It was time to get creative. Working from home with quiet inboxes and silent phones, people in the promotional products industry this year and last devised unique ways to pivot their business and connect with buyers.

Those ideas permeate this year’s Counselor Promo Campaign Awards. Distributors and suppliers across the industry created ingenious outreach campaigns that wowed recipients. The explosion of kitting was ever-present throughout this year’s awards – represented by the winners here and the dozens of other high-quality nominations we received. They prove that no matter where people are, promo products can reach and engage them in meaningful ways.

Counselor 2021 Promo Campaign Awards

Juicing Up Sales

Perfect Promotions (asi/293619)

Idea Perfect Promotions (asi/293619) in Pleasant Hill, MO, was looking for a way to drive engagement during a webinar earlier this year featuring sales reps from Top 40 supplier HPG (asi/61966) who showed attendees new spring product options. “Our goal was to re-engage with our clients that we haven’t been physically in contact with for a long time,” says Perfect Promotions President Kim Findley. “It was fun and lighthearted, and we emphasized that involvement was key. We advertised that it would last an hour, and even when we went overtime, everyone stayed.”

Counselor 2021 Promo Campaign Awards

Products The distributor created a “Let us be your main promo squeeze” theme that ran through the event marketing. Ahead of the webinar, all 181 registrants received a journal book from Chameleon Like (asi/44558), 3x4 Post-it notes from 3M Promotional Markets (asi/91240), a Javalina Breeze pen from HPG (asi/61966) and a digital strip calendar with an insert card listing event details from Finn Graphics (asi/54290). During the webinar, Perfect Promotions staff wore T-shirts from SanMar (asi/84863) and teased post-event swag boxes for attendees who chatted with HPG reps and otherwise engaged during the session.

After the event, Perfect Promotions mailed nearly 140 self-promo packages, comprised of a custom box from BoxUp (asi/41320); a tumbler from Tervis Tumbler Co. (asi/90914); a 10-oz. sanitizer bottle from Inkvia (asi/62588); a mesh produce tote, wheat fiber utensil set and magnetic can coolie from HPG; a full-color card printed in-house with a “Thank you for joining us” message; and of course, a few fresh tangerines. Even before the webinar, Perfect Promotions was already helping another client with a similar box, which resulted in a project worth nearly $140,000.

Counselor 2021 Promo Campaign Awards

Results Since the event with HPG reps, the boxes have garnered significant interest among end-buyers looking to do comparable projects. “We currently have five active quotes for the same type of box, totaling approximately $50,000 to $100,000 in sales,” says Findley. “Clients appreciated the coherency of the program and how all the pre- and post-event components tied together with the ‘main promo squeeze’ thread. It’s opened many doors for us.”

Parting Tip Even though in-person events are gradually coming back, distributors should be aware of the fact that many will still have a virtual component. That means end-buyers will continue to look to their promo partners to help them generate engagement from a distance. “Distributors need to help clients figure out how to get in front of their audiences in fun, unique ways,” says Findley. “That’s important to continue to drive revenue.” – Sara Lavenduski

Counselor 2021 Promo Campaign Awards

Getting the Message Loud & Clear

NC Custom (asi/44900)

Idea Top 40 supplier NC Custom (asi/44900, formerly Chocolate Inn/Lanco) is constantly evolving – adding product lines, partnerships and resources to its expansive offering. Last year was no different, as the Hicksville, NY-based company responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by pivoting to PPE and capitalizing on the kitting trend. Injecting some much-needed humor during such a trying time, NC Custom developed a self-promo kit with the theme “I Think You’re on Mute.” “Given the state of the environment in which people were connecting via Zoom, we found that these Zoom newbies were inadvertently muting themselves,” says David Miller, president of NC Custom. “It seemed like a clever concept that might have legs.”

Products Leveraging its variety of food products and hard goods, NC Custom created a fun kitting solution to give to employees and clients for virtual events and meetings. The kit included an 11-oz. ceramic matte mug, a black beanie, a hashtag-shaped mint tin with MicroMints and a bag of gummies. The customizable products came in a mailer box plastered with “I Think You’re On Mute” and featured a customizable inside label.

Results NC Custom shipped 40 individual boxes to “influencers” in the promotional products industry, specifically those very active on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media platforms. Miller says industry pros like Amy Fang, owner of Bedford, NY-based Bluelight Promotions (asi/141828), and Johanna Gottlieb, senior branding specialist at Top 40 distributor Axis Powered by HALO (asi/128263), were just a couple of known names who received the kits. “The campaign was very successful,” Miller says. “One-third of those that we sent product to posted online, extolling the kit and many times including an accompanying video. Each of the posts received numerous likes and comments.”

