You would expect a certain steely determination from the people who work in Mines Rescue, so perhaps the steely pen shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Once they realised there was a competition to be won – even one with no prize other than ballpoint bragging rights – they were off, diving under the table with an urgency that has doubtless saved many a trapped collier and emerging with a confident grin and the sort of Rolls Royce of writing instruments that should be reserved for royalty. “We’ve only got a hundred of these,” said the rescue man, proudly, as I took it off him, humbled and just a bit worried about whether he had ever lost one underground. It started with a flippant tweet about collecting pens at Hull and Humber Chamber Expo 2012 and then blogging about them. From such a
position it’s only one small re-tweet to having to deliver. @hhchamber duly obliged, so here we are. The easy answer to the most obvious question is 26. There were more to be had but some were those bog standard, unbranded biros and some were on tables that were behind people who had company. It would have to be some pen for me to barge through and risk jeopardising the business discussion of the century. Some stands didn’t have any pens at all. Sweets were pretty big this year. The Promotion Company looked to have more pens than most. In fact more pens than WH Smith. But they also have the sort of specialist knowledge about corporate trinkets that would give them a huge advantage, so I gave them a wide berth. I also decided to create a separate category for the special entry from the Mines Rescue Service, just as you would if Metallica came up against 25 Plastique Bertrands in a busking contest. Analysis began in earnest when assistant Amber came home from school. The longest was the KCFM entry at 14.8 centimetres, the shortest Holiday Inn Express at 13.6.The total length was 369.1, or just over 12 feet. Ball-pointless information? Marks for colour were awarded only after consultation with a higher authority who outlined the importance of the handbag clause: a pen of even the finest quality can be dismissed as totally useless if it isn’t bright enough to be located within a couple of seconds of rooting in a handbag. So 8.5 for the bright orange of Cobus and the green of Rapid Serv and questions from me – unanswered – about how the similarly green Mines Rescue ‘B’ team and striking yellow MNA Consulting only scored seven, with a paltry six for the purple grip from COF Solutions. Of the 26 pens tested only six had blue ink. I’ll be hanging on to the contributions from DB Schenker, KC Business and the two entries from AA Global because blue is much better than black for making notes on documents in meetings. Plastic was the material of choice for all but the mighty Mines Rescue under-the-counter candidate, although many pens featured bits of metal here and there. More than 30 years of professional pen-carrying has taught me to beware of metal clips: they can shred your inside jacket pocket, and nine of our sample have one. The square-ish Cobus and the rounded-triangular Schenker were the only pens that weren’t round – the latter perhaps modelled on those neat little grips that you used to be able to get from Early Learning Centre to help children develop pencil control. Thoughtful. Comfort of grip, ease of use for occasionally high-speed shorthand and overall quality were my territory, and with marks out of 40 the clear overall winner with 31.5 was from Saville Audio Visual. Plastic, but with a nice rubbery texture. Smooth, rollerball writing style. Happy to overlook the potentially hazardous metal clip just this once. Available in black or black so would have scored much more highly for colour if assessed by teenage son instead of nine-year old daughter. And it was colour that gave MNA Consulting the edge over the lovely Schenker, 29.5 against 28.5 with Amber asserting that yellow is worth two points more than blue. There is a serious side to all of this. How much is spent on branded pens and how effective are they at raising the profile of a business compared with such give-aways as bags, calendars, USB sticks, balloons, t-shirts, post-it notes, stuff and more stuff? Angela Oldroyd, Director of The Promotion Company (Hull) Ltd says no other advertising medium is used so frequently by recipients as the ballpoint pen, and she has the stats to prove it. Apparently independent research shows that when you distribute 100 pens 99 per cent of recipients will use them, 92 per cent will remember the brand or message and 83 per cent will use the pen daily. And each promotional pen has an average of 5.2 users during its lifetime. Pens certainly generated discussion, once attention was drawn to them, among people who generally just hand them round without a second thought. Bruce Massie, the Chamber’s Membership Manager, recalled an initiative a few years ago in which businesses collected unwanted office equipment to send to Africa. After rooting round his workspace he retrieved 220 pens to send to the Victoria Climbie School in Ivory Coast. Which brings me to the pen that scored just 20 points in our survey. It wouldn’t be fair to name and shame, and the lowest-placed entry did actually write rather nicely. But it somehow managed to be as flimsy as it was cumbersome, leaving little doubt that if anyone ever posted one of these from Hull to Africa – or even Anlaby – it wouldn’t survive the trip.