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Promotional Products for Corporate Anniversaries and Events

Reasons for corporate celebrations aren’t hard to find. With the slightest amount of imagination, they can be incorporated into just about any event, from the most spectacular to the most mundane. Many people immediately think of anniversaries or some sensational achievement when the term “corporate commemoration” pops up, but they’re missing the boat if they do. It doesn’t take much to find an occasion that can generate some sort of celebration. And the payoff is well worth the effort, both externally (to reach clients and prospects) and internally (to boost employee morale/retention).

"Everyone understands a company commemorating an anniversary or a product accomplishment, like the millionth Cadillac Seville or billionth hamburger,” says promotional consultant Dave Blinn. “But companies can expand on that.” Not only can an observance establish a firm as a successful player in the business world, but it can also reinforce the values and mission the company is built on. The key is to think of a commemorative event as showing a corporation’s commitment to both its employees and its customers.

Bottom-Line Boosting
Here’s one example Counselor Brian Rechten uses to illustrate how touting success affects the bottom line: A nonprofit client’s donations tripled after it cleverly publicized an award. The organization didn’t just sit on the honor; it effectively let supporters know about the event by reproducing the letter of commendation on parchment, rolling it, tying it up with a gold ribbon and mailing it out in a tube, along with a cover letter.

But that was just the beginning. It took the ball and ran with it a bit farther. “We put the message on bumper stickers, pens, and a gold-embossed foil seal that was applied to all outgoing correspondence,” Rechten reports. “That made the individual or organization contributing to the nonprofit know that the funds were being well spent.” He reports that a lot of this organization’s subsequent success is attributable to the way it promoted the award.

Internally, corporate celebrations can have a positive and profitable effect on a company’s employees. In this era of mergers and acquisitions, the old days of the 30-year retirement dinner with a gold watch have bitten the downsizing dust.

Such anniversaries are becoming scarcer as corporations redefine themselves in an ever-changing marketplace. According to counselor Mark Ziskind, when a company of any size celebrates its successes, it’s not only broadcasting to the outside world, “We’re doing well”; it’s also building morale and giving employees the feeling of being part of a winning team. “In a tight labor market, employee retention is an important factor,” he says.

Over the years, promotional consultant Linda Cobb has seen changes in the business world and the employer/employee contract that make it even more important for employees to feel like they’re something other than just names and numbers. “Corporate celebrations foster morale and pull people together,” she says.

Everyday Into Extraordinary
The basic idea behind any company celebration is to take events that would usually be quite ordinary and give them a major promotional twist. “Look at Hallmark Cards,” says Blinn. “That company’s made a fortune by coming up with events to celebrate.”

He’s got a point. Take mergers, for instance. It used to be that a merger meant a company was struggling. Not anymore. Today, it could just as well be the little guy buying out the big guy, says Rechten. Smart companies celebrate name changes and mergers by turning them into one big synergistic event. “The sum total is greater than the two separate companies,” he says, “and is thus even more reason to draw clients and employees into the party.”

IPOs are another sign of the times, and savvy corporations are getting a lot of promotional mileage out of them. Rechten mentions one client who threw an IPO party, inviting the media and investors, as well as underwriters, staff and their families. “They were doing more than raising money,” he says. “They were selling themselves and their message to the staff and sending signals to their competition.”

Of course, party guests went home with something special to commemorate the event. A replica of the IPO certificate was reduced and embedded in a piece of Lucite, which came with an easel back so it could be stood up on a desk or shelf. At the party itself, there were a number of promotional products that contributed to the festivities, such as kites, balloons and bottles of bubble-making liquid for the kids.

How about start-ups? It would seem like brand-new firms would have to wait for a while to celebrate an anniversary. But, says Blinn, that’s not necessarily true; they can just as easily establish their own traditions and important dates. “Draw a line in the sand, and that becomes the starting point,” he says.

Would you consider achieving certification a reason to celebrate? Why not? Perhaps not a major wing-ding, but certainly enough to let clients and employees alike know that a certain level of quality was met. “Certification can trigger all types of celebrations,” says Rechten.

New product rollouts are another instance where an apparent business non-event can become a way to highlight products and services. “Have an open house,” suggests Rechten, “especially if it’s a new product or a company that’s been known for producing a series and added another one to its line.” With that in mind, a firm can not only reinforce all the existing items it produces, but also show customers it’s always working to provide more.

Even the proverbial millionth piece from a production line or factory can be reason to reward employees and alert clients to the occasion. Cobb suggests that something as simple as a miniature of the item encased in acrylic and put on a keytag or desk piece can let employees know management is paying attention to their work and tell clients the company takes its business seriously. In one case, an oil-well firm marked its millionth barrel with a Lucite replica of an oil drum surrounding a few drops of crude from the milestone barrel. They were sent to clients and employees, along with a letter from the president.

