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Luxury Promotional Products

When Money's No Object, Then What?
By Charlotte Thomas

Ah, those magic words: "Get me the best. Money is no object." Too bad we don't hear – or say – that very often. Still, it's nice to know that when there's a specific marketing objective in mind, there are plenty of exquisite promotional products to stimulate the imagination and inspire creative ways to use them.

"You want creative?" asks counselor Vicki Moran. "How about engraved lobster tails? Live lobster tails?" She's not kidding. With a laser engraver, anything can be engraved, including the Waterford crystal champagne flutes that go along with this show-stopper of a business gift. But, says Moran, maybe she wouldn't engrave the top-of-the-list bottles of champagne she carefully picked to add to the package. With them, the label speaks for itself. "How's that instead of the standard watch for someone who's retiring?" she says.

Moran hasn't had any of her clients give her a $4 million budget yet, but she has heard them request the "best pen you can find me." That's not hard to do when it's a Waterman or Mont Blanc at about $1,000 a pop.

What if the sky was the limit for your next promotion? Though it's not a regular occurrence for most companies, you can learn a lot about what makes for powerful promotions by hearing about the extravagant ones. Careful planning and execution are key. Though budget limitations lessen, setting goals and knowing exactly why the promotion is being done are still major considerations.

"I've had some clients say ‘Money's No Object' within limits. When we have that situation, it depends on what the client is looking for," Moran notes. "What's going to fit for a client appreciation gift wouldn't be the same for a new product launch."

The Wow Factor
Usually when people hear "Money's no object," thoughts of yachts and corporate jets come to mind, but we've got to inject some reality here. We're dealing with real situations and real companies and their very real dollars. "I used to work with a Fortune 200 company and reported to an executive vice president," recalls W. Joseph Winston, who's now a counselor. "He told me, ‘I don't care if you spend $100 or $100,000, as long as I see a return on the investment.'"

Not to throw cold water on such costly flights of fancy, but Winston does bring up a point that's echoed throughout the promotions industry: It's not just the product that's in the spotlight, it's what you want to achieve with it. As Winston tells his clients, "I'm not in the giveaway business, and you're not either."

He illustrates his philosophy with a story about a very expensive entertainment center that was the prize at a big national convention where a client was exhibiting. The person with the piece to the puzzle that would determine the winner just "happened" to be a prospective customer.

"We saw him coming," says Winston, remembering how, with baited breath, they all watched as the man took the puzzle piece from his pocket and casually dropped it into place. Instead of reacting, he put it back in his pocket and left without saying a word. Those who'd been watching were devastated, wondering what had gone wrong. Soon after, the prospect returned with his wife, whose screams of delight were what everyone had been waiting to hear. And that's not all; the prize opened the door to a long and prosperous business relationship with Winston's client – and a major return on the investment.

Winston calls this the "WOW" factor. Naturally, it costs more to give a knockout item that invites positive reaction, but, he points out, the end justifies the means when the recipient says, "You did this up right."

For Moran, gifts like custom chess tables or grandfather clocks fit this category, but she has also gone the smaller (but just as pricey) route with crystal boxes filled with Belgium chocolates, given as gifts to donors to a charity. For the 50th anniversary of a gridiron club, all members received a custom cast-stone replica of the stadium. "Money was no object for that gift," Moran says, also mentioning the cast aluminum pet paws she recommended to cover the wall at a humane society fundraiser. "The people who were donating thousands and thousands told us, ‘Do what you have to do, but be creative.'"

Time: The Prerequisite
When it comes to promotional products, many counselors feel that if you say expensive, you should also say creative in the same breath. If you don't, you're just throwing money away. Allowing enough time is the prerequisite.

Counselor Brad Milne, also founder of a promotional consulting firm, adds another caveat: Time is money. He takes the adage seriously. "If I had all the money to spend that I wanted to for my client, I'd ask for time to do it right, which means research and target marketing," he says. Instead of going out and spending right away, he would plan, ask questions and meet with his client to develop a full understanding of what her true needs are. Moran adds, "People have to remember that if we have the time, we can do anything, especially with high-ticket items, which often can't be done right away. If you don't leave time and want custom, you'll be in trouble and not get what you want."

Counselor Wayne Greenberg also believes that time is as important as the item itself. "In the thesis of ‘Money's no object', the first thing I would do is plan," he says. "Often, the best isn't available, because we're not given time to plan, to ask questions, to effectively target a client's need."

Greenberg recently came up with a promotion that really hit a homer for the dollars the client spent. A home mortgage company asked him to create a campaign to impress the commercial brokers who were its potential clients. Rather than sending out a pamphlet, Greenberg put together a box that contained a promotional tape, cassette player and two speakers. Once opened, recipients only had to push "start" and listen to the tape. "This was no keyring or penlight," he says, "but there wasn't anyone who didn't play that tape." Assembling all the elements of this promotion required advance planning.

Service: The Clincher
When you're talking time, you're also talking service. People often think "gold-plated" something when cost isn't a factor, but you can also spend the bucks for service, which, incidentally, is a precious commodity today.

Milne took on such a challenge when asked to re-launch the career of a pianist. This included a new image, name, logo, six CDs, distribution system, Web site built for e-commerce transactions, concert tour, interactive press kit and merchandising.

That kind of full service doesn't come cheap. But, Milne says, "In the next 36 months we hope to have her as a household word. That shows you how things can grow when ‘money's no object.'"

Promotional consultant Kevin McHargue also takes the service approach first rather than immediately showing clients high-priced items. His modus operandi is to start off with a survey of his client's goals. Once that's established, "The product would fall into place as the final piece," he says. "High priced" for him could be one spectacular product sent to one recipient or a lot of smaller items sent to a lot of targeted clients, such as 10,000 CDs in a custom package.

Lasting Messages
Greenberg sometimes takes another tack when told "money's no object" – frequency. He believes that whether you're dealing with outside customers or inside staff, one big stupendous item isn't always as effective as something new over a period of time. "You want your name to be continually in front of them with your message," he says. "It's better than one object that the client receives and then the whole process goes away. Your message has to be united and synchronized with the products."

Another thing to consider: Though creativity is a necessary part of any campaign using top-of-the-line items, brand names can also go a long way – at least some of the time – to impress the people you're trying to reach.

"Lots of products come to mind," says McHargue, ticking off names such as Lenox, Rolex, Cutter and Buck, Ashworth, Bobby Jones, Sony, Bose and so on. He recently created custom letterman jackets in wool and suede for a bakery/café chain's award program.

McHargue also did custom desk clocks for a client who designs and builds bank buildings. These were far from your standard desk clocks: With the help of a local artist, each clock was designed to match the decor and corporate image of each bank. "They were the focal piece in the lobby area," says McHargue. "Each time he completed a project, he came to us for the clock."

Moran has suggested signed and numbered, sometimes one-of-a-kind items to clients, who then watch them rise in value on an annual basis. She once suggested hand-blown glass paperweights, globes and vases signed by the artist. When the artist passed away a few years later, the pieces began appreciating.

When it comes down to it, you can spend money on promotional products as if it'll never run out. But, McHargue maintains, the product, no matter how expensive it is, must motivate sales, build goodwill, increase morale, attract new customers, or whatever else your marketing objective happens to be. Otherwise it's money ill-spent.

"The real goal of products of this ilk is to have the product speak of the quality of the company that's giving it," McHargue says. That sums up any promotional spending in a nutshell.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Charlotte Thomas is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs, CO.

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