Linda Hertz Group

My Medical Device Sales Career

Employee Promotional Items; Just Propaganda?

How many of you have saved those promotional items that our current or past companies have given us?  The ones usually given during sales meetings or zipped to us in the mail as a random act of kindness, just to let us know how much they love us?  I came up with this topic quite unexpectedly, I was preparing for the 24 mile Avon Breast Cancer walk that is next weekend and ALL of my exercise clothes were dirty; I know I am revealing I did not do the wash this past week!  Feeling quite perplexed that I didn't have a thing to wear, yet quite determined I would not forgo my two hour practice power walk, I found an old T-Shirt and a pair of regular walking shorts.  Out the door I went looking less than athletic, more like a frumpy housewife who has decided to try to exercise for the first time in her life; remember I live in Southern California so there are some minimal expectations for ones attire if you are trying to reflect your exercise seriousness or even just faking it! 


I neared the half way point of my walk when I remembered my son had a special Saturday Karate Belt Testing Prep class within 15 minutes!  Yikes, I quickly cut the walk short by sprinting back home, where I rounded him up and threw him in the car.  I was planning to just push him out the door in front of the studio and circle home to finish my walk when I remembered I had to pay for the special add-on class.  OK, I thought, I looked like hell but gotta pay. We ran into a packed studio filled with waiting parents and kids for the class to start. I quickly made my way to the cash register where the Master and his wife (who is also a black belt) were collecting the money.  As I neared the counter they both looked up and I could tell they were rather surprised by my appearance (no makeup, no shower and my frumpy housewife attire) and after four years of faithful attendance, they never have seen me look like this!


The wife asked me, "When is your Avon walk coming up"? I told her next weekend and explained how much time it took to practice and I had no time to do the wash (in my attempt to justify not doing it!).  She responded by, "Well we had the same situation this morning and my husband (she always refers to him as Master, I know you men would like that) ran into the same situation".  She punctuated that statement by pointing to the Masters T-Shirt that was a non-karate studio T-Shirt, an old one he picked up when they went to Catalina.


I looked down at my T-Shirt and laughed now fully aware of what I had put on!  I replied with, "I will beat your old shirt, I am wearing one that says, Go For More in 94", punctuating my statement by pointing to the little blue letters on the upper left hand side of the shirt (yes that is the real shirt inserted in this Blog, cheap and ugly).  They both looked at me in amazement and the Master commented with, "Wow, I guess that is a vintage shirt"; afterall he was probably 10 years old when it was issued to me!  His wife asked me, "Where did you get that?"  I thought a moment and laughed, "I got this issued to me from a now defunct medical sales company that ended up getting bought out 3 times!"  She then enquired as to when they got bought out.  I thought a moment or two counting the years backwards in my head and so happy I figured out the year, I blurted it out without thinking, "Oh, it got sold the first time in 1995"! To my surprise a number of parents were listening to the conversation in this tight little studio and they all began to laugh.  You see most of them work for Amgen and they are use to company attire and employee promotional items!  The irony of the words on the employee shirt and the reality of what was really going on in the company was not missed at all with this group!


I turned around to the crowd and then also laughed.  I then ended the conversation with, "We should have known that we were in trouble with that slogan and look how cheap even the printing is on the shirt!"  I then ran out the door to continue my power walk for another hour and a half back at home.  During that walk I thought about that end of the year sales meeting in 1993, management (I was one of them) wanted the sales team to look forward to the next year in 1994.  It was a futile attempt to bolster the team with a catchy slogan, as if we could come back after losing our largest and only standing contract at the time, UHC-The University Hospital Consortium, in early 1993.  Most of us knew that contract kept us on life support and the pressure was on sales throughout 1993. It was clear that the T-Shirt should have had a different slogan, We Will Hammer You For More in 94!


I thought to myself about the next somber meeting in 1995 (there was no sales meeting in 1994), when our President of sales informed us we were up for sale and each of us were valued employees.  He felt terrible about it, but he would give personal letters of recommendations to those that had merited them by their performance over the years.  Almost all of us were long tenured employees, we loved that company and it was death until-us-do-part and it became just that...the death of the company.  It was sold and sliced and diced along with the employees as well.  Some of us survived and thrived with the reincarnated company that was now a division of a larger concern.


As I neared the end of my power walk I began to think of all those employee promotional items I received from the companies I had worked for over the years and I laughed to myself,  It seemed that when we were issued the most promotional "stuff" was when a company was doing the worst (downsizings, product problems, soft sales, management or morale problems and etc.).  Someone from upper management would  grab the latest book, motivational speaker or cliche du jour that would hopefully infuse their ideas or cause throughout our organization via osmosis; trying to indoctrinate us with whatever the company was lacking.  The promotional items were being used as a propaganda tool; a device to help further the companies cause, ideology or just plain trying to convince the rank and file that the company was an embodiment of the slogan, when in actuality the truth fell far short.  We often know which items fall into the propaganda category, if not right away, certainly with the hindsight of time.