You Don’t Need A Lot
“The cost of a promotion doesn’t equate to its success,” notes Blinn. “Commemoratives can be top-of-the-line 14-karat gold, or something as simple as a lapel pin.” He explains that the use of promotional products is limited only by innovation and imagination. It’s not the products as much as the ideas behind them and how they’re coordinated into the celebration. Depending on the event, even something as seemingly simple as a mug can be effective. Cobb has revisited clients and seen the same mugs being used years later. Rechten has seen mugs tied in with mergers – on one side is one company’s logo, on the other the second firm’s and in the center (when applicable), the new logo. Thermochromatic mugs – those that change color/image when filled with hot liquid – can also become a way to emphasize the idea of joining together.

Remember Packaging, Too
Counselor Marsha Londe calls packaging promotional products “the sizzle with the steak.” She illustrates her point by recalling how a hospital network celebrated its winning a major award:

With hardly any budget, but a lot of creative packaging, the hospital made a big splash out of a tiny lapel pin that was sent to employees throughout the five hospitals. Recipients – everyone from CEOs to doctors/nurses to janitors – received a four-sided romance card printed with the explanation of the award and the history of the hospitals. The lapel pin was attached. In one fell swoop, everyone was drawn together and thanked for being part of the team. “The message was as important as the gift,” Londe says.

Cobb agrees; packaging heightens the effectiveness of a promotional item used in a corporate event. She adds that custom packaging has become very reasonable cost-wise, so there’s almost no reason to go with generic boxes. Take a commemorative medallion, for instance. Hand it out as is, and it’s appreciated but unenhanced. Put it in a hinged velvet box or drawstring bag and it becomes a well-presented gift that recipients will cherish.

Promotional consultant Gary Ratinetz notes, “People want to receive a gift that’s unique and doesn’t look like it was just picked from a catalog. Packaging and presentation tells the receiver that this gift is above the ordinary.”

Rechten adds that even something as simple as a brightly-colored mailing tube can be filled with confetti, streamers, balloons or whatever to add excitement to an otherwise garden-variety announcement. One of Ziskind’s clients sent out an announcement imprinted on a T-shirt that was compressed into the shape of a race car. Not many recipients forgot this mailing.

These days corporations are definitely beginning to take advantage of the opportunities company anniversaries and achievements can open up. “People are now becoming more educated and seeing the results,” Cobb says.

Learn By Example
The following case studies show how organizations and companies have made the most of corporate celebrations and enhanced them with promotional products:

Celebrate A Name Change.
Changing the name of an organization or company can be thought of as a big ordeal or, as was the case for Londe’s client, a hospital system, a way to attract a lot of favorable attention. From the practical side, the change had to be done quickly and the message sent out. “We needed to make the change visible to every employee simultaneously,” she recalls. It was an enormous task, especially considering that the hospitals had multiple shifts and many different departments to contend with.

Enter an imprinted T-shirt, attractively packaged with a newsletter. The newsletter gave the needed information and the shirt announced, in essence, “Hey, we’ve got a new name, and you’re part of this new venture.” The items were so well received that the hospital system allowed its employees to continue wearing the T-shirt on casual days. They even began purchasing more apparel for their employees. “Everyone felt a part of the system and it got the word out,” Londe says.

Celebrate A 100.
The number 100 has an oddly magic ring to it that captures interest no matter what it applies to. When Kroger’s, a major grocery chain, took the number and ran with it, the opening of its 100th store became a city-wide event.

Not content to just send out a few announcements or place and ad or two and let it go at that, Kroger’s ran blurbs in local newspapers for 100 days prior to the opening, mentioning all the company had done for the community. A specially designed logo was reproduced everywhere, from lapel pins to point-of-purchase displays.

Employees received embroidered denim shirts, which they wore before the grand opening. Customers shopping at stores all over the city knew something was in the works, so when the big day arrived, Londe reports it was the most successful grand opening Kroger’s ever had. Other touches included a time capsule in the store, medallions, stickers, custom invitations, key chains and five pairs of gold-tone scissors that went home on plaques with the dignitaries who cut the ribbon.

Celebrate Customer Service Week.
Customer service is crucial to any successful business, but it’s also fairly unexciting as a promotable entity. Or is it? Blinn suggests taking an everyday objective and turning it into a week-long celebration, complete with discounts and/or gifts for clients who call in during that week. “This could tie in with the whole total quality management idea,” he says, adding that not only is the firm showcasing its great customer service to the outside, it can also show employees its appreciation for their commitment. Promotional products can run the gamut from mugs and glasses to medallions to notepads and much more.

Join Another Celebration.
Kroger’s strikes again. The grocery chain wasn’t a sponsor of the Atlanta Olympics, but it became just as visible due to the citywide celebrations it held – not to mention the blimp it chartered. But the company didn’t just use the blimp to promote itself; it also lent it to the police department. Not one to let a good PR event go unnoticed, Kroger’s gave all its employees red, white and blue flag-motif shirts embellished with a blimp logo. These were also sold in all Kroger’s stores along with matching hats. “The company celebrated with the city,” says Londe. And the shirts were just the tip of the iceberg; the chain used many other promotional products, including umbrellas, coolers, key tags and lapel pins. A year later, Londe notes, people were still sporting the shirts. Sounds like an anniversary worth celebrating!

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.

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