Reunion Favors

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October 21, 2006

This is a working paper regarding “how to” get favors for a reunion.


  • Appoint a one to three person Favors Working Committee to find the “right” favors given the “right” balance of quality and price and reserve major decisions for the Reunion Committee as a whole.
  • Decide what kinds of favors might be suitable and search the Internet for more information.
  • Get referrals from the HAA and find local distributors listed in the Yellow Pages under “Promotional Products” to “out-source” the task of finding the “right” favors.
  • Share information with distributors to get competitive quotes.
  • Get free samples (without artwork) for “show and tell”.
  • Get an experienced/trained person to assist with artwork.
  • Have the HAA (using tax-exempt status) place orders “Subject to acceptance of artwork.”
  • Ask the HAA for an introduction to their printer who can assist with production of artwork and a computer file(s) to go to suppliers.
  • Check silk screen charges.
  • Arrange for favors to be drop-shipped to your headquarters.

Reunion Favors[edit]

As you know, choosing favors is one of the more difficult tasks facing a Reunion Committee. Favors given to classmates and guests during registration at the beginning of a reunion provide a first impression that can add to or lessen the anticipated pleasure of a reunion. It is difficult if not impossible to please everyone but it seems reasonable to try to find favors that might be useful during a reunion and have some lasting value.

Organizing for Success[edit]

Reunion Committee Chairs have confirmed that a reunion committee as a whole should be limited in the scope of its involvement with favors. Of course, the Reunion Committee Chair can decide but it is strongly recommended that the committee as a whole be limited to major decisions such as suggesting a budget or the kind of items that might be considered or will be completely unacceptable.

Reunion Chairs recommend that a Favors Working Committee be established consisting of one or two but not more than three people. The fewer the number of people, the better. Care should be taken to find people who are practical, have good taste, and, of course, are willing to undertake the task. The task is to choose the “right” favors of the “right” design given the “right” balance of price and quality.

Decisions…. Decisions[edit]

One of the first steps is to decide what kinds of items might be suitable as “give away” reunion favors. These choices are independent of decisions regarding design, quality, or price.

Which Items?[edit]

Other than the weird or outlandish, there seem to be three kinds of items that have been chosen for reunion favors:

1. The usual “standards” such as umbrellas, hats, and tote bags.

If nothing else, it is recommended that an umbrella be one of the items included as a favor for each reunion attendee. An umbrella is a hedge against rain. And, if the sun shines on your reunion, classmates and guests have a useful memento to take home.

Hats are also thought to be good reunion items, since, if worn, they make classmates and quests feel they are a part of a unique group. Of course, hats will not be worn if classmates and guests don’t like them and women don’t always like hats that men like nor do women find all hats flattering.

Tote bags or a modest sports bag are also useful items during a reunion for carrying reunion handouts or Harvard Square purchases. And, of course, a tote bag has a utilitarian value beyond a reunion if it is of good quality and pleasing design.

2. Special items such as a scarf for women, a class tie, or some kind of wearing apparel such as a polo shirt or, for a fall reunion, a fleece jacket.

These can be substantial items of careful design, high quality and good taste that can become treasured and often used items. They tend to be more expensive than other favors so care in decision making is in order.

Note that if a reunion committee wishes to consider a wearable item such as a fleece jacket, a polo shirt, or even a “T” shirt and if classmates and guests are to wear such favors, they have to be the right size. Then, a decision has be to made whether or not: (a) Classmates and guests will be asked to send in their size with their registration form which should be received early enough so favors will be available at registration given a size distribution that matches the responses, or (b) With help from the supplier, a distribution of sizes will be ordered that might fit the distribution of different size classmates and guests.

3. Many small, relatively inexpensive items such as pens, pen and pencil sets, coffee mugs, etc.

There are many different kinds of pens, coffee mugs, magnetic refrigerator door clips to hold notes, and other inexpensive items on which can be placed the Harvard name and, maybe the year of the reunion class or the number of the reunion. A variety of items can be provided at a cost similar to one substantial item. These inexpensive items are truly “give away” favors that with variety and in large numbers, can be fun favors.

Favors = Promotional Products

In the trade, reunion favors are called promotional products when they carry a recognizable trademark or logo of the entity that is giving away the products as gifts. The promotional product industry is large with more than 20,000 U.S. suppliers and distributors. Annual sales are reported to be more than $17 billion. The industry consists of many small companies and no entities appear to dominate any part of the industry. Some small companies specialize in providing a service such as silk screening “T” shirts or embroidering names or designs on hats or tote bags. Manufacturers can produce products on which a third party logo or trademark can be placed. These products are sold as promotional products. Moreover, these same products without logos or trademarks, can be sold as regular retail items through usual retail distribution channels or, in some cases, through the Internet.

