Hosting Events in a Pandemic: Transforming the Virtual into Reality

How a little advanced planning can yield higher engagement for your next virtual event.

Meeting with clients and prospects virtually vs. in-person has become somewhat the new normal. But a half-hour meeting is much different than a four-hour virtual event, such as the Gilson Annual Sales Meeting. With this meeting for 30+ sales and executive leaders on the horizon, we knew that we needed a creative solution to engage, intrigue, and excite.

The Challenge

At-home attendees of virtual events and webinars face an abundance of distractions: emails pinging into their inbox; spouses, kids, and pets interrupting; the timer on the dryer going off or the delivery guy dropping off another Amazon package. So, how can a meeting host keep an audience engaged amidst these constant distractions?

The Gilson marketing and sales development team collaborated to create a ‘Virtual Meeting Kit’ that would be sent to each attendee’s home in advance of the meeting.

To ensure timely delivery, they asked each invited guest to complete a short survey that indicated where they would like to receive the package (at the office, at their home, or a different remote location) depending on where they would be the day before and day of the meeting.

Also on the form were a few questions related to food preferences, as well as a color preference for a promotional item that would be included in the kit, just to pique the attendee’s interest.

The Solution

Leading up to the event, attendees were instructed to have their ‘Virtual Meeting Kit’ nearby but not to open it until the meeting. This would keep individuals on their toes, as they wondered when and how the box would be used.

As the meeting began, attendees were invited to open their box and enjoy the snack provided for them. Each recipient received a branded coffee mug, a small bottle of water, and two breakfast snacks based on their responses to the pre-event form. They were also greeted with a personalized notecard, thanking them for attending.

Attendees were kept on their toes during the Million Dollar Club Awards presentation and the coveted Salesperson of the Year Award. A hidden compartment in the bottom of the box held their awards (along with some fun-size participation ribbons), and additional meeting resources.

The Results

At the conclusion of the virtual event, attendees were reminded to complete a survey by scanning the code found on the box insert. Within 24 hours, 60% of attendees had completed the survey. An additional 20% completed theirs within 48 hours.

Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, not only for the virtual event but also for the Virtual Meeting Kit itself. Even the more seasoned sales veterans who have had to overcome significant technological skill gaps were complimentary of the new format.

“After 53 years in sales, the only sales meetings I attended that were more memorable happened to be at Disney World (true story) during my first two years in sales. Great meeting!!!” quipped one attendee in an email to the organizers following the event.


Hosting an Event? Be Open to the Possibilities.

If virtual events are your “new normal,” don’t settle for a purely digital experience. Reach out to Gilson and discover how you can make your next virtual event an experience your attendees can touch and feel.

Preserving Heritage

A Legacy in The Making

A behind-the-scenes look at creating the award-winning GRCC Ford Fieldhouse Legacy Mural

Facility signage can showcase a logo, give information, or point guests in the right direction. But sometimes, a project comes along that can inspire people in a much deeper way.

The floor-to-ceiling-and-beyond graphics in the new Grand Rapids Community College Ford Fieldhouse do just that.

Designed by Janice Ensing, a former GRCC graphic artist, Gilson played an integral role in bringing the award-winning project to life.

“I had worked with Jan on some smaller wall and window graphics at GRCC,” said Gilson account executive Rolly Smith. “When she reached out to me as a potential partner for the Legacy Mural, I jumped at the opportunity.”

“Jan had concerns about the size of the project and fact that we had less than 2 months to have it completed,” recalled Smith. “I assured her that we could handle it.”

Smith quickly assembled a team at Gilson to kick off the project, which included taking detailed measurements and sourcing the right material.

“We looked at about a dozen possibilities,” said Smith. “We finally found a new product by DreamScape® that was commercial-grade and met all the specifications for fire and wear that were needed to satisfy the builder.”

Rockford Construction and IDS Architecture were supportive throughout the entire build and worked together with Gilson’s installation team to ensure an award-winning final product.

