The Image GroupThe Image Group

By Jim Walrod

The Problem With Rules

When I joined The Image Group in 2005, the company’s Employee Manual contained a dozen or so pages at most. Today, it is only slightly thinner than my college copy of War and Peace. Before you jump to conclusions, I am not the reason for all the added rules (however, please don’t ask me to discuss our recently implemented travel and entertainment meal per diem). It’s just that, as most companies do, we update our workplace policies to keep up with a changing world.

While I consider myself a law-abiding employee, I’ve been known to question some written and unwritten company rules from time to time. Heck, I’ll even bend some.

For example, the rulebook states that our office hours are 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Those who know me well are familiar with my aversion to being in the office. Why? As a salesperson, my job is to be where my customers are. And the last time I looked, there were zero customers in my office. Mobile technology allows me to stay connected to the office wherever work takes me – and work takes me wherever my customers need me to be.

Here’s another rule I consider “flexible.” Our standard lead-time is five business days. When customers place promotional product orders with The Image Group, it takes us time to process the paperwork, prepare the artwork, receive and decorate the blank items, and ship the finished goods. If all goes according to plan (when does that happen?), it takes an average of five days from start to finish. But customers don’t always have that long to wait. When that’s the case, I’ll find every shortcut I can to speed up the time it takes to get my customers’ orders out the door. Luckily, I know several like-minded rule benders here who can help pull off a rush job.

There are some rules I will never circumvent. For instance, we’re sticklers about product safety around here, especially when it comes to children’s products. I take our safety policies very seriously, and I will never do anything that puts our customers – or their reputations – at risk.

When it comes to providing a positive customer experience, I take our “whatever it takes” philosophy very seriously. And if that means operating within the gray areas of some standard procedures, I’ll gladly ask for forgiveness.

By Justin Herman

Three Generations

You could say that I grew up in the promotional products industry. Both my father and grandfather were in the business, and I followed in their professional footsteps right after college. Needless to say, with today’s online resources, I go to market differently than either my father or grandfather did. And it’s fun for me to compare how the “hot” promotional products have changed through three generations.

My late grandfather, Bob Herman, began selling advertising “premiums” by going door-to-door to area businesses. In his day, popular items included logoed key tags, wall calendars, coffee mugs, cigarette lighters, and ashtrays. He sold messaging buttons to retailers and politicians, and inexpensive pens to everyone. T-shirts, “silk screened” with custom imprints, were his best-selling clothing items. Back then, promotional products were considered novelty items, or what is derogatorily referred to as “trinkets and trash.”

When my dad, Rick Herman, entered the business, branded merchandise was gaining sophistication. Logoed apparel was suddenly fashionable. Golf shirts embroidered with company logos were starting to be commonplace – thanks largely to the workplace casual movement – as were ball caps and outerwear. Novelty items now featured that era’s technology; for instance, I remember my father selling a matchbook that opened to reveal a tiny calculator inside.

Today, my customers want high-tech gadgets that recharge their cell phones and tablets or measure their workout progress. They like wireless speakers and headphones so they can take their music wherever they go without worrying about cords or connectivity. There’s growing demand for environmentally friendly items, such as reusable water bottles. And when it comes to apparel, clients prefer active wear that transitions easily from the gym to the street, and that features cool decorating techniques such as heat seals and debossing.

While many promotional products have stood the test of time (i.e., calendars, screen-printed T-shirts, drinkware), the item hot list continues to evolve. For one thing, packaging is adding a new dimension, bringing opportunities for marketers to engage product recipients and track their return on investment. It’s an exciting time in our industry.

Who knows? Maybe my son, Jack, will one day sell promotional products. In any event, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

By Brian Kingsmore

Who Makes Your Promotional Products?

Question: Do you know who makes the promotional products you buy? In all likelihood, you don’t. But the people who sell them to you better know.

That’s one of the reasons we ask our suppliers to confirm their compliance with safety and social standards by signing our Commitment to Ethical & Responsible Conduct. Patterned after the PPAI Code of Product Responsibility Conduct, the form includes statements on the vendor’s environmental, safety, and quality commitments. But by signing the commitment, suppliers also attest that they do not abuse labor in any way.

I find it hard to believe that, in 2015, promises to refrain from employing underage, indentured, or slave labor are still necessary. And yet, there are manufacturers whose unscrupulous factories require employees to work long hours at unfair pay and in unsafe conditions. According to the United Nation’s International Labour Organization, nearly 21 million people are victims of labor abuse worldwide.

Common types of labor abuse sound like something from a Charles Dickens novel:

Forced Labor is work performed by someone who has not offered his or her efforts voluntarily. Forced labor, or slavery, is most often extracted by use of physical or emotional threat.

