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Frats & Sororities: Join The Club!

By Michele Bell

If you think members lose interest in their fraternities and sororities after graduation, think again. Alumni memorabilia and promotions are big business - not only as a way to show school spirit for one's alma mater, but as a link to the past.

When Sandy Simons joined his fraternity in college, it was everything he hoped for and more - pledging, rushing, the camaraderie and the lifelong friendships forged among guys who shared the same experiences.

His frat has a rich history at his state college and do all the things that most fraternities and sororities do: welcome parties for new members, receptions at the beginning of each semester for parents; homecoming and holiday parties, spring fling and assorted charity events - both for their houses and the community in general.

Moreover, when frat and sorority members graduate college and become alumni, they often stay rabidly devoted to their brothers and sisters, and come back to socialize at events with new members.

Now while the events held and the wacky themes around them (this is college, after all, where the "luau" reigns supreme) vary according to gender and geography, among other things, one aspect remains consistent: Within the past 10 years, promotional products have become staples for fraternities and sororities to promote their pride.

I Pledge Allegiance…
According to the North-American Interfraternity Conference, today's Greek community consists of 122 different frats and sororities with 12,000 chapters located on 800 college campuses in the U.S. and Canada. They have over 9 million total members who donate more than 10 million hours of volunteer service and $10 million annually.

One of the ways the Greek associations raise money and awareness for their causes and their houses is by using promotional products. And while it used to be just the basics that you'd see - imprinted drinkware and logoed apparel, as the breadth of promotional products has increased at a staggering amount so has the demand by Greeks to supply their devotees with the latest and greatest items to inspire their loyalty and help them hold their memories dear.

If you want your group's marketing effort to be a success, think about what your message is - join us, support us, remember us, etc. - and whom you're targeting. Are you trying to raise money for your organization or the community? Do you want to send generous alumni donors thank-you gifts?

Susan King, a promotional consultant who has been helping fraternities and sororities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey with their marketing needs for more than 10 years, used to be a sorority girl herself. Her advice is that it takes one to know one.

"When you're dealing with sorority sisters and what types of items they'd like to receive, keep in mind that because they're part of a group, they're very trend conscious," King says. "Look to what's hot in retail. For example, when I showed some of the sororities I work with those Tiffany-like silver chain bracelets with the hanging charms, they loved them. When I told them I could have their sororities' Greek letters etched onto the charms, they went nuts."

Now a promotional consultant, Simons works with a lot of fraternities, most of whom found him because of the items he used to get for his frat. Word spread and now this brother does the bulk of his business with frats, thanks to word of mouth.

"There are items that are always going to elicit a great reaction, no matter what," says Simons. "T-shirts, beverage holders, pennants, cups, glasses, Frisbees, mousepads, stadium seat cushions for games and things like that. But when you're looking at fundraising or items for the alumni, then you want to consider more high-end items: Silver and gold money clips and leather billfolds, cufflinks, expensive pens, watches, lapel pins, rings, crystal desk items, etc. The key is that the name of the Greek organization has to be on it - that's the big draw. No one, except possibly sports teams, inspires people to be more publicly loyal. They want to be branded as a member of their frat - it's a matter of pride."

Image Is Everything
As with all successful, effective promotions, King advises frats and sororities to think about whom they're targeting (new members, alumni, the community for support with a charity) and then work with a consultant to pick their promotional products accordingly.

"Let's just say that a sorority wants to give the girls who are in school and the sorority right now a homecoming gift," King says. "I would ask: is the sorority more sports-oriented than a social club? Is their commonality based on religion? Those kinds of questions will dictate what kinds of items you get."

Hypothetically, let's say the group is more social and cheerleader-type in nature. Think Reese Witherspoon's sorority in Legally Blonde. "For this group, I would look at what kinds of things are hot in retail and with supermodels and celebs - these girls love those people and consider them style role models," King notes.

For example, you can't go wrong with crystal vases, photo frames, keepsake boxes, slippers and flip-flops, boxer shorts, scrapbooks and journals and jewelry such as bracelets, anklets and bellybutton rings. Also, think pink - thanks to Paris Hilton and the young fashionistas who prowl the press - this color is gold.

Is the sorority one that's centered around sports? Then how about embroidered velour warm-up suits (knock-offs of the very popular Juicy Couture suits are easier enough to find with the help of your promotional consultant), water bottles, gym bags, rain gear (for practices in inclement weather) and laundry bags.

Are you in charge of buying holiday gifts for your group's alumni? Simons suggests buying according to generation: One item for those under 25 (semi-inexpensive), another for those 25 to 40 (mid-priced) and a third for alumni over 40 as this is the group who's most apt to donate money to the frat.

"Think of it this way," Simons points out. "When you're young, in college and the member of a frat or sorority, you most likely want the name of your house emblazoned on you as much as possible - it's all about letting everyone know you belong and are part of a group. It carries social clout. It's definitely more about wearing than displaying."

But when you graduate, Simons acknowledges, you don't necessarily grow out of that sense of belonging, but it's not the be all and end all of your life. "That's why you look for classier, more refined items with a higher perceived value for alumni - nice items with their Greek logo they can display in their den or office that says, 'Yes, I'm proud to be a part of this group and have fond memories of my days in college with my brothers' not 'Look at me, I peaked when I was the Bluto (John Belushi's obnoxious frat boy prototype in Animal House) of my frat house.'"

COPYRIGHT © 2005 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Michele Bell is the editor of Successful Promotions.

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