While most people will have received a promotional item at one point in their careers, the question of what exactly are promotional items can be a bit trickier – as they can be almost any business item.
The basic definition or answer to the question what exactly are promotional items is that these are items that are emblazoned with your company's name, logo, and contact information – which are then given out to customers or prospective customers. While a business card does perform this same function (getting your information out to people) it does not make the best promotional item because many people throw business cards away. The same can be said for any paper or print ad, whether mailed or put in a newspaper. While these are promotional items, they are usually not kept for any length of time.
Other promotional items can work much better as a way of showing off your business. There are small promotional items and larger pieces, which can work as both sales incentives and giveaways. The most common type of promo is something small, but useful. These can include items such as pens, pencils, keychains, magnets and buttons. Each of these items is reliably inexpensively to produce (often costing just a bit more than business cards) and can be freely given away to potential and current customers.
Another type of promo item can be a bit larger. These items are generally given to current customers, or customers-to-be that have won them as a "prize" at places like home shows and other advertisement venues. These larger items, such as t-shirts, tote bags, coolers, CD holders and more are very likely to stay with the person who receives them, making them an excellent investment in future advertising. Of course, the higher cost of these items means you can not give them away in large numbers, but those who do get these promos will show them to others.
Finally, another way to make a promotional item is to give away a sample of your product (if you are producing one), which is printed with your name, logo and contact information. That way, a prospective client or customer can easily see what it is you are providing (examples can be office supplies or even beauty supplies) as well as your name and info. This is a very cost effective answer to giveaways, because you already have the product in hand.
So, what exactly are promotional items? As long as the item you are giving away to the public contains your name, logo and contact phone numbers (or address, or email) – you've got a promotional item.