Peak Performance

When an athlete is in the zone, intense training, preparation and focus flow together seamlessly to result in peak performance. The same concept holds true for creative marketers and the results are just as stellar. Companies and brands that achieve the optimal experience set themselves apart from the crowd by exercizing intense creativity, originality and innovation. They know their audience, their brand or image and aren’t afraid to take calculated risks for a greater reward.

Seven promo industry companies reached the pinnacle of marketing greatness this year. Learn more about the companies and promotions behind these PPAI Pyramid Award winners in marketing.




OBJECTIVE: To rebrand distributor Creative Awards into something modern, aspirational, relatable and story-driven

DETAILS: Driven by a passion for product with purpose and a vision to harvest a relationship-based future, the Creative Awards team set out to rebrand into an entirely new company with a bigger vision: enter Creative.

To reflect the new vision, Creative underwent a full rebranding process, developing a new brand identity based on its current value proposition. The name Creative became its aspirational ideal and a reminder to clients and the team that Creative does just that—it creates meaningful products that add value to people’s lives and products that end users not only cherish, but welcome.

The new look leans into modern colors, color blocking, custom iconography and visual flow mapping. The brand shows that Creative is playful and fun, but professional. Creative is cool, but not pretentious. Creative is aspirational, but relatable. Creative is experienced, but curious.

RESULTS: New clients have very little to no insight about Creative Awards and are onboarding based on the new Creative brand. Creative has intentionally refrained from making its history part of its story moving forward. The company is telling a new story—and it’s working.

Insights from Anna Branch, brand and marketing strategist:

What was involved in this rebranding effort? “We redid our whole brand—new logo, new website, new brand identity, new colors, new brand guide and new messaging and core values. We took our brand and flipped it upside down. The company had been around for about 20 years and really didn’t have a strong brand presence. We thought about what our brand needed to be from an operating standpoint and the look, feel and everything. We said, ‘You know what, we have this opportunity, let’s just do it big.’ Branch, who joined the company, almost two years ago, says this family-owned distributor was originally an awards company, which grew into a forward-focused branding agency. Some of the collateral produced for the rebrand and pictured included a look-book for clients, business cards, apparel and pieces used at a client event to unveil the new brand."

How did you promote the rebranding to clients? “We had a big launch party in our new office that’s very modern and cool with an open floor plan. We also have a showroom, so it was great way to engage our clients and bring them into the story.” Guests at the event could walk around and experience some of the projects the company has completed. On exhibit are curated displays of Creative’s work; the pieces are changed out periodically to be relevant to the clients who are visiting.


OBJECTIVE: To increase attendance for the distributor’s annual open house and increase revenue by a minimum of 20 percent from the same period in the past year

DETAILS: The team designed a theme by drawing inspiration from the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and integrating promotional products into the campaign. This campaign, which showcased the company’s creative and collaborative abilities, was characterized by live music, beer gardens, a food truck and a VIP seating area. The distributor’s open house attracted 400 prospects and clients, and the campaign featured a fan invite, promo-filled bags, sunglasses, beach balls, wristband headphones, and new and top-trending products on display by 18 of the company’s preferred vendors.

RESULTS: The agency targeted 500 prospects and clients with the final attendance just shy of 400 people surpassing its previous attendance record. Sales grew from the same period of the year prior by 43 percent, smashing its original goal.

Insights from Pete Kmech, MAS, FAM Certified, president and director of marketing:

What was most challenging about this campaign? “Putting on an event like this is a massive undertaking but we were blessed to have such an amazing team—they do whatever they need to do to get it done. The challenge was … in September it’s generally 20 degrees Celsius. A week before the event, we found out that we were going to have a snowstorm. We pivoted—we changed the name of the event from Swagchella to Swagchilla. We ordered 300 pairs of gloves that could be used with phones and toques and we had a heated tent put up for all vendors. We had more than 400 RSVPs before the event and because we pivoted so quickly, we had 400 people show up on a snowy day outside in a tent. Everybody loved how quickly we pivoted—it was an opportunity to showcase what we could really do and how clever our team is.”

