Is Your Swag Poisonous?

October 8, 2007

Almost all PR and marketing folk at some point in their career will bulk order promotional items for a trade show, conference or other important event. The first question often asked is, how many can I get for how much? What we often don’t think about is how these items could end up hurting your cause way more than helping it. On the heels of several major recalls of China-made promotional products, PRNewser spoke to Brandweek News Editor, Kenneth Hein about his recent article, News Analysis: Poison Promos? Recalls Dog Swag.


PRNewser: How are major entities like car-maker Nissan and the State of California affected by recent recalls? Are they any other examples you can share?

KH: There was something this week about how Dunkin’ Donuts stopped distributing glow sticks because they were unable to put a label on them because of choking hazards.

Japanese consumers were very concerned about the [Nissan] mugs. Japan has been at the forefront of this. Oversees they have much tighter restrictions. Ramifications of this are as a marketer is that this cheap inexpensive mass quantity item could hurt the brand. If there is a toxicity concern, it can be really harmful to their brands

The ones that made a lot of noise about being green and environmentally friendly took a step back to think about this. They said to themselves, “I need to put checks in balances in places.”

Promo products are used year round and its not just McDonalds and big companies, it’s the small shops as well. These people are not going to items lab tested for them, they’re never going to know.

It’s even worse for a small business.

How are PR people handling this?

There hasn’t been a whole big thing yet. I called the California Department of Health, they just said said “as soon as we found out we recalled it.” They are thinking of suing a supplier or factory. It gets complicated because the way market works is you go to distributor, who goes to suppler, who goes to fatory in China. Who’s fault is it, who gets sued?

What has been the response to your article?

I’ve gotten a few calls from people who said that they reall liked it . It’s been one of top viewed articles on the site.

This is important because it’s a marketing tool that everyone uses. Everyone uses promotional merchandise, if there is any chance in hell that it’s toxic, it’s cause for concern.

What other countries are big exporters of swag?

China, India, Indonesia. A lot of the Proposition 65 lawsuits are also from Mexico because they were using the lead based paints.

What advice would give to PR people?

Use a US manufacturer. You know they’re following the right laws, using right things.

If something were to happen, it will cost you more than the $300 you spent on pens. Don’t put yourself at the subject of a lawsuit that could damage your brand.

How many PR emails do you get everday?


How many do you respond too?


When was the last time you used something that originated from a PR person?

It happens all the time that I use stuff from PR people. Good PR people know what Brandweek is about. They know we want exclusives before marketing campaigns break. If they do that, it’s a slam dunk.

On another note, if someone sends me something that’s new product related, I can ask about what the marketing is behind this, we can talk about that.

How much advance time would you like on news before the release hits the wire?

Send a week before the release at least, if possible.

Anything new going on at Brandweek that you’d like to mention?

We’re really focused on “At the Roundtable,” a social networking site for marketers. It’s interesting because you get a lot of people talking to each other. People I wouldn’t have heard form otherwise.


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