The promotional merchandise industry has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
No events, the closure of hospitality, and non-essential retail coupled with disruption in supply have pushed many companies to the edge. Many clients have reduced, or withdrawn marketing budgets until the future seems more certain.
As the sector emerges from the most challenging period in its history, its long-term survival seems to depend on innovation.
What’s come down in price?
The prices of products, already in stock before and during the pandemic, have come down. Importers and wholesalers are discounting in an effort to liquidate existing stocks. Warehouses are full, cash flow has been disrupted, and physical space is needed for new product lines.
Face masks, sanitisers, and other associated personal care products are now all over-supplied. Pricing, for these items, has crashed.
Many local printers, embroiderers, and engravers (the guys who brand the imported stock) have seen a huge reduction in turnover. They are forced to operate expensive machinery which has to be located in commercial premises. Their business model relies on a consistent volume of production. Many cannot afford to discount as they operate on such tight margins to begin with, but some are offering free delivery or no origination charge.
What’s gone up in price?
Prices for new products are higher than was envisaged. Pricing for the replenished supply of existing lines has also increased. In short, if it wasn’t in stock before COVID, it is more expensive!
The cost of some raw materials has increased, or at least has been volatile, during the pandemic. Labor capacity was reduced for a period, either due to local lockdowns or because factories switched production to other types of products such as PPE.
Most notably COVID’s disruption of the global supply chain has significantly impacted shipping costs. There has been a shortage of shipping containers (many are full of PPE and stuck in the wrong place) and some seaports have been short-staffed. Airfreight capacity has been reduced as a proportion is carried in the holds of passenger planes. Put another way, canceled passenger schedules mean less freight capacity. All this means that shipping stuff from A to B now costs more.
Brexit has created some minor import delays but more cost for the exporters. Getting products into the U.K., from centralised E.U. warehouses, is now much more complicated and, predictably, that complication equals cost. Brexit is expensive.
So price volatility and general Inflation is set to make quoting and budgeting more problematic for everyone.
The sad truth is that many merchandise, event, and associated suppliers will not survive the next 12 months.
The events industry is sure to rise from the ashes and may even be stronger and more innovative than before. Changing attitudes to air travel (and higher prices) might push clients to create a greater number of more localised events. Maybe the ‘event tour’ will become more common, taking the message to the audience rather than expecting the audience to fly in their thousands to one central location to hear it. This would harm the massive multiple hall venues but benefit the smaller ones.
Many merchandise wholesalers and importers have been strategically naive in their over-reliance on Chinese production. Changing the ‘China’ mindset will take time. Sourcing a wide range of products, with the right eco-credentials for the right price will take years. Those suppliers who don’t recognise their vulnerability in this area will surely fail. Yet the challenge of weaning ourselves off of Chinese production, and environmentally damaging products, also represents a tremendous opportunity.
Brexit and COVID have been a double-whammy for the merchandise and events industry. COVID will pass, but the true economic impact of Brexit may not become apparent for a decade. It’s widely accepted that in the medium to long term, the U.K.’s growth (excluding any COVID bounce back) will be lower and debt much, much higher.
- Old stock and PPE are cheap, new stock is more expensive.
- Delivery of new stocks has been delayed, but the situation with supply chains is improving.
- It will take years for the promotional merchandise sector to recover from the effects of the pandemic.
- The sector has to reorganise its supply chain in light of geopolitics and climate change.
What’s attractive about hybrid-working for the employer?
Large office buildings are expensive to rent and operate. Having one central location can leave an organisation more vulnerable to disruption.
Businesses need flexibility; being asked to sign a long lease that commits you to a fixed-sized building is, increasingly, an unattractive option.
The truth is, that many 20th century assumptions about how a business should operate are being debunked.
Technology has changed everything. There will be no going back.
What’s attractive about hybrid-working for the employee?
Long commutes, long hours in the office, a ‘shirt and tie’, flying there-and-back in a day for a 1-hour meeting; is that really the smart way to work?
Achieving a work-life balance matters to the young. They don’t care about being seen to be the last to leave the office at the end of the day. Attitudes have changed.
When you work, and where you work, now matters less. The Monday-to-Friday-nine-to-five routine is old-hat. Many now work part-time, or on short-term contracts, or no contract at all. For better or worse, weekdays and weekends are less defined. When it comes to time, employers and employees have to give and take.