Why do you think it was so successful? “We put out a teaser video that made our clients want to submit their RSVPs. Hosting our own event and showing our clients how to use products also made it successful because our clients love getting ideas from our events for their own events. We are recognized as a company where people come to get ideas, learn how to put the events on and what promotional products are successful. We are providing our clients with an opportunity to learn.”


OBJECTIVE: To bring fun and creativity to the company’s culture, while promoting brand awareness

DETAILS: Supplier Goldstar created a spoof on the movie Step Brothers to shape company culture and brand awareness, and communicate the message that the company is a fun and creative partner that’s easy to work with. Delivering the message were the “Simplicity Brothers,” the movie’s characters personafied by Goldstar’s Charles Duggan, MAS+, national sales manager, and Kenny Ved, vice president of sales, who attended industry-related trade shows dressed in matching outfits. To further their image, they brought cardboard cutouts of their likeness to trade shows and offered custom boxes with official Simplicity Brothers merchandise to engage attendees. Promotional items included a Simplicity Brothers pen kit, socks (from Strideline) and a towel, featuring the “brothers.”

RESULTS: The campaign’s success grew sales by more than 56 percent in its targeted audience while delighting and engaging trade-show attendees and clients.

Insights from Charles Duggan, MAS+, national sales manager:

How much fun was this promotion? “It was a lot of fun! The Simplicity Brothers are not only award-winners but now they are known globally. Kenny Ved always puts a smile on my face, and when we’re together is where the magic is really created.”

Why was this campaign so successful? People can relate to having fun. We are in the promotional products business and even in challenging times, it’s OK to laugh even about simple things. And that can be as simple as me and my brother-from-another-mother on a water bottle.”



OBJECTIVE: To create awareness, customer loyalty and sell more SPF 15 lip balm in a crowded market

DETAILS: Supplier SnugZ created a fictional but believable professional organization, Professional Lip Balm Users Association, as the basis for this promotion, then created characters and favorite lip balm flavors based on their personalities. Distributor users became “pros” by signing up, which granted them access to a self-promo code. Creative included a professional seal for the organization that was used in all promo pieces along with the acronym PLBUA. The popular ’90s Craig David song, What’s Your Flava?, inspired the social media hashtag and promo discount code (#WHATSYOFLAVA). The strategy was to flood the industry with lip balm “pros” who belonged to PLBUA and to drive interest in being a part of this organization.

RESULTS: This memorable campaign generated 5,000 unique visits to SnugZ’s microsite and more than 38,000 video views resulting in a sales increase of 14.7 percent.

Insights from Brandon Brown, vice president of marketing:

What was the story behind this fun and creative idea? “We had been talking about this campaign for years. The creative was based on the flavor and different personalities of each ‘pro.’ We wanted everyone who interacted with the campaign to think about what flavor best represented their personality. The copy was casual and fun. We wanted to create a serious but fictional association for lip balm lovers. Here was our introduction: ‘Deep in the heart of the renowned SnugZ labs of West Jordan, Utah … a renegade-infused lip balm formula was pioneered that would change the way lip balmers balmed—forever. This is the story about the day the cap came off and the first professional lip balm user’s association was born: the Professional Lip Balm Users Association. Saving one lip or two at a time … You will never look at lip balm users the same again. Introducing the PLBUA’.

“The strategy was to flood the industry with lip balm pros that belonged to the PLBUA and drive their desire to belong to the prestigious organization. We wanted to be memorable in a crowded space such as lip balm and to also generate some loyalty to our product.”

Why do you think it was so successful? “I feel like it was successful because everyone is unique; they have their own ‘flavor.’ People also love to belong to something, a community, group of friends, others who share the same interests, etc. Everyone who signed up received a self-promo offer of their own flavor of lip balm to promote their new membership in PLBUA.”


