27 November 2013

Giving and Thanks!

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!

16 comments:

  1. So many good points in here, Cat! Much in the way writers and creative artists need to ask themselves whether their work is truly being valued when it is expected to be offered for free, bakers and all small business owners must consider this. The barrage of "exchange for visibility" offers will never end so it's about filtering through the noise and making wise decisions. A very helpful post!

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    1. Thanks for dropping by, Lindsey, and glad you thought this was helpful. I had written it thinking of product manufacturers but you are right, could so easily transfer to anyone who is offering a service, creative property, etc. of value. These should be win-win exchanges and I think so often the person doing the asking doesn't fully consider the value of what they are getting.

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  2. Yes, What a very helpful post, Cat. I'm bowled over by how many people think it may benefit me to host a treasure hunt for them when it takes time and energy, both of which I'm short on. SO good to see your guidelines and so sorry as to those times you've been burned (linking one's company name to a competitor's is so bad it's (nearly) funny. Anyway, thank you for this.

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    1. Daisy, you offer such an original and interesting service. I am really not surprised that you have people banging down your door for free hunts. You nailed it on the head though -- I think a lot of people take for granted how much time we need to invest to offer quality products! One of the many reasons we shouldn't give them away.

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  3. I'm so with you, particularly in regard to your investment in a professional practice. When you spend so much time setting up your company and investing in training/qualifications etc is is incredibly disheartening to be linked with other 'companies' who do not have the same professional standards of practice. Some excellent points. Thank you!

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    1. I agree. I like to align myself with companies who values, missions, quality, etc. are similar to mine and this is why it is so important to determine whose company you are putting your brand with at these types of events. In the same regard, the event organizers put themselves at huge risk when they collaborate with companies whose practices do not match their own and/or are operating under dubious conditions.

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  4. Great post Cat, and so true, something for nothing and often nothing in return. Why do these huge, often multi-million dollar companies think they need to coerce some poor soul into a false hope that they will be recognised. Do the people who attend these events really care who supplied the latte's or cupcakes or free pens or whatever else has been acquired by the PR agency or the company themselves, mostly I think these people are then often at these events to network and promote themselves too.
    I may be speaking out of turn I am very cynical about all these things and tend to avoid them at all costs and mostly through bitter experience.
    But of course, if you do decide to get yourself involved it seems that the number one thing to check is who else is supplying and will they clash with your product. ... as they say we all live and learn ..... x

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    1. Couldn't have said it better Rhu. You raise some excellent points. As you know, I am very strategic and limit the events I will supply free product to. Guess I was just having a weak moment when I said yes, and boy did I learn my lesson!

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  5. Elizabeth MilovidovNovember 27, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    Very nice to see the contractual snafus's mentioned in a comprehensible manner. The lawyer in me is doing cartwheels, saying "Get it in writing! Get it in writing! Protect your business assets which definitely include your brand and reputation." Continued success to Sugar Daze!

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    1. Great idea, Elizabeth! I don't know why I didn't think of it. I definitely agree that drafting some sort of contract template that covers all the bases for these events makes a lot of sense. You can just pull it out and forward it any time you agree to an event like this and ensure that all your demands/stipulations are covered. Adding this to my to-do list! Thank you, counselor. :)

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  6. Hi Cat, thank you for sharing these tips and guidelines. You're right that exchanges of this nature should be mutually beneficial. I will keep these in mind as I try to grow my business! Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!!!

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    1. Meg, like I said these types of events can be extremely beneficial when starting out. In fact I credit a lot of the word of mouth I garnered in the French community when I launched my business to a fashion blogger who contacted me to offer product at some of her events. The returns were very interesting for me, and I am grateful to have had those opportunities. I just think we all need to do due diligence when agreeing to something like this to make sure it will pay off in the long run.

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  7. Cat, great blog entrey! Thanks for taking the time to write it all up! I have always offered a free session of my Professional Organizing Services to MESSAGE, and do it for the right reasons.However, that being said, I know that there was no follow-up after the person received their free session, and I don't even know of any good word-to-mouth publicity after those sessions. Hmmmmmm...makes one think twice! Happy Thanksgiving and Chanukah too for anyone out there celebrating both! Warm regards, Cat! xo Robynne Pendariès

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  8. I do the same Robynne -- I view it as an investment to remind people I am still here! I do know what you mean though - I have never received a thank you from the recipient personally after the AGM which I think is a shame. :( Happy gobble and Hannukah to you as well!

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  9. Hi, sorry to hear about this, Cat. I fully agree with the above comment about drafting up a contract that you send out for each sponsorship request.
    In my experience too, giving free goods to an event very rarely brings business. It's more a question of being there so that someone else isn't and using the press to build awareness of you as a brand. A learning curve. xx

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  10. Hi...its Russ and Natalie..Sugarie Bake Shop....so impressed with what you have created in Paris...and just stumbled onto this blog. I so agree with you as we both have attended some good events..and some not so good...but i love to network and we make the best of even some not so hot events. All your points are 100% right on! God knowz how we love what we do..and hard we work. Funny how our local chamber of commerce is always wanting us to join...which we will...but its not an automatic business maker, you have to shake hands...attend functions and as we have done even during construction..invite people in to our kitchen..give tours and take time to promote our mission...and love for bringing a little Paris to pleasanton ca. We admire you very much....cant wait to meet you.
    Russ and Natalie

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