Child Labor involves the exploitive employment of kids between the ages of five and 17. Alarmingly, 11 percent of the world’s children in that age group are victims of child labor.

Debt Bondage, or bonded labor, includes forcing people to work to pay a financial obligation – such as accepting employer-provided housing or food – often with open-ended terms. A family’s debt bondage is sometimes passed from one generation to the next.

Fraudulent Contract Labor refers to requiring individuals to sign a work contract with misleading or hard-to-understand legal terms. The contracts often restrict employees from working elsewhere until their alleged commitments expire.

To be sure, most companies who purchase promotional products never consider the possibility that the items they buy might have been manufactured using forced or child labor. But when problems occur, not knowing about labor abuse carries little weight in court – or among public opinion. That’s why it’s important to do business with a company that thoroughly vets its suppliers.

So even if you don’t know who makes the promotional products you buy from The Image Group, rest assured that we’re taking steps to make certain that our vendors meet all international labor standards.

By Vicky Brymer

Call Me Last

Here’s a true story. A client of mine called one day and requested a meeting to discuss an upcoming project. The company was quietly planning for a big announcement and wanted a special promotional product tied to the event. The customer was calling me, she said, because she trusted my discretion and valued my creativity. For those reasons, ours was the only company being given the chance to work on the secret project.

Over the next few weeks, I worked closely with the client to find the perfect item. I spent hours on research and provided custom samples of several products. The customer finally selected a product and promised a purchase order was in the works.

A couple days later I followed up to check the status of the PO and learned that the company had bid out the project after all. They gave my competitors the information for the exact product I had suggested. In fact, they even showed them the spec samples I provided at my expense. With little time, cost, or effort invested in preparing a quote, a competitor under bid me and got the sale.

Anyone in sales can probably relate to this story. I’ve been selling for most of my career and been hoodwinked this way more often than I care to remember. But the occurrences are increasing, which tells me more and more clients are measuring the results of their marketing efforts by cost rather than by success.

Here’s the problem with that approach: Cheaper is not always better. For example, if the promotional products you select are not meaningful to your target audience, the campaign will ultimately fail – and whatever amount you paid will have been too much. A successful campaign is one that achieves your desired results.

At The Image Group, we pride ourselves on giving customers great service, high value, and the benefits of our creative experience. We put in a lot of time, thought, research, and – many times – dollars to make product recommendations that fit each specific project. What matters is return on investment, not how much or how little you spend. The only goal should be getting your message conveyed and influencing your buyers’ behaviors. When dollars are tight for a particular project, we have products at every price point to fit your budget. But let us find the very best product at your price that will maximize your potential return.

Look, I get the whole let’s-negotiate-like-we’re-Wal-Mart philosophy. But if you’re simply shopping for the cheapest price, please call me last. Especially when there’s no creativity or resourcefulness required, I’ll likely beat your best price every time.

But if you value true ROI, you’ll get your money’s worth with me. And I’ll be the last marketing supplier you’ll ever need to call.

By Jim Walrod

The Importance of Marketing Goals

When I was a junior golfer in high school, I came home from a tournament one day disappointed in my play. I don’t remember where I placed in the competition, just that my score was higher than I had hoped. So I set my mind on becoming a better golfer.

I jotted down a score I hoped to shoot someday (33 for nine holes). I folded up the paper and stored it away in my wallet and, for the next several weeks, I carried that goal with me wherever I went. And with my aspiration ingrained in my mind, I focused more during both practice and play. It wasn’t long before I shot my target score.

Today, I use personal goals to inspire my work as a salesperson. For one thing, I set a target sales number at the beginning of each year and strive to achieve it. I credit goal setting for my success at The Image Group, where I’ve been named Salesperson of the Year three years in a row.

I firmly believe that companies can similarly benefit by setting goals for their marketing efforts. By that I mean they should determine specific outcomes they hope to get, and then measure their results.

For example, when customers tell me they need advertising to increase their sales, I ask what exactly they require to grow sales. Do they need more foot traffic in their stores, or more visitors to their website? Do they need higher name recognition to stand out in a crowded marketplace? Do they need to reach a certain age demographic?

With answers to questions such as those, I can help clients establish measurable goals for their marketing. Then I can recommend advertising approaches aimed at achieving those objectives. Finally I can help them allocate their marketing budgets effectively.

Renowned chemist F. Albert Cotton said, “The most important thing about having goals is having one.” If you need help setting – or achieving – your marketing goals, I’d be happy to help.

By Brian Kingsmore

How Sticky Is Your Marketing?

In his bestselling book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses a concept he calls “the stickiness factor.” Simply put, stickiness refers to a way we remember things, whether it’s learning the alphabet as small children or becoming interested in brands by seeing television commercials over and over. Gladwell points out that, in both cases, repetition plays an important part.

