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Corporate Recruiting with Promotional Products

By Margaret Ryan-Atkinson

Recruiting and retaining the best talent in the labor pool is still a daunting task for most companies. What do employees want?

To begin with, they want to be appreciated, be part of a team, and have a good relationship with the boss. What can you do about it? First, lend your marketing expertise to your HR manager – including introducing her to your promotional products counselor.

Despite the stock market's recent roller-coaster ride and a number of massive, high-profile layoffs, many companies are still grappling with finding and retaining the best and brightest in today's tighter labor market. And even if those issues aren't your primary concern as a marketing/promotions person, they're no doubt important to your human resources manager – as well as the board of directors and CEO.

The American Management Association recently surveyed companies that visited its Web site, discovering that staffing issues ranked in the top 10 on a list of 25 key management-related issues. But there's an important link missing here. While building and retaining a stellar staff is just as important to the financial well-being of your firm as marketing its products and services, many HR managers and directors haven't yet realized the advantages of integrating promotional products into their recruitment and retention programs.

You know imprinted items can foster goodwill and positive perceptions among people, so why use them solely for customers? Employees and job candidates often appreciate getting them too.

Positive Reception
Your HR manager knows your company's goals for current and prospective employees, but you can share your promotional product knowledge for the overall good of the firm. By simply introducing her to your counselor, you can potentially improve the company's recruitment and retention strategies, productivity and bottom line.

Have your counselor explain how promotional products can motivate, reward and encourage employees, which typically leads to higher retention rates. They can also help attract new talent. And don't forget to mention that the choice of products is virtually limitless and can fit nearly any budget.

Creative Recruitment
"Lower-end items can be used at recruitment fairs," says counselor Lauren Hering, noting that many companies with limited promotional budgets may not be able to hand out thousands of costly products at a trade show or job fair. Some of the more successful things to use at job fairs include the basics – writing instruments, magnets, rulers, and so on. Why? "They're usually not too difficult for people to carry, and they're practical," Hering says.

Still, being practical doesn't mean your recruitment efforts have to lack creativity. The real secret is to know your target audience and choose a product and theme oriented toward them. "If you're recruiting someone for an $80,000-a-year job, you're not going to hand them a pencil," Hering says. "[But] you might give them a CD case or computer accessory." One HR manager for a high-tech firm wanted to attract fun-loving, tech-savvy Gen-Xers. After talking with a counselor, she decided to go with Crazy Putty – a modeling clay stored in a plastic, egg-shaped container. The putty container was imprinted with the company's name and the message, "Let us shape your future."

Another example: When UPS needed part-time workers, its recruitment office went to college campuses and offered students who completed an application a five-minute phonecard. Why? College students are typically on tight budgets and regularly phone home to talk to family and friends.

The red and blue cards read, "Call on UPS to deliver great part-time jobs." Job benefits were also imprinted on the card, as were the UPS Logo and recruitment center phone number.

Following the on-campus job fairs, UPS set up a tent with carnival games at a St. Louis Rams football game. Any students who won at the games were given the the same phone cards as prizes. The season's recruitment efforts were one of UPS' most successful, and it credited the cards for much of that success.

What The Doctor Ordered
Recruitment efforts that include promotional products are appealing to nearly all job candidates, recent graduates and experienced pros. Recently, a hospital needed to recruit five to 10 nurses. To attract candidates, it planned an extravagant party. It sent Balloon-Gram self-mailers to 20,000 area nurses listed with the State Board of Licensing. The hospital initially planned a party for 600 and was pleasantly surprised when 1,000 responses were received.

Following the party, several nurses called the hospital to express interest in employment. Within two weeks, all eight positions were filled.

Of course, recruitment/retention efforts don't always have to be geared toward immediate staffing needs. Some companies can build goodwill and improve employee retention by periodically giving out promotional products to employees to inspire a sense of workplace pride.

Long-Term Commitments
One of counselor Amy Mallet's favorite campaigns administered by an HR department involved summer interns. The company wanted to thank its summer workers who were heading back to college, so it presented them with a backpack/laptop computer case with the company name embroidered on the back flap.

"It was goodwill, and it was very future-oriented," Mallet says. "These students feel good going back to school and saying ‘Look at where I worked this summer – and they thought enough of me to give me this backpack.'"

Such strategies also increase a company's name recognition with the general public and improves its ability to attract better talent.