OBJECTIVE: To gain more new business in the South Shore/New England area

DETAILS: Distributor Walker-Clay, Inc. partnered with promo agency The Scarlet Marketeer to create a package that included three direct-mail pieces with a built-in follow-up process and a give-back campaign supporting the local hospital. For every connection made through the Be Unforgettable promotion, the distributor delivered a plush toy elephant in the client’s name to the local hospital. The promotion targeted businesses with 50 or more employees in the South Shore/New England area and those that qualified received a package containing a brochure, letter, business card, custom box, plush elephant, custom coloring book journal with colored pencils and a pack of animal crackers.

RESULTS: In two months, this unique campaign produced an overall response rate of 79 percent, gaining the company three new clients and increasing sales.

Insights from Amanda Clay, MAS, vice president of sales and marketing:

Why do you think this promo was so successful? “The lighthearted, fun and creative design gave this program wide appeal. There is something inherently nostalgic about plush, and it elicits memories of childhood innocence. In a time of technology overload, the simple comfort of a stuffed animal provides a unique tactile experience as well as an immediate connection through sensory and visual memory. The success stems from being able to stand out from the crowd and effectively tying in the message of being unforgettable.”

What feedback did you get from the local hospital on the donation of plush elephants? “We received this message from our client: ‘Thank you for coordinating and dropping off the donation of the plush elephants today. They are so soft and our patients are going to love them. I also appreciate you taking a photo with me for our social media page. We will be posting it to the South Shore Health Foundation & Friends Facebook page soon to share your generosity with our community. Again, we are so grateful for your support.’”


OBJECTIVE: To make it easier for Outdoor Cap Co.’s distributors to sell headwear to customers

DETAILS: Supplier Outdoor Cap created business development kits (BDKs) to make it easier for distributors to sell headwear to their customers. Each free BDK contained a custom cap for each of the three decoration programs, a flyer explaining the details of each program, an industry-specific sales white paper, a customizable flyer and a customer-focused PowerPoint sales presentation and “How to Use BDK” blogs. Since the program was created in 2017, Outdoor Cap has developed and delivered 14 different BDKs that address the vertical markets in its business. Outdoor Cap Co. emailed its distributor list with calls to action encouraging them to request a BDK, and it published multiple blogs and social media updates to entice sign-ups as well.

RESULTS: Outdoor Cap has delivered 1,088 kits to distributors. In total, the blogs were downloaded 5,317 times; the flyers, 2,513 times; the sales white papers, 1,240 times, and the PowerPoint, 717 times.


OBJECTIVE: To provide distributors with a fun and useful marketing aid to educate themselves and their end users on the benefits of including Near-Field Communication Technology (NFC) in their next promotion

DETAILS: As a suggestive selling tool on how NFC links could potentially be used, supplier Spector & Co. developed a fictional website for a financial institution so distributors could experience firsthand how NFC can take promotions to the next level. Spector chose its best-selling Fabrizio journal, designed a logo and website for a fictitious company—Heron Bank—allowing journal recipients to experience NFC technology first-hand. The journals were packaged in customized, full-coverage 4CP sleeve boxes, printed with details of this case study along with step-by-step activation instructions.

RESULTS: The new sales tool resulted in upwards of 100 orders in three months and provided exposure for the Fabrizio journal and the company’s decorating capabilities.


Winner’s Spotlight

PPAI’s annual Pyramid Awards spotlight excellence in five categories: Client Programs, Marketing,
Supplier Decorating, Supplier Stars and Technology. See the full list of gold and silver winners for 2020 and read more about them at


Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.

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Comments (2)
Stuart Marks
June 1, 2020
Very interesting and informative.
CREATIVE Promotional Marketing Agency
June 1, 2020
Thank you very much for this feature. We are EXTREMELY proud of our 2020 Pyramid Award!
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