“There were a number of challenges to overcome,” said Smith. “In one area there was a handrail that went right through one of the graphics, in another area there were light switch plates running though blocks of text. One of the longer hallways had a dip that we did not anticipate. Construction dust and unfinished walls presented their own challenges.”

“Working closely with the builders and with Jan helped us keep the project moving forward at a quick pace in order to meet the Grand Opening event date,” said Smith.

After weeks of printing and a few late nights of installing, the finished mural was ready for its grand reveal. The Ford Fieldhouse Legacy Mural was unveiled in January 2019 in the presence of politicians, local dignitaries, and the public at two separate Open House events.

The entire project featured nearly 2,000 square feet of printed wall graphics, including those that extended beyond the walls and were suspended from the ceilings in the locker rooms for a truly immersive experience.

The Legacy Mural earned Silver Paragon Award from the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations (NCMPR), a national organization for community and technical colleges.

It also earned a Gold Medallion from NCMPR’s District 3, which includes community colleges in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and the Canadian province of Ontario as well as a Gold PRoof Award from the WMPRSA – West Michigan Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

Ensing was overwhelmed with the positive outcome, saying in follow-up correspondence, “Thank you Rolly for your enthusiasm and guidance throughout this project. I truly could not have done it without your team.”

Contact Gilson for help with your next big dream.

A look at the stunning visuals from the GRCC Ford Fieldhouse in our Project Gallery:

Riding Out The Storm

During a webinar on navigating the current pandemic crisis, our team watched a clip from the iconic movie Forrest Gump. If you’ve seen the movie, you certainly remember the scene: Lieutenant Dan is out in the middle of a hurricane, whooping and hollering right in the thick of the storm, while others are hunkered down on the shore.

When the storm finally cleared, all those who sat idle on the shore were dashed to bits. Forrest and Lieutenant Dan had survived by leaning into the storm and navigating the rough waters with courage.

The COVID-19 crisis is the storm of the century. We could have sat idle, waiting for the storm to pass. Instead, we leaned right in.

Early on in the pandemic, Gilson was labeled an essential service by several of our customers as a critical component in their supply chain. We have risen to the challenge and continue to evolve, adapt, and adjust while keeping our employees and their families safe and healthy. While challenges abound, we are encouraged by the positivity that surrounds us:

  • We are thankful for the flexibility of our employees. For those who have volunteered to continue to work on-site supporting the essential businesses for which we provide critical materials, as well as those who stay diligent in working from home while balancing closures in schools and child care centers and co-working with their spouses, kids, and pets.
  • We are thankful that we are able to continue to provide services for many of our customers who are providing necessary services for our society. We are producing critical information and materials related to preventing the spread of the virus in our communities. We were even able to assist with the manufacturing of critical safety components for use in the medical field this past week, with more opportunities to do so in the pipeline. The ingenuity of our customers never ceases to astound us, and we are thankful for that.
  • We are thankful for the advent of video conferencing, and for our fantastic IT department for keeping us up and running and ‘virtually’ face-to-face with each other and our customers.
  • We are thankful that our business has evolved over the years to include services that we can provide remotely, such as agency/design services and document composition. We are in a better position than ever to weather a storm of this nature, and we are thankful for the decisions we made years ago that have led us to this place.
  • We are thankful for the stable financial position of our company due to conservative fiscal policies over the years, and the security it affords us as we all face uncertain and difficult times ahead.
  • We are thankful for the ability to collaborate with our peers and colleagues, many of whom we are often ‘too busy’ to engage with on a strategic level. Having this time to think critically and generate new ideas in the face of adversity will undoubtedly lead to new opportunities once the clouds have parted and the waters have calmed.
  • We are thankful for the opportunity to take a fresh look at how we approach customer outreach, as trade shows and in-person events are no longer a viable option for connecting with industry peers. We’ve been able to have more specific and personal conversations with customers that we wouldn’t have had in a community environment.