Flexibility is as attractive to some as pay. People increasingly value their mental and physical health. The old status symbols of house and car are becoming less important; houses are too expensive for most to ever own and cars pollute and depreciate. This is not 1980. People want a life, not just stuff.
Today’s graduates will be forced to work for more years than their parents and grandparents did. That is of course unless automation or AI renders their job redundant – but then they will just retrain and adapt. The concept of ‘a job for life’ died last century. Many will have multiple careers.
All of these factors point to a future when the relationship between work and life is very different from before. The Religion of Workism is heading for its Reformation.
Who’s moving to a hybrid-working model?
The U.K. Civil Service and Standard Chartered Bank are amongst the lastest converts to a more flexible approach to ‘work’. Their staff can now pick and choose where to work via a network of local serviced office spaces which span the globe. Twitter Inc. has told its staff that they can work from home forevermore if that’s what they want. Many more companies are following suit.
Start-ups have, for many years, started life in flexible shared office environments. It seems likely that, rather than scale up (at great cost) to their own dedicated buildings, some will want to retain the financial flexibility and locality they already enjoy.
Countries too are adapting to attract the hybrid-worker. Croatia moved to allow remote workers to settle temporarily during the pandemic and other countries offer residency packages to attract young, highly skilled workers. If your personal ‘product’ is intellectual – as opposed to physical – the world really is your oyster!
Marketing operations for the hybrid-working model
Ultimately humans are social animals. Not everyone has enjoyed working from home during the pandemic and of course, not everyone can work from home. But that aside, the likelihood is that your audience, whether it be clients or colleagues, will be located in more locations than before.
Physical events will return, although various factors are likely to mean that they may become smaller, more numerous, and much more localized. Face-to-face meetings may, in themselves, become more event-like.
International business travel is likely to become much more expensive as governments punish, by way of taxation, regular usage of the polluting methods for transport.
All of this points to the need to ship marketing collateral, in smaller quantities, to a much greater number of locations.
So what does that mean for your operation?
Well, either you create an in-house logistics operation, with all the associated costs and commitments, or you outsource your requirements to a third party.
If, as most tend to do, you go down the outsourcing route, you need to be sure of a few things;
- Will the third party keep your data safe?
- Does the third party offer a carbon-neutral shipment option?
- Does the third party use environmentally friendly packaging where possible?
- Will the third party manage all shipping-related queries and issues? i.e. customs, duty, and returns.
Managing logistics is time-consuming. Having the resources to store and pack lots of parcels is expensive; if you are unsure as to what the cost really is, just ask your CFO.
- What ‘working’ and ‘at work’ means has changed and will continue to change.
- Increasingly, marketing collateral will need to be shipped, in smaller quantities, to a larger number of locations.
- Managing more shipments involves sharing data and making sure your activity is environmentally friendly.
Looking for someone to manage your marketing operations? check out our Services page.
Hemp fabric is made from Cannabis Sativa fibre. It may come as a disappointment for some but no, we have not introduced a range of psychoactive promotional items!
Hemp was one of the first natural materials to be spun into usable fibre 50,000 years ago.
Hemp is one of the fastest-growing plants on earth, it’s possible to produce 5-10 tons of fibre pulp per acre in 4 months.
Hemp cultivation requires a relatively small amount of water (half as much as cotton), and there’s no need to use chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Hemp helps to suppress weeds and can be grown in different climates.
Hemp farming is also efficient. Hemp seeds are used to make oil and food supplements, with the stalks used for fibre. Industrially grown hemp plants absorb more carbon dioxide than trees.
Hemp can be refined into a variety of product types, including paper, rope, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food, and animal feed.
Is hemp environmentally friendly?
Yes, it’s a flexible natural product that is grown throughout the world without harming the environment. Shipping hemp products over great distances isn’t environmentally friendly, although a ‘green shipping’ industry is beginning to emerge.
You can view our ‘hemp’ promotional items here https://rosslyn.co.uk/s/?search=hemp&submit=Find
Open and fair
Lot’s of products purport to be environmentally friendly. This post forms part of a series that attempts to provide an open and honest assessment of a material or product’s environmental credentials. If we’ve got something wrong, or you would like to see further points added, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Humans are social animals – events will return!
In fact, post-COVID, physical events may become more frequent, albeit smaller and more localised, than before. People really do need to get out and socialise!
Large international gatherings – tens of thousands of people wandering around giant halls – face a more uncertain future. Sure, it’s nice to get away from the office for a few days but what about the impact of the flights on the environment and all that downtime! Maybe the ‘EXPO’ is now an old format?
