With Thanksgiving just on the horizon, I wanted to take a moment to talk about giving.... giving your product in exchange for publicity -- a common practice used by companies as they seek new ways to grow their market share or build brand awareness.
As a company providing delicious and beautiful sugary creations, Sugar Daze is approached on an almost non-stop basis to provide cupcakes for free for various events. When I was just starting out, I saw the merit in these types of situations - it gave me the opportunity to put my name and my product out there to grow my business. Over the years, as my business became more established, I had to turn down many of these proposals -- I'm not a charity and there's no way I could support my infant business if I said yes to everyone who asked. I developed a set of guidelines to determine whether or not I wanted to get involved. My key criteria for many years now is whether there is a benevolent or charitable mission involved, i.e., Sugar Daze has provided cupcakes for events supporting breast cancer research (Odessa race/Gustave Roissy Institute), the further development of the arts program for youth (Centre Pompidou), clean-up after Hurricane Sandy (the Red Cross) and many others, not forgetting the annual fundraiser I co-organize: Cupcake Camp Paris which benefits Make-A-Wish France. It's important to me to give back. From time to time, I will also consider events that I just think are really cool or to thank other businesses who may have helped mine in the past.
If you are a business looking to get involved in an event where your products are to be given for free, do it for the PR, do it from the goodness in your heart for a good cause, do it to have your brand associated with one that is meaningful to you/cool or do it to give back to someone who has given you a hand along the way.
A key consideration for these types of "collaborations" is to fully understand who will be there, what the event is all about, and what is required of you. This is important in determining what opportunities your particpation will bring. There's not much point in investing the time and effort in providing free product if the people attending have no regular interest in your products, or the means to afford them. And it's difficult to negotiate the details of your participation if you agree straight away and later find out the quantity needed, or the time you need to spend getting ready for/being present at the event is totally unrealistic. Oh and one of the key lessons I have learned is how to interpret the wording of the proposals. Oftentimes, you are told the editor from Marie Claire, the food stylist from Zeste, the head buyer from Galeries Lafeyette, etc. is on the guest list. This may be true, and they very well may attend, but unless the organizer can confirm their attendence, this is all just marketing speak to get you interested in the event too.
If you have been promised the distribution of your logo in event communications, make sure to provide one straight away, spell out your company name and make sure to send direct links to your website, social network pages, etc. The number of times I have seen my company spelled as Sugardaze (one word) is baffling. And don't get me started about the time an event promoter linked my company name on their event page to a competitor's website! Also it may be a good idea to stipulate that your name and logo can be used in connection with the specific event only.
If you are offering a product that is delicate, fragile, or in my case perishable, it is also a good idea to communicate how it should be stored before the event and under what conditions it is to be served. I'll never forget a two-weekend long event I was invited to when I was just starting out and the promoter thought they could take delivery of my cupcakes on a Friday and still serve them the following Sunday (9 days later!!!!). These days when I attend an event such as this, I will arrange to make delivery shortly before the event starts and always spell out how they products are to be kept, and when they should be thrown.
Which leads me to this final point, if possible, you are going to want to attend the event itself or at least set-up your products to guarantee they are being presented in their best light. The event organizers are there to ensure an excellent event, not the promotion of your products. Once you have delivered your products, that's just one thing they can cross off their to-do list. They are not your PR Agency or representative of your company. If you are doing an event such as this to gain exposure to new people, you're gonna want to make sure you have done everything possible to make your products stand out and be remembered. If possible, you may want to stick around and talk yourself and your product up.
This past week, I broke several rules in my playbook. For the first time in a long time, I gave cupcakes to a company celebrating an important milestone in the hopes of reaching a new client profile. I didn't ask about what other businesses would be there because I was so excited about the names I heard on their guestlist. Everything went fine up until the product delivery where I was informed they weren't ready for me yet and could I just drop off my cupcakes in boxes and my cake stand -- they would take care of the display set-up. Not ideal, but what could I do? The next day, I was shocked and disturbed to learn that while all the guests were told they'd be eating Sugar Daze cupcakes, another baker's cupcakes were also served at the event. It was not a bakery I knew and so I researched them. I subsequently met the "owner" at Cupcake Camp which happened this past week as well. Let's just say the differences in our businesses are like night and day -- I am a professional business and I take my job and my legal obligations very seriously. This means I am declared with the Chambre de Commerce, I pay my taxes, I work in a safe food handling environment and have undergone the training required by law to practice in my industry.
So final lesson of the day -- always ask what other businesses will be present at an event, and make sure you get product exclusivity if this is important to you. Many manufacturers have the benefit of putting a label or other tag on their products but this isn't always the case. You don't want to get involved in an event where there is a chance that your product can be confused with someone else's and leaves you with a potentially tarnished reputation....or worse!
Speaking in the most general terms and based on my experiences, there are very few events of this nature that have brought me measurable new clients/new business. Which is why I evaluate them with a great degree of time and reflection. I'd be curious to hear opinions from others who donate product for events. I have had wonderful feedback from attendees on my cupcakes at the event itself, and sure I can think of a few new clients, and friends, I have met via these events. But on the whole, I haven't seen the returns equal to the time/effort/investment made.
Which brings me back to giving thanks....event organizers -- show some gratitude. Recognize that even though you have given this other company something favorable in exchange for their participation, they have invested time, money, effort, etc. to give you something and a little thank you would be nice. Hold up your end of the bargain, show them some respect, and don't screw them over. A one-off event could lead to a beautiful, long-term partnership where each company continues to support the other for a whole host of shared benefits and events.
I don't say it enough but just wanted to thank you all for your support and encouragement over the years. May you and your families have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
All accompanying photos are from orders prepared this past week at Sugar Daze!