Capitol Initiatives


Only YOU can prevent forest fires.
Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.
Clean. Separate. Cook. Chill.

These are just a few of the public service campaign slogans, funded by government agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to educate the public on the dangers of forest fires, food contamination or driving under the influence of alcohol. They are also among the most highly recognized advertising slogans in the world.

How did these agencies spread the word? The campaigns were promoted through Ad Council-sponsored public service announcements, ads, billboards and promotional products. The iconic Smokey Bear himself, created for the U.S. Forest Service in the 1940s, has been used on bookmarks, plush bears, posters, backpacks, pencils, coloring books and other assorted items for more than 60 years.

With the support of federal funding, these promotional campaigns influence changes in behaviors. For example, more than 68 percent of Americans exposed to the “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” advertising campaign have tried to prevent someone from driving drunk since the campaign’s launch in 1983, according to research by the Ad Council.

In addition to federally funded campaigns, awareness campaigns also have important roles on the state level as John Tulchin, partner with distributor The Promotions Dept (UPIC: PROMDEPT), points out.

His distributorship has been doing business with the State of California for more than 12 years, primarily focusing on products that deliver the message about the dangers of tobacco.

Distributor Newton Manufacturing (UPIC: NEWTON) has helped to prevent brain injuries by developing a tool to educate Iowa elementary-aged students. Working with clients at On With Life, a brain rehabilitation center, and the Iowa Department of Public Health, Dan Livengood, senior sales manager for the Western division, and game developer Merle Rasmussen, designed a custom deck of playing cards for students. The promotion was so successful that other state entities are now interested in this unique awareness tool.

The reason for the success of these programs and others is not only that promotional products are cost effective and the only advertising media not perceived as interruptive, but a PPAI study shows promotional products have a higher recall rate—82.6 percent—than any other advertising medium, including TV, print and online ads.

However, recent mandates at the state and federal levels to curtail spending on promotional items could threaten their use. Whether one agrees with the decisions or not (and some promotional products pros believe the spending cuts are justified), the fact remains that promotional products are vital to educating the public on health, safety and more.

How To Win Government Contracts
Currently, only five percent of U.S.-based businesses are doing business with the U.S. government. Yet, it’s considered to be the largest company in the world, and signs more than 11 million contracts a year. Approximately 95 percent of these contracts are awarded to small and medium-sized businesses. Under the Small Business Set-Aside (SBSA) program, any contract that has an anticipated dollar value between $2,500 and $100,000 is reserved for small, small disadvantaged, woman-owned and small veteran-owned businesses.

Promotional products pros who have worked successfully with government clients share these tips:

1. Keep your business diversified.
Diversification will help you maintain a healthy business without relying too heavily on any one industry. For example, at Newton, government clients only account for one to two percent of the company’s business, and these accounts are mostly with local and state entities. At The Promotions Dept, government-related accounts comprise approximately five to 10 percent of overall business.

2. Learn the bid process.
Landing a government contract can be an intricate process, so before you begin, do your research and ask questions. For U.S. government bids, there are two kinds: bids and proposals. Bids are part of a sealed bidding process, and proposals lead to awards, followed by negotiation. Be specific in your bid, as sometimes the contracting officer may request facts and figures to back up the bid. And include all the key components of a proposal, including an executive summary, specifics of your proposal, prior experience and a list of references.

3. Be persistent.
What seems like a simple foot in the door can quickly lead to a profitable segment of business. For example, MARCO Ideas Unlimited won a city contract several years ago, which led to opportunities with regional government agencies, and also state programs. Finally, a referral led to a large Department of Defense contract.

4. Get certified and become a registered vendor.
Government agencies keep a database of vendors with whom they prefer to do business, so it’s important to get your company into the database. If you do business with the federal government, you must register with the Central Contractor Registration (CCR). By registering, your company could be included on the bidders list.

The bidders list is made up of businesses that have advised the buying office of a federal agency or department that they want to bid on a particular item and have supplied data showing their ability to fulfill contracts for the item, service or project.

Another highly recognized credential is the HUBZone certification. The Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) program helps small businesses in urban and rural communities gain preferential access to federal contracts. The company must employ staff who live in a HUBZone and also maintain a “principal office” in a HUBZone.

5. Partner with experts.
Distributor Grand Ideas (UPIC: Grand213) is also a woman-owned distributorship that has worked with a branch of the U.S. Navy. The company was contacted by an advertising agency because it was a recognized woman-owned business by the federal government and Department of Defense, but it was also HUBZone certified.

6. Be creative.
Look for creative ways to show your knowledge and expertise as a promotional consultant. Like any industry, government work is a competitive environment, and anything you can do to set yourself apart is important.

Cassandra Johnson has spent more than 20 years as a writer and marketing communications consultant. She is a frequent contributor to PPB, Promotional Consultant and Promotional Consultant Today.