As this unprecedented storm rages on, rest assured that Gilson will continue to batten down the hatches and ride the waves right alongside our customers.

We’re all in the same boat, and we could not be more thankful for that.

For more on Gilson’s response to the global health crisis, please visit:

COVID-19 Prevention

Updated: March 23, 2020 at 1:21pm

Gilson’s top priority remains the health and safety of our employees, our customers, and the consumers they serve. Based on the recommendations of the U.S. Homeland Security we have been informed by our Military, Food, Medical and Pharmaceutical clients that we are an “Essential Supplier” and must remain in operation now that the Governor’s office has issued a ‘shelter-in-place’ directive in the state of Michigan. As such, we will remain in operation with a team of employees who choose to work and make it possible for our customers to maintain continuity of service.

We have taken all CDC guidelines into consideration for equipment and facilities cleaning, health practices, and social distancing. We will safely continue our operations as part of our responsibility to support all of our customers – and particularly the industries noted above – so that they can continue to serve the American people during this time of crisis.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve, and check back often for updates and new information as it becomes available.

Updated: March 16, 2020 at 11:10am

As a partner in your success, we want you to be aware of the preventative steps we are taking to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on your supply chain.

Gilson has been closely monitoring CDC information and recommendations on the COVID-19 virus. Additionally, as members of the Michigan Manufacturer’s Association, we have received in-depth information regarding methods to responsibly address the spread of the virus. 

From those recommendations, we are encouraging all employees who can work remotely to do so. We are asking that our sales team only make in person calls to customers when it’s absolutely necessary. All travel outside of the area is on hold. Additionally, we are closing the facility to any non-Gilson employees. Vendors, visitors and customers are prohibited from coming to our facility during this time.

We have also implemented the following facility-wide procedures to protect our employees and the product leaving our doors:

  • Provide clear instructions to our department managers regarding employee sickness, including:
    • Require sick employees to stay home.
    • Send home any employee who appears to have symptoms identified by the CDC as related to COVID-19 virus.
    • Require employees who are well but have a family member with COVID-19 to notify our HR department.
  • Require personal protective CDC hygiene recommendations, such as hand washing or the use of hand sanitizer when soap and water are not readily available.
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning. All areas, including both Production and Administration, must be properly cleaned each shift. A complete cleaning of all surfaces between each job shall be conducted in our Packaging and Kit Building area.
  • Encourage all employees who can work remotely to do so.
  • Voluntary quarantine may be necessary, but is not currently required.

Gilson is committed to protecting our employees, their families, as well as our customers during this challenging time. Please feel free to contact your Gilson Representative with any further questions or concerns.

For more information from the Center for Disease Control, please visit their regularly updated page:

Gilson Spreads More Than Just Holiday Cheer

Gilson’s private-label holiday hot sauces were a central part of the 2018 marketing campaign.

What started as a conversation about how to ease the pressure on our internal production staff during the busy holiday season turned into one of our most successful – and economical! – marketing campaigns. Read more about how a fictitious sauce brand transformed Gilson’s sales model in our latest case study.

The Sticky Situation

Those familiar with Gilson may have seen the byproduct of our recent holiday campaigns around town in the form of tiny personalized cardboard elves. (If not, you can read more about it here.) As another record-breaking campaign came to a close in December of 2017, conversations turned towards how we could improve.

The primary driver of this process-improvement conversation was the hope of eliminating some of the internal pressure on our production staff during what is already one of our busiest times of year. Our customers trust us to handle their most challenging, most time-sensitive, most complex print-on-demand and fulfillment projects – and yet our marketing campaign was an annual source of pain for our internal workflow.

The nature of the project did not lend itself to automation of any kind, and the chain of custody once the customized elves were produced was a challenge. We sat down to explore what an ideal campaign might look like.

“The secret to the success of so many of our customer’s projects lies in our Mindwire® portal,” said Sally Gilbert, Director of Fulfillment Programs. “There’s really nothing else like it on the market today. If you want accurate, well-managed print-on-demand and fulfillment, Mindwire is your tool.”

