Promotional Products – a history

pensDid you ever wonder how it all began? All these promotional products? There is speculation that cave paintings may have been advertisements and cave people may have inscribed identifying information on their tools – but chances are they were not walking around with freebies emblazoned with logos and tag lines!

It was the 1800’s that saw the development of what we generally think of as promotional products or advertising specialties (although George Washington’s campaign buttons in 1789 are often cited as the first promotional product in the US). It was the Industrial Revolution with its rise in manufacturing and business that made it possible.

The story is that Jasper Meek of Coshocton, OH owned a weekly newspaper and was looking for extra work for his presses. One day in 1886 he watched a school child drop their books in the mud and had an idea. He proposed to a local shoe store that they give out burlap book bags printed with the store’s logo with every shoe purchase. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Other early promotional products include beautifully illustrated bookmarks during the Victorian Era with ads on the back for a wide variety of products; Adolphus Busch sent his beer salespeople out with branded corkscrews and pocket knives; and though the first bobblehead dates back to 1842, it was not until the 1920’s that the New York Knicks had the idea to turn it into a promotional product. The bobblehead may have heralded the era of less utilitarian promotional products…

Today there are over 25,000 products to choose from – and we are here to help you navigate through the process. There quite literally is something for everyone and every price point.

Solutions: Lapel pins

They might be called lapel pins, but these pins can also be affixed to bags, ties, caps, straps, backpacks, lapels and more. They come in a wide variety of sizes and materials – soft and hard enamel, metallic and non-metallic coatings, 3D, embellished, and more! Even though historically lapel pins are made with, well, pins, they also come with magnets so they can be used on delicate fabrics.

Pins like this are a great way to show support for a cause, identify employees, express personalities, and more. They also make great collectors items!

Get more for your mailings

We are big fans of direct mail – obviously! Even apart from being printers, we’re big fans of direct mail. More than ever, direct mail is the best way to get attention to your message.

It’s true that e-mail marketing is ‘free’ – no printing and no postage, which admittedly do cost money. All of the research points to the fact that if you want your message to be received, having something on paper that your audience is touching, posting on their fridge, and passing on to friends is the way to go. Don’t stop your digital efforts, but make sure print and direct mail are in the mix.

Here are a few tricks to get the most from your mailing dollars:

  • Make sure your mailing is eye catching. Use graphics, images, and color to catch attention and highlight your message.
  • Consider adding texture or 3D. Anything that engages the senses is going to increase the chances of your mailing piece getting looked at, and who can resist the curiosity of finding out what’s in a lumpy envelope?!
  • Have a clear message and call to action. Minimize text to what’s absolutely necessary to get your message across – and repeat it more than once! Also, make sure to tell the reader what you want them to do – whether it’s to call you, check out your website, save 25% using this code, buy this item, etc.
  • Make sure you have a good list. One of the things that makes direct mail so effective is how specifically you can target to the demographic that is right for your business. We can help you create a great list!
  • Clean up your list. Don’t waste paper and postage sending to people who are no longer at the address in your list. We have software that updates mailing addresses and even checks the spelling and makes sure the address is in the best format to USPS delivery.
  • Size and weight determines postage. Maximize your size within the parameters for a letter size mailing  – 6″ x 10.5″. Larger than that could double your postage costs. Also, keep in mind that there are also restrictions on weight and thickness that will affect costs.

Bring us in early in your planning. We’re mailing experts and will help you get the best results possible for your mailing.


2018 Postage Increase

chart-increasingWhenever the USPS announces a rate increase, the first reaction inevitably is furor. How dare they!? It seems like every time we turn around they are increasing postage rates. Once the furor settles, our rational brains can understand that the beleaguered post office is dealing with increasing costs and decreasing revenue which may or may not be within their control.

This one seems like a big one, even though it’s a one cent increase, as it breaks a psychological barrier crossing over to 50 cents for a first class Forever stamp. There are also increases in metered letters, postcards, and packages.

Credit: USPS

The USPS has a number of things to point to as reasons for the rate hike. Increases in vehicle energy costs, decreases in first class usage, and increases in health care costs are some of the issues.

Interestingly, China, with one of the lowest postage rates in the world (18 cents in 2011), may hold some responsibility for the USPS woes and thus the rate hike. If you’ve ever wondered how sellers in China can be selling items on eBay and Amazon for 88 cents with free shipping, it starts with a quirk in an international treaty.

