Amped-Up Awareness

Worthy causes and organizations everywhere can benefit from the power of promotional products. Here are ideas for pumping up awareness campaigns – and strengthening your own sales in the process.

Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of being in ad specialty sales is that reps can use their professional expertise to deliver promotional solutions that help good causes raise awareness and money. ”When you can take what you do and use it to help, that’s an awesome situation,“ says Tom Rector, CEO of Rector Communications (asi/305623).

And a potentially lucrative one, too. Consider that more than 5,200 Relay for Life events occur annually. The walk/run community fundraisers for the American Cancer Society are just one example of the many cause-driven campaigns reps can support with branded merchandise.

From AIDS-fighting outreach and Alzheimer’s walks, to sundry local fundraisers to support hundreds of charitable efforts, opportunity abounds – and that includes sales potential with corporate clients who want to show their support for the various initiatives. ”There are many causes and clients that can benefit from the attention promotional products are proven to generate,“ says Nina Shatz, director of sales at Red Ball Promotions (asi/346567). Here’s some inspiration.

Commit to Philanthropy


Amount Ink the Cause helped raise for the Indianapolis Police Foundation through T-Shirt sales.

Rector and his team aren’t just successful promo sales pros; they’re good people with hearts. It’s because of this that Rector Communications decided to start a new philanthropic division of its Indianapolis-based distributorship. Ink the Cause is dedicated solely to altruism, to using the power of branded T-shirts to raise funds for worthy causes. ”We’ve always believed there is more to being a good company than just making money,“ says Rector. ”We want to have a positive impact on our community.“

Ink the Cause is certainly doing that. Launched in July, the online fundraising platform allows anyone to run their own apparel-driven charity campaigns. The process starts with creating a cause-supporting T-shirt. Ink the Cause will develop the shirt design or clients can do it themselves using the company’s online designer, which affords access to 10,000 clip art samples, text formats and colors. From there, Rector’s team builds a single-page micro Web store from which the T-shirts are sold – typically for a couple weeks.

Through the campaign, Ink the Cause, the client and anyone else committed to the charity effort promotes the shirt through word-of-mouth and social media. ”We field the orders, print the garments and handle shipping,“ says Rector. And the company does so without making a profit. Ink the Cause takes in enough to cover its costs and possible contingencies; the rest goes to the charity. ”With our ability to print on-demand, there’s no need for the cause’s originators to spend money on a stock of garments,“ he says.

Within the first month of going live, Ink the Cause helped generate approximately $13,000 for the Indianapolis Police Foundation. The campaign was initiated in response to the killing of Indianapolis Police Officer Perry Renn, who was shot to death July 5 while defending the public from a gunman. Even more broadly, the shirts – which featured a police badge and the words ”Indy Strong“ – served as a reaction to a rising tide of violence in the city.

The shirt’s messaging included a Twitter hashtag, #StopTheViolence. ”We want to do what we can using our apparel crowdfunding system to unify the city and give back to those who are out protecting our streets,“ says Gabe Peters, Rector Communication’s vice president of merchandising and the point man for Ink the Cause.

Turning a profit may not be part of the Ink the Cause platform, but the philanthropy has garnered a wealth of positive attention that can feed Rector Communication’s mainstay promotional products business. Consider that Fox 59, the broadcasting giant’s Indianapolis affiliate, covered the ”Indy Strong“ initiative, while campaign starters and supporters get a sense of the quality, service and solutions the company offers. Some are bound to become customers. ”It’s a perfect way to showcase what we do,“ says Rector. ”But more importantly, there’s a lot of heart behind this.“

Build Charity Into Your Business Model


Amount College Hill Custom Threads donated to its client’s cause.

As at Rector, Tony Poston and his team at College Hill Custom Threads (asi/164578) include philanthropy into their daily operations. The Pullman, WA-based distributor not only uses branded apparel and promotional products to help sororities and fraternities raise money and awareness for charities; it also contributes directly to the causes its Greek -life clients support by donating checks for 10% of each total order to the charity of the customer’s choice. ”‘Give, expecting nothing thereof’ is what I learned as a fraternity man when I was in college and those values are a core part of what we do,“ says Poston, president and founder of College Hill.

The philanthropic spirit, combined with a knack for coming up with creative solutions, has helped attract an ever-expanding list of clients to the distributorship. Established in 2011, the business has grown at annual rates of 70% and 50%, and was up strong through the first half of 2014.

The reason for such growth is evidenced by the success of campaigns College Hill has put together for clients like the Delta Gamma sorority at the University of Chicago. The sorority needed T-shirts to sell as part of Anchor Slam. The fundraising basketball tournament was aimed at generating cash for Service for Sight, a Delta Gamma philanthropic focus that funds genetic research, low-vision adaptive devices, braille books and life-enhancing programs for the visually impaired.

To support the sorority’s effort, College Hill delivered two trendy tank tops with a cool design that featured a basketball, anchor, Delta Gamma branding and the slogan ”Doin’ Good In 2014.“ Messaging on the back said, ”Dunkin’ With DG.“ The fashion-forward tanks turned out to be a hit with the college crowd. ”They sold about $10,000 in shirts,“ says Poston.