Bid Resources
There are an estimated 80,000 public purchasing authorities in the U.S. that post bidding opportunities across thousands of websites. The following websites aggregate government bids for most major industries into a central resource:

Check out 10 case studies of government promotions in action by clicking Online Exclusives at

Capitol Initiatives: Government Promotions Work

Client: California Department of Health Services
Distributor: The Promotions Dept (UPIC: PROMDEPT)
Objective: Educate children on the dangers of tobacco, and promote exercise and staying tobacco-free
Solution: John Tulchin and his team produced a variety of products, from activity coloring books and school supplies to sports-related items. The Promotions Dept also produced a series of thought-provoking, four-color process t-shirts with bold anti-smoking messages and graphics developed by a local advertising agency. The shirts were so popular that The Promotions Dept developed additional desktop items with the same imagery.
Results: A definite decline in tobacco use in California

Client: Iowa Department of Public Health and On With Life brain rehabilitation center
Distributor: Newton Manufacturing (UPIC: NEWTON)
Objective: Support Iowa’s Advisory Council on Head Injuries by creating educational tools for fourth-grade students that were fun, easy to use and built awareness about the prevention of brain injuries.
Solution: Dan Livengood of Newton Manufacturing and game developer Merle Rasmussen researched and used 26 resources for gathering facts about the brain and brain-injury prevention and awareness. They packaged the information in a fun, colorful card game: SAVE YOUR BRAIN™: You’re Going to Need It!
Results: After an initial prototype of 1,000 decks of cards was tested, an additional order of 3,000 decks was placed. These were distributed to elementary schools throughout the state of Iowa. All were produced within the allotted budget. “This is an excellent prevention and awareness tool,” says Kelly Harmon, ACBI Prevention Task Force Chair. “When teachers present the game to the children, the seconds that it takes for them to comprehend the seriousness of brain injury … it takes the same amount of time to sustain a brain injury. So, this game is vital for awareness and prevention.”

Client: State of Florida, with the University of North Florida in Jacksonville and the Institute for Police Training & Management
Distributor: Promo Depot (UPIC: PROMDPT)
At the time that this campaign was developed, there was no primary seatbelt law in the Florida statutes. A motorist could not be stopped for failing to wear a seatbelt. A vehicle could be stopped for other reasons and a citation could then be issued. As a result, Florida had one of the lowest rates of seatbelt usage in the U.S.
Solution: Working with the clients, Promo Depot designed a program to educate law enforcement officers on the benefits of seat belt usage to their constituents. A rewards program was designed to recognize the best agency work in terms of driver safety and seat belt usage. A yearly banquet was also planned to honor the best agencies and officers in Florida that were promoting this work.
The solution included printed collateral and small-value promotional items that were useful on the job, including pens, clipboards, travel cups, flashlights and multi-tools. Promo Depot also used t-shirts, hats and other apparel to motivate law enforcement officers. The awards dinner included a custom-manufactured award that recipient agencies could display, as well as a small gift for all banquet attendees. The winning agency received a fully-equipped police vehicle.
Results: Over the course of the program, from 2001 to 2007, the program was progressively successful. As a result, more than 50 percent of the officers statewide participated in at least one training opportunity each year, and seat belt usage increased in every quarter that the program took place. In 2007, a primary seat belt law was passed by the Florida Legislature.

Client: The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), division of the U.S. Navy
Distributor: Grand Ideas, Inc.
Objective: This division of the U.S. Navy was in need of tools to help recruit members to their respective division
Solution: Products created for use by the Navy recruiters included 3,000 mouse pads, 3,000 lanyards and 2,500 banner pens.
Results: While the distributor wasn’t given any stats about the effectiveness of the program, she reports the buyers loved the banner pen because it was a functional item that combined two products into one.

PPAI Gold Pyramid Winner
Client: Arizona Department of Health Services
Distributor: Geiger
Objective: To generate community awareness of the risks of second-hand smoke, particularly as it affects children.
Solution: The campaign, first introduced with TV spots and brochures in the surrounding Phoenix area, got a PR boost when it generated newspaper articles. Additional exposure was achieved through the distribution of two ingenious promotional items. First, restaurants who supported a non-smoking policy received baby bibs, which were presented to diners who came in with infant children. The bibs bore a custom imprint of the clever phrase, “I am a designated non-smoking area.” In addition, bottles of soap bubbles for kids to play with were distributed at community events such as fairs, workshops and women’s expos. A message on the bottle label made humorous reference to the Surgeon General’s tobacco warning…“My Cause: Joy, Laughter, Smiles and Excitement; Not: Asthma, Pneumonia or Cancer.” The program received tremendous support and sent a valuable message about the dangers of second-hand smoke.

