As the BPMA turns 50, Rachael Glazier talks to the director general Gordon Glenister to find out how the association can help garment decorators

Gordon Glenister, director general of the British Promotional Merchandise Association (BPMA), has been at the association for eight years now and the passion he has for the industry is clear from the minute he starts talking: when discussing how the association can help companies he frequently interrupts himself in his enthusiasm to share ideas of how companies can sell more, or negotiate better.

Gordon is evangelical about education, and for good reason, as he explains: “When a company joins the BPMA, we spend a lot of time and effort with education. New members attend a seminar, which runs every couple of months, that is three hours long and packed full of little nuggets of help and support. I’m not going to speak to a decorator about how to decorate garments, because that’s what they earn their money doing. What I want to do is try to help them in selling more garments and thinking about building and growing it into a better and stronger business. By belonging to an association like the BPMA they are part of a really solid professional community that helps support its members through training and through education.”

The BPMA has developed an online professional development course that has modules such as sales, marketing, procurement. “The idea is that it encompasses everything you need to do to run a promotional gift or clothing company,” explains Gordon. There are three levels people can complete: Trained in promotional merchandise (TPM); Certified in promotional merchandise (CPM); and Master of promotional merchandise (MPM). Companies can also apply for BPMA Charter Status: the association closely examines a business before deciding whether to give it the official stamp of approval – so far, 45 companies have been accepted. Gordon comments: “What’s really amazing is that we don’t really have to promote the Charter Status as our members do. That proves how proud they are to have achieved it.”

Joining together for one voice

The association is not just about education, however. Gordon believes it is important that the industry has a voice, and one of the ways in which the BPMA tries to raise the profile of branded goods is with its annual Promotional Products Week. This September it held numerous activities, with the theme being Promotional Products Invoke Action, and encouraged people to share photos of branded merchandise being used. Hundreds of #PromoThePanda cuddly toys supplied by Ravensden were handed out as well.

The association supported this activity with advertising in Marketing Week and also by lobbying big businesses, marketers and the general public at various locations across London. It definitely created a buzz, says Gordon happily.

A big eye-opener was the research published at the beginning of Promotional Products Week by the BPMA into marketers’ attitudes to branded merchandise. It gave a good insight into what marketers are looking for when choosing promotional products. For example, 81% said that quality is an important factor in creating a successful product, and more than 10% of marketers are spending more than £50,000 a year on promotional products. Nearly two-thirds have used clothing as a promotional product. Interestingly, those interviewed said that the most important aspect when choosing a supplier is understanding the requirement, followed by customer service, and then price.

Gordon emphasises the importance of the final finding: “They want people to know what they’re looking for, to help and support them. Don’t just send your customers a catalogue and ask them to pick something. If you’re going to send somebody a catalogue pre-mark it with little tags along with a letter that says, ‘Having understood a little bit more about what you’re trying to do, I’ve selected half a dozen garments that I thought would work well for you. Let me know what you think.’”

Gordon reports that the BPMA has been looking at setting up a special interest group specifically for the clothing sector to discuss some of the challenges facing that sector. Starting in the November issue, Gordon will be writing an exclusive column for Images, so if you have any questions or topics that you’d like him to address, email: (with ‘BPMA’ in the subject line).

#PromoThePanda hangs out in an embroidery shop

Happy 50th birthday to the BPMA