New Participation Model Expands Engagement And Involvement

Since QCA was founded in 2008, much has changed. There are more regulations, greater consumer awareness and increased pressure from brands to provide products that are safe and responsibly sourced. However, some things remain the same. Keeping up with all the changes is just as difficult today as it was then. Moreover, going it alone seems like an insurmountable task. That’s why QCA was formed, to ease the burden promotional products suppliers experience when trying to meet buyer demands on product safety and quality, social responsibility, supply chain security and environmental impact. While suppliers shoulder much of the responsibility, they’re not the only ones who have an obligation to deliver on the promise of brand safety. The entire supply chain—including distributors and end buyers—must have a vested interest to transform the way our industry does business beyond a handful of forward-thinking companies. Enter a new participation model.   Becoming More Inclusive We spent much of 2018 taking a long, hard, in-depth look at ourselves, our current program structure and the industry so we could determine the relevance of the current path and where any course corrections were needed. We realized there is considerable opportunity for brand safety to have greater impact and meet buyer demands through expanded participation on both the supplier and distributor sides. So we got to work modernizing our organization. It started with building a restructured participation model and fee structure that is more engaging and inclusive with distributors and end buyers while keeping our overall mission and standards intact. The new participation model consists of four categories: Users Distributor Advocates Certified Distributors and Decorators Accredited Suppliers By revitalizing the structure, distributors are empowered to collectively have a greater say in their supplier expectations for brand safety and responsible sourcing. Currently, small distributors lack the voice to push suppliers to go above and beyond. However, the new participation model allows a greater number of smaller distributors to collectively have a voice while at the same time enabling distributors and decorators of all sizes to be held to a higher standard through more accountability via certification. Additionally, the inclusion of direct end-buyer engagement allows for organizations of all sizes to publicly communicate their expectations to our industry. By becoming a part of QCA, these organizations will become part of the solution by helping to make our industry better.    With the expanded reach of the participation model,...

Read More

Future Buyers Will Be Change Agents For Tomorrow’s Businesses

Future Buyers Will Be Change Agents For Tomorrow’s Businesses

Takeaways From ISM Direct Conference And How Corporate Social Responsibility Is A Driving Force Behind Changing Buyer Attitudes Marketing, fleet, human resources and other indirect expenses—including promotional products—often don’t receive the same scrutiny as direct ones, even though these costs may comprise 50% of a company’s overall purchases. Each year, ISM Indirect brings together indirect procurement professionals from across industries to explore effective strategies in driving down costs while increasing value. One thing that makes this event special is that teams of students from several different universities were invited to present on supply chain topics. While there were a variety of predetermined topics on which to present, each of the groups chose topics related to sustainability, ethics, social responsibility and environmental protection. These are tomorrow’s buyers, and they made it very clear where they stand on these topics. The next generation of procurement leaders has been raised in a culture that values responsible sourcing, and our industry needs to get more fully on board with this or risk decline in value and interest from the buyers of the future. In fact, this Georgetown University article says that corporate social responsibility is so important to millennials that ignoring it is at your own peril.   Moving Beyond Commodities As with the buyers we spoke to at the AMA Symposium For The Marketing Of Higher Education, there are some overall negative perceptions about promotional products. Part of this perception is due to these buyers are procurement professionals who are not focused on marketing and thus look at branded merchandise as merely a commodity. “Many of the seasoned buyers shared their dislike for the medium based on the ‘cheap’ perception,” says Tim Brown, QCA’s executive director of operations, who attended the event. “Talking with us helped them not only gain insight about the effectiveness of promotional products but also understand what they can do to add more value through the medium. By choosing products with longevity that take up key residence in front of their clients as well as aligning sourcing responsibilities with the other elements of their corporate social responsibility programs, they are able to offer greater brand protections. “What they seemed to like most was that QCA Accredited Suppliers provide an ‘easy button’ of sorts for responsibly sourcing promotional product,” he continues. “The less work these buyers have to do to add value the better, so promotional consultants have a...

Read More

O Canada! PPPC Suppliers Can Now Apply For QCA Accreditation

O Canada! PPPC Suppliers Can Now Apply For QCA Accreditation

We have some excellent news for our friends up North. The Board of Directors for the Quality Certification Alliance (QCA) has revised our bylaws to include supplier members of the Promotional Product Professionals of Canada (PPPC). Here’s how it went down: We had a request from PPPC to include them in addition to Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) as a criterion, it made sense and the board voted to revise the bylaws to include them. Boom! This allows QCA to be even more inclusive and continue living out our mission to serve the entire industry. While applicants must still be incorporated in the United States, now they can be members of either PPAI or PPPC as a part of the qualification process. What has not changed is that applicants must meet the definition of “supplier:” A promotional products company that manufactures, imports, converts, imprints or otherwise produces or processes promotional products offered for sale through promotional consultants (distributors). What does this change mean to you? Well, it broadens the number of suppliers who are eligible to apply; more accredited suppliers gives distributors more verifiably responsible resources and this, in turn, offers buyers a more comprehensive selection of safe and responsibly sourced products such as tuques (that’s Canadian for a knit hat for all of you lower than the 49th parallel). Moreover, that’s good for everyone’s bottom...