I decided this morning to gather all the stuff I have collected from my various past companies and take pictures of them, yes I still have some of them floating around like my Go For More in 94 T-Shirt!  I also remembered throwing away some promotional items in anger because the item was so ill fitting with the reality of our company or company culture that it was pathetic, a cruel joke.  One item imparticular comes to mind, my sales manager sent each of us a beautiful picture of a beach sunset with people holding hands looking out upon the ocean, underneath the framed picture a slogan; "We Are A Team and Together We Can".  In truth, we didn't like him and there was a great deal of infighting among the ranks, no one trusted anyone.  It was so pathetic that he thought that this promotional item could perhaps make us or will us into something that we didn't have; unity.  I not only threw it away, I took it out back and slammed it down on our patio so I could see the glass fly and shatter upon the ground (I do display my Irish temper from time to time!).  My husband found it in the outside trash can and said, "Linda, it may be time to quit that company, I can't believe you did this".  He was right, It was time.


So how about you?  Have you ever received an employee promotional item and seen correlation between the item and the lack of reality of what is really going on in the company?  I have a few left in the house, one I would like to throw away but my husband has claimed it as his own and won't give the wretched thing up!  I plan on adding to this Blog in the comment sections below over the week with pictures and comments of some of those items.  Sometimes employee promotional items can be endearing and special, like that favorite coffee cup or paper weight, and I do have those too!  More than likely those that fit into that category had a message that was spot on or just a company logo or a good memory of that meeting. So how about you?  Is that company promotional gift propaganda or just that, a nice little gift that will carry a good memory in the years to come? 


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Comment by Linda Hertz on September 26, 2011 at 7:04pm

Here is the item my husband won't give up!  A give away from one of the worst companies I ever worked for!  I can't tell you how many of the Good To Great Books were handed out that year with, of course, the attire to match.  This is the only remnant I have left from that horrible company and when I try to get rid of it; he quickly scouts it down and plucks it from the trash (I suspect the kids keep tabs on it as a joke and rat me out)! 


To keep peace in the marriage, I have given up trying to throw it away.  I did ask him one more time last week if he would part with the ugly thing.  I reminded him it does not bring back good memories.  He quietly replied, "I hated that company you worked for and I love working (mowing the grass) and sweating in it....just like you did all those years when you worked for them; now the hat stinks just like the company who gave it to you!".  Well what more could I say?  I might even get to like that hat, because now it brings a smile to face each time I see him pushing the mower in it; the company wasn't even good, but they sure made us sweat trying to make it great!  It never happened.

Comment by Linda Hertz on September 14, 2011 at 8:16am
Marianne PadovanHow things have changed at the present time! I remember greeting many a pharmaceutical representative and how happy I was to see them. They too were happy to see the doctor my boss and tell about the latest in pharmaceutical products and at the same time I would be given some little item to remember them by.
Comment by Linda Hertz on September 12, 2011 at 10:22am

Judith BeaulieuHi Linda, Judith here. I can relate to your story. When I was in the pharmaceutical industry my career was very rewarding. There was a lot of recognition for all of the hard work that went into ethically promoting products for Parke-Davis' Women's Healthcare Division. It was not easy and after being an RN in a thankless and underpaying vocation, Parke-Davis was eager to prove to their employees that you were special.

When I come across a T-Shirt or Photograph from my pharmaceutical career with Parke-Davis, the memory brings to me a feeling of accomplishment. There are many clients that still keep in touch with me that continue to prescribe the wonderful medications for their patients to this day!

When the Parent Company of Warner-Lambert was taken over by Pfizer, Inc. in 2000, I continued within the industry until 2009. The short 5 years with Pfizer appears to coincide with your feelings about the way companies do business. The next 3 years brought me inside the Medical Affairs sector of the industry within another company (which was recently taken over).

After being laid-off I decided to start my own company, FEMTIQUE Associates Incorporated. All of the "positive" energy that lay dormant for the past 11 years came to the surface of my vision to help others. I recall the doctors and nurses to whom I provided information about products that helped their patients. When I come across the promotional item in my office such as a pen, post-it or one of the pictures that still hang on the wall, I remember how much effort it takes to accomplish things.

Thank you for sharing your experience. That career is not for the weak. Respectfully, Judith Beaulieu, RN, BSN, MIS, Health Coach - FEMTIQUE Associates Incorporated


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