At QCA, we spend much of our time working with suppliers and distributors to ensure accountability and independent validation of corporate responsibility throughout the promotional products industry’s supply chain. However, part of our mission includes sharing the value of branded merchandise with end buyers and educating them on how to better work with their distributor partners to ensure brand safety and responsible sourcing. That’s why we attended ProcureCon Marketing 2019 last month in Austin, Texas.
The only dedicated marketing procurement and sourcing event in North America, ProcureCon marketing is a two-and-a-half-day conference that features more than 40 education sessions, panel discussions and interactive case studies along with luncheons and networking events. Topics included negotiating with agencies, maximizing agency relationships, increasing diversity, managing physical media in a digital world, to name a few. There were even four 30-minute roundtable discussions specifically talking about promotional products.
Additionally, David Clifton, chief marketing officer for QCA Accredited Supplier alphabroder and president of the QCA Board of Directors, was invited to join an esteemed panel to discuss “Cleaning Up The Marketing Supply Chain: Tools You Need For Brand Safety.”
David (second from left in above photo) joined the following procurement professionals on the panel (left to right): Abram Hall, sourcing manager – print, marketing and advertising, for MetLife; Lauren Costley, strategic sourcing category manager - marketing and events, American Cancer Society; Jenny Reints, director of global indirect strategic sourcing, Chamberlain Group; and Philip Guiliano, partner, BrandActive.
The panel discussed strategies marketing procurement professionals can adopt to make certain they are taking the right steps to protect their brands, as brand safety is about much more than content placement. In reality, any asset with a brand, whether digital or physical (such as promotional products), can create a problem for organizations if they don’t understand the potential risks and take the appropriate steps to avoid issues.
David addressed what is being done (as well as what’s not being done) in the promotional products industry to ensure the branded merchandise these companies use is safe, compliant and responsibly sourced. He also explained the benefits of QCA for alphabroder and their customers—QCA being a turnkey solution that checks all the boxes when it comes to brand safety. Finally, he let attendees know they can enhance their organizations' commitment to ethical sourcing and brand safety by participating in QCA through the Affiliate Program.
Throughout the two-plus days, we were able to connect and have personal conversations with procurement pros from some of the worlds largest brands such as Expedia, LinkedIn, Shell, Sony, Starbucks and Unilever to name a few. And we weren’t the only ones in attendance representing the promotional products industry. QCA distributor Advocates Overture, LLC and Stran Promotional Solutions exhibited in the “Solutions Zone,” where they could show attendees the power of promo and talk about their commitment to brand safety through their QCA participation.
Overall, these procurement pros were quite interested in what QCA has to offer because protecting their brand equity is of paramount importance. But that’s not to say that how they’re buying branded merchandise isn’t without issue. In fact, while most say that product safety and responsible sourcing are extremely important to their brands, there’s a big discrepancy on how this is being evaluated in the RFP process.
In a nutshell, the level of knowledge and sophistication of compliance documentation is all over the map. Some companies have very explicit requirements outlined in the contracts and require third-party audit documentation for all branded merchandise. Others have begun including compliance in contracts but they haven’t yet worked out a system for evaluation and consistent monitoring. And there are still some who want their promotional goods to be safe and responsibly sourced but they have no idea where to start.
These procurement professionals are also experiencing difficulty with their marketing partners who often skip going through procurement so they can buy promotional products from their friends and relatives. Sounds innocent enough, but when you have global brands, this rogue spend can expose the brand to significant risk—ranging from inconsistencies with brand image (wrong logo, colors, typestyles, taglines, terminology used) to more serious instances of product safety and responsible sourcing that could result with legal issues and PR nightmares.
As they try to gain control over these expenditures, procurement professionals are often misconstrued as the penny police. While it’s true they want to control spend, what they’re really trying to achieve is the best value for the expenditure—and that’s not necessarily the lowest price.
Overall, it’s clear there is significant sales opportunity for distributors who are educated on the issues of product safety and responsible sourcing and who can deliver goods that have been third-party audited to meet brands’ requirements and align with their values. That’s great news for QCA Distributor Advocates, the forthcoming QCA Certified Distributors and the QCA Accredited Suppliers they both use to fulfill the orders.