Corruption Between the UAW and Promotional Products Suppliers

There is an article in the Detroit News this morning about a Federal investigation of bribery and kickbacks to the UAW from promotional products suppliers. This is hardly news – the surprise is that it took someone this long to look into it.

Having been in sales of incentive, reward and recognition programs for over 30 years in Detroit, with promotional products and name-brand merchandise as the reward and promotional marketing vehicles, I can assure you that this has been going on at least that long. Because this is my former marketplace, I’ve got a couple of observations:

  • Promotional products are a $23+ billion dollar industry
  • The term “trinkets and trash” minimizes the value of promotional marketing and advertising products
  • Any supplier that sells “trash” or refers to promotional products as “trinkets and trash” doesn’t respect their own industry and should be ashamed of themselves (and there are still some out there who do)
  • Promotional products and imprinted name-brand merchandise are THE most tangible form of advertising and deliver a measurable return on investment
  • Name-brand merchandise and strategically-selected promotional products can reinforce a company’s brand, communicate their marketing messaging and build loyalty with customers

Corruption exists in every industry and it’s disheartening how long it takes for this to come to light. In Detroit, anyone who dares to suggest that a bidding process is unfair (or non-existent) will find themselves off of any future bid list or consideration for projects.

This type of behavior doesn’t do either marketplace any favors. The Incentive Federation and Promotional Products Association International have spent countless lobbying resources trying to educate our elected officials on the value of promotional merchandise. Every time someone quotes how much money a given company (or the government) has spent on Frisbees, everyone loses their minds and introduces legislation prohibiting the use (or limiting the tax treatment) of promotional products.

As a life-long Detroiter, I would love to see both the UAW officials and the suppliers get what’s coming to them (and perhaps expand the investigation into the automotive, large appliance and casino operations as well…).

There are so many legitimate suppliers in both the promotional products and incentive/recognition marketplaces that truly want to help their clients build, reinforce and communicate their brand messages. Likewise, most are ethical clients who wouldn’t dream of asking for a kickback or other favors. The Incentive Marketing Association is dedicated to building greater awareness of the value of incentives, rewards and recognition programs in the business community. I look forward to the investigators rooting out the corruption to make way for future articles on the many ways in which promotional products and name-brand merchandise benefits organizations and businesses.

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