A Beginner’s Guide to Promo: The Basics


So you’re new to the promotional products industry – welcome! There’s a lot to learn, but don’t worry, we’ve broken down the basics that you need to know to get started.

What are promotional products?

Promotional products are tangible and generally useful items that are imprinted with an advertiser’s name, logo, or message. These products are often used in marketing and communications programs, as giveaways, gifts, or incentives. Promo products that are handed out for free are sometimes referred to as advertising specialties.

There are an abundance of different product types and styles of promotional products – there’s really something for everyone! Some of the most common examples include pens, t-shirts, face masks, hats, key chains, and more.

What’s all the hype about?

Promotional products allow a brand to connect with consumers by engaging their senses. Because a promo product is a tangible thing, most often something you can hold in your hand(s), consumers are able to interact with the brand on a physical level, which helps them to remember the brand later on.

Here’s a fun activity for all you promo newbies: take a look through your home, especially your desk and cabinets. How many promotional items can you find?

Where do people buy promotional products?

The majority of product orders are facilitated through distributors. When a company or organization has a marketing initiative, they can reach out to a distributor who will help them find the perfect item for their audience. With their extensive industry knowledge and access to millions of promotional products, distributors are able to know what’s new and trending, and what products will produce the greatest marketing return for their clients.

Distributors, in turn, order the promotional products from suppliers or manufacturers. Suppliers manufacture and import the products and are often also the ones imprinting the client’s logo or information onto the product.

One of the most common sources of confusion for folks new to the promotional products industry can be the supplier/distributor relationship. At first, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. To someone not familiar with the workings of the promo industry, they both appear to do the same general thing – sell promotional products. However, the big difference who they are selling to.

Suppliers manufacture/import and then sell the products to distributors. Distributors sell the decorated, prepared products to their clients. Then, those clients hand the products out to their consumers or intended audience.

Why don’t clients just purchase from the supplier?

Since distributors are closely partnered with many suppliers, they’re well aware of all the unknown risks that can befall a seemingly simple transaction. Distributors are responsible for ensuring quality in the products and their imprints, and for overseeing any legal or logistical concerns. Additionally, the distributor’s unique relationship with suppliers can accelerate purchase orders and open opportunities for additional initiatives. In short, clients don’t purchase directly from suppliers because distributors provide essential services in the purchasing process that most clients would not have access to on their own.

And there you have it! These are the very basics that every newcomer to the promotional products industry needs to know to get started. To continue your promo industry learning journey, check out our blogs on promotional product facts, graphic design terms you should know, and more – the SAGE Blog is a great place for industry knowledge. Take a look at PPAI’s educational resources as well and you’ll be on your way to being a promo expert!

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(Marketing Coordinator)

Caitlin is a Marketing Coordinator at SAGE. When she's not writing, she enjoys baking and spending time with her beagle puppy, Piper.

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