Excel In Education

Education rings in at number two for promotional products market share. Ramp up sales with these strategies that make the grade.

Good news: While the aftershocks of the recession resulted in belt-tightening at schools and universities, budgets have loosened and education buyers are ready to spend.

“My clientele really came out swinging last year, and that’s continued,” says Glen Colton, owner of Seville Marketing (asi/323798), which counts the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech among its top education accounts. “What happened was everyone was down for a while and had economized as much as they could. They reached a point where they started looking in the other direction. They were ready to start investing and building.”

Industry-wide data from ASI suggests Colton’s anecdote may indeed be representative of a broader trend. In 2013, the promotional products industry generated 11.4% of its total revenue through sales to the education market. That piece of the revenue pie was larger than the prior two years, and good enough to make education the second biggest market for ad specialty sales, trailing only health care. As significant, distributors and screen printers reported, in a separate ASI study, that education is the number-one market when it comes to selling branded wearables. “Over the last 18 months, things have been opening up,” says Colton.

Estimated to be a trillion-dollar industry, education is flush with opportunities. From school fundraising initiatives and senior class apparel, to college recruitment campaigns and much more, chances for sales of promotional products flourish. We’ve aseembled inspiring stories and practical insights for getting your bite of the teacher’s apple.

Fire-Up Freshmen

Education is a competitive industry. Colleges and universities constantly vie to attract top students to their campuses. The competition turns particularly intense with the sending of acceptance letters. It’s then the critical decision on where to matriculate is made, and institutions of higher learning are increasingly looking to put a little promotional pizzazz into their outreach to prospective students in an effort to encourage the college-bound to choose them.

Nina Shatz is capitalizing on this burgeoning opportunity. The sales director at Red Ball Promotions (asi/346567) recently developed a dynamite campaign for reaching out to students accepted into Franklin Pierce University. “They wanted us to come up with something creative that would get incoming freshmen excited about attending in the fall,” says Shatz.

Thus charged, she developed a recruitment package themed around the slogan “Eat, Drink, Sleep Franklin Pierce.” Approximately 1,000 potential matriculaters were sent a gift box that included a pillowcase, candy bar, tumbler and balloon. The pillowcase, for instance, was imprinted with the school’s raven logo and the words “Pierce Pride” and “Raven Nation.” Similar branding was embellished on the other products, which matched school colors.

The concept for the campaign, explains Shatz, grew from the idea that most incoming freshmen will be living on campus. By providing the products that she suggested, the university aimed to communicate that it is a caring, welcoming place for the young adults to make what would be their first home away from Mom and Dad. “The message we were trying to get across was that Franklin Pierce cares about you and will take care of you,” says Shatz. “It’s a message that resonates with students and parents.”

Apparently, the packages had the desired effect on matriculation – a return-on-investment evidenced by the fact that Franklin Pierce placed a reorder for the following year’s acceptance class. “These kinds of campaigns are applicable for any college or university,” says Shatz. “Private high schools could use them too.”

Fuel School Fundraisers

Sometimes, to hit a home run for education buyers, you have to cook up creative promotions that target audiences other than students – audiences such as potential donors. This was the challenge Rachel Levin, director of marketing and sales at Motivators (asi/277780), tackled when crafting a solution for the Wye River Upper School in Centerville, MD.

An independent nonprofit high school that serves students with dyslexia, ADHD and other learning styles, Wye River was hosting a wine-tasting event to raise funds and build a stronger donor base. The school was looking for unique and subtle ways to massage the Wye River Upper School logo and mission message into the event. For help, the school turned to Levin, who had previously worked with Wye River’s director of development when the client helped spearhead other nonprofits.

While the school desired quality items and didn’t have a set budget, officials aimed to be conservative in their spending because of the organization’s nonprofit status. Eager to help the school, Levin delved into the project to ensure the client received brand-building items at a great price. “We offered virtual presentations, spec samples and case studies to justify their spend,” she says.

The thorough and thoughtful service paid off with an uncommonly cool product combo. First, Motivators took cocktail napkins and decorated them with positive quotes students and parents had made about the school. As part of the effort, the Motivators art team even transcribed a student’s handwriting from a thank-you note. The napkins made for excellent conversation pieces during and after the event. Importantly, the napkins communicated Wye River’s fundamental purpose of helping students succeed without interrupting the flow of the wine tasting.

