4 Signs that the Promotional Products Industry Will Improve in 2012
At the start of every year, we're subjected to the usual parade of talking heads discussing what went right and what went wrong over the last 12 months, and why the next 12 will be better. It begins in early December and culminates in the State of the Union address, where we all sit around and wait for the president to say some variation on "the State of the Union is strong."
It's boring. Boilerplate. Like a confidentiality notice at the bottom of an email, it barely registers. So when pundits predicted that 2012 would see improvements over the year prior, I said "Uh huh" and went back to reading a press release about a new hire, followed by a release about new positions, followed by a release about sales records, followed by ... you see where this is going?
After going through the news archives, talking to people and giving it some thought, I've come up with four purely anecdotal, entirely subjective pieces of evidence that prove the business of promotional products is looking up in 2012. It's like the State of the Union, except you don't have to stand up and clap every 12 seconds.
Companies are Hiring
Since January 1, we've run 23 articles and press releases announcing new hires for suppliers and distributors, many for newly-created positions or for jobs left vacant during the recession. That's one article every other day this year, many of which announce multiple hires, and those published articles only account for a portion of all new employee releases I receive. Compare this to the same period in 2011, when we published 14 such articles, and it paints a picture of a growing industry.
What's more, most of these hires are for sales positions. Suppliers and distributors are increasing territory and representation, which tells me that there are enough sales happening to support larger staffs.
It took several years of people getting caught with their pants down (often literally) on Facebook, but the rest of society is finally realizing what we already know: the world is always watching. When eyes are on you all the time, you need to present the right image all the time. Stories about branding now appear daily in sources ranging from the Washington Post to Forbes, giving the concept cachet among the masses.
Promotional products professionals have been selling this idea for years, the concept of presenting a cohesive image across multiple platforms, but now it's penetrated the collective consciousness. That's good news for marketers who already see the value in multiple impressions, varying touch-points and attaching brands to objects with tangible value. People and companies want to project the right image, and they want help doing it. That makes all our jobs easier, and also ties into the next point...
Marketing Budgets Are Increasing
I first noticed this a few weeks ago, when Pepsi announced they were increasing their marketing budget by $600 million for 2012. This was immediately followed by rival Coca Cola pointing out that it has spent $17 billion in marketing and advertising over the last two years and has no intention of decreasing that in the future. Then on Tuesday this week, The New York Times featured a story on the front page of the business section about increasing advertising budgets among America's top corporations. As the biggest players in America make a point to increase non-television advertising budgets, it signals to the small- and medium-sized businesses that putting dollars into marketing is not only safe, but smart. Marketing departments are primed to promote, and that kind of cultural mood can give even the coldest calls a warm reception.
No One Is Bribing Me
Hear me out on this one. Suppliers often send us samples so we have a tangible product to review, but also because they know that giving people free things works. As the recession deepened in 2008 and 2009, boxes of chocolates and cool gadgets showed up in greater numbers, and lo, it was good. Lately, however, I've noticed a disturbing and horrifying trend: suppliers aren't sending me free stuff. They're buying more ads, which says to me they have more money, and are issuing reports of record-breaking sales numbers, which confirms it.
If suppliers are making more money, that must mean distributors are selling more and making more money as well, and that's a very good thing for everyone. Except me, because now I don't get free stuff. I for one think this is a terrible trend that needs to be stopped immediately.
And there you have it, my thoroughly unscientific proof that the state of the promotional products industry is strong. Of course, there are many more reasons: the excellent education available, the legislative initiatives, and the progressive product safety movement, just to name a few. What do you think? Is 2012 actually looking better than 2011? Is the economic climate improving? Sound off in the comments below.