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10 Things You Should Not Do With Corporate Promotional Gifts

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There’s a right and a wrong way to do most things, and the same is true for corporate promotional gifts.  Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs and executive teams haven’t identified these mistakes in their programs, so I want to point them out to help your organization.

corporate promotional giftsMy Story

I remember the most disheartening awards ceremony I had while I was in the military.  It was rewarding “great performers” from my deployment.  Many people in the organization worked 14-16 hours per day while deployed, and we were in very high heats (sometimes without air).  It was intense.

Just like in any organization, there were some people who cut corners, and one particular person who cut MANY corners.  In fact, she broke general order #1 which mandated that we don’t have sex while we’re deployed, she got pregnant, and she had to be sent home early as a result!

There was a lot of politics in our organization and unprofessional relationships between higher-ups and their subordinates.  She had been a part of an unprofessional relationship with a higher up.  After she was confirmed to be pregnant, she was permitted to stay inside in the air condition all day, she stayed seated most of the time, and she had lots of privileges all the way up until she was sent home.

Can you imagine the tax dollars a special flight might cost because someone broke a well-publicized rule like “no sex”?

When the awards ceremony came, not only did she somehow avoid the punishment associated with breaking general order #1, but she was given the highest honor award of everyone deployed in our organization!  The awards ceremony sent many people into an uproar.  We were deployed to serve our country; not to get awards, but corporate promotional gifts should be given in fairness.  Instead, the rewards following our deployment left many people bitter.

What Corporate Promotional Gifts Can Offer Organizations: The Good and The Bad

Programs involving corporate promotional gifts can be very motivational and they can say a lot of positive things about your brand when they’re used right. Alternatively, if they’re used wrong, it can serve as poisonous to your organization; leaving a bad impression; sometimes even seeping from the inside out.  You really have to be careful with how you use any reward or safety programs to ensure your sending across the right messages, otherwise, the culture of your organization can be stained.

You may want a business whose brand is known as:

  • Solution-focused
  • Resourceful
  • a Community benefit
  • Gives great jobs, services, and products
  • Very friendly and welcoming
  • and, enjoyable to work with

But, with poorly planned incentive plans, you can create a brand with:

  • People who feel entitled
  • Greedy and never satisfied
  • Poor morale
  • Loads of politics
  • Unfair
  • Viscious
  • and a terror to be around

I don’t know many people who aspire to build a business with a bad culture, but without careful and strategic planning, a small issue can become a big one simply by way of the compound effect if these 10 things aren’t avoided…

1. Playing Favorites

corporate promotional giftsIn 2011, Georgetown University did a study where they surveyed senior executives with companies that had over 1,000 employees.  They found that 84% of them admitted favoritism takes place in their organizations!

Favoritism is a very common management issue, and it can become a big issue if:

  • High performing people in the organization notice their work goes unnoticed because of “favorites”
  • Customers notice special treatment to some customers over others
  • and, the culture becomes permeated with unfair treatment

Adding corporate promotional products onto a culture of favoritism can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back!  In my deployment, most people knew there were unprofessional relationships, but when she received the highest honorary award…..it left a lot of people steaming away.  While, it’s natural to show more positive attention to people with good attitudes or good performance, it’s important to uplift and build everyone up in the organization: employees and customers alike.

2. Rewarding “Brown-nosers” and Politics

Similar to playing favorites, there are manipulative people who behave a certain way to win the favor of higher-ups, but they may be the most insincere and unethical people you could meet!  In places where I’ve worked, we’d nicknamed these people who were over-sensationalizing things and insincerely behaving in order to impress leaders.  We called them “butt kissers” or “brown nosers”.  I’m guessing you’ve seen these people who play the political game in a manipulative way before.

As a leader whose implementing a program with corporate promotional gifts, you want to do your best to ensure the best performers are awarded rather than those who “speak the most tactfully in front of leadership”.  It can be difficult to sift thru “brown-nosers” versus high performers, but the greatest way to tell is by watching action rather than words.

3. Giving in to Complainers

Everyone gets annoyed over time with complainers, and at some point or another, most organizations run into a complainer.  The person may be given something to do and the go on and on with excuse after excuse, or complaint after complaint like…

  • “They don’t want to do this because…”
  • “This is too hard because…”
  • “Someone else should be doing this because…”
  • and WOMP, WOMP, WOMP, on and on and on…

corporate promotional giftsSome people aren’t assertive enough to stand up to complainers, and instead, they give into them.  Even worse, they award complainers when opportunities come up where there’s corporate promotional gifts to give.

When complainers are awarded, it sends the message that:

  • Complaining is okay in the organization
  • You don’t have to do what’s required
  • and, You can get out of hard things by complaining

Are any of these messages ones you want to permeate your corporate culture?  I don’t. Be careful that your corporate promotional gifts are awarding the people who don’t complain and leaving complainers to rethink their behavior.