Mindwire® is Gilson’s proprietary B2B e-commerce portal that serves as the single access point for sales and marketing tools such as literature, digital assets and images, wearables and promotional items, manuals and more.

It is completely administrable by the customer, and offers real-time inventory access and reporting. Hundreds of Gilson customers currently use Mindwire in some form or another.

We knew that if we could use Mindwire as the central hub of our marketing campaign, the campaign deliverables would flow through the shop much more smoothly, and also allow us to showcase the tool to our customers with their own customized demonstration experience.

“We had already established that increasing our customer’s exposure to Mindwire® was going to be one of our sales goals for 2018, so deciding early on to use it as a focal point of our next campaign just made sense,” noted Marketing Manager Kim Elmore.

“Not only was our original process a bit clunky on the back end, but our response rates were getting out of control,” said Elmore. Too many campaign responses can be a waste of resources, if the proper follow-ups cannot be made. “We were getting double-digit response rates on a list that was well over 1,000 people. Our sales team just wasn’t able to keep up.”

Armed with the decision that we wanted to keep our response rates high, but our follow-ups manageable, and also the desire to create a more streamlined campaign fulfillment process, we set to work developing the Gilson Holiday Campaign 2.0: Hot Sauce Edition.

A Solution to be Savored

In the beginning… there was sauce.

If we take a spin in the way-back machine, we’ll find the beginnings of this new sauce-themed holiday campaign stretch all the way back to the early 2000s.

“We knew that in order for us to show off everything Mindwire could do, we needed to let customers see it in action,” said Jeff Palmitier, Executive Vice President of Technology. “Unfortunately in order to do that, we would need to share existing customers’ Mindwire sites, which in many cases is a violation of their confidentiality agreements. We needed a dedicated demo site that we could freely share, that would show how a business might use Mindwire for sales and marketing support.”

The idea of developing a fictitious company that we could use as a demonstration tool for our Mindwire® product never fully got off the ground from an execution standpoint, but plenty of creative groundwork was laid.

In 2017, we decided to wipe the dust off the bottle and pick up where we left off – first with a complete brand development exercise for “SAUCEWORX”, an imaginary sauce manufacturer founded in the tiny Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill.

The “Sauceworx” branding exercise included typography, color palette, logo and wordmark design, as well as content development and copywriting for each of the fictitious products. All creative was executed by Gilson’s internal creative agency, Tonic.

Complete with made-up backstory and a whole new graphic identity, the Sauceworx squirrel icon made its debut on a dedicated consumer-facing website and coordinating Mindwire site, ready to demonstrate all that Mindwire had to offer.

Fast forward to 2018…

Using the Sauceworx Mindwire site as the basis for our holiday promotion was a natural fit. Our team developed limited edition sauce flavors and packaging, complete with gift sets, direct mail pieces, campaign landing pages to capture responses, and more.

All of the creative elements were completed over the summer, produced in the fall, and ready for deployment just prior to the holidays, spreading the workload over many months and allowing it to be completed during slower production times.  

The business development team identified a targeted list of companies who could benefit from a Mindwire solution, and then allowed the sales team to hand-pick which individuals at each company should receive the promotion.

This precision targeting ensured that the majority of responses would be pre-qualified leads, removing the guesswork on the sales person’s part as to whether or not to follow-up with a sales pitch or just a friendly thank you was required.

Recipients of the campaign were driven to a landing page that would capture and confirm their email address, which would be used as their username for accessing the Mindwire demonstration portal.

After completing a few steps to set up their password, users were granted access to the holiday-themed Sauceworx Mindwire site and allowed to choose one of three holiday gifts.

Once their order was complete, items were picked, packed, and shipped to the location of their choosing – just like any order they would have placed for marketing materials if they had a Mindwire site of their own.

Sauce Success!

