The “advertising specialty and promotional products” industry is urging restraint as federal bean counters seek ways to cut back on buying stress balls, umbrellas, T-shirts, hats, jackets and pens to distribute to employees and the general public.

“We don’t want to stomp our feet and say that the government shouldn’t be efficient, but we want to remind them that promotional products can be an efficient, cost-effective way to reach an audience and influence it,” said Timothy Andrews, president and CEO of the Advertising Specialty Institute.

Andrews said his Philadelphia-based organization has no way of knowing how many of its 26,500 members might suffer the adverse effects of cutbacks in mouse pads, beer coozies or those mesh bags emblazoned with a government seal that get are stuffed with other promotional materials and handed out at junkets and “stakeholder conventions” — but he promised to keep close tabs.

ASI President and CEO Timothy Andrews (ASI)

“We would never advocate for use of promotional products that are inefficient and ineffective,” Andrews said. “We would want any agency to work with a distributor to ensure that the plan is thought out. And to ensure that things were distributed properly and thoroughly.”

(But agencies already seem to have thought about that: As colleague Al Kamen points out in his In the Loop blog, several agencies have warehoused years of swag to give out.)

Andrews has already sent a letter to the White House and he’s urging ASI members to contact Congress in hopes of convincing Capitol Hill to keep the swag buys going.

He’s asked fellow purveyors of promotional products to remind their lawmakers that such items about half a penny per “impression,” or the number of times it’s seen by someone.

Swag “beats out radio and TV and — sorry, Ed — print advertising,” Andrews said. (Hmph.) “It is really the most effective form of advertising.”

And besides, Andrews said, Obama has benefited from swag: “He used promotional products during his 2008 campaign. And his reelection campaign already includes bumper stickers, Joe Biden beer can holders, leather bracelets, buttons.”

Yes, but those items are for sale! So where has swag helped the government get the word out in a cheap and efficient way?

“In the latest Census, the U.S. government used promotional items to mail back the census form instead of sending representatives door-to-door,” Andrews said, noting that 2010 Census response rates surpassed previous years, in part because of swag.

And where could the government use swag more effectively? Andrews suggested TSA buy Ziploc bags with instructions on how to properly pass through airport security and distribute them for free to passengers waiting in line.

“If by reinforcing the instructions through a promotional item, if that saves 30 seconds for every person who goes through the line, think of the cost savings of having people move through that line,” Andrews said.

Good point, sir.

Thoughts? The comments section awaits you.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Further reading:

Obama orders agency cuts in travel, transportation and swag

Obama’s swag cuts won’t hurt ... for now

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