There is an international treaty overseen by an agency of the United Nations that allows for countries to be compensated for their leg of an international letter or package’s journey. For example, an individual in Morocco will pay their post office to send a package from Casablanca to Cleveland. The Moroccan postal authority gets it to the US and then the USPS takes over and gets the item to Cleveland.

Countries used to do this ‘forwarding’ for free, until 1969 when a treaty was put in place calling for small fees to be charged to the originating postal authority. These fees are less than what US postal customers are being charged (in 2014, the USPS was charging about $1.50 for a one pound package which costs a US postal customer a minimum of $7).

In 2010, the USPS entered into a deal with China’s postal service to increase their presence in Asia and get in on the e-commerce train. The service is called ePacket and offers tracking (required for e-commerce) at a reduced rate as well as the already reduced postage. US businesses involved in e-commerce simply can’t compete with these prices. Between 2011 and 2012, China nearly tripled the number of packages sent to the US, from 9.5 million to 26.8 million.

According to a 2014 report by the Postal Service’s Inspector General’s office, the USPS lost $29.4 million in 2012 alone due to the cost of delivering ePacket mail at these reduced rates. And the kicker is that it doesn’t work in the opposite direction, which is part of how Chinese businesses are benefiting. In order to get a refund on that malfunctioning item you received for $2.99 or $7.99 or $14.99 with free shipping, you’d have to pay $30 or more to send it back.

Of course, we could be living in Norway where a first class domestic stamp cost $1.46 in 2011.

Solutions – gift fulfillment

Whether you are sending gifts to a list of 15, 150, or more, we can take all of the logistics off your plate and make the process as smooth as possible. We’ve put together gift packages of everything from specially branded wine bottles to tiny bottles of Tabasco to different ad specialties.

This particular customer wanted to send candles as a holiday gift. Once we knew the size of the candle, we were able to design a box to ship it in which would both highlight the candle and keep it safe as it travels through the mail system.

Add in labels and greeting cards as well as all of the steps involved in preparing a mailing – our team put the packages all together, allowing our client to do what they do best… run their business.

Best Business Card Advice

business-card-handingBusiness cards. People were predicting they were going to be long gone with the advent of smartphone apps that store contact information at a tap of the finger. But they were wrong. Business cards are still a key way of sharing your contact information – and often provide that super important first impression. Here are some tips to get the most out of this marketing tool:

Have someone else look at them before you print. Typos are easy to miss when you are looking at information that is second nature to you – we tend to just assume it’s correct. It’s also easy to overlook some key information. Having someone you know to be detail oriented is your best bet – and someone who won’t have a problem saying something like “are you sure you don’t want your phone number on your card!”

Make sure the graphics are eye catching and, even more importantly, in focus! For this you’re going to need to make a printout so you can see if the logo or other graphics are fuzzy. This is a good idea regardless, since it’s easy to miss something when you are looking at it on a screen.

Don’t make it too crowded. Our eyes like open/white space. It makes it easier to see and take in the information that is there. Get their attention with a small amount of information well presented – and then you can fill in the rest when you meet for coffee.
Be careful with your fonts. You want to make sure the text is big enough to read. You also want to make sure it’s readable. Even though script fonts are fun, use them wisely!

Make it a bit unusual. Remember this is often the first impression someone gets of you and your business or organization (unless, of course, you are the one handing it to them!). There are easy ways to make them a bit more noticeable.

  • Change the orientation. Most cards are designed horizontally. It’s not the law! A vertical orientation can be just the difference that helps your card stand out.
  • Add a texture. Touch is an important sense in creating connection – and connection is what you are after. There are many different textures available, you’re sure to find one that feels just right to you.
  • Add color! Printing on colored paper can be very effective as can flooding the paper with color. You don’t want to use too many colors, but using a color or two that either ties in with your logo or makes your logo really stand out can really make a difference.

Use both sides of the card. Since you have the paper, we recommend you have it work for you. It’s a good idea to have the most important information together on one side – but the second side can be used to complement and continue your message. Your logo and tag line is a simple but very effective addition.

These are a few things to keep in mind to have your business card work for you. Don’t be afraid to stand out a bit. You want people to remember you – and putting a bit of extra thought into your business card will truly pay off.  We’re always happy to look over what you have and give our suggestions.


Solutions: T-shirts

Sure, you think about us when it comes to printing things on paper. That’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a printer. But we are oh so much more than a printer – we are driven by finding solutions to your business or organization’s needs. And print goes so much beyond just paper.

When one of our political candidates wanted to make a canvassing splash – he asked us for t-shirts for his volunteers to wear as they walked the neighborhood.

Need t-shirts for your next event or as promotional giveaways? We’ve got you covered!