To keep up its end of the bargain, College Hill wrote a check for $1,110 to add to Delta Gamma’s fundraising tally. ”Being focused on philanthropy allows us to separate ourselves from the pack,“ says Poston. ”It also gives us the warm and fuzzies.“

For reps looking to partner with frats and sororities on their goodwill initiatives, pitch retail-inspired wearables that include everything from trendy T-shirts to stylish caps, scarves, leggings and more. ”You have to keep up on the trends that college students are into,“ Poston says. ”These are constantly changing and vary by region.“

Hit A Hole In One With Golf Fundraisers


Net proceeds raised at two golf fundraisers for the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

Sometimes, success hinges on having the right pair of shades. Jim Caughorn can explain. With the help of Maui Jim sunglasses, the partner at Graphic Creations (asi/379032) ramped-up the fund-generating punch of golf tournaments aimed at raising cash for an expansion of the trauma center at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

Graphic Creations was already working with the hospital, selling design and print solutions, when officials at the facility asked Caughorn and two of his colleagues to sit on the volunteer committee that runs the golf tournament. The talk soon turned to promotional products, and Caughorn learned the hospital was giving participants basic coolers and golf shirts – items he felt were not quite up to snuff for an exclusive tournament with a $1,000 entry fee.

Graphic Creations suggested making the giveaway something more C-Level – Maui Jim sunglasses, in particular. The client balked at first, saying the dollars for such namebrand eyewear weren’t in the budget. But Caughorn found a solution, offering to provide the Maui Jims to the hospital at a price near cost.

The hospital decided to invest – a decision the buyers are glad to have made because the sunglasses have helped generate participation, and therefore funds, for the medical center. ”It’s been wildly successfully – really making the tournament distinctive and encouraging people to come out,“ says Caughorn. ”Each year, players look forward to returning for their fitting of a new pair or to replace the pair they lost in the lake.“

Plus, by donating the majority of its profit on the Maui Jims, Graphic Creations has helped the hospital maximize its funding haul. ”The net proceeds of the last two tournaments has been $100k each time,“ says Caughorn.

In a positive karmic twist, Caughorn’s altruism on the sunglasses has come back to Graphic Creations. For the tournament, the company also connects the hospital with items that include T-shirts for volunteers, nice polo shirts, banners, hole sponsor signs, scorecards and more. Profits are turned on those products. ”They’re real moneymakers for us,“ he says.

Beyond the golf tournament, Graphic Creations donates or provides low-margin sales of promotional products to various charities, helping the clients minimize expense while opening the door to other profitable opportunities with the charity event or people Caughorn and his team meet through being involved in the do-gooder activities. ”The results to our company have been incredible,“ he says.

Support Alzheimer’s Awareness Fundraisers


Number of logoed T-shirts Nina Shatz provided for volunteers participating in an Alzheimer’s awareness walk.

The photographs tug at Nina Shatz’s heart strings. The images her senior assisted-living community clients send her. The ones that show staffers smiling and unified, wearing Alzheimer awareness shirts she provided them.

These dedicated people wear the shirts as volunteer participants in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, a massive fundraiser featuring more than 600 walks across the country in which participants generate awareness and money for care, support and research tied to the disease. ”The T-shirt has a real power to help them in their mission and to create solidarity among the volunteers,“ says Shatz, Red Ball promotions sales director. ”It’s hugely satisfying to have a hand in helping with that.“

Shatz has provided awareness walk T-shirts for three different senior independent and assisted-living communities, which care for people affected by Alzheimer’s as part of their operations. One client has eight facilities in its network, another 50 and still another more than 200. That equates to high-volume T-shirt sales when it comes to outfitting staffers for the walk.

Recently, for example, Shatz delivered approximately 800 shirts for the client with 50 facilities. Done in purple – Alzheimer’s awareness color – the shirts were Gildan 5000s. But, as she explains, it’s the messaging on the shirt that is especially important. This specific tee included the client’s branding and said that the customer supported the walk. ”It was simple and straightforward, but very effective in showing their support and helping to create a sense that they were a team fighting for the same cause,“ she says.

For clients engaged in awareness walks, that sense of camaraderie can be augmented by complementary products too, including water bottles, caps, tote bags, lapel pins and scarves – all featuring coordinated cause-related branding. As with T-shirts, it’s pivotal to have the artwork on the products convey the client’s identity and their sense of commitment to a cause in a manner that’s dignified. ”You have to think of the shirts or the products as being a vehicle for getting their mission across to the general public,“ says Shatz.

Key In On Cancer Walks


Number of client-branded wristbands Motivators provided for a local charity walk.

For Samantha Barbero, the battle against breast cancer is personal. Her family has fought the disease, so contributing her promotional expertise to initiatives geared at conquering the cancer is both professionally stimulating and personally rewarding. ”It helps if you can relate to the cause,“ says Barbero, a promotional consultant for Motivators Promotional Products (asi/277780).

Because of her family's experiences, Barbero was especially eager to deliver just the right products for a large media corporation seeking something tangible to contribute to a local charity walk during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She came through with aplomb.

After some brainstorming and strategic sourcing, the first product Barbero delivered was custom awareness bracelets. Done in pink, the wristbands featured a debossed version of the client’s logo. As a complement, she provided a pedometer. Pink and client-branded, the item was of immediate use to walkers and an ideal item for reinforcing messages of wellness and the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle.

In the end, the products were a perfect fit, compelling the buyer to order 250 pedometers and 500 wristbands. The items were handed out to walkers at the event’s registration, earning the media company much positive attention. Says Barbero: ”It helped get them good exposure.“