As the New Year approaches, thousands of companies begin sending out their annual calendars, greetings cards and diaries. Indeed, for some individuals, it is not uncommon to receive multiple gifts of this ilk each year. Technology is, however, limiting their benefit and some feel that the money it takes to produce such items could be better spent elsewhere, reports LUCY KASSA, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
Hailmaryam Mehari, a public prosecutor at the Ministry of Justice, has seen numerous criminal cases, in each of which there have been multiple court adjournments. Some of the court appointments are easy for him to remember, but others require him to register them in his notebook app installed on his mobile phone. This is despite the seemingly endless number of calendars he has had given to him by various institutions. The vast majority of private and public companies, be they small or large, give out numerous materials to their customers, partners and stakeholders every year during public holidays and New Year is no different. However, two of the items unique to New Years are the calendars and diaries that are handed out to all-comers. With the Ethiopian New Year fast approaching, many institutions are busy preparing to distribute these items.
One of the institutions that have already distributed its annual calendar, greeting cards and diaries (locally known as agendas), is the Addis Abeba City Roads Authority (AACRA) – a public institution. The AACRA began preparations in July, developing a needs assessment and announcing an auction. This enabled them to hit the deadline and distribute their items on time.
Currently, the AACRA is distributing its greeting cards, diaries and calendars, having ordered only 1,000. According to Asamnaw Aschalew, information expert at the AACRA’s information centre, it is because of a limited budget that only a small number of each item has been published. Their prioritised recipient list includes around 60 public institutions and media organisations. The printing company given this contract, Mesfin Printing Centre, was provided with a sample made outside the country, but had to rethink this as they were difficult for the company to make.
For institutions like the AACRA, whose entire budget is covered by the government, the purpose for such products lies in informing people about their success stories – performance reporting for stakeholders and the taxpayer at large.
“Our selection of messages, pictures and design all focus on our success stories,” Asmanaw informed Fortune.
Some may think such publications are a simple thing with little impact, but their influence is also related to the right of information the people have and the authority’s fulfilment of this obligation, according to Asamnaw.
But for the private profitmaking companies, it seems that giving out such gifts is done as a promotional tool. Through such initiatives, they can ensure that their company stays in people’s minds. Banking is one such sector where companies take advantage of this opportunity.
“Through publishing these items, the advantage to the bank is the promotion of its services,” according to Binyam Fantahun, communications manager at Cooperative Bank of Oromia. “If we take a table calendar as an example, our customers look at the banks new products and services by viewing the calendar throughout the whole year and this maintains their attachment with the bank the whole year.”
The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) also shares in adopting such a marketing strategy.
“A number of notebooks are published and distributed to promote the bank,” said Ephream Mekuria, communications director of the CBE. “The customer greeting cards, however, are distributed merely to share the customer’s happiness at this time of year.”
Calendar, post cards and diaries are categorised under the ‘occasional based sales promotion’ marketing strategy. As a long existing trend, most institutions publish such items for a huge amount of money.
“These strategies are not feasible at this time,” Alazar Ahmed, marketing expert at Ranez Marketing plc commented. “Their promotional and market impact is insignificant because of information technology.”
He went on to describe further why this was the case.
“How many people will use a calendar printed by organisations, when there is a calendar on their smart phones and computers?” He asked, with a wry smile. “The institutions would do better to spend their money on other marketing approaches, which include, among other things, making available their services for free and awarding gifts for buying their products.”
The CBE is, however, continues to publish calendars, diaries and greeting cards every year. The bank publishes and distributes around 70,000 copies of each calendar.
The Cooperative Bank of Oromia is trying to reach its customers in a proportional way to this, publishing around 10,000 to 12,000 copies of its diaries and 10,000 calendars every year. These are distributed through its head office and branch offices.
Other than giving the institutions a chance to advertise their services, it has also created a business opportunity for the printing centres. Giraffe Printing Centre at Agona, Sierra Leone Street, takes on the whole task of design and publishing.
According to Meseret Tsegaye, Giraffe’s sales manager, the business’s peak season for New Year giveaways and greeting cards begins in June, when numerous companies extend invitations for bids. The company won five bids at this time, with the remaining work coming through orders. Starting from June, the orders of calendars and post cards will start to flow in, making their business peak, with graduation yearbooks also coming in at this time. It is through tenders that most contracts to undertake the tasks are done. But there are also some orders made to them without tender. Meseret said that those institutions with a smaller size and fewer copies usually prefer to simply give an order directly to her.
The huge workload applies not only to smaller printing press, but relatively large ones in the country too. Central Printing Press Plc, established in 1994, offers full colour printing services and graphics design works, are also inundated. Employees were running here and there looking busy when Fortune joined them to review its business. For this New Year, they had been awarded with tenders from 20 companies, with a maximum offer in the market, excluding diaries, of 800,000 Br. The average number of copies is 10,000, according to the marketing department of the company, with this number sometimes the number growing to 50,000.
Nevertheless, there is a limitation on the side of the printing press, which has to outsource the items to be designed and published outside the country, overseeing the quality and timely delivery. The main countries to which these tasks are outsourced, are United Arab Emirates, China and India.
When the printing is done directly outside of Ethiopia, the costs are less and there is developed innovation in the design of the items. But also there is increase exposure on the side of the customers, who are demanding more innovative items. Diaries are not made here due to lack of particular machines, unless they are simple ones.
“Customers are becoming more focused on quality and on the finer details of design,” said a senior manager at the Central Printing Centre. “But the machines, though they are affordable in terms of price, the seasonal nature of these items means it is not feasible to import them. Rather it is preferable to import machines that can be used for other magazines that have a continuous market.”
The absence of a design school in the country is also a challenge in bringing innovative graphics design works, the manager added.
Another problem raised for the production of these items abroad is the delivery date. Most institutions bring their items late, mainly because of limited understanding of the tasks that need to be completed prior to printing,” according to Abech Mamo, owner of AM Printing.
The reason behind the late orders by the public institutions is the procurement and auction process, according to Asamnaw form the AACRA.
The quality and design aspect of the calendars, post cards and diaries are well recognised for recipients such as Hailemaryam, who is a regular user of the calendars and diaries/agendas.
“Some of the agendas do not look good, are thick and deteriorate easily,” he claimed. “But others are very convenient and attractive to use.” he said.
He does not use the calendars for more than a few days, however, as he has more convenient options on his mobile phone.
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