Predetermining a realistic response rate was critical to the success of the campaign, since all premiums would be produced in advanced and sitting on warehouse shelves awaiting deployment once ordered. Anticipating too many responses would result in wasted resources on the shelves; underestimating our response rates would have caused us to run out of giveaways before the campaign reached it’s conclusion.

Using historical data on previous Gilson holiday campaigns, the marketing team set a goal of a 30% response rate and produced enough giveaways (branded hot sauces, squirrel-shaped desk organizers, and saucy greeting cards) to fulfill all orders should our response rate be around that 30% mark.

Within 2 days of the first mailed touchpoint, the campaign had already received an impressive 15% response rate. As a result, we decided to eliminate a few of the emailed touch points so as not to exceed our goal and run out of giveaways prematurely.

At the conclusion of the 30-day campaign, 42% of all recipients had visited their personalized landing page. Of those, 73% went on to complete the Mindwire® demonstration and requested their free gift for an overall redemption rate of 30.4%.

The result was a successful holiday campaign that caused minimal disruption to Gilson’s existing production workflow, demonstrated our creative, production, and fulfillment capabilities, and yielded a pool of strong, qualified Mindwire® leads for our sales staff to pursue. All of this was conducted on a fixed budget and timeline, allowing us to more accurately account for our ROI.

If your marketing strategy isn’t yielding the qualified leads you seek, give us a call for a complimentary consultation and brainstorming session. We’d be happy to share our secret sauce with you.

Also, if Mindwire has piqued your interest, you can learn more or request a demonstration by visiting,, or contacting your Gilson account representative.

5 Signs You Need to Reinvent Your Marketing for 2019

Sales are up. Your marketing campaigns have double-digit response rates. Your expenses came in under budget this year and the company is flourishing. Sounds like the perfect time to sit back and relax, enjoy your success.


It’s easy to get complacent when things are going right, but it’s even more important to continually challenge yourself and think critically about your business strategies.

Gilson experienced this firsthand with our holiday campaigns. Year after year the campaigns generated double-digit response rates. As marketers, we were ecstatic! But were our results generating new business? Was the return worth the investment? Were we targeting the right people and going after the right results?

After a careful analysis of our response rates and ROI, the decision was made to revamp our campaign strategy with a much more targeted approach. If your company is anything like ours, below are fives signs you might benefit from reinventing your marketing strategy in 2019.

1. Your sales team has grown complacent.

Nothing has a more direct impact on results than a sales team who’s lost their passion. As our campaigns became more and more popular with our B2B customers and our response rates kept on climbing, the sales team began to think of the campaigns as an added stress rather than an opportunity.

Taking a step back and refreshing your marketing strategy can refocus and reinvigorate your sales staff, resulting in greater, more intentional follow-up activity. We instated smaller, more targeted lists and a more specific call-to-action to help the sales team stay the course. The result was a smaller, more manageable, but also more profitable set of respondents with whom to follow up.

2. Your responses are up, but ROI is down.

A double-digit response rate is every marketer’s dream! But at what point do you need to peek behind the curtain and see who is responding to your campaign, and why?

During our analysis, we found that our highest response rates were from within some of our best, long-term customers. However, they weren’t necessarily able to fully engage with our call to action, which was geared toward generating new business.. This artificial inflation of our response rates was driving down our ROI.

Recognizing that there is value in marketing to our existing customers and rewarding them for their business, we decided to engage them in a customer retention campaign. This enabled our sales staff to more appropriately manage their time between nurturing new leads and managing existing account relationships.

3. Your business goals have changed.

When we embarked on our marketing journey nearly six years ago, our focus was on showcasing our breadth of services – from soup to nuts.

But now that our service offering was more established amongst our customers, it was time to double down and focus on our corporate growth goals. We were no longer interested in tallying response rates from multiple individuals within one organization. Instead, we were looking for a response from key stakeholders at organizations who not only visited a personalized landing page as a result of the campaign, but also went on to create a username, password, and complete a mini demonstration of our Mindwire® technology tool.

