Are you one of those people that go to a trade show and walk from booth to booth filling up your bag with goodies from all the trade show booths? Do you collect pens from your doctor’s office? Keep the magnet from the veterinarian on the refrigerator? 

I do. I love collecting all this stuff—it’s shameless and it’s fun. I love going back to my room after a trade show and sorting through all the stuff I collected throughout the day.

I came home from the last trade show I attended (SHSMD conference in Washington, D.C.) with tons of stuff. My favorite pens are there every year and I was sure to grab several this time-–one in every color they had. I come home with gifts for the kids. This year I came home with an electronic coffee warmer to plug in by my computer; it’s truly amazing the things companies give away.

The question is, is it worth it? As the receiver of these handouts, I enjoy the overall experience of the conference more. But what about the companies handing out the promotional items? Is spending the money on these trinkets worth it? How many of you have worked a trade show or sponsored a community event and felt like people were taking things without caring who handed them out? They didn’t even look at your name on the mug; they just grabbed it and walked on.

I did a little research on the promotional products industry. Let me share with you what I discovered:

According to Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), the health-care industry is one of the top 10 users of promotional products in the U.S. Another group in the top 10 is professionals, such as lawyers, doctors and others in the health-care field. My dear readers, that includes most of you!

The promotional products industry was an $18.8 billion industry in 2006, so we know companies purchase promotional items. A lot of promotional items.

But do they work? Is a client/patient more likely to visit your practice if you hand out a mug or a pen with your talk?

According to studies conducted by Georgia Southern University, the answer is yes! Recipients of promotional products are reported to have:

  • A significantly more positive outlook on your business,
  • A higher likelihood of recommending your business, and 
  • A higher likelihood of patronizing the business.

The top three promotional items purchased in 2006 were wearables (such as T-shirts, hats, etc.), writing instruments and calendars.
What are the top 10 uses for promotional items? Business gifts, trade shows, brand awareness, employee relations and events, public relations, dealer/distributor programs, new customer/account generation, new product/service introduction, employee service awards and not-for-profit programs.

4 Tips for Choosing a Promotional Products Company

Here are a few suggestions for health-care marketers when choosing a vendor for promotional products:

  • Try to find a vendor that specializes in health care. They understand the unique needs of the industry and may have good suggestions for items that worked well for others in the industry.
  • Ensure the vendor is available when you need them. As we all know, sometimes we need products in a rush. Will your vendors be there when you need them? Are they readily accessible? Do they have published hours of operation? It’s easy for anyone to set up a promotional products business from their home, which is fine. Just be aware of who you are working with and their history.
  • Ensure they provide a satisfaction guarantee.
  • Ask if they provide discounts for bulk purchases. You may be able to save money if you plan ahead for the year or can combine orders with other departments.

Founder of A Marketing Connection and The Copywriting Institute, Kelly Robbins, M.A., is an award-winning copywriter and health-care marketing coach/consultant. She also publishes The Healthcare Marketing Connection, a free e-zine on health-care marketing tips. Contact Robbins to receive her free report, “5 Critical Mistakes Healthcare Marketers Make that Lose Sales and Plummet Profits” at or (303) 460-0285.

© 2008, A Marketing Connection