Hi. New here? Click to learn about us

<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/strict.dtd">

Promotional Products for Corporate Transitions

By Tonia Cook Kimbrough

Is change on your corporate horizon? Sharing the news among employees, clients and the general public isn’t always easy, especially because of the fear and apprehension involved. Here’s how Promotional products can help create a smooth transition ...

It’s an old saying: The devil is in the details. And at no time is that more true than when a company’s making an announcement that involves change. “Communication and company image are critical in any transition,” says promotional consultant Charles Cochrane. Whether a company is undergoing something as simple as a name change or as complicated as a merger/acquisition, the way the transition takes place has the power to shape the perception of an operation for years.

Whose perception? You name it. Employees, customers, investors, vendors, media contacts, community leaders – anyone and everyone a firm touches. Therefore, how a company manages a transition (i.e., how it communicates about change and its effect) is critical. Cochrane advises firms to create a promotion using high-quality promotional products to set the right tone for the occasion. But beware: Products must be carefully chosen because they often become symbolic of how a company views change.

Reassuring Employees
When AT&T purchased cable TV giant TCI, it needed to reassure 30,000 plus TCI employees in 250 locations nationwide that their jobs were secure. AT&T’s plans were to keep TCI intact, but employees needed to understand that, as well as feel embraced by the new corporate parent. Clearly, crafting and sending the message to such a large audience would require a lot of attention to detail.

After brainstorming with counselor Bob Davis, AT&T decided to use a thermochromatic mug with a matching ceramic coaster. One side of the mug featured a special graphic of a cable encircling the world with the AT&T and TCI logos, along with the phrase, “The Best of Both Worlds.” The flip-side changed graphics when a hot beverage was poured into the mug. The TCI logo, imprinted below a blacked-out computer monitor, would vanish – and an AT&T logo would then appear on the screen. The mugs were distributed with a presentation folder and a personal letter from the company president welcoming new employees.

“[AT&T] liked the idea of the permanence of the mug – the fact that it would sit on people’s desks and be used regularly,” Davis notes. “Beyond that, the heat-sensitive imprint was an excellent way to convey the message they wanted to get across.”

Another tip: The earlier a company alerts its workforce to impending change, the better. When the cellular division of U.S. West was to be merged with AirTouch Cellular, both companies knew it would be important to inform employees immediately and consistently throughout the transition. They also wanted to approach the change in a light-hearted, positive way to help build anticipation and excitement.

The campaign centered on a “Brand Launch,” which began by sending employees cookies arranged on an imprinted serving tray. As the cookies were eaten, the AirTouch logo was revealed. In addition, note cubes were distributed to office employees. The cubes were designed so that as employees used the notepaper the old company name was replaced with the new company’s “brand” name. Employees who traveled received yet another gift: insulated travel mugs with a package of “Brand Launch Blend” coffee. Each gift reinforced the idea of the new “brand” the employees were actively involved with.

Making Introductions
Employees may not be the only constituents to whom a new corporate brand or parent should be introduced. New ownership isn’t always a well-known name, particularly if a group of investors is involved. In such cases it’s important to educate staff, customers, investors, the media and even vendors about the organization that’s taking over.

One firm recently faced this situation following an acquisition. To familiarize its acquired family with itself and its other holdings, the company used cookie jars and candies. The jars, which were imprinted with the new parent company’s logo, contained chocolates individually wrapped with foil. The wrappers were each imprinted with a different subsidiary’s name. They could be seen through the glass jar, symbolically illustrating how all the companies were parts of one big whole – the parent buyout firm. The jar was sent to employees, investors, advisors, clients, vendors – anyone the acquisition might affect.

Building New Teams
Mergers and acquisitions, as well as downsizings and restructurings, usually result in reconfigured or combined teams of employees.

Fujitsu Network Communications needed to pull two sales forces into a single unit after a corporate merger. The firm’s national sales meeting was the logical place to start shaping the team. A “Spring Training” promotion was created to get the message across and was carried out in detail both before and during the event.

First, luggage tags shaped like baseballs announced the meeting several weeks in advance. At the meeting, salespeople received binders, pens, baseball caps, name tags, baseball-shaped self-adhesive notes and baseball-themed shirts, all packed in high-quality Fujitsu-logoed briefcases. Pennants decorated the meeting areas, along with life-sized posters of executives in baseball uniforms. Even snacks – little chocolate baseballs – stuck to the theme.

