... Low-cost items allow us to buy ‘on the fly’ when an event [happens and] we need something quick. For example, we recently purchased ‘spirit towels’ to wave at a university-wide event to celebrate some [members] of our staff [who were] recognized for their achievements. It was a big hit and really made our team stand out.
PM: What is the best way for a vendor to approach a school for an order?
Wilder: The best place to start is with the purchasing department, since all vendors need to be placed in the university’s accounting system. Another important factor is that they demonstrate some sense of the character of the school. For example, is the school known for athletics? Is it an urban or rural school? What type of events does it host? Knowing this type of information can only help
PM: Do you think Penn is fairly standard in its request for promotional items?
Wilder: The university environment has many constituents. In general, you have those who work here, those who study here and those who visit here. But within those groups, there is great diversity. ... The university also has to appeal to a wide age demographic, from 17-year-old prospective students to elderly donors and alums. We also have an international audience. While some items might be fairly standard, there is great opportunity for niche markets, unique items and high-value gifts.
PM: Are promotional items a budgeting priority for the school? Why or why not?
Wilder: It probably varies, but there’s a concept relevant to this point that might be important to consider: Schools recognize that distributing promotional items [is] a common practice. But I think, too, that colleges are a bit different than some other organizations, in that our first priorities always center around using our resources in ways that support our academic mission most directly. In particular, we always have to be conscious that we are perceived as using financial resources responsibly. We’d never want people to walk away from an event saying, ‘Gee, they sure spent a lot of money giving these out!’ Vendors who recognize that and find ways to help us strike that balance are going to have a great advantage in the education market because it will really demonstrate that they get what we’re about.