Guidelines for Creating Promotional Products

School of Management promotional pen and notebook.

Sometimes known as promo gifts, giveaways or “swag,” promotional products are customized merchandise intended to publicize the university or a specific department, service, event or initiative. They can act as conversation starters and incentivize participation at events that showcase university services. Additionally, these items can commemorate special occasions, such as when presenting an award, acknowledging a milestone or thanking someone with a gift. Promotional items often incorporate components of the university’s visual identity, contact information and other pertinent information, depending on the item’s use and size.

Relevant Definitions: If you’re unsure of any language used in the explanations below, please see the full list of definitions.

Are promotional products effective?


Promotional products can be a unique way to raise awareness or create a connection with a program or unit, especially as a tangible leave-behind in an increasingly digital world. But in order to be effective, an item must be useful to the recipient and illicit a positive reaction, which ensures the user keeps the item and recalls the original message.


However, promotional products can also have disadvantages. For example:

  • Limited imprint areas make it challenging to include key information and adhere to university brand standards.
  • Items that require more than one imprint area may lead to increased costs.
  • Varying sizes and styles may be needed to suit the wide range of recipients, which may exceed budget limits.
  • Frequently distributed items, or those with a limited duration of usefulness, such as pens, may not make a lasting impression on recipients.
  • Low-quality items reflect poorly on the program and university as a whole.
  • Unwanted items waste university funds and can end up in landfills, contradicting the university’s commitment to sustainability.

Before ordering a promotional product, consider the following tips:

Plan ahead. Promotional items should be one tactic in a larger, thoughtfully planned campaign to promote your objective.

Give yourself plenty of time. It takes longer than most people think to select an item, obtain internal unit and trademark approvals, then purchase, produce and ship the item. Keep in mind, most items are shipped from overseas, which can further delay the order.

Budget appropriately. Never purchase a promotional item just because it is the end of the year and money is left in the budget.

Follow university brand standards. You cannot alter brand standards for any reason. This includes adjusting clear space because an imprint area is too small or avoiding added costs with more imprint areas. Items selected should have an imprint area/s large enough to maintain full legibility and meet university brand standards.

Keep the message clear and concise. Limiting the information on your item to a logo and a short call to action such as a URL or phone number will more effectively communicate with the audience.  

Choose a quality item. Don’t just buy the lowest-priced version of an item. Be careful of imitations that are cheaply made, which reflect poorly on the university and the program or initiative you’re promoting.  

Think about sustainability. When selecting an item, consider the impact it will have on the environment if the recipient doesn’t find it useful and discards it.

Select an item based on the recipient. Choosing a product that is likely to succeed and leave a positive impression means it should be useful and relevant to the audience receiving it.

Use a university-licensed vendor. Licensed vendors are vetted by the university, familiar with brand standards and have access to approved logos and lockups. Additionally, they carry appropriate liability insurance for various products and formally agree to abide by the university’s code of conduct, which requires the company to conduct business in a socially responsible manner—important to the university’s mission. Please review the list of licensed vendors.