4. Not being Assertive with Low Performers or Even Rewarding them!

Sometimes, hard conversations are required.  An example of a hard conversation is telling someone that they’re not performing to the standard of the workplace, and if they don’t improve, there’s negative consequences.  Or, in the case of a customer, it can be difficult to say, “You haven’t been paying on time or meeting the criteria here, and if this doesn’t change, we’re going to respond”.

Some leaders will try to avoid hard conversations like the plague!  Then, when the low performers don’t improve, it leaves others wondering, “Why am I working my butt off while they’re able to get rewarded for performing worse?”

If low performers are accepted for too long, it can lower the output and productivity in the WHOLE ORGANIZATION.  Low performers can be like cancer to a business if you let it go that far.  Even worse, if you award low performers with corporate promotional gifts, it can be just as de-motivating as saying “Don’t worry everyone. It’s not necessary to meet standards here”.

You want to be careful that low performers are given assertiveness and defined parameters, so they can turnaround their performance.  Sometimes, the low performance can be a result of personal issues, emotional concerns, or something else could be wrong.  It’s important to address the performance to give the opportunity for improvement.

5. Not addressing Employees or Customers who Find Loopholes

corporate promotional gifts

There are some people who will try their best to find a workaround for rules.  For example:

There’s the people who will try to find ways to get discounts, so they can get your goods or services for less than you’d planned


There’s employees who might try to get more break time, vacation time, or sick time than what’s allowed

Some people go out of their way to find a loophole!  You have to address these “loophole finders” because they can harm the effectiveness of your organization if this behavior compounds.  It could be even worse if you award people who find loopholes with corporate promotional gifts!

Find ways to tighten up loopholes, address those that seem to be looking for them, and award people for following thru the path that serves your organization (internally and externally).

6. Using Promotional Gifts in Place of Raises

At times, corporate promotional gifts aren’t enough.  When a person should be getting more money, every corporate promotional gift you could think up, can’t replace that.  Be willing to give pay raises when pay raises should be given.  If people are performing and loyal to your company, corporate promotional gifts can be a good option, but weigh it out to decide whether a raise (or price cut for customers) is more appropriate.

7. Setting the Bar too High

Sometimes, it takes a while to build the confidence of the members within an organization to see their capabilities.  If you decide to only offer corporate promotional gifts in exchange for a standard people are confident enough to pursue, it can be just as disheartening as never giving rewards at all. You want to make sure there are stair steps in how you reward employees and customers, so they feel motivated and challenged, but they also sense the possibility.

8. Being a Perfectionist rather than a Leader

corporate promotional giftsPeople who seemingly can never be satisfied are not who most people want to be around.  You might do your best, but they still want more.  Perfectionists are hard on themselves and others, and as a result, they don’t uplift people towards a goal, but instead, they seem to tear them down.

Even worse, they can never experience the depth leadership can unveil by building from positions one thru five as detailed in my post 8 Different Leadership Styles.  They maintain a level of leadership where people follow because they have to, rather than scaling into the more desirable ones where people follow by choice, and so on.

No one will be perfect, and it’s important to lead them on their unique path to improve their skills and reward them for their efforts. Corporate promotional gifts can help with that.

9. Not Being Firm About Ethical Breaches in the Organization

In the story of my deployment, there were clear ethical breaches that resulted from romantic relationships taking place between our leadership and subordinates, but there was no one in the leadership who took a stand.  When ethics aren’t enforced, the workplace can become a breeding ground for all kinds of issues: sexual harassment, rape, unprofessional relationships, low productivity, stealing, poor performance, and the list goes on and on. Things become even worse when you award people who publicly participate in unethical behaviors!

10. Ignoring Hard Workers and Good Contributors

Key talent and good customers are the lifeblood of any business.  You want to have reward programs and ways to incentivize optimal behaviors.  For example, everyone knows exercise is good.

Regardless of their knowledge base, people who exercise, but feel the scale is not moving or their body isn’t getting toned, get discouraged easier than those who are seeing results.  People want to see cause and effect.

When there’s a sense that their hard work will continually go unnoticed, it becomes more of a challenge to go the extra mile over time (unless they have a rare personal conviction).  Regardless of persons, having rewards in place to encourage hard workers and customers who are good contributors helps to motivate those positive outcomes.

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Final Words on 10 Things You Shouldn’t Do With Corporate Promotional Gifts

The goal of this article was to show you 10 ways you shouldn’t use corporate promotional gifts. While promo items are a great notion, there are some situations where using them can cause more harm than good.  If you have questions or concerns about this, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section.  I’d love to help you out!

Now, it’s Your Turn…

Have you seen any situations like this where people are rewarded when they shouldn’t have been? How did that effect the organization? Do you use corporate promotional items in your organization?  How does it impact people working with you?

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