Brand Safety Is The New Standard

Wov-In Brands Applied For QCA Accreditation To Meet Customer Demands As end buyers continue to demand brand safety through responsible sourcing, promotional products suppliers have an important decision to make: How will they meet the needs of distributors, and in turn their end-buyer customers, in terms of corporate social responsibility and product safety? While there are corporate responsibility statements, self-managed compliance programs simply aren’t effective. It’s kind of like the popular New Year’s Resolution to get more exercise. There’s excitement with the setting of a new goal. In January, gyms are filled day and night with people lifting weights and logging miles. Posts flood social media with people sharing their progress. However, come March, gym traffic is down. There are less and less social posts about fitness. People have gone back to their old ways. Why? The commitment to fitness is hard. You have to put in the work every day to make gains. That’s why there’s an entire industry around fitness trainers and coaches—to hold people accountable so they can reach the goals they set. Same thing with compliance programs. Companies want to meet buyer demands by providing safe products that are responsibly sourced. So they try to keep up with the changing regulatory environment and manage all of the third-party factory audits themselves. Turns out, it’s harder than anticipated. Moreover, like the gym goers, after a few months the enthusiasm wanes, distractions occur (a machine breaks down, a website update must happen, a big order comes in, and it’s all hands on deck) and the compliance program is forgotten. There must be a better way. Enter QCA Accreditation.   Partnering For Success WOV-IN Brands recognized the challenges of going down the compliance road alone, so they opted to apply for QCA Accreditation to help them develop the policies and procedures so they can consistently deliver safe, high-quality, socially compliant and environmentally conscientious merchandise that buyers demand—and have the documentation to prove it. Note: WOV-IN Brands has not yet received their Accreditation. The organization is in the program and working diligently towards completing all requirements in the coming months. “Brand safety is increasingly important, and this is not a trend that will reverse course,” says Joe Johnson, WOV-IN Brands’ director of operations. “The expectations that began with a few select brands are becoming the new standard for all brands. We must demonstrate to our distributor customers and their...

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Undoing Commodity Damage

Undoing Commodity Damage

How You Can Help Procurement Professionals Focus On Value Not Price Salespeople and procurement professionals tend to be diametrically opposed. Salespeople want to maximize profit and procurement officers want to minimize price. The result has been the commoditization of many promotional products—everything from drinkware, apparel, tech products and even rubber duckies. Because of the price pressures, our industry has responded by importing more and more cheap goods to meet the growing demand. While these procurement pros have received what they asked for, there’s also been a host of unintended consequences: Products that contain harmful chemicals, are not ethically made nor manufactured in an environmentally friendly manner. For Fortune 1,000 companies, these are critical issues that can seriously damage their brand reputations. At the 2018 ProcureCon Marketing conference held in San Diego, California, this is one of the topics that was eagerly discussed by both attendees and exhibitors alike.   Illuminating The Issues The process of employing RFPs and RFQs seems reasonable enough. Why not systematically be able to evenly evaluate vendors? Yet, has this procedure backfired when it comes to marketing and, specifically, purchasing promotional products? Procurement professionals value their brands, and they sincerely want to work with the marketing department to get the best value and performance from their vendors at the most reasonable price. “Yet there was a surprising takeaway from conference attendees in that they acknowledged how the RFP and RFQ have backfired in some ways when it comes to marketing,” says Tim Brown, QCA’s executive director, who attended the event. “Now there is a drive to right the way and look for more value adds and less commodity focused thinking.” So what changed? Why are these buyers reconsidering how they do business? Clearly, brand value is paramount for these organizations, especially the Fortune 1,000. They have put considerable time and even more money into building their brand awareness and reputation. They cannot afford for an inexpensive promo item to create a negative media storm when there’s a problem or a recall. Several of these companies have already had to deal with negative fallouts from different reputational hits to their brands from various forces. Thus, they are keenly aware of the impact on their brand from negative publicity, and they are now taking steps to reduce the risk. Moreover, that means looking deeply at the procurement process. So while some promo pros may see this as...

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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,...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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