For example, a fleece jacket can have “L.L. Bean” on it and can be bought at an L.L. Bean outlet store, through its catalog, or ordered on-line. The same fleece jacket without the L.L. Bean name, can have “Harvard” on it or a “Veritas” shield, a special class logo, a number of the reunion, or some combination such as “Harvard/Radcliffe Class of 1951 – 55th Reunion”. Thus, a fleece jacket manufacturer can sell jackets to L.L.Bean, a retail distributor or store chain, and, through a promotional product distributor, can fulfill your committee’s desire for a fleece jacket.


There are many small distributors of promotional products. They perform a useful function by working closely with customers who usually want several different but perhaps related promotional products. For example, for a golf outing to establish goodwill among customers and promote business, a company will work with a promotional product distributor to get several related items such as a golf umbrella, a set of golf balls, and perhaps a golf jacket all with a company logo on them. No one manufacturer produces all these products. A distributor finds the manufacturers that have the best quality products at an acceptable price, arranges artwork to be placed on the products, and by consolidating the order, provides “one-stop-shopping” for the customer.

Promotional product customers are not as knowledgeable about suppliers, prices, and quality as distributors who are continually in the market place dealing with many suppliers for many different items. So, customers “out-source” to promotional product distributors the function of finding the “right” products given the “right” balance of price and quality. Given these circumstances, if a manufacturer begins to sell promotional products direct to customers, distributors will find the same or similar items from competitors. Thus, since manufacturers wish to maintain productive relationships with distributors, it is difficult if not impossible to buy promotional products direct from manufacturers.

There are exceptions to this general rule when a logo or trademark is added to an item as part of the manufacturing process such as when they are woven into the fabric of ties or scarves. There are overseas manufacturers, particularly those in the Far East, that have a sales office in the U.S. or use an exclusive U.S. manufacturer’s representative. The rep or company office works closely with customers like a distributor to get samples, etc. except the office is selling only the manufacturer’s products and is not seeking competitive quotes. On balance, although there is a possibility of getting a good price by buying direct, it is not advantageous unless someone knows someone. But then, there is little recourse for mistakes.

Finding Suitable Favors[edit]

Finding items is very easy. Just run a search on the Internet. It will produce too much information. For example, a Google search for “Tote Bags” will produce 13,100, 000 “hits” in 0.15 seconds. But, that is where you will begin to recognize the kinds of items that are available and the prices with price breaks for volume orders. The following is the kind of information you might gather to the extent possible with limited time and resources:

1. Product specifications and alternative designs, construction, and materials.

2. Factors that effect quality.

3. Prices and the progressive price breaks for larger volume orders.

4. The web sites that have the promotional products that seem to be of most interest.

For example, a tote bag can be as sturdy and large as a “boat bag”, can be waterproof, can have a zipper or Velcro closure, an inside clip for your car keys, an inside pocket, and can be available in different colors and color combinations. Or, you can get a very simple, flat, but good quality tote bag. But, if the tote bag you choose does not have the proper length handles, the tote can not be easily carried over one’s shoulder and that makes it very cumbersome to use.

How to Work the System[edit]

After identifying likely favors, getting a “feel” for prices, and perhaps getting a “go ahead” from your reunion committee regarding items of interest, find at least one but not more than three promotional product distributors in order to “out-source” the remainder of the task of getting the “right” favors for your reunion.

Finding Promotional Product Distributor(s)[edit]

There are a couple of obvious places to look for promotional product distributors who you can trust and with whom you can work comfortably.

1. The HAA is a place to start.

Promotional product distributors walk into the HAA office all the time looking for business. Although they will certainly look for any item you might like and can provide suggestions, they seem to approach the HAA to sell certain kinds of products like a manufacturer’s representative would although it is difficult to generalize regarding the promotional product industry where the lines between entities are blurred.

2. Look in the Yellow Pages phonebook.

The phonebook is really the best place to identify promotional product distributors. The Boston Area Yellow Pages lists about 80 entities under the “Promotional Products” heading. (As will be noted, some entities handle only certain kinds of products. For example, London Harness, a chain of stores that specialize in leather goods and related items, appears on the list. London Harness can emboss a logo, shield, etc. on many of their products thereby turning them into elegant promotional products.)

Other than being comfortable working with distributors you like and trust, it is strongly suggested you find local distributors. This makes it much easier to work collaboratively. Distributors have many catalogs that can be referred to when you wish to consider alternative products. A distributor will also have samples of various kinds of items. And, as the process moves along, it’s easier and quicker than e-mail or fax to work face to face with a distributor when adjusting artwork and its placement on product samples. These tasks involve dealing with physical objects and although a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture is a poor substitute for an object in hand. (The Class of 1951 had excellent experience doing business with a small local distributor in Auburndale, MA, Ad Vantage, Inc. Call 617-332-4175, ask for Andy Palmer, and say Fred sent you.)