A ‘tour’ of smaller, localised events – taking the message to where the customer is – may prove more effective for many businesses.
Customer-focused events may also become more popular. Instead of trying to pitch to a crowd, many of whom are not serious prospects, maybe it makes more sense to ‘set-up-shop’ for a day at the customer’s site. This is a great way to follow the old commercial maxim that – ‘it’s more cost-effective to win more business from your existing clients than it is to win business from new clients’.
And then there’s the virtual event. Sure, it allowed for a continuation of activity during lockdown but virtual events – essentially a video telephone call to a large group of people – are inherently homogeneous, one strangely seems to blend into another. The opposite effect, in fact, that events typically seek to achieve.
Vaccination programmes should mark the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though there are likely to be false starts and setbacks, slowly the events industry will emerge from near extinction.
So today there is light at the end of the tunnel, but don’t expect to find ‘life before COVID’ when you reach it. Minds have been changed and traditional activities questioned. Pre-existing trends have been massively accelerated. The 9-5 Monday to Friday standard is on its way out. For many, life and work, home and going somewhere else to meet, will merge into one fluid process spanning four days not five.
2021 is likely to be a roller-coaster ride; Q1 and Q2 should see Brexit, Biden and some vaccination alone. Maybe Q3 and 4 will offer a little more certainty with 2022 feeling relatively settled.
It seems appropriate to live life in constant anticipation of change.
And yet, one constant remains, humans will be…well, human.
So you have the concept, in fact, you’ve already run similar campaigns in other territories. Now all you need is a partner who can replicate and execute your plan for the EMEA region.
You’re in the right place! and here are some examples of projects we’ve managed;
Client: All-flash data storage hardware manufacturer, summer end-user promotion
Fulfilment requirement: Design and source a retail quality beach towel and custom shape power bank. Package with a covering letter, translated into the appropriate local language, and deliver to individuals located throughout Europe. Each delivery to arrive within a set delivery window. Provide an on-line delivery report confirming ‘signed for’ date, manage any data issues, courier or customs queries and subsequent returns.
Notes: The beach towel was custom manufactured in Portugal. The power bank, which was designed to mimic the shape of the product the client sort to promote, was custom manufactured in Shenzen, China.
Client: Marketing automation app provider, agency partner promotion
Fulfilment requirement: Source and brand a teapot, teacup and tin of tea and package with a well-known brand packet of biscuits. Place into a mailing carton along with personalised literature. Mail to marketing agencies throughout Europe. Report and manage accordingly.
Notes: A U.S. company, with its principle marketing contact based in Johannesburg, we worked to pull together this project quickly. The product came from Poland, print and food sourced locally in the UK.
Client: Cloud data management company, end-user demand generation
Fulfilment requirement: Replicate and execute a U.S. demand generation campaign throughout Europe, the Middle East and South America. Create a fully customised mailing box, insert a printed card and an empty sunglasses case to create a small mailing pack. Mail to individuals located throughout Europe. Report and manage accordingly.
Notes: The central message of the campaign was ‘give us a sales meeting, and we’ll send you a pair of Ray-Bans to go into this empty case’. We then fulfilled the Ray-Bans directly to individuals who had subsequently agreed to a meeting. The client is U.S. based, with the project being jointly managed by their offices in Amsterdam and Palo Alto.
In addition to these examples, we’ve created ‘new starter’ kits for a rapidly expanding U.S. software company. For a major British based legal firm, we produced and delivered ‘launch gift packs’ to every member of staff, across 18 locations worldwide, to celebrate a corporate re-brand.
If you would like to discuss a potential requirement, please get in touch. email@example.com
Of course, many worked from home during the lockdown, and some will stay working there, but over time most will return to the place they left months beforehand.
Some appear to be relaxed in a world without a vaccine, but many are less so. Never before have people taken so much interest in personal hygiene in the workplace and, with the possibility of a second wave of infections, what they can do to protect themselves.
We have created a range of ‘new normal’ products, all of which can be branded, to help your organization remind and protect staff and visitors alike. Furthermore, why not send this type of item to your home-workforce or customers. If you don’t have the resources to manage fulfilment, to lots of people, we can help with that too.
You can view our new normal products here https://rosslyn.co.uk/g/new-normal-safety-products/
Face to face meetings will return, it’s just a case of when.
