academic award

An Institution of Excellence

Cassie Green is the editor of Awards & Engraving Magazine. She can be reached at or by phone at 720-566-7278.

Note: This article appears in the December 2017 issue of A&E magazine. To ensure that you can access this and other industry-focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!


You might think the academic market is just a small piece of the awards puzzle. After all, it is a specific niche that only targets one group of buyers. The reality is that, even though these customers tend to only purchase during specific times of the year, the academic market is quite huge, encompassing multiple entities and age groups that have various recognition needs.

Providing awards and other customized products to these customers is a sure-fire sale, and one that can bring in the profit. In order to target the academic customer, retailers should look at the various subcategories within this market and know exactly what specific needs must be met.

Class Roster

What classifies as an “academic award” is actually more than just a school-related trophy or plaque. Of course, there are the traditional elementary school certificates, middle school participation awards, and high school trophies, but there are many more opportunities to sell to the academic customer.

Cathy Garcia, Marco Awards Group, has quite a list of what falls under the academic arena: all awards given for general scholastic achievement; and any school subject including music, the arts, drama, citizenship, attendance, student of the month, student council, physical education, band, honor roll, etc. “(There are even) some other less popular awards, such as a principal’s award, reading, or most improved,” she adds.

Jean Chen, Crystal by Design, elaborates on this point, stating that academic awards can be for more than the student. “Recipients of awards/recognition falling into this category include students achieving a certain level of success, teachers that exhibit exemplary efforts, or even educational facilities that have demonstrated excellence,” she states.

These awards also extend into all levels of education and all types of products according to Vince Frank, Catania Medallic Specialty. “Grade, middle, and high schools as well as colleges and universities all purchase academic items,” he states. “Academic items are any medal, lapel pin, lanyard, or other product presented in recognition of achievements in a learning setting.”

Specific Subjects

While there are a variety of customers purchasing academic awards, one thing the retailer needs to keep in mind is that these customers don’t typically share purchasing habits when it comes to substrates. Different levels have different needs, and different budgets. Those awards retailers who cater to the various needs will turn the most profit.

“Elementary through high school tend to purchase medals, ribbons, and more economical trophies, mainly due to a constrained budget,” Chen points out. But she also adds that plaques span all levels, so offering all your academic customers these items will also score a sale.

Garcia also notes that the lower grade levels tend to migrate toward pins and even certificates. She agrees that as you move up through the levels of education, budgets loosen up and purchasing tendencies broaden to include more items.

Not only are higher levels such as collegiate customers purchasing a larger variety of awards products, but they also tend toward those with a higher perceived quality. “We do see a fair amount of crystal trophies being purchased for academic purposes, though usually only at the collegiate level or above,” Chen notes. “They are looking for the nicest award they can afford to recognize and celebrate important achievements.”

Along with awards, retailers will also see these customers purchasing other items. Again, this depends on the level of academic customer doing the buying. “Many college and university graduation medals may be 3 to 4 inches with a smaller keychain attached as a keepsake that can be used on a daily basis,” Frank lists as an example.

Garcia adds to that point, stating that retailers can take this up a notch by offering personalization services. “There are lots of companies who offer custom pins and medals that represent the school and/or type of award,” she elaborates. “(There is also) an opportunity to offer a custom gift such as a mouse pad, mug, or even both that can be sublimated with the school logo.”

It is this customization concept that academic customers look for on their finished products. “Sublimate custom school logos onto hundreds of different products. Print apparel with the same customization, or even with the theme of the recipients’ awards,” Garcia offers. Not only are academic customers after a nice award to honor the recipient(s), but they want that award to reflect their personal institution.

High Marks

The aspect of add-on items coupled with personalized awards work together to build academic sales. Awards retailers who employ these tactics with a strong marketing campaign can score high on the profit scale in the academic market.

When putting together a proposal for academic clients, Frank suggests creating samples. “One method (to take awards to the next level) is to draft up artwork, or… create a sample custom medal to show to the administration,” he advises. “Once the administrator has a sample in their hands they start to see the benefit of the products.”

Chen also has a few suggestions when it comes to marketing to the academic arena. “I recommend retailers advertise in school newspapers or on their on-campus bulletin boards,” she offers. She goes on to say that mailing and/or emailing different academic groups flyers or catalogs specifically tailored to the market is another great way to advertise your services.

There is one more important factor when selling to academic customers: timeframe. “All retailers should understand that academic awards are (generally) given once a year,” Garcia emphasizes. For the most part, many of these customers are making their purchases near the end of the school year. “The retailer needs to be in the school weeks (and even) months in advance to present ideas and a budget for the awards.”

Along with all that, keep in mind that it’s all about the recognition, and awards retailers help bring that to this market. “These students have worked long and hard to get where they are and at what they have achieved,” Frank says. “Recognizing that achievement is not a costly thing to do.  It makes the student feel good and this recognition may pay the school dividends later with alumni loyalty.”