For an audience that already understands social responsibility and environmental stewardship, introducing three more essential BRAND SAFETY categories to round out the five pillars of compliance seemed to be a natural fit. The American Marketing Association (AMA) recently held its 2017 Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in Atlanta, Georgia. The event attracted over 1200 attendees fixated on discovering fresh ways to engage audiences.

Keynote speakers included Stefanie Miller, Coca-Cola Company Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnership Marketing and Jaime Casap, Google Education Evangelist.


Universities and colleges of all sizes are significant users of promotional products and tend to already understand the importance of promotional products as a viable marketing medium. However, BRAND SAFETY has not necessarily been top-of-mind for many of these professionals when sourcing their promotional merchandise.

Our message of BRAND SAFETY resonated with attendees who were already enamored by the volume of promotional products filling the exhibit hall. Within seconds of inquiring who QCA is, they understood the importance of an independent accreditation body in the promotional products space. Many had just assumed compliance was a given and therefore, did not give it a second thought. This provided the opportunity to share more about the dynamics of the industry and why some of the assumptions that apply to retail consumer products cannot be applied to promotional consumer products. As an industry, we change things, via decoration, and change the intended audience for which a product was manufactured. Because of this, the parameters and rules that apply to each given situation change as well.

As with previous end-buyer (users of promotional products) conferences we have attended, there always seems to be a sense of appreciation for what QCA and our industry trade association are doing. While responsible sourcing is not a topic that has typically been at the forefront for marketers, those that engage with us quickly catch on to the value. Often, the attendees would share stories of promotions gone bad, experiences with inferior quality products, and even safety issues they encountered. Common sentiments included, “thank you for bringing this to my attention – we had not really thought about it,” and “I just assumed this kind of stuff was already being done.”


Once people wrapped their heads around the topic, they wanted to know the simplest way to ensure compliance. 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 like FLA, ISO, and WRAP.

We discussed how third-party designations – while not the only means by which to address responsible sourcing – typically provide greater assurances, as they are subject to more rigor and a wider scope. This allowed us to share details of what to look for in a distributor and their suppliers. We referred attendees to the PPAI booth to learn more about the value of this fantastic advertising medium. We also shared how to look for industry professionals that have achieved credentials such as CAS/MAS designations, PPAI’s Product Safety Aware Ambassadorship, and more.

This allowed us to share the steps our trade association is taking to educate the industry and compare that to folks investing heavily in going the extra mile through some of the designations noted above. The tools we provided in the form of questions to help vet their distributors allowed these marketing professionals to take value home from the conference in the form of BRAND SAFETY.

That being said, most preferred the simplicity and additional assurances provided by an independent third party, yet understood that with the right information and proper steps, they could do some vetting on their own. There were many follow-up requests to learn more about protecting their reputations. Several attendees mentioned that their trademark and licensing teams would be very interested in learning about BRAND SAFETY in the promotional products space.


I have long been a proponent of having candid conversations with prospects and clients about the topic of BRAND SAFETY through the responsible sourcing of promotional products. Many in the industry are uncomfortable with this discussion and tend to avoid it or merely brush over over it with coined phrases and buzz words. I believe this is a mistake. At some point everyone will have to deal with it so why not do it on your terms rather than waiting for your clients to come to you with it?

QCA is the promotional product industry’s only independent, non-profit organization dedicated to verifying the processes that help industry companies provide safe and compliant products. To learn more about how you can affiliate with QCA visit