In the meantime, Zoom and other video conferencing systems have become part of everyday life for millions. Previously the preserve of large, or advanced organisations – now your waving grandmother, bedecked in her Sex Pistols baseball cap, appears as if by magic. Zoom is here to stay and that changes a lot.
If you enjoyed business travel you probably ought to consult your doctor. At the best of times, it was bearable, most of the time it was just – well – a bit crap.
Getting on aeroplanes and going to faraway places used to be associated with success – ‘oh, they’re sending him to Japan, they must think highly of him’. Nope! he’s just the loser who couldn’t think of a good enough excuse to get out of it or, someone who has personal reasons for being away from home a lot.
The downtown is criminal. Security is a theatrical token gesture, with the whole purpose of the 2-hour pre-flight nightmare being to get you to spend money. Duty-free isn’t as cheap as Amazon. There’s something referred to as ‘food’ on the flight but often no wi-fi.
Nowadays, flights arrive on time. Essentially this is because the airlines have extended the published flight time so they appear punctual. How many times have you heard the pilot say ‘oh we’ve made very good time, ladies and gentleman, due to a tailwind’.
And just as you arrive home, knackered, on a Friday night into a rainy Heathrow you are treated to a delay – because there is nowhere to park the plane – of a length of time approximately equal to the time it took to fly there in the first place.
And what price this jet-set luxury? Well, a business-class ticket, to anywhere further than a train can take you, would buy you a small family hatchback. Alternatively, you could fly cattle-class, joining the hen-party from Wigan and the kid who’s attempting to conduct spinal surgery with his knees. All this and you’re helping to screw the planet as well, yeh!
Until the experience improves, massively, or flight times and omissions are slashed by new technology, business travel is doomed.
So-called ‘meetups’, Zoom forums where teams and audiences interact from the comfort of their own space, will undoubtedly become more popular.
Yes, the people involved will eventually meet up in person but when it comes to regular communication this how they are going to do it. But Zoom meetups do suffer from one negative factor; after a while, they seem to merge into one long homogeneous ‘thing’ you did today.
Being able to follow-up a product launch or training event, soon after its taken place on Zoom, is key. That’s how your brand, or message, is going to cut through. It’s all about redefining the word ‘event’. The principles are the same, the delivery – metaphorically and literally speaking – is different. You have to send your swag and that’s actually a more targetted approach, winning more mindshare, and getting more attention. A tangible follow-up to a meetup is, arguably, more effective than what went before.
We can help you source the product and send it directly to your audience members (via a carbon-offset courier of course) – whether that be to their home or place of work.
I attended the Zoom and got the T-Shirt!
AntiBug® is a surface treatment, based on Silver nanotechnology, which has been clinically proven to kill 99.99% of harmful bacteria within a 24 hour period. What’s more, AntiBug® products can withstand repeated cleaning cycles whilst maintaining antibacterial effectiveness. The controlled release of the active ingredient provides maximum long term activity. AntiBug® protection is available on a range of our bestselling promotional products.
The AntiBug® treatment has been successfully tested against over 50 common organisms such as;
Frequently Asked Questions
Silver is a metallic element, atomic number 47 and chemical symbol Ag. Silver nanotechnology is a proven antimicrobial against a wide range of organisms.
How does it work?
Antimicrobials are added to a product at the time of manufacture. These silver ions then concentrate on the surface of the product and are available to act against any contaminating bacteria. The silver ions bind with the bacteria and damage their cells in a number of ways, disrupting their normal function, stopping them from reproducing and causing them to die.
Is it safe?
Yes – silver technology has low toxicity and is used in a wide range of applications such as implantable devices and skin creams. The antimicrobials are also microns in size, many thousands of times bigger than nanoparticles.
How long does it last?
The AntiBug® treatment will last for the normal life of the product under correct use.
Does it replace cleaning?
The additive is complementary to cleaning practices. The technology continues to work 24 hours a day in between the normal cleaning schedules thus reducing the growth of the microbes preventing them from reaching potentially dangerous levels.
Is the look and feel of the product affected by the AntiBug® treatment?
There will be no change to the characteristics of the product other than achieving antimicrobial efficacy.
Can bacteria become resistant to silver ion technology? Due to the several modes of action silver utilises, it is highly unlikely bacteria will become resistant to the AntiBug® coating.
Does it leach?
No, silver ions do not leach but remain active on the surface of the product.
Then my whole world went zoom. Welcome to the new normal. A place where you have a choice; move forward or look back.