The second component of the promotional combo was wine holders branded with the Wye River logo. Not only did the holders allow attendees to easily carry wine home, they also featured a pocket in which Motivators placed literature about the school and the valuable impact of donors’ contributions. “There wasn’t a missed opportunity for messaging,” says Levin, noting 1,000 bags and 3,000 napkins were ordered.

The project proved a massive success. The school was so pleased it wrote a testimonial about Motivators that the distributor publicized through its social media channels. Additionally, the school has reordered the cocktail napkins for other fundraising events.

Sell Senior Class Apparel

A&P Master Images (asi/702505) also knows a thing or two about using branded merchandise to help education clients raise funds. For years, the Utica, NY-based company has worked with teachers and student leaders at Proctor High School to deliver senior class apparel, with part of the proceeds going to help pay for the senior ball and the graduates’ class gift to their alma mater. “It’s really rewarding to put together something special for the kids and help them meet their goals,” says A&P Owner Howard Potter.

A Proctor alum, Potter began to sow the seeds of the relationship when he networked through one of his former teachers to another teacher who was advising senior leaders on the class apparel initiative. While the school had another vendor tapped for the project, Potter won the business away from the competition. He did so by demonstrating that he could offer a more efficient ordering system and design services that would result in retail-inspired apparel graphics that would appeal to teens, thereby driving sales.

As part of its comprehensive service, A&P developed standard forms that made it easy for the school to collect and submit orders. What’s more, the firm’s formally trained designers tweaked and refined the senior class advisors’ ideas for apparel designs until they had an image that couldn’t miss. “We tallied the orders up for them, ordered the apparel, decorated everything in-house and then bagged everything for each individual student,” says Potter.

Because of that beginning-to-end management and robust sales among seniors, Proctor continues to come to A&P every year for its senior class apparel. In 2014, Potter’s team provided hooded sweatshirts, sweatpants, T-shirts and a long-sleeve shirt in school colors. Imprints included a design down the left thigh of the sweatpants that read “Class of 2014 Seniors,” while the shirts displayed a bold athletic-style lettering that said “Proctor Seniors 2014.”

As is typical, 2014 sales to the seniors added up to about $8,000, with A&P’s margin around 75% – light-years beyond the ad specialty industry average of 34%.

Combine Promo Products With Tech And Multi-Media Solutions

For Josh Sizemore, what started with a cold call at a charter school in Ohio has blossomed into a business relationship with a client that spends more than $100,000 annually. The director of business development at Proforma Midwest Marketing & Promotions has built the account by delivering a bevy of promotional products and cutting-edge technology services.

Sizemore was on unrelated business when he first spotted the school and decided to pop in to drop off Proforma literature. The initiative resulted in a meeting where Sizemore differentiated himself by keying in on the breadth of what he can offer – traditional branded products and tech/media enhancements. The techy aspects initially caught the attention of the school – itself a 21st century learning institution that offers online K-12 education.

Before long, Sizemore was bringing aboard strategic partners he’d made through the Proforma network to redesign the school’s website. From there, he deepened his value, serving as sales rep and project manager for recurring projects that improve the client’s e-mail marketing, social media content and search engine optimization.

If that wasn’t enough, he worked with partners to have promotional videos created for the school, including sleek television commercials that aired across the Buckeye State. The multi-platform media blitz helped the school hit its primary objective: increased enrollment. “You have to put yourself in their shoes and deliver solutions that help them meet their goals,” says Sizemore.

For the charter school, those solutions have included a wealth of promotional products. Beach towels for employee appreciation, drawstring backpacks for recruiting events, pens and microfiber wipes are just a few of the items. In addition to tumblers and mugs, he has also provided polo shirts that instructors wore for a regional robotics competition. “The promo and print business came in naturally along the way.”

Meanwhile, another Proforma (asi/300094) affiliate has been equally successful delivering ad specialties and tech solutions to a university. Steven Flaughers, owner of Proforma 3rd Degree Marketing, started building a relationship with the West Virginia University Institute of Technology by providing fun logoed items like foam paw prints and temporary tattoos before blowing the buyer’s socks off with a useful tech offering for students: a mobile app that includes a sports schedule, student activity schedule, social media interconnectivity and the ability to do push notifications.

These days, the college spends tens of thousands annually with Flaughers. “There are not too many departments we don’t work with,” he says.