Love 'Em Or Lose 'Em
So once you've hired that talented workforce, how do you hang on to them? Today's employees want a lot from their employers – flexible schedules, career growth, training and a good boss that appreciates their efforts.

You might think with the layoffs that dominated the first quarter of this year that companies wouldn't have to worry about retaining employees. Not true. In January, Career-Builder.com conducted a nationwide survey of 1,477 workers, asking if they were looking for a new job. Four out of 10 were searching for new opportunities in 2001, and 70% of those were seeking to change jobs within the next six months.

"There's a new breed of worker – the silent job seeker – who's constantly on the lookout for new opportunities and who remains optimistic, even with the recent news of layoffs and restructuring," says Diane Strahan, a career specialist at Career Builders. "[You can't] confuse their silence with satisfaction."

Beverly Kaye, founder of Career Systems International, agrees, noting the average turnover rate for most companies is about 15% to 20% each year. That's up from 10% to 20% a few years ago. "There's still a numbers problem," she says. "You still have a tight labor pool ... Even if the job doesn't work out, [employees] know that within a few weeks they'll land another one."

Kaye, who leads seminars and workshops on retention, recently co-authored Love 'Em Or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People To Stay. While researching the book, she found that employees stay when they have good relationships with their team members and their boss.

A Sense of Belonging
There are many reasonably-priced promotional items that can work well to encourage teamwork. One product that's growing in popularity is a series of wooden puzzles that look easy to solve but actually require a decent amount of thought. They come in a variety of shapes, and visually almost "dare" someone to solve them. They've been highly successful in building team spirit, often because several employees will band together in an effort to solve them.

A number of corporations have also found that recognizing employees for their work and keeping them informed about what's going on within the company also builds goodwill and strong teams. Promotional products can play a role in these efforts, too.

Example: Another of Mallet's clients developed an informational Intranet site for employees. Several imprinted items promoting the site were distributed, based on the job function of the individual employee. "They distributed lunch bags, shirts, sunglasses and food items to launch it," she says, stressing the importance of giving items appropriate to the recipient.

Appreciate What You Have
Some companies truly understand the value of their employees and try to use rewards – often logoed products – to thank them when they go the extra mile. One company presented workers with 20-year desk calendars after a long strategic-planning phase that required them to juggle their schedules on an almost daily basis.

Promotional products can also help enhance a company's safety programs while simultaneously generating goodwill among employees. Eastern Associated Coal Co. presented workers with a silver medallion when they reached a remarkable 1.99 incidence rate safety record. It bore the likeness of a coal miner, the American flag and the words, "Eastern Coal Miner."

Showing appreciation not only reaps retention and recruitment benefits, but also often leads to stronger customer service delivery from all employees. If workers feel like they're supporting a common cause, it can really inspire them to provide top-notch service to customers.

Offer It Their Way
Company stores can also aid in retaining employees. Whether it's an on-site location, print catalog or Internet site, a store can accommodate individual preferences by offering a selection of items, allowing employees to choose what they like.

One of Hering's clients wanted to reward employees for perfect attendance – part of an overall effort to increase productivity. Those who had perfect attendance each quarter could choose between a $500 savings bond (which cost $250), or they could pick a gift – such as a futon or gas grill – from a catalog. Attendance records improved when employees realized there were additional rewards.

Counselor Sandra Parrish-Woodlief develops online corporate recognition catalogs for firms that give HR managers an opportunity to order an item and have it the next day to give to an employee. "Timing is critical," she says. "We recommend immediate recognition – not two weeks later."

Obviously, most items are kept stocked for fast delivery. When a company wants an online recognition catalog, Parrish-Woodlief spends time getting to know the employees and the corporate culture. "The products should represent their lifestyles and interests," she says. "Recognition is all about providing something someone can use."

Many of the items are higher quality and somewhat more expensive. In addition, some companies distribute gift certificates to employees as rewards for smaller accomplishments, allowing them to save them up to use toward larger items.

Choose Wisely
While lower-cost items are great for recruitment programs, higher-end products become not only a reflection of your company, but also an indication of how it feels about the recipient. The true goal of a recognition product, notes Parrish-Woodlief, is for the employee to "use it, keep it, and know why they got it."

And hopefully they'll help keep up the good work at your company.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Margaret Ryan-Atkinson.

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