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You landed a job in promo! Now what?

2/8/2023 | Charity Gibson, The Right Stuff

Are you newer in the industry and trying to find your way? Or maybe you’ve been here for a while but aren’t quite where you thought you’d be by now? If so, this blog’s for you! In the upcoming months I’ll discuss everything from starting up to prospecting, self promo, marketing, writing purchase orders, production control, ops, and more. What do you say, are you in? Would love to have you along for the ride <3 

My name is Charity and I’m a 20+ year veteran in the business of branded merch. I started out on the distributor side of the business and in 2015 started a company helping suppliers with digital and content marketing. Now, I educate, speak, consult, and work for the well-known, award-winning supplier-manufacturer, Peerless, slangin’ umbrellas, games, and outdoor products. I’m addicted to learning, helping others, and watching people move past frustrations and roadblocks in their business to find unrivaled success. 

When PromoCorner and I first started discussing this feature my mind went immediately to prospecting and finding customers since that is one of the most posted questions - well, aside from “Where can I find this pen?” that is. However, as someone new-to-promo, prospecting is nowhere near top of the list of things you should be doing. Does that surprise you? 

Let me explain. 

Whether you’re a solo entrepreneur, or coming into the industry as an employee of an established company, it’s so important to take the time to learn a few key things upfront. This will not only save you frustration and time, but also get you on the road to making more money more quickly - and who doesn’t want to do that?! 

First and foremost - I’d love to have you answer a few questions for yourself. For example, why are you here? What brought you to the industry, what do you know about promotional products, what are you hoping to accomplish while you are here, and what are you most excited about? What are your unique competitive advantages? 

That’s a lot, but it’s so important to know the answers to these questions. Why? 

When you sell promotional products, you have a lot of competition. It’s not about the product. It’s about who is selling it. Sometimes that competition is a large company with seemingly unlimited resources and the ability to sell at unfathomably low prices. Sometimes that competition is a full-time mom that runs a part-time promo business who might not have a lot of time on her hands, but she has unbreakable relationships with the clients she maintains. And sometimes, my friend, your biggest competitor is you.

You are the single most important factor in your success equation. Will you reach your goals? Will you fail miserably? The answer to these questions relies solely on the depth of your purpose, the clarity of goals, and your ability to set good intentions aside to give way to 100% action. 

Here are some discovery questions to help get you started: 

  • What are promotional products? What are the names people use for them, what is the purpose of them, who buys them now, who should be buying them, and how do these products benefit the people who purchase them? 
  • Who/what industry do I want to focus on? This could be an industry you know about or have always been interested in and are excited to learn more about. We’ll get into why this is important in next month’s article. 
  • What part of the business process am I most excited about, and what am I least excited about? This is monumentally important to know as you move forward. Not sure where you fit in? Keep reading . . . 

A promotional products company is truly multi-faceted. Focusing on a distributor company for the purpose of this example: 

  • Executive leadership: This is visionary, the guide, the person drawing the map and setting the course, and leading the charge. 
  • Marketing and prospecting: This is the person or team of people that will cast the net, share the vision, tell the story, and build the brand. Marketing is the heart and soul of the company. This person/these people give your company personality and shape what people think and how they feel about it. These people are the fire starters. 
  • Sales: Very different from marketing. Yes, the mindset required to be in sales is similar to a marketer and vice versa, but also 180 degrees opposite. Your salespeople are your relationship managers. These people pick up where marketing leaves off. Marketing starts the fire, your sales team keeps it burning. Don’t confuse the two. 
  • Operations: This is the person or team of people that will deliver on the promises made by leadership, marketing, and sales. They are the doers. Your behind-the-scenes, this business wouldn’t operate without them, promise keepers if you will. 
  • Customer service: Your firefighters. The empaths. The fixers. The people who care about your brand, understand the business in-and-out and are empowered to shape the experience people have with your company. These people care about customers and understand that they are the lifeblood of your business while also acting in the best interest of the brand. These people bring everything together. Marketing, sales, ops -They spend their days on the front lines fielding calls, taking the proverbial bullets from letdowns, failures, and disappointments and turning lemons into lemonade. Unfortunately they are often the lowest paid and least regarded when in reality, they are GOLD. Keep these people happy and they will keep your clients happy. 

The two biggest mistakes I see new promotional products professionals make is 1) being here to make money and not having a clear purpose/why, and 2) trying to do all of these very different and very essential jobs on their own. This leads to slow growth, frustration, burnout, and eventually failure. In his book Leadership Gold, John Maxwell talks about ducks and eagles. He says something to the effect of, “Ducks like to swim and eagles like to fly. So don’t put a duck in an eagle’s job and don’t put an eagle in a duck’s job. Why? Because you’ll frustrate the eagle and you’ll frustrate the duck!” Are you a duck (Ops/Service/Feet on the ground/details) or an eagle (sales/marketing/30k ft view)? 

Before you jump in and get started trying to do it all, figure out what position on the team you want to own. Realize, anyone can sell me a pen or a cup with a logo on it. I’m going to need you to dig past the “I’m here because I needed a job.” answer and find one that’s deeply personal and meaningful to you. We’ll get to work on the what are we going to sell and to whom are we going to sell it, but first I want to know why you’re playing the game and where you’ll be on the field. 

Spectator status is not enough. Let’s show up and play to win. 

Until next time, 


Charity Gibson is a National Account Manager at Peerless, the founder/owner of Green Banana Social, an OG chef of industry non-profit PromoKitchen, and host of the Badass Women of Promo Podcast.  When she's not playing the role of Charity Poppins for Peerless, she spends time mentoring and educating industry colleagues on all things brand and marketing, consulting, and creating content for her contract clients. Outside of promo she enjoys traveling - especially to places near water - and spending time with her kids and adorable rescue pup, Whiskey.  

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