Read More

Getting In Touch With Higher Education Buyers

Getting In Touch With Higher Education Buyers

What You Must Know To Effectively Sell To This Market Universities and colleges use branded merchandise across so many avenues—from gift and spirit stores to student recruiting, alumni groups, on-campus events, athletic events, advocacy efforts and more. As prolific as promotional products are around campuses, many of these higher-education marketers are not at all familiar with our industry’s supply chain. To make it even more confusing, the collegiate structure makes it difficult to determine who owns the process since it encompasses everything from spirit shops, bookstores, alumni events, sports clubs, sports teams, advocacy events, departmental promotions, etc. However, one thing is certain; there are definitely many opportunities for educating these education marketers in terms of brand safety and responsible sourcing of their logoed goods.   Connecting With Buyers Held November 4-7, 2018, the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education hosted 1,200+ attendees, most of whom were senior management—presidents, vice presidents, CMOs and marketing directors from both the education establishments as well as the marketing agencies they use. Being in education, they were eager to learn. Moreover, we learned as much from them as they did from us. This market is very concerned about social responsibilities and the treatment of workers, so the Fair Labor Association (FLA) is held in high regard. So while the promotional products industry is generally very focused on product safety, there is a disconnect about how important social responsibility is to these buyers. Additionally, these buyers are widely uninformed when it comes to brand safety knowledge with promotional products. “While they understand brand safety from the digital media standpoint, these buyers have not considered it for promotional products,” says Tim Brown, QCA’s executive director of operations, who attended the event. “Many did not respect branded merchandise enough to care until I shared the points of the PPAI’s Get In Touch Campaign and then they began to understand how valuable and impactful the advertising medium is.” “Once people wrapped their heads around the topic, they wanted to know the simplest way to ensure compliance,” he continues. “We shared questions to ask their current distributors, let them know about our Distributor Advocacy Council (DAC), and talked about the value not only of QCA but other third-party accreditations and certifications such as FLA, ISO, B-Corps and WRAP.” Overall, QCA’s message of brand safety resonated with attendees who were already enamored by the volume of promotional products...

Read More

The Promise and Risk of IoT Products for the Promotional Industry

The consumer product world is experiencing a broad emergence of Internet-connected tech products with embedded sensors and microchips that allow them to perform tasks never before imagined. They are part of the Internet of Things (IoT) and they will eventually redefine what we consider normal.  And like many tech items that evolve from pricey retail versions to low cost promotional versions, the day when IoT products arrive in the promotional industry is likely to come soon.  Imagine a T-shirt that monitors your heart rate and then automatically adjusts the program of your treadmill, a pill box that emails you if your elderly mother forgets to take her medicine, or GPS–enabled stickers that can track anything with a Find-my-iPhonetype app.  These products and hundreds more are all possible in what our industry could call the Internet of PromotionalThings (IoPT).  In time, there are bound be IoPT features added to a wide range of industry categories – from pens to drinkware to bags to apparel – as developers find meaningful ways to reimagine the customer experience and broaden marketing opportunities. But the benefits of IoT and IoPT may come at a price.  These connected consumer products are raising serious concerns for regulators around the globe as issues of cybersecurity and privacy abound.3  Consumers have already been subjected to hacking incidents with IoT control devices in automobiles, heart regulators, baby monitors, cameras, oil pipelines and credit card scanners, to name a few.  Promotional professionals should take the time to educate themselves about IoT now, before the products become plentiful in the industry, so that when they begin to appear you will be better able to make informed decisions and protect your clients’ brands. Only 4% of the world was online in 1999 when Kevin Ashton, a British scientist working at Proctor and Gamble (P&G), coined the term “Internet of Things.”[1]It was the title of a presentation he gave on the use of radio frequency identification tags (RFID) for P&G’s supply chain. Ashton was convinced that life would be greatly improved if computers weren’t dependent on humans for data entry – that electronic sensors, like RFID, were much more efficient.  He wrote, “If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or...

Read More

Category Managers Get Brand Safety: Responsible sourcing best practices add value.

As the holiday season began, QCA was still out on the road sharing the message of BRAND SAFETY through the responsible sourcing of promotional products. While everyone was still eating Thanksgiving leftovers, the Institute for Supply Management Indirect Conference kicked off in Las Vegas. Moreover, once again, we were joined by a representative from the QCA Distributor Advocacy Council. The lineup of quality speakers represented several supply chain categories from large and mid-sized organizations. Some of the more well-known included presenters hailed from Baxter International, FedEx, Intel, Microsoft, the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, and Zappos.   The Next Generation of Procurement The event also featured a group of college students that had to compete for a chance to attend and receive scholarships to boot. This group of young minds was energetic and focused on the future with a keen understanding of sustainability. Thus, the responsible sourcing conversation just made sense to them. The next generation of procurement leaders has been raised in a culture that values corporate responsibility and distrusts brands for the most part. So, transparency – while somewhat of a buzzword currently – is going to be the way of the future.   Communicating with Buyers In Their Language It is essential to speak the buyer’s language if you want them to understand your value. While the industry tends to focus on product safety and rightly so, that topic appears to take a secondary position to social responsibility where procurement professionals are concerned. Understandably, they want to avoid safety incidents, injuries, recalls, and other issues. However, they are much more familiar with social responsibility and the potential damage that can result from associating their brand with products from a vendor that uses forced labor and/or commits other human rights violations.   The session titled “Unlocking Savings and Other Benefits with a Strategic Sourcing Program” went over extremely well and prompted a great deal of conversation. The speakers shared experiences with the vendor vetting process, RFIs, and vendor onboarding where the differentiator, as cited by the speakers, can often be a certification from a third-party.   Sustainability and responsible sourcing has become a higher priority for more F1000 companies and is now seeping into America’s mid-sized companies as well. With this has come the need for more information, more in-depth vetting practices, and a higher desire for validation, to ease the resource burden for indirect procurement professionals. Third-party...

Read More