Millennials like print!

millennial-smart-phoneMillennials. When we hear that word we generally think they have their noses in their smart phones 24/7. Turns out we’re wrong! While they are more comfortable in a digital environment than are other age groups, they are surprisingly interested in things such as direct mail, life experiences beyond electronics, and buying local.

According to an infographic by CUBE, by 2020 millennials will be responsible for 30% of retail sales in the US – equal to $1.4 trillion in spending. They are not as materialistic as we want to think they are. They care about quality and are willing to spend more for fewer items. Minimalism is in the air! 78% of millennials prefer to spend money on life experiences over buying even desirable objects.

More than 50% of millennials try to buy products from companies that support the causes they care about. They like to support local businesses and care about where things come from. They believe in ‘radical transparency’ – wanting to know factory working conditions, actual costs, and markups.

Millennials want to be able to buy things quickly and easily – so they like in-app purchases and online coupons. But what they really like is paper! 84% of millennials report looking through their mail regularly. 64% say they prefer it to emails. And they like to share information with their friends – and are more likely than any other demographic to share what they get in the mail, which makes them a perfect target for giveaways.

They read…on paper! Millennials are responsible for 31% of magazine readership and 20% of newspapers. 50% report that they ignore digital ads while only 15% say they ignore direct mail. The response rates are starkly different, with direct mail having a 5.3% response rate and digital having .9%.

Millennials respond to direct mail – especially if there are incentives! 57% liked buy one get one free offers, 55% responded to a gift card, 51% responded to a percentage off purchase, 32% responded to lowest price for the day, 31% responded to free shipping, and 28% responded to a birthday offer. But they want to be able to respond quickly to those offers!

So, how do you attract more millennials? Integrate digital into your direct mail pieces! Add QR codes so they can quickly scan it and make a purchase, add links to videos and social media. Use fun enhancements like textured paper, peel off surprises, scratch & sniff – anything to make your message more engaging. Finally, make them feel good! Millennials want to save the world – make them feel they are!

Solutions: Yard Signs

With primaries next week and elections coming soon, yard signs will be peppering the landscape. But it’s not just politicians who are fond of this method of getting the word out!

Summertime brings a demand for yard signs from organizations wanting to bring attention to their fund-raising events. Drive around and you’ll see them – and they aren’t all rectangles! We also get a lot of requests for tee-signs for golf outings. A great way for sponsors to be highlighted.

With school opening, there are more signs around reminding us to watch out for kids, to boost team moral, to highlight an honor roll student or varsity athlete.

There are so many ways these signs can be used – and so many shapes and colors they can come in. Let us know what you want to promote, and we’ll help make it awesome!

Are Checks Still Relevant?




Once upon a time, a transfer of money involved bags of heavy coins. Which proved unwieldy especially as commerce picked up. Here’s a brief history of how checks became the preferred method of exchange:

  • The first idea of a check shows up in ancient Rome in the 1st century BCE
  • In the 1200’s, bills of exchange began to be used for international commerce
  • In the early 1500’s in the Dutch Republic, ‘cashiers’ began to hold money for people for a fee and would cash notes written on that deposit
  • In the 1600’s, bills of exchange were introduced in England and by 1717 the Bank of England used a special form printed on “cheque paper” to prevent fraud
  • In 1770, clerks from all the banks in London would meet daily at a tavern to exchange checks and settle balances
  • In America, the Bank of New York, established by Alexander Hamilton in 1784, began issuing checks
  • In 1831, the Bank of Scotland was the first to personalize checks with customers’ names
  • In 1959, the standard for machine readable characters was established

Check volume increased steadily through the 1980’s and into the mid-1990’s when debit cards and other means of electronic transactions began.

But now there are people who believe we are seeing the end of the paper check and everything will be digital shortly…and others who say that is premature. Many countries in Europe no longer use checks, opting for a system called giro (wire transfers) or even doing transfers through an ATM. Finland stopped issuing checks in 1993! The nice thing about that system is the payer initiates the paying process rather than waiting for the payee to start the check cashing process.

The US is still dependent on checks with billions being written annually. New technologies are making it easier for small businesses to process credit cards, but there are still merchants who do not and most landlords require checks for rent payments.

Despite the statistics of one million forged checks per day, there is no evidence that digital is more secure than checks. Data breaches happen all the time and can affect tens of millions in one fell swoop. Because they are paper-based, checks are most costly to process and require more steps. Banks interested in lowering costs and increasing efficiency will continue to come up with alternate forms of payment and no doubt checks will one day be a thing of the past.