Show-Stopping Promotional Marketing Ideas

A trade show is an opportunity to connect with an audience in a fun and exciting way. Handing out a promotional item is a way to make your company memorable both during AND after the show.

A show-stopping promotional item can:

  • Create enticing pre-show promotion by advertising your booth activities and swag
  • Help drive traffic to your booth at the show
  • Serve as a reminder of the experience with your company after the show ends
  • Promote word of mouth marketing, whenever anyone sees your swag
  • Increase brand recall and recognition to support your business

For these reasons and many more, a trade show is one of the top uses for promotional products. You’ll find some swag at EVERY booth.

This certainly was the case when Michael attended the Milwaukee BizTimes Expo last week.  In walking the show floor, Michael spotted our clients using the promotional items that we helped create.  Here are a few highlights in what he saw:

Promotional Marketing for UWM at BizTimes Expo

The Airplane Stress Toy promotes the UWM Masters in Management program through the School of Business. The literature includes the tagline, “Your future is about to take off.” This has been a very successful campaign!

Promotional Products at work at BizTimes Expo 2014

There were a wide range of products at every table, though pens remained a staple item throughout the show. MSOE also used tire pressure gauges; Innovative Signs used bottle openers and combination pen/highlighters. Mount Mary had a lot of interest in their branded coffee packets as something that is both unique and appreciated. We also love how striking their pennants turned out.

Cultivate Communications Brain Stress Toy

Here is a close-up of the bright orange brain stress toy that our client Cultivate Communications used. Since they are a creative marketing agency, the brain is a fun and engaging way to help tell their story.

Miss Southern Wisconsin and Michael

Miss Southern Wisconsin, Tyra McFarland, spotted Michael’s logo’ed polo shirt, and said, “Hey I work with you.” She was right (and another great reason to have company apparel)! Account Manager Paige Wagner worked with Tyra on creating frisbees to promote the UW-Milwaukee Student Startup Challenge.

UWM Student Startup Challenge Frisbee

Artwork for the UWM Student Startup Challenge Frisbee for our client, Tyra McFarland, also Miss Southern Wisconsin.

What are your favorite show-stopping promotional items? We’ve also heard about sending teasers pre-show to drive booth traffic, such as sending ½ of a pen and then handing out the other ½ at the booth. In addition, we like the idea of holding a drawing for a higher value promotional item, and having higher-value items for VIP’s (or hot prospects) who stop by your booth. There are so many ways to effectively integrate promotional items into your events!

For more event ideas, see our blog posts:

How to Guide: Integrating Promotional Products into College Events

Much More than Tchotchkes

For help discovering the right promotional idea for your events, please contact us.


Top 5 Most Popular Admissions Promotional Items

In working with over 100 colleges nationwide, we start to see some patterns across campuses. Similar promotional items are purchased to help make schools more memorable for prospective students.  Differences occur, however, in exactly how promo items are used and integrated into recruitment marketing. Direct mail, high school counselor gifts, event support, social media integration, campus tours, and open houses are just a few common applications.  Whatever the use, promotional items WORK to effectively reach prospective students.  Without further ado, here’s our list of five most popular items for admissions departments:

Top 5 Most Popular Admissions Promotional Items

1. Table Covers – a college fair and event “must-have”

Spandex full color table cover

Fitted Spandex Table Cover

Table covers are available in several styles:

  • Fitted: spandex, full-color option (pictured above), inverted, pleated corners.
  • Throw: draped across table.

Choose from 6 foot, 8 foot, or Convertible lengths.  For maximum impact, a full-color wrap imprinting is available in the fitted spandex table cover. Additional table covers allow for full- color or single-color imprints on the front panel. To view some of our favorite table covers, visit our event support showroom.

2. Pennants – most iconic of ALL promotional items for colleges. Prospective and current students, staff, and alumni (especially those who are high school counselors and teachers) will proudly display a pennant to show their loyalty, endorsement, and plain old LOVE for a school.

Felt Strip Pennant

Felt Strip Pennant

Want to learn more about pennant material types and pricing options? Look no further than our Pennant Buying Guide.

Pennant Buying Guide3. Decals – Ideal for direct mail. We have created decals and stickers for several admissions clients that are included in admitted and deposited student mailings. Many decals have been successfully tied to social media photo contests.

custom postcard decal

One option we like is the new custom postcard decal (pictured above) because it can be mailed without an outer envelope.

4. Stone Coaster – This is an example of a popular desk item to keep your school top of mind with high school counselors.

coaster image from chair

This absorbent coaster stone is perfect for a favorite mug.  It comes nicely packaged in a small box, so it’s ready to hand-out and recognize key constituents.

5. Pens – an essential admissions item

Where would you be at an event without pens? This is a mainstay in every admissions department.  Choose from a wide variety of thickness, grips, clicks, colors and price points to fit your objectives and budget. Search our online catalog, or contact us to help you narrow down the thousands of pen options.

felt tip stylus pen

Fiber-tip Stylus Pen

Following the technology trends, stylus pens have been extremely popular lately.

What did you think of the list?  Are there favorite promotional products that you would add? We’d love to hear what you think!


How to Guide: Integrate Promotional Products into Events for Colleges

Events are a mainstay of college recruiting.

College fairs, open houses, campus tours, alumni receptions, community events, state fairs, athletics, concerts, fundraising run/walks are just a few events that come to mind.

Any event is an opportunity for people to interact with your brand.  It may be an introduction to your school for prospective students or a type of homecoming for alumni and friends.  At any rate, it is a way to connect with an audience in a fun and exciting way.

Like peanut butter and jelly, promotional items and events are a classic combination.  It seems that every event has a table with a long line of people standing around waiting for some “cool” giveaway. This is one form of marketing that easily draws a crowd or directs traffic to your area when someone asks, “Where did you get that?”

Once at the display, students or parents will often willingly provide contact information, fill out a form, or take a brief survey in exchange for a promotional item, or for entry into a drawing for a bigger ticket item. One item we like for events is the Music Download Card because it can help drive website traffic after the event and capture additional information. This is valuable marketing data that can often be used for subsequent lead nurturing activities.

One example of an event that we’ve supported is University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UWM) Day at the Wisconsin State Fair.

Notice how well the yellow shirts and visors stand out in the video. T-shirts, temporary tattoos, sunglasses and visors were some of the promotional items that we provided. Look for fun, bright school colors (or in this case, one main color) to unify the look of people in the crowd.  Places for photo opportunities – either with the mascot or in the tunnel – are also popular.  Make sure your school’s brand name will be in the frame, as pictures are commonly shared via social media.

In addition to the experience at the event, giveaways have a longer-lasting effect as a tangible item that represents a memory of that experience.  In telling friends and family about their time at the State Fair, they can pick up their t-shirt or sunglasses, and say, “Look what I got from UWM.”  This is true word-of-mouth marketing, creating a favorable image for promo item recipient and his or her own network.  Similarly, whenever anyone wears a UWM item after the actual event, or shares a picture at the event on social media, a larger audience is exposed to the school’s brand.

Given that promotional items serve as a reminder of a brand experience, it’s important to select an appropriate item.  We recommend advance planning with an experienced promotional consultant, who can help brainstorm items and share success stories from other colleges and universities.  From the initial brainstorm, select a few items to review internally to help choose the best options.

For more event planning resources, including product ideas and case studies, visit Raise Awareness, or Campus Tour Ideas. We are here to support your event planning needs – simply contact us to get started.

Happy event planning!