When approaching distributors, perhaps on the telephone initially, tell them “everything”, such as:

1. Items you think your Reunion Committee might approve.

2. The approximate quantity of each item you might order.

3. The price you might like to pay and any pricing information you have.

4. The names of the Internet sites and/or manufacturers that have products of interest.

5. The “drop-dead-date” when you must have products in hand at your reunion headquarters.

This last piece of information applies equally to you as well as the distributor because it establishes the schedule when you have to make decisions regarding product choice, artwork, and final quantities, and when deliveries will be accepted at your reunion headquarters.


Realize that different distributors are being quoted the same prices from a given manufacturer. Reduced prices are not given to a distributor unless the manufacturer and distributor work closely together on a significant volume of business. The best price will come from the distributor who is willing to cut its profit margins to get your business. This will happen on an item by item basis so tell your distributors the tentative price quotes you have received for each item to find out how they will respond.

A good distributor will find the manufacturers with the best price and quality for the items you seek. If the exact design you want or price you wish to pay for an item is not readily available, your distributor will suggest alternatives. If it seems like you have found the “item of your dreams”, the distributor will get you product samples, without artwork, free of charge that you can use for “show and tell” sessions with your reunion committee. If you absolutely want to see a sample with your artwork on a finished product, you will have to pay for this.


Once you have found the items you want, the HAA will place orders with your distributors. In this way, your class will not have to pay sales taxes. Distributors are used to doing business with tax-exempt organizations so all you have to do is make the connection and tell the distributor where to send the bill. But, be sure the HAA orders are placed: “Subject to acceptance of artwork”. This is a standard practice. It allows you to keep control of final artwork decisions while a manufacturer is assured of a sale that justifies his effort to satisfy your wishes.


If at all possible, while establishing a Reunion Favors Working Committee, find someone, someplace such as a friend, neighbor, or acquaintance or anyone with an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree or industrial design or graphic arts experience who can help with artwork decisions. The font type, relative size, graphic design, placement of artwork, and the PMS color chips used for specifying colors, are decisions where someone with a trained eye can save lots of time and greatly improve the end result.

For example, the shade of Harvard crimson used in different instances can span PMS chip numbers 190 to 212 with chip numbers 200 and 201 usually being used. Depending upon the other colors used in your artwork design and the background on which the artwork will be placed, the crimson color will appear to be more or less “crimson”. The Class of 1951 used PMS color crimson number 199 in a three-color silk screen design that was printed on a black tote bag fabric background. Given the artwork design, the colors used, and the background, PMS number 199 was more “crimson” than other shades and made a difference.

For most graphic art chores, the HAA uses Fleming Printing Company, a Somerville printer in Porter Square. The HAA can introduce you. Fleming’s computer system can reproduce the artwork design that goes on each item you have chosen. The design and color shades can be adjusted against the background so you can find the exact combination of design and color that “looks good”. Then, Fleming can produce a computer file of your artwork that can be e-mailed to your distributors. To simplify the process, independently, you will have to specify the PMS color chip numbers that you want. In addition, Fleming also has various standard Veritas shield designs you may wish to use.

Your distributors will send the computer file of artwork to manufacturers and in return your distributor will usually get a black and white proof of what the manufacturer considers the correct size of the artwork that will be used on each item. This can be done via fax which allows you to have proofs with the exact dimensions of the art work. These proofs can be placed on product samples so you can judge and adjust the size and placement of artwork. Distributors and product suppliers will work with you at no cast. However, if you believe it is necessary, an exact, complete product sample with artwork can be produced at a cost. (Previously, you should have accounted for this possibility in your budget and decision making schedule.)

Cost of Artwork[edit]

Other than the price of an item and shipping and handling charges, there will be a cost for the application of embossing, embroidery, or silk screen artwork. This cost may be included in the price quote you received for an item or may be quoted as a separate charge.

If a product will be “silk screened”, that price may include a one-color imprint at no charge or two other kinds of charges might apply:

1. A “Set-up” charge for each color to be used in the artwork, and/or

2. A “Run” charge, that is, a charge per item for each color used.

Be sure you understand artwork charges, as they can be relatively significant for an inexpensive item.

Shipping Instructions[edit]

The HAA does not have room or enough staff to run a shipping and receiving function at 124 Mount Auburn Street nor can the HAA take responsibility for favors unless your reunion is staying on campus. So, arrange to have items drop shipped to your reunion headquarters hotel. Then make arrangements with the hotel receiving people to save you copies of the packing slips and to allow you to inspect the shipments. It is the only way you will be able to know that you are receiving what you ordered.

Good Luck !