Marketers are making their lists, but thinking twice about promotional items

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Business marketers, just like retail consumers, have cut their holiday shopping lists this year. Marketers who once lavished gifts on clients and prospects are pinching pennies, playing it safe by cutting back or cutting out spending on promotional goodies this month.

"It’s definitely slow right now," said Jeffrey Hupe, president-CEO of Carvelle Inc., a Chicago-based promotional agency. Hupe, who estimates the marketing promotions industry is off 20%, said the mailings that are happening are in the form of "we’re still here, still in business" campaigns. (Other promotion experts say employees are recipients of gifts this year. For those left standing after waves of layoffs and no-raise/no-bonus memos, such gestures are a surprisingly powerful tool.)

What’s more, the contents of those gift boxes are lower-value items, Hupe said. For instance, he has a number of clients sending out so-called "lenticular" products, those 3-D holographic cards that seem to show a moving scene when viewed at different angles. The cards have another advantage, too. Because they are flat, they can be mailed in conventional envelopes, rather than boxes, and so are less likely to be waylaid by corporate mailrooms that have increased security procedures in the wake of the anthrax mail attacks.

One thing that isn’t in this season: small electronic items like calculators. But Hupe doesn’t believe this is because marketers are worried such electronic gizmos will be intercepted by mailrooms or, worse, federal authorities anxious about terrorist bombs. "No, it has a lot to do with the cost of those items," he said.

If anything, concerns about the mail have forced marketers to be more creative with their promotional efforts and may have even compelled some of them to pursue a more integrated approach to sending gifts. For instance, more than a few marketers have taken to calling prospects or sending an e-mail to alert them of the impending arrival of a package. What seems at first blush to be a defensive maneuver may, in fact, improve the overall campaign. That is, these extra steps integrate a direct mail promotion with a telemarketing or direct e-mail function. As long-time readers of BtoB know, we are strong believers in the power of integrated campaigns.

Finally, this issue contains two special reports: Our annual Sawyer Awards and our inaugural Marketers of the Year.

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