If we could earn even a fraction of the responses we did from our original campaigns with this new higher standard of activity, we would be ecstatic (and we were).

4. You know your audience better today than you did yesterday.

If you’ve been diligent about tracking your response rates and monitoring which customers engage with you on a regular basis, you’re on the right track towards generating more targeted messaging and yielding more qualified results. We were able to dissect our mailing list according to annual dollar volume trends with each company and identify the most qualified leads at each company to target..

5. Change is good.

Without a doubt, changing things up every now and again reinvigorates people at every level. When introducing a new campaign strategy, customers are forced out of their comfort zone and asked to engage with you in a more intentional way, instead of just going through the motions. Your sales staff are encouraged by having a more focused approach to follow-ups. And your business is sure to thrive as a result.

So before you kick back and relax as you enter into 2019, take a moment to do a little soul searching and see where you could improve your strategy.  If you could use a second set of eyes or fresh perspective, give us a call for a complimentary consult and brainstorming session with your team.

What the elf? Where’s my Gilson holiday campaign?

T’was the month before Christmas, and all through the shop, no elf ink was printed, not even one drop! Gilson’s customers stood by their mailboxes with a glare, wondering when their elves would be there.

“Where’s my elf?” they demanded, “Where’s my reindeer? My tree? Gilson always gives me swag, it’s so clever! And free!”

But no elves would be printed in the Gilson workshop that year. Gilson was spreading a new type of cheer.

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rising cost of paper

How to Combat the Rising Cost of Paper

Everyone wants to get a great deal on paper and printing materials. With so many fun and exciting new print technologies, the need for custom signage, banners, and graphics is greater than ever. But the rising cost of paper and shipping can put a dent in your marketing plans. Don’t panic! There are plenty of ways to combat the rising cost of paper. Here’s some info to arm you to make the right decisions.

Combating the Rising Cost of Paper

Paper mills are closing and the cost of materials has risen over the past several years (Printwell, 2018). Another reason for the increase is the rising cost of pulp. Here’s a recent set of statistics featured in a blog post by Smith Corona.

“Beginning in February 2017, pulp prices began to increase steadily. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Producer Price Index for pulp, paper, and allied products has risen from 167.4 in February of 2017 to 212.4 in March of 2018. This increase of over 25% is not expected to slow down” (Smith Corona, 2018).

The cost of paper might be rising, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get great deals on your print projects. Gilson works with you to get the best substrates for the job. Don’t overthink bringing that next big project together with custom signage, large format graphics, or custom trade show materials–take the leap and let us do the heavy lifting! We’ll help you combat the cost of paper with insightful info on choosing the right tools, materials, and substrates for your project.


cost of paper


Saving Big on Shipping

Not only is the cost of paper rising, but the cost of shipping is climbing, too. A current truck driving crisis has hit the US and companies are experiencing higher shipping costs due to a lack of drivers.

Why is this happening? Here’s some info from a recent Forbes post.

“The trucker shortage is being driven by unemployment rates being down, which has created a positive consumer outlook and people buying more goods.” (Forbes, 2018). With people buying more goods, ordering more product, and driving the need for shipments, it’s been a challenge for companies to keep up with the growing demand.

This change in shipping availability can have an effect on delivery times and cost. That’s precious time and money that Gilson can help you save with our shipping and fulfillment services. Our experienced and efficient team customizes fulfillment and shipping programs for a variety of business and products. We can bring that same expertise and service to your projects no matter the size or scope.


cost of paper


Get in Touch and Save Your Budget

Combat the cost of paper and shipping by talking to a Gilson sales rep and finding out how to best reach your goals and stay within budget. Our number one mission is to help our customers succeed. Don’t be afraid to pick up that phone, send an email, or visit us to learn more about creating, producing, and delivering that next big project. Contact us today and get the inside scoop on how to best tackle your next big project. We’re dedicated to helping you create, produce, and deliver whatever you have in store.


cost of paper