Trade shows, meet-ups, roadshows – you name it, none of that stuff is happening for a while. Right now (May 2020) would you want to share a confined space with lots of other people from other countries? Exactly.
So video conferencing has become the only safe solution for, not only large organisations but friends and families too.
For some, none of this is new. There has long been an army of freelancers and ‘tech’ savvy types mixing work from home with, work from the office, work from StarBucks. For once in my lifetime I was finally free.
Necessity is the mother of invention. It’s a sad fact that wars and pandemics are very often the only events that generate real societal, technological and economic change. Once you’ve found a better, or cheaper, way of doing something, you are unlikely to go back.
The boss of Barclays bank has speculated that the concept of having a large headquarters building may become a thing of the past. Airlines will probably have to cut routes and increase prices. Most retailers simply won’t exist within the next few months. Bang, just one touch and all the church bells rang.
And who will pick up the tab for the eye-watering cost of managing, or dare we say mismanaging, a pandemic? What taxes will need to increase and what effect will those increases have? Will the young be left to ‘carry the can’ as usual or will, for example, ‘inheritance’ taxes rise? After World II, British inheritance tax rose to 80%. Then my whole wide world went zoom.
Here are some questions for you?
- How do you retain mindshare, and brand awareness, when people are not physically visiting a central point of contact?
- Can digital marketing deliver everything? What about SPAM filters, ad blockers, and a general weariness with being followed around the internet by lawnmowers simply because your Google assistant heard you say lawnmower!
- How do you promote brand loyalty, and a sense of community or teamwork, when everyone is remotely located?
- What does it feel like when the nice man brings a box to your door full of useful free stuff?
- Do people have all the stuff they need to work from home?
So here’s the pitch. Gifting, rewarding, promoting – these things are now more important than ever? Disagree? Then just invert that premise – how does that sound? Leveraging goodwill creates a competitive advantage – and boy are we all gonna need some competitive advantage!
Zoom – or whatever you do – then, ask us to send a follow-up to the attendees. We could put a pack of stuff together with a covering letter or card. We could source items which are really useful for people working remotely. Or you could just send a teddy bear for the kids or a bowl for the dog!
It’s imperative that your on-line events are followed-up properly. All at once there was no turnin’ back. Oh zoom, you chased the day away.
There is much debate as to what shape the recovery will take. Will it be a ‘V’, a ‘U” or a ‘W’? Some foresee an ‘L’. Either way, certain products and services remain essential; food, health, power, finance, communications et al.
Markets will change. Some businesses will disappear, leaving their market share and talent to others. Some will reorganise and refocus. There will be new opportunities, trends and attitudes.
Many will look back at this period and see that its ‘chaos’ created positive change in their lives. Yes, it was painful at the time, but that’s when ‘I moved to X’ or ‘decided to change Y’. Maybe it took a pandemic to make you realise just how good your life was and to appreciate what really matters to you!
Marketers have to assume that much will be different. ‘Physical’ events such as trade shows look set for a slow recovery. Virtual events, webinars and online meet-ups are here to stay. The ‘home desktop’ certainly presents a new promotional opportunity.
Will people seek a little light in their lives? Is this the time to really promote ‘goodwill’, to be generous and caring? You may not be able to hand a client a gift personally, but you can still send one to their home.
What your business or brand ‘says’ and ‘does’ during this period may have implications for years to come. Do you slash prices or emphasise quality and service? Remember Marks & Spencers’ ‘Dinner for 2 for £10’ during the Financial Crash – a straight forward discount cleverly packaged. How creative could you get?
There is much evidence, from previous recessions, to support the notion that those who suddenly and drastically cut their marketing expenditure hand a long-term advantage to those who don’t. Not all companies are about to dial their marketing activities down. Some will push harder than ever, sensing a chance to leapfrog the opposition. Remember, the damage will be very expensive to undo.
No two recessions are the same. The COVID recession could be deep but short-lived. This time next year your business could be busier than ever but struggling without its most experienced staff. You could be marketing a new product or service. Your main competitor may have disappeared, legislation or consumer attitudes may have forced your sector to change course. You may have a whole new brand identity or a new owner. Who would have thought?
Trust and reliability are evergreens. In a world where supply chains are reorganising, credit is being withdrawn and prices are yo-yo-ing wildly, being able to rely on a brand or partner is crucial. Stay close to your customers, make sure they have all the information they need when and where they need it.
However tricky the situation got, your brand, your company was always there to serve. A light in the storm.