Promotional products are an ideal way for colleges and universities to generate awareness, ignite school spirit and entice potential students to apply. By doing a little homework, distributors can get their foot in the door of these promotional powerhouses – and stay there.
Relationships are key to breaking into the college market and the schools themselves, says Michael Wolaver, owner of Magellan Promotions. “Take advantage of any relationships you have, build on them and work to add value,” he says. “Don’t just be a calendar or pen supplier – schools want solutions.” If you do a good job with that first opportunity, he explains, you’re more likely to get referrals and move around to other areas within the university.
If you don’t have an existing relationship to leverage, finding the right person can be a challenge, as job titles vary among departments and schools. “Start with the marketing department first if they have one – they’ll refer you,” says Alex Acree, owner of The Branding Society (TBS, asi/339539). However, purchasing decisions vary from school to school. The marketing department may be in charge of buying at one university and the purchasing department at the next. At another college, each department may do its own buying.
With most buyers on campus, distributors need to come prepared with items branded with the school logo or, at the very least, in the school colors, says Nikki Villarreal, senior account executive with ePromos Promotional Products (asi/188515). With new and existing school clients, Villarreal obtains university logos and makes PDF flyers with images of a cap, a piece of apparel, a cellphone tech item and a journal. “Everything goes on the PDF, and it will have their logo on each item in the correct colors,” she says.
Be Price Conscious
Creative ideas may win a prospect over, but there’s often another obstacle to cracking the college code: prices. Colleges are notoriously price driven in their decision making; in an ASI exclusive survey of end-buyers in the 12 most popular markets, school and universities were the most likely to shop on price.
The strict adherence to budget is usually codified through a Request for Proposal (RFP). Many schools issue RFPs for specific contracts and will only work with certain vendors during the length of that contract. This information is posted on different bid sites. On the plus side, distributors have myriad opportunities if they monitor when contracts are set to expire and RFPs are issued. “When you win an RFP, it’s huge,” Acree says. “You’re viewed as a partner with the school, and as a preferred vendor, the school can only order from you.”
Like a crack in a windshield, the first order with a college makes it easier for distributors to radiate outward and reach other departments and organizations on campus. “It’s all about retained business and referrals for me. I want them to come back to me for the next event and brag about the great experience they had with me,” says Villarreal. “I always ask for more referrals within the college, as there are so many different departments that need promotional products.”
Stay in Touch
Just don’t take anything for granted. Steven R. Flaughers, owner of Proforma 3rd Degree Marketing (asi/300094), recommends getting a semester calendar of events and have ideas waiting in your clients’ inboxes. Also keep a firm hand on relationships. “People frequently change jobs,” he says. “It’s important to maintain close relationships so your contact will take you with them if they leave and go to a new university.” Also, don’t hesitate to identify the new decision-maker in a department when someone leaves.