I happen to be a big Gladwell fan, and I couldn’t help thinking about promotional products while reading about the stickiness factor. Research from our industry shows that promotional products have a built-in repetition feature.

Take logoed bags as an example. During the two years the average recipient keeps a branded bag, he or she typically uses it nine times per month. While carrying the bag, the recipient has contact with 111 other people. That equates to 5,700 logo impressions over twenty-four months. How sticky is that?

When it comes to price, promotional products have a lower cost-per-impression than television commercials, newspaper ads, and radio spots. And branded merchandise has a recall rate between 15 and 50 percent higher than TV, print, or online ads.

It seems clear to me that promotional products can tip your marketing in the right direction.

By Justin Herman

Marketing From A-Z

During my sophomore year in college, a memorable assignment for a marketing strategy class taught me the importance of approaching every client project from a wide perspective. The project involved developing a complete, A-Z marketing campaign for a hypothetical product – from initial launch to showing a profit. Having grown up around my family’s promotional product business, I knew the importance that branded merchandise plays in marketing. But this simple school task stands out for revealing how various marketing elements interrelate.

Customers often ask me to show them the newest or hottest promotional item. I’m always happy to accommodate that request, but I like to inquire about their overall marketing strategy first.

Case in point: Not long ago, a restaurant chain wanted to purchase a trendy polo shirt for their managers to wear as uniforms. Knowing that the chain’s advertising touted its longstanding reputation for high quality, I cautioned them that the polo they requested has a tendency to wear out rather quickly. How would it look, I asked, for their managers to wear frayed shirts in their upscale restaurants? I was able to provide them a stylish yet durable shirt that reflected their advertised commitment to excellence.

By understanding our customers’ total marketing strategy, all of us at The Image Group are able to recommend logoed merchandise that not only makes the grade – it helps our clients accomplish their business goals and objectives.

By Vicky Brymer

Your Logo Curators

While redesigning The Image Group’s business cards a while ago, our creative team thought we could generate additional interest by including brief job descriptions on the back. Those of us interested in participating were asked to write a short statement summing up our roles. As a result, here is what appears on the back of my card:

Vicky Brymer is our Logo Curator…she treats every logo like a work of art.

The word curator derives from the Latin word curare, which means, “to care.” And, yes, I see it as my duty to care for the logos customers entrust with me. You see, here at The Image Group, we’re responsible for understanding each client’s logo and branding guidelines – and for rejecting any orders that fall short of meeting those standards.

For my part, I must know the PMS colors, acceptable sizes, minimum clear space, and allowable uses for all my customers’ logos. You might be surprised to learn that my clients’ end users frequently call upon me to advise them about their own logos’ proper usage. I work hand-and-hand with their brand teams on custom orders, oftentimes reviewing questionable requests and determining whether or not it’s appropriate to continue with the order. Then once an order is completed, it’s up to me to ensure that The Image Group has correctly imprinted the logo.

So, while my unofficial title is on the back of my card, your trust is at the front of my mind.

As self-professed Logo Curators, all of us at The Image Group are committed to protecting your brand’s integrity and consistency. You might not consider your logo a masterpiece, but we certainly do.

By Jim Walrod

Practically a Doctor

A few years ago, I attended an industry trade show in Las Vegas. At the end of a long day, a group of colleagues from various companies were discussing our jobs. When my turn came to talk about my role at The Image Group, I said, “I’m practically a doctor.”

My new friends rightfully scoffed at that statement, wondering how I could associate selling branded merchandise with being a physician. Doctors, I explained, alter the way people feel. “And I,” I added, “alter people’s attitudes one promotional product at a time.”

I’ve received quite a bit of good-natured ribbing for that declaration over the years, mostly from my coworkers at The Image Group. And at the risk of setting myself up for more mocking, I’d like to point out one similarity between practicing medicine and selling promotional products.

Probably the most critical aspect of a physician’s job is diagnosing an ill patient’s condition. Overlooking or misinterpreting a symptom could lead to the wrong treatment – or worse. For that reason, doctors must ask probing questions to learn what is truly ailing their patients.

The ability to diagnose is also helpful in sales to ascertain what customers want and need. Without properly understanding how my clients expect to benefit from their promotional product purchases, I could recommend they buy the wrong item. Only by uncovering their symptoms (their marketing “pain points,” if you will) can I prescribe the right solutions for them.

So, no, I’m not really “practically a doctor.” But I am committed to curing your marketing ailments, and the prognosis is very good.




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The Problem With Rules
Three Generations
Who Makes Your Promotional Products?
Call Me Last
The Importance of Marketing Goals
How Sticky Is Your Marketing?
Marketing From A-Z
Your Logo Curators
Practically a Doctor