?

Denham: Ordering far in advance is going to give you the best product selection and ensure the items are delivered in time for your event. One day, inventory for any category will be completely fine across the industry and the next, inventory levels will be depleted significantly. We’ve never seen inventory change so rapidly because we’ve never seen a mix of high demand with the inability to replenish inventory.

What can planners do to help their promotional products supplier partners during today’s challenges?

Denham: Ensuring all the order details are completed and artwork is accurate will ensure your order gets processed quickly. More than half of promotional products orders require a follow up with a customer due to missing or incorrect information.

Leverage the supplier partners’ website to ensure you’ve captured all the proper details, including production time expectations. Putting a false date earlier than your event doesn’t help you right now because it most likely means your order will be put on hold until you confirm a later shipment.

Also, if you’re drop-shipping to people’s homes or offices, have all your data collected in a standard format and ready to go early in the process. Otherwise, the products may end up sitting in the warehouse waiting to be shipped and may not be delivered by your deadline. Get those addresses in with the order if possible.

Finally, be nice and be understanding. As odd as that is to say, it is a real challenge right now for staff to have to explain all the challenges to customers especially when the customer is angry. Being nice and empathetic are very valuable traits for good partners today.   

When do you anticipate business getting back to a more normal footing for those who purchase promotional products for meetings, events and incentive programs?

Denham: Our best guess is summer of 2022, but predictions vary from the second quarter 2022 all the way until sometime early 2023 due to the number of macroeconomic factors that are causing the challenges. However, planners will be well served to embrace the lessons from these challenges as longer lead times allow for the best client experience even when we are not in the midst of a crisis.

What types of products are most in demand right now by meeting and incentive customers?

Denham: Promotional drinkware remains top of mind for event organizers especially as sustainability continues to be a focus. Refilling drinkware with water at the event as well as during the travel home shows brands commitment to the environment. Drinkware gets reused so much at the event and for so long after the event, the impressions add up to great value for the brand as well as the attendee. Carabiner clips people can use to attach the bottles to a purse or bag also are a good addition.

Apparel also remains in extremely high demand for events, from T-shirts to outerwear. In addition, we are seeing very high demand for retail brands in the promotional industry such as Under Amour, MiiR, Cotopaxi, EOS and so many others.

What are some of the promotional products you personally have received that you find to be most effective?

Denham: We represent companies that manufacture a wide variety of products, so it is difficult to pick any one category. It’s also very personal and depends on the tastes of the individual recipient — for example, I personally love a good backpack, but other executives wouldn’t think of carrying one. I will go out on a limb and say you can’t go wrong with umbrellas — everyone uses umbrellas. Durability is also a plus: I still use a duffle bag with beautiful embroidery on it that I received 25 years ago.

Another thing to think about is that it’s better to spend the extra dollar or two to get a better-quality product that will be used for years than to save a bit but give a gift that never gets used or just sits on a shelf. The difference between a high-quality T-shirt and one that’s not as comfortable and won’t be worn is generally just $1 or $2. Why spend $800 on shirts no one will wear when for just $200 more you can give a shirt that will get worn for years?

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About ConferenceDirect
ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates.

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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