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Promotional Pillow Gifts

Pillow Gifts Are Memorable Motivators
By Jay Levin

Pillow gifts can do a lot to enhance attendees' experiences at a meeting, special event or on an incentive trip. A pillow gift is anything left in an attendees' room (and not necessarily on the pillow) as a token of appreciation from the firm or group sponsoring an event. Depending on the occasion, it may be edible or inedible, wearable or nonwearable, serious or humorous, generic or destination-specific. It can be given at the beginning of the meeting as a welcome, at the end as a farewell, or every day.

It can reinforce the message of the meeting or give people a memento of the event. "A pillow gift is certainly not imperative," says Howard Henry, executive director of the Incentive Federation Research Foundation, "but it is well received and a good morale-raiser."

What They Do
Pillow gifts reinforce the relationship between the person taking part in a meeting/trip and the organization sponsoring it. They're a form of communication designed to express thanks or appreciation and, in that respect, are often promotional products. They can telegraph the next day's activities or offer a hint of where next year's meeting will be held. For pillow gifts to be effective, there should be a rhyme and reason to them. Some typical examples:

Upon checking into their room, attendees may find a basket of fruit, bottle of wine, or plate of cookies. An imprint can go on the container or an engraved card. Matthew Randall, a meeting services specialist, recalls a meeting in Tucson, AZ, where the welcome gift was a sombrero-shaped ceramic platter filled with tortilla chips and salsa. It served as a welcome to the Southwest and souvenir of the destination.

These gifts are meant for attendees to use during their stay. For a beach locale, a tote or basket filled with, say, logoed sunblock, visor, sandals and sunglasses is an appreciated gesture. Your counselor can even provide foam-rubber beach sandals with corporate logos cut into the soles so wearers leave a trail of logos in the sand.

Chocolates, slippers, or a nice mug filled with assorted teas can all deliver comfort to attendees while away from home. Counselor Robert Turnauckas thinks pre-paid phonecards are a nice pillow gift. "You're away from home, perhaps on an incentive trip, and you want to [stay in touch with] your loved ones," he explains.

These anticipate planned events for the meeting and can help pace the program. The night before a golf tournament, for example, a basket with a sleeve of golf balls, golf towel and other golf aids - all bearing the sponsor's logo might be left in attendees' rooms with a handwritten tee-time reminder. A nautical gift could refer to the following day's dinner cruise. On incentive trips, firms often leave gifts that reflect the next year's destination to motivate salespeople early on.

Higher-end pillow gifts are often left during incentive trips or particularly grueling meetings as a token of additional thanks and recognition for attendees and their spouses. Ideally, these should be a reflection of how your firm views itself. An example might be a piece of crystal or a shelf clock.

Local Flavor
Nearly anything can be a pillow gift, but it often means more when it's locally made, or, more practically, destination-specific. Food is the easiest item here; everything from Texas barbecue sauce to Goo Goo Clusters to Vermont maple syrup is available from your counselor. Attendees literally take home a taste of the destination.

Laurie Wiese, a promotional destination-management specialist in Hawaii, says gift baskets containing Kona coffee, macadamia nut products and locally grown fruits like papayas, bananas, and pineapples are popular giveaways for meeting groups. Again, imprinting can be on coffee or nut packaging, or via a card. More high-end items include plates, boxes and other handicrafts made from koa, an indigenous wood.

In New Orleans, food baskets usually contain hot sauce, Creole and/or Cajun seasonings, chicory coffee (a mug is a nice added touch), beignet mix, dirty rice mix and the like. Nonfood pillow gifts can include Cajun cookbooks, Mardi Gras-style masks, beads, voodoo dolls and so on.

Pillow gifts are also an area where meeting or incentive planners can display real resourcefulness. For a recent sales incentive trip to the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in California, Martha Fetter, senior meeting planner for Travelers Insurance Co., commissioned a local artist to capture the coastline on canvas. The work was turned into five-by-seven-inch prints, signed and framed, which were presented to the 250 attendees.

Consider Costs
With so many items suitable for pillow gifts, it's not surprising they run the gamut of price-points. One Tennessee-themed basket, for instance, contained two Goo Goo Clusters, two miniature bottles of Jack Daniels whiskey, a package of cornmeal mix, a recipe pamphlet, a cookie cutter and hot pepper jelly. Total cost: about $15. Things like crystal and leather, of course, cost more.

In formulating a budget for pillow gifts, you need to know how many attendees are expected, whether spouses are coming (and if they'll get separate gifts), and if gifts will be given just once or several times. Also, take into account delivery costs and those associated with shipping gifts home for attendees.

Logo Logistics
The hotel staff, not you, deliver pillow gifts to attendees' rooms. Nonfood gifts are handled by the bell staff, food gifts by the room-service staff. Just be aware that hotels charge for this service and, like most meeting-related expenses, it's subject to negotiation. Florida's Boca Raton Resort & Club charges $1 per delivery, the standard rate, says spokesperson Chuck Smith. Gratuities are at the discretion of the meeting planner. Obviously, the cost can run to several hundred dollars - more if gifts are given every day. Be sure to budget for this expense.

Tell the staff exactly how you want the gifts presented and when you want them delivered. Pillow gifts should always be dropped off when attendees aren't in their rooms (i.e., during meeting sessions or dinner). Logoed apparel should be laid out on the bed, neatly folded. Small items can be placed directly on the pillow. Food baskets are best left on a table.

Pondering Portability
If the pillow gift you plan to leave seems too heavy or unwieldy to take back on an airplane, it may not be the best choice. Portability is always key. Henry recalls a finely crafted, wide-brimmed cowboy hat he tried "every which way" to pack, but ended up leaving behind. Coffee-table books with color photos of a picturesque destination are a super remembrance, but they often weigh several pounds. Ditto clocks, crystal and the like.

But there's an easy solution: Arrange to ship the items from the hotel to the attendees' homes - and tell them so via an enclosed card. It's an incredibly appreciated gesture, one that will likely be remembered for a long time. Just be sure to budget for it.

If you plan to give several small pillow gifts during the course of the meeting, a sturdy tote emblazoned with your company logo or conference theme is a thoughtful final gift. If your gift might be damaged in transit, be sure attendees also get a suitable transport container. For instance, a mailing tube should accompany a poster or print.

For some clients whose budgets were limited, counselor James Tiffany sidestepped the portability issue by leaving a card describing the pillow gift in each room. "We tell people that the vase, or whatever, will be at their home on their return," he says. "That way we don't add four pounds to their luggage."

Pillow gifts are relatively easy to use, but can be amazingly effective in helping solve several business goals.

Just ask your counselor.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Jay Levin is a freelance writer based in Teaneck, NJ

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