Part of the fun of attending trade shows is picking up a stash of freebies such as pens, magnets and bags. Trouble is, after the novelty wears off, scores of those trinkets end up in the back of a desk drawer or, worse, in the trash. That conundrum is beginning to be an issue for the promotional products industry, but one local company is finding a way to combat that troublesome image and offer options that are both functional and eco-friendly.
“I wondered what was happening, ultimately, to those pieces,” says Jeanine Blank, owner of Marko Promo, a promotional products firm she runs from her home in Darboy. “Now my main emphasis is the eco products. I realize I sell things that remain and a lot of it was plastic throwaway things.
“A few years ago, there was a push for recycled goods, but it faded away,” she recalls. “I think it wasn’t as politically charged like it is now. Now more of our suppliers are going in that direction.”
Blank has worked in the promotional products business for more than 20 years, but she and a former partner (whose surname was Marko) started Marko Promo five years ago. “I decided to keep the name because we were already doing business, and it was a catchy name,” she says.
Her clients range from local one-person companies to national Fortune 500 firms. No matter what the size, they come to her to find the most effective product to reach current and potential customers or employees. Blank admits that times have changed since she started in the business.
“The end users’ expectations have changed,” she says. Items tend to have more form and function, such as flash drives. “I try to make sure it’s something useful and lasting,” she adds.
Aside from the usefulness of a product, more companies now request eco-friendly promotional products.
“They’re becoming more aware that we have them, and a lot of my clients are really concerned about the environment,” Blank says.
Among them is Carole Bleck, physicians’ services specialist at Affinity Medical Group in Menasha. She has used products from Marko Promo for more than seven years.
“[Blank] has provided with us with excellent ideas, and she’s really been on the front end,” says Bleck, who has purchased tote bags made of discarded water bottles and yogurt cups.
Marko Promo’s best seller, Blank says, is a non-woven reusable bag. Pens can be made of “corn plastic,” and handmade paper bookmarks can be impregnated with wildflower seeds. Wearables are also a big part of her business, including shirts made of bamboo fibers, recycled polyesters and soybeans.
Among her most novel offerings is Poo Poo Paper – recycled and odorless paper made from dried elephant dung. “By making it, it helps the welfare of the elephants,” Blank says. She started offering it a few months ago but has not sold any yet. “People still think it’s rather funny, but it will catch on,” she says.
Ultimately, though, whatever the promotional product may be, it has to meet a company’s goals, whether that is corporate promotion or rewarding their clients or employees.
“I find out what they’re trying to accomplish, and I match up a product that matches with that promotion,” Blank says. “The beauty of promo products is you can target your audience.”
And these days, targeting that audience can be inexpensive, effective and ecologically sound.
“All our customers and our suppliers are aware that we need to do things that are a little more Earth friendly,” Blank says.