Over spring break, I attended the music festival South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. According to the website, the SXSW conferences and festivals “offer the unique convergence of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies.” In other words, it’s a chance for a music-lover like myself to go wild on an overload of free and amazing shows for almost 24 hours a day. Thousands of Austin residents and outside visitors flood the city for the event. Needless to say, it’s a great PR opportunity for companies across the nation to connect to distinct, dense audiences all in one location.
PR professionals definitely took advantage of this opportunity. Along with the usual means of promotion, such as flyers, stands and billboards, I saw a very interesting collection of promotional items and hand-outs throughout the day, such as sunglasses, stickers, pins, drinks, cups and more, as a part of many companies’ and organizations’ PR plans.
The PR side of my brain started working as soon as I saw those free promotional items. People were just throwing them at me out on the street. As they shoved pairs of sunglasses into my hands, they would should shout,“You can’t say no to free!”
Many times I felt no recognition when I viewed the logo and was unsure of what product the brand was associated with. This lack of connection brought to my attention a major flaw in the idea of throwing free promotional items at the public. Many times these items lack connection to the brand and one of an organization’s main goals should be brand recognition with its publics.
I think PR practitioners have to make an effort to not rely on the idea that “any promotion is good promotion.” There still needs to be effort behind it with the driving goal of making the public understand where the free item is coming from, what the brand offers and why they should care.
Free promotional items can, in fact, be very successful. For example, in PR Couture’s Blog “Diary of a Fashion PR Intern: Streetwear Fashion Tips”, guest blogger Hadiyah Daché wrote that free promotional items were one of the main reasons for the success of her first client, Plush .357.
“Ironically, promotional items such as stickers and buttons played a large part in the PR success as well,” Daché wrote. “It got to the point where stickers and t-shirts became collectibles.”
Near the end of her blog she gave advice about the use of free promotional items and encouraged PR practitioners to make those free items personal with the help of word-of-mouth.
“Stickers, buttons, free shirts, graffiti, pens, hats, heck anything considered a “promotional item” is definitely your friend,” Daché wrote. “Give the public a memento and encourage them to pass it along to their friends. These items keep your name in the public and makes your brand easy to recognize!”
Free promotional items are great. I’ve never had to spend much money on pens, notepads, stress balls or USB drives because of it. Still, remember that there is a message and purpose behind these free items. Make sure your audience knows the brand that is imprinted on the item and understands the message behind the brand and the gesture of a free item. Meanwhile, keep on enjoying all of those free handouts!
Originally posted on PROpenMic.