Promoting your principals

Promotional items are powerful communcators for your brand, including your supply chain


 So how can you make sure they only say good things?

Promotional items put your brand – and its reputation – in the hands of potential customers, so ensuring you have an ethical supply chain in place is vital.

Negative feedback on social media can cause a promotional campaign to backfire explains marketing procurement consultant Tina Fegent. “Promotional items go out to the public and they’re often mass-produced in countries where salaries are low and potential ethical supply chain issues exist. Coupled with social media, failure to ensure items are responsibly sourced can be very damaging: it only takes one person to tweet their doubts about a product and, before you know it, it’s all over the press.”

A study by the BPMA revealed that promotional products invoke loyalty in over three times as many recipients as in the mediums of print, web, direct mail or TV. But promotional goods, like any other products placed into the market, require assurances that they are safe and compliant. Gordon Glenister, director general of the British Promotional Merchandise Association (BPMA) says: “This means having internal policies and procedures designed to prevent and detect violations of applicable law, regulations, rules and ethical standards by employees, agents and others.”

Everybody’s business
Understanding the supply chain is the business of everybody involved in promotional campaigns. Esme Gibbins of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) says: “Everyone has a role to play, including HR managers running a major staff campaign or marketing teams launching a sales drive. If promotional goods form part of your activity, then you’ve got a mandate to understand the working conditions within which those products are made.”

Detailed research provides the basis for that understanding, as the supply chain will often include a variety of partners. Fegent explains: “You need to know where the responsibilities lie and to work with suppliers to make sure the right processes are being followed throughout the supply chain. For example, if you use an agency, you need to know how and where they buy the products they supply, and to make sure the liability and legal aspects are correct for both agency and client.”

Jane Hudspith of product design and procurement company Matrix APA adds: “It’s important to understand whether a supplier and their first-time yield base are well established. Varying product needs and quantity levels can pose challenges in terms of creating a stable supply base and introducing an ethical trade programme, but an established supplier with a broad long-term supply base may be able to consolidate orders and create this stability for the core factory groups.”

Allowing enough time to do research and if necessary a factory audit is important advises Becky Fleury, senior account director at The Sourcing Team. “Whether you’re buying directly from suppliers or through an agency, you need to know that the full due diligence is in place, covering key areas including ethical supply review. Look for factories that have been fully audited by a reputable, independent source to ensure they are working to best practice in labour standards, health and safety, environmental and business ethics. A full review is also required to understand where and how outsourcing may occur, so these processes can also be assessed.”
Fleury also suggests checking out if your suppliers have any affiliations to professional associations. “Ask your suppliers about their membership of bodies such as Sedex and the BPMA, whether they work to the ETI base code, and their understanding of the high risk categories. Partners that are established in this space and work to best practice will understand how to protect all parties with a well-managed supply chain.”

ISO certification and membership of organisations like the BPMA, ETI, Sedex or EcoVadis can indicate that suppliers are taking their responsibilities seriously. Glenister comments: “More than ever, we are finding that marketers want to purchase campaign products through a ‘recognised’ supply chain. The BPMA takes pride in representing the best in the industry and this is why we launched Charter status for our members, backed by a rigorous vetting process with an emphasis on transparency.”

Nic Taylor of Dowlis Corporate Solutions, one of the first organisations to be awarded BPMA Charter status, says: “Our clients rely on us to supply merchandise which meets their standards and supports their brand reputations, so we take our role in the supply chain extremely seriously. Assessing the risk associated with each project and advising the client is crucial if we are to work in partnership to achieve results. We look in depth at the factory, its labour practices, health and safety policies and up-to-date audits. As well as minimising risk, we also look to work with factories to improve their practices and we often case-manage minor issues to ensure future adherence to guidelines and regulations.”

Just ask
Throughout the process, transparency is essential and it’s better to ask too many questions than too few. Hudspith says: “It can be difficult for any buyer to know about ethical sourcing as this is not part of their everyday role. To address this at Matrix APA we have a broad range of training to help buyers understand the ethical development in the sourcing process. This is often overlooked, but we have found it to be key.”

Gibbins comments: “It’s a two-way conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask supply partners for support in helping you develop your own understanding and knowledge. Promotional goods companies that are committed to ethical trade may well have client education programmes in place. This might include information about the manufacturing base and the impact that buying practices can have on workers within the supply chain.”

Ensuring an ethical supply chain is a crucial aspect of sales promotion activities. Everybody involved needs to understand the processes, responsibilities and liabilities it entails. Working with supply partners to build that understanding will help to achieve a transparency that brings peace of mind and speaks positively for your brand.