Feature Article - March/April 2018

Inside IMRA

A Guide to an Important Incentive Industry Group

By Brian Summerfield

There's a well-known saying among those who've spent a lot of time working in trade groups and alliances: "There's an association for everything." From the International Association of Professional Conversational Hypnotists to the Association for Gravestone Studies, just about every industry—no matter how small and seemingly obscure—seems to have some organization looking out for its best interests and bringing its practitioners together.

Outside of the recognition and rewards industry, the Incentive Manufacturers & Representatives Alliance (IMRA) might appear to be among those esoteric groups. But incentives aren't some small cottage industry. They're big business, and more than 80 percent of U.S. companies spend around $90 billion each year on them. And for those who work in this large and growing sector, IMRA is an established, valued partner. For more than five decades, the organization has worked to develop and disseminate professional standards in the incentives field, provide education and research to its membership, and generally drive awareness of the various approaches to rewards and recognition.

Beyond that high-level description, though, what does IMRA do? And, as the incentives space evolves, how is the organization evolving with it? For answers to these and more questions, keep reading.

Who Is IMRA, and What Does It Represent?

The organization, headquartered in Minneapolis, is actually a Strategic Industry Group that sits within the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA). According to Chris Harrison, national sales manager at Bay Area-based KleerWest and 2017-18 president of IMRA, its mission is "to advocate the use of brand-name merchandise for use as corporate gifts and in incentive programs."

That focus on the most established brands is particularly important in this context. The organization has a wealth of research demonstrating that employees—and the companies they serve—perform at higher levels when they're working toward any kind of tangible reward. However, their performance is elevated even more when the incentive programs include brand-name merchandise.

"According to the Incentive Research Foundation's 'Top Things Top Performing Companies Do Differently' study, the top-performing companies are not only more likely to use non-cash rewards, but they are also very different in the ways they think about and design their programs," Harrison said. "One of the most identifiable differences is that top-level executives in the top-performing companies have a strong belief in the value of non-cash rewards as a powerful tool in shaping company performance. They are right. We want to reach these people and continue to reinforce this message, and also ensure that they are aware of how we can help them achieve their goals. As we learned in IMRA's Small Business Merchandise Market Study, this applies to companies of all sizes. We especially want to make smaller and medium-size businesses aware of the business benefits of corporate gifting programs and the role of brand-name merchandise."

The membership of IMRA includes hundreds of professionals across the United States from three primary groups: brand-name manufacturers; the sales representatives of those manufacturers; and national marketing companies, or NMCs.

"We provide our customers with direct access to the most recognizable and desirable name-brand products," Harrison explained. "When working with an IMRA professional, you have a direct path to the people that are best able to help you select your corporate gifts or build your incentive programs, and then select the merchandise that will make them the most successful. We all work in unison to better serve the needs of our clients.

"We're more than suppliers," he added. "By remaining true to our mission, we can ensure that the people relying on us receive the guidance they need, be it a new supplier or a customer, to help them achieve the desired business goal for their program."

What's the Value of Working With IMRA?

The most significant advantage of working with IMRA and its members is the knowledge of both specific products and categories and the overall industry that they bring to the table, said Lore Rincon, 2017-18 vice president of IMRA and sales manager of Continental Premium Corp., located in the Chicago metro area.

The most significant advantage of working with IMRA and its members is the knowledge of both specific products and categories and the overall industry that they bring to the table.

"IMRA members know their products, where they do well and how the industry works," she said. "Therefore, companies can leverage that knowledge to ensure they have successful incentive and reward programs. Our members continually work to stay at the forefront of technology and constantly provide exceptional service. IMRA sales representatives are able to put together product suggestions in a timely manner and incorporate multiple brand names. The IMRA sales rep is a valuable resource who provides knowledge of industry products, programs, strategies, success stories and trends at no charge to customers."

Harrison reinforced that view of IMRA members as knowledgeable and professional resources for the people they work with. "When you work with an IMRA member, you are working with an expert consultant," he said. "Our members have years and years of experience working with and building very successful incentive programs. We are trained and educated on the many ways to make your program achieve the desired results.

"In addition to the program design aspect, these folks spend a lot of time with product training, too," he continued. "There is so much more to the recognition aspect of an incentive program than just giving the recipient something. Truly successful recognition programs combine all aspects of the presentation, the delivery and the way the recipient will remember being recognized for a job well done."