Parting Tip As a result of the clever self-promotion, NC Custom sold a couple thousand units of its “I Think You’re on Mute” kits. However, the creativity and ingenuity displayed certainly had a lasting effect on the company, which increased sales by 15.5% in 2020. While PPE greatly contributed to that growth, as did sales of drinkware and food gifts (NC Custom partnered with Mrs. Fields ahead of the holidays), Miller can’t deny the importance of having one’s finger on the pulse of the industry. Says Miller: “We were one of the first in our industry to utilize influencers in our marketing effort.” – John Corrigan

Counselor 2021 Promo Campaign Awards

Hot Potato Promo

PromoShop (asi/300446)

Idea Idaho potatoes have strong brand recognition, and Kris Robinson has had a hand in keeping it that way. The Boise, ID-based executive vice president for Top 40 distributor PromoShop has served as a consultative partner for the Idaho Potato Commission for about 20 years, devising branded merchandise solutions that garner results.

One of his most successful campaigns – this year’s award-winner – was a savvy direct mail initiative that hit in January 2021. The objective was to wish end-users a happy new year and to build buzz about Idaho potatoes on the eve of Idaho Potato Lovers Month, which is February. Equally important, the commission aimed to get recipients – generally produce managers and buyers at groceries and retailers – to sign up for the commission’s monthly newsletter.

PromoShop executive VP Kris Robinson recently joined The Social Angle to discuss the power of nostalgia in marketing.

“There’s a lot of competition in the potato business,” explains Robinson. “You have potatoes grown in Oregon, Canada, Washington and more. We wanted to get people who make buying decisions excited about Idaho potatoes in particular, and to help the commission to keep engaging with those decision-makers over time.”

Products Robinson came up with the perfect solution: A custom full-color box stocked with Idaho potato-related goodies. The box set the tone with its vivid artwork, which featured a truck hauling a big potato past Idaho fields and mountains. Inside, there was a plush toy of Spuddy Buddy – the Idaho Potato Commission’s mascot, whose likeness appeared on products that included hand sanitizer as well. A USB charger for the car bore the commission’s logo, and there was an Idaho potato-themed Dip Trip, which is a sauce holder that attaches to a car vent.

Other items included two bags of natural potato chips, a $25 gas gift card, a deck of playing cards, Idaho Spud Bars and more. The call-to-action centerpiece was the QR code on the box’s underlid and related messaging, which invited recipients to scan the code to be routed to a website where they could enter a contest for a chance to win $500. To be eligible, people had to provide contact details that would sign them up for the commission’s newsletter.

Results 100%. That’s how many of the approximately 250 recipients scanned the QR code and entered the contest – and thus the commission’s e-newsletter list. “It’s not too often you get ROI like that,” says Robinson. Plus, the engagement showed that recipients had Idaho potatoes top-of-mind as 2021 got going and as Potato Lovers Month was about to kick off. “The client was overwhelmed by the success of the response,” Robinson shares.

Parting Tip To keep clients loyal, be proactive about understanding their needs and consistently deliver unique solutions, Robinson advises. “Work hard, provide great customer service and show creativity,” he says. “You have to come to the table with ideas that help them achieve their goals.” – Christopher Ruvo

Counselor 2021 Promo Campaign Awards

From Farm to Film

HanesBrands (asi/59528)

Idea HanesBrands wanted to find out how its commitment to sustainability measured up with millennials and Gen Z. So, the company opened its doors to three university students and gave them full access to its supply chain – all the way from “Crop to Campus,” the name of the documentary that Hanes released chronicling their journey. Initially, the plan was for the students to post their own videos on social media, says Michael Johnson, director of marketing for Hanes Activewear. But, he adds, “We quickly realized that with their level of engagement there was no way for them to be truly immersed in the experience and document it themselves.” Instead, the company approached Rod Murphy of Asheville, NC, an award-winning filmmaker, to follow the students on their journey. “Rod has this amazing ability to be both present and invisible,” Johnson says. “Every time I had the thought, ‘Wow, that was great. I hope Rod captured that,’ there was Rod, perfectly positioned. He was always 10 steps ahead, instinctively knowing what to capture both with sight and sound.”

Counselor 2021 Promo Campaign Awards

Products In the video, the students follow the progress of a ComfortWash garment-dyed T-shirt, from cotton fields and yarn spinning facilities in the southeastern United States to a Hanes-owned fabric knitting, cutting and sewing facility in El Salvador, and finally to the campus of North Carolina State University in Raleigh. The students gave out ComfortWash tees they’d designed during a celebration event where they previewed the documentary.

The first episode of Hanes’ documentary, “Crop to Campus”, can be seen here, and all seven episodes are available to be viewed at

Results The “Crop to Campus” documentary debuted at RiverRun Film Festival in September 2020. It was then shown to college audiences and industry groups during webinars and at trade shows. In addition, the video was broken into smaller segments that were shared via social media. “We heard from a number of distributors and customers who thought it was fascinating the way we provided access and allowed for original storytelling,” Johnson says. “We wanted to get the message out about the ComfortWash product and sustainability, and we’ve seen a huge increase in our customer base.” He adds that sales of the brand are up a couple hundred percent and a lot of that growth is attributable – both directly and indirectly – to the documentary short.

Parting Tip Tell a compelling story with your video content, and think about ways to repackage and repurpose your content over a longer campaign. “Our video gave us the opportunity to show and demonstrate sustainability, rather than talk about it,” Johnson says. “Using short serial content is a way to keep people engaged beyond a one-time hit.” – Theresa Hegel