PPAI Bronze Pyramid Winner
Client: Sapient Nitro/Queesland Government
Distributor: Chilli Promotions
Objective: The Queensland Government is committed to remaining at the forefront of Australia’s response to climate change. It is implementing actions that reduce emissions so that the stay can help meet a national reduction target of 60 percent below 2000 levels by 2050, and to prepare our industries and communities for the impact of climate change in Queensland.
Solution: The thermometer was used as a part of a personalized education pack provided to 260,000 Queensland residential properties. The pack was delivered as a follow-up piece after an electrician performed the Climate-Smart Home Service. There were 260,000 items produced. A custom designed and printed acrylic thermometer with magnetic backing was designed and was supplied on an A5 printed recycled backing card and packaged in a 100-percent bio-degradable and compostable polybag. The entire item is 100 percent carbon offset, food safe, quality checked and accurate to within +/- 1 degree. The product was handed out by electricians and plumbers or mailed out to various QLD homes, upon service calls and installation processes.
Results: Exact statistics are confidential but with more than half the thermometers now distributed to QLD homes, estimated figures are more than 100 gigawatt hours of annual energy saved and more than 500 million litres of estimated annual water saved so far.

PPAI Silver Pyramid Winner
Client: City of Dayton, Ohio—Aviation Department
Distributor: Shumsky
Objective: To attract and retain the attention of travel agents and corporate travel planners.
Solution: Feeling the increased competition from two local airports, the Dayton International Airport designed a promotional products campaign to give itself top-of-mind presence with area travel planners. Playing up the convenience of Dayton International, the campaign stressed the airport’s accessibility suggesting that getting to and from the airport was so easy, it was like magic. One-hundred-fifty area travel agencies received a black magician’s hat containing a plush rabbit dressed in an aviator’s jacket and goggles. An information sheet included in the box featured facts such as the number of flights, the quick car-to-gate time, traveler amenities, etc. Additional copy announced the new AirTran service to Tampa, Florida from Dayton, a nice setup for the “TA-DA!” tag. Not only was this an irresistibly creative idea, but the size of the mailer, alone, was enough to prevent the package from getting lost in the rest of the day’s mail.
Results: Passenger boardings for AirTran were up 22.6 percent over the previous year, and the load factor during the first month was 80 percent, meaning that, immediately following the campaign, 80 percent of the flights were full.

PPAI Gold Pyramid Winner
Client: Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Distributor: Booker Promotions
Objective: To raise funds for the Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program
Solution: Like many states, Georgia is desperate to protect its thousands of species of vertebrates and plants currently listed as endangered or nongame. To encourage the fund-raising sale of automobile tags promoting Wildlife Conservation, the state’s Wildlife Resources Division launched an extensive wildlife support campaign. Messages such as “Get Your License to Go Wild,” “Give Wildlife a Chance,” and “For Wildlife … For Georgia” appeared on t-shirts, posters, magnets, pens and leather coasters that were at the center of the promotion.
Results: More than 530,000 wildlife license tags were sold resulting in more than $7.4 million in preservation funds.

Credit: © 2011 CDPH. Images provided by the Tobacco Education Clearinghouse of California.

Client: State of Florida Department of Transportation and the University of North Florida in Jacksonville
Distributor: Promo Depot (UPIC: PROMDPT)
Objective: To remove motorists who were driving under the influence from roadways through the use of check points. Promotional products provided branding at the checkpoints.
Solution: Promo Depot sourced umbrellas, yard signs and t-shirts for use by police officers and volunteers who manned the safety checkpoints during the key summer holiday periods of Memorial Day and Fourth of July. A unique aspect of this campaign was that it was executed as a daytime prosecution push in addition to the usual heightened enforcement at night. The umbrellas were used for branding at the check points so that motorists immediately knew they were approaching a safety checkpoint. They were opened and inserted into safety cones along the roadside. The umbrellas were also used as thank-you gifts to participating agencies and to provide much-needed protection from the elements (Florida summers are well known for their frequent and sudden afternoon thunderstorms). The program also included statewide television and outdoor advertising for awareness.
Results: During the summer campaign, statewide DWI (Driving While Impaired) arrests increased versus the same period in previous years, and more importantly, motor vehicle deaths involving alcohol decreased.

Client: Arizona Department of Health and Nutrition
Distributor: Brown and Bigelow
Objective: To train school nurses and physical education teachers and to give them tools to use in their programs to teach students about nutrition and exercise.
Solution: A planner containing an annual calendar, inserts printed with the standards the teachers and nurses are expected to follow and contact information for government agencies. A blanket that kids could use to demonstrate exercises and a backpack to carry the products were also included. Each item was imprinted with a custom logo—an apple surrounded by floating atoms—representing school health in action.
Results: Participation increased 25 percent during the first year for PE teachers and 40 percent the second year for nurses. This year will be the fourth year for the program, says Lucinda McNeil at Brown and Bigelow. The client moved to an18-month calendar from a 12-month version so recipients could plan farther in advance, and a sport towel and resistance bands have replaced the blanket.

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