Preventing Culture Shock
Often, it’s not a merger/acquisition but a new management structure or dramatic shift in the marketplace that requires companies to change their internal culture. In such circumstances, educating and retraining employees is crucial to remaining competitive.

Bell Atlantic was faced with this challenge in the 1980s, when Bell Telephone was broken into “Baby Bells.” The smaller companies began to compete based on what the customer dictated – a concept foreign to an environment that previously didn’t face competition or worry so much about the customer taking his business elsewhere.

Bell executives knew the change required a whole new mindset for 70,000 employees. To emphasize quality service, it launched an incentive program, beginning with seminars to foster creativity and teamwork. Each participating employee received a blue gaming chip imprinted with, “The Bell Atlantic Way.”

Bell Atlantic used the idea of blue-chip stock to symbolize a successful, stable company. Recipients were encouraged to carry the chips with them as reminders to provide blue-chip-level service. After the seminar, employees received another chip embedded in a Lucite paperweight with the imprint: “Our Values – Integrity, Respect & Trust, Excellence, Individual Fulfillment, Profitable Growth.”

Corporate structure and identity also evolve with the times, sometimes sparking internal change. Such was the case recently when freight forwarder Union-Transport changed its name to UTi. “It felt that the original name was indicative of an organization that just transported goods from one point to another,” says promotional consultant Barbara Dail. “It wanted a logo that would express the true capabilities of the company. The new name denotes integration, the Internet, implementation and information.”

Obviously, UTi had a lot to communicate with its new name. The September 2000 “unveiling” was to showcase the company as a global supply-chain solution, providing not only air/ocean freight forwarding services, but customs brokering and postponement warehousing as well. In addition the kickoff came on the heels of several key changes in senior corporate and regional management, including the appointment of a new CEO.

UTi had to reach 450 offices in over 135 countries and rally them under the new banner. The company organized a party at each office, inviting vendors and clients to help celebrate the change. With Dail’s help, imprinted balloons decorated the events, and mugs and lapel pins sporting the new UTi logo were distributed. In addition, an Internet-based company store was launched, offering a range of desk accessories and UTi-branded apparel for purchase either by employees themselves or for managerial use as staff incentives and customer gifts.

Choosing Products
As the above example shows, imprinted merchandise can be very useful in introducing change. The goal, says Dr. Marjorie Cooper, professor of marketing at Baylor University, is to “keep morale up, rumor down and enlist support.”

Cochrane steers companies toward useful items, explaining, “It’s important the product stay on the desk so it can provide easy reference.” Pens, mugs, coasters and mousepads are all typical examples. Imprinted with a new company logo, phone number or contact name, the products become instant reminders for customers.

Cochrane also advises using embroidered apparel and bags as employee gifts. The benefit is twofold: “They provide name recognition, both internally at the workplace and also outside the office. The goals of all these products is to help consumers reach the ‘new’ company, promote name recognition and instill company pride in new employees.”

Keep the following tips in mind when choosing products:
  1. Look for product tie-ins that make sense and are appropriate. Purchasing lavish gifts after announcing a downsizing, for example, sends the wrong message. But a small gift imprinted with a message of appreciation for those picking up the slack can be a nice gesture, especially when accompanied by a personal letter from management.

  2. Use products as incentives to encourage feedback. Circulate a questionnaire asking about employee concerns or suggestions and include pens or pencils imprinted with the message, “Your opinion matters.” Be sure to follow up on any feedback.

  3. Reinforce positive messages with products and slogans. For example, an imprinted chalkboard might denote a “blank slate” to create a strong future together. A customized game could announce a “new game plan.” Clocks and watches suggest “timely” change. A fruit basket says, “a fresh start.” Seed packets send news of growth via a merger – “Let’s grow together.” A cap with a new parent company’s logo says, “Welcome to the team.”
“Promotional products can get people’s attention when the right thing is selected,” Cooper says. “[They’re] a small way – a symbolic gesture – of communicating a change in a positive manner.”

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Tonia Cook Kimbrough, CAS, is a contributing editor of Imprint.

Search our promotional products - click here!