Takeaways From ASM 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.


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 real opportunity to educate these procurement professionals about how they can deliver brand safety by simply making the right purchasing choices.”

On the other hand, the students (aka future buyers) demonstrated a great deal of interest in how the QCA Accreditation Program works, and some were even interested in learning how to get more involved with organizations like QCA.

“One marketing professor at an Ohio college expressed interest in having us present to their students on the topic of responsible sourcing and brand safety,” Tim says.

While a handful of the seasoned professionals were well versed on promotional products, brand safety and responsible sourcing, the students were much more informed and passionate about the topics. Overall, there is still plenty of education to be done with both the current professionals to help them understand the value of our advertising medium and the importance of brand safety as well as with the students to cultivate their interests and help them grow into well-informed procurement specialists.



Part of being a successful promotional consultant who moves our advertising medium forward is being able to effectively communicate not only about the virtues of branded merchandise but also tailor the message to each buyer’s specific needs in a way that makes sense to them demographically and psychographically. If you want to grow your business by expanding into this market or you’re currently selling to procurement professionals and want to do it better, keep these top three takeaways from our time spent at ISM Direct in mind:

* Sustainability and responsible sourcing have become a higher priority for companies beyond the Fortune 1000. As such, there’s a need for more information, in-depth vetting practices and a greater desire for validation—but only in a manner that does not increase the workload for indirect procurement professionals. Third-party certifications are seen as a way to accomplish all of these objectives.

* Since promotional consultants are on the front lines with buyers and influencers, they must take responsibility and begin educating their buyers about the brand safety and how purchasing products that cannot be documented as safe and responsibly sourced is fraught with risk. By doing so, PPDs will instill confidence in their clients and cement themselves as a brand ambassador.

* Procurement professionals wear many hats, and they do not have time to worry about sourcing promotional products. Current buyers want it to be easy and inexpensive, so the short-term focus must be on making it uncomplicated for the seasoned professionals. Using accredited suppliers makes this possible with less documentation and validation required by buyers. Conversely, future buyers want it done right and they don’t necessarily mind the extra effort. So in the long run, the industry must be ready for increased demands for accountability and responsible sourcing.

Author: Lisa Horn – The Publicity Gal
A 24-year promotional products industry veteran, Lisa began her career as a distributor before spending nearly ten years on the staff of Promotional Products Business (PPB) magazine, with seven years as editor. She is a proud graduate of Oklahoma State University (Go Pokes!) and holds a B.S. in Business Administration with a major in marketing.

Lisa combined her marketing background and time spent as a promotional products distributor with her passion for writing and magazine experience to create a one-of-a-kind, journalistic approach to content creation that brings out the authentic story.

Lisa’s writing has been honored for three consecutive years with the PPAI Technology Award (2015-2017) for excellence in blog content for her work on the Corporate Specialties Blog.

She also served as a judge for the PPAI Technology Awards (2011-2012) PPAI Supplier Achievement Awards (2008-2010, 2012), PPAI Image Awards (2012) and PPAI Pyramid Awards (2008 and 2010).

In the writing community, she has judged the ASBPE Annual Azbee Awards of Excellence (2007 and 2012) as well as the AWC Clarion Awards (1999 and 2010) competitions (evaluating magazine feature article categories in both).

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 www.qcalliance.org/getting-started/.