Last night’s announcement that the NBA is suspending its game schedule until further notice is the latest in a string of high-profile cancellations and disruptions in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Earlier today, the NCAA announced that all Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournament games would be cancelled and organizers are considering not holding the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. As cases of the virus increase, many conferences and trade shows have been postponed or cancelled to help stop the spread of the disease. Just this morning, the Impressions Expo in Atlantic City, planned for next week, was rescheduled to October.

The disruptions are proving not just to affect airlines, event venues and hotels, and a myriad of related industries, but also companies that provide promotional products for these events.

“We just had our first cancellation today due to the virus threat,” says Bruce Reissaus, MAS, president of distributor Advertising Specialties Alliance in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. “This order was placed with Pro Towels in January for May delivery and we had guaranteed purchase to hold inventory. Pro Towels was very responsive to our needs. I offered them an opportunity to charge us for work that had already been completed. They declined to charge us for holding inventory, order entry and art prep and graciously thanked us for choosing them. I’ve always liked working with Pro Towels for their quality product, high-quality printing and responsiveness. They have, once again proven, they are a top-notch supplier.”

Supplier Fossa Apparel, Inc. is another supplier helping distributors deal with cancellations. The Fremont, California-based company has waived drop-ship fees for event orders until the level of concern for the coronavirus has decreased, it said in an email to customers. Instead of shipping the order to a hotel or convention center, the company will drop ship to each individual recipient’s home. “We believe in the power of these gestures and hope to reduce the impact of the coronavirus,” said the email.

Supplier Gemline in Lawrence, Massachusetts is also helping to provide “some certainty in these uncertain times,” the company stated in an email sent to customers today. The email said that for any new event order of $2,500 net or more, placed between March 12 and May 1, 2020, the company would waive drop-ship fees of certain amounts for up to 100 locations. Further details and requirements were outlined in the email.

Mandi Rudd, owner of Leawood, Kansas distributor Brand Energy Marketing, LLC, is glad to hear how suppliers are helping distributors cope with the cancellations they are experiencing. It’s one way “ … we all help each other get through something we are all going to be dealing with,” she says. One of her clients had a huge event scheduled for yesterday, which was postponed for later in the year, so all of the products that had been delivered can be used at that time. But it got her to thinking. For events that can’t or won’t be rescheduled, perhaps distributors can suggest creating a virtual event kit with pens, bags and journals, and send it to attendees. There’s a cost associated with shipping, she notes, so it may or may not work, but it’s a way to help the client recoup some of the loss. “More than anything, it’s a conversation you can have with your client,” she says. “We’re all in this together.”

Jaimee Mottwiler, CAS, account manager at Richardson, Texas-based Logotology, who has 10 years of experience in mail marketing campaigns, suggests asking clients for a mailing list of attendees so distributors can mail the items. “The money they save on airfare and hotel will more than cover it,” she says. “It’s not a lost opportunity, it’s an upsell.”

Debbie Mangano, CAS, owner of distributor We Promote You in Port Angeles, Washington, suggests some other ways she plans to help her clients solve some of the problems they are facing now. “Businesses are preparing for people to telecommute, so I think we need to give them tools to do that,” she says. “I work with a lot of colleges so I’m thinking of power banks, connectors, any device that helps them to be plugged in.” She also notes the need to stay hydrated, especially now, so she’s been promoting water bottles, along with sleep masks and essential oils for relaxation. “I had two clients who wanted hand sanitizer and I couldn’t get it, of course, so I offered some other ideas to help people who are stressing out. Another great product right now is tissue packs. They are still in stock and affordable.”

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