Got Swag?

It used to be that attendees of every conference expected tchotchkes at all of the tables. We all have collections of pens, keychains, portable chargers, and tote bags (goodness gracious, the tote bags). If you’ve stood behind a booth at any trade show, you know that there are inevitably people who come in, fill their bags, ‘forget’ their business cards and leave with an armful of stress balls and mugs with various logos on them, never to be seen or heard from again.

For every conference I plan, the inevitable question comes up: What are we going to do about swag? Do attendees really expect it, or need it? How much of the budget should we spend on it?

I’m here to tell you: unless you are giving out a truly rare or useful item, I don’t want it. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but your customers should not be coming to your events or trade shows just for the swag. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, which are outlined below.

Gift Bags

If you have some truly unique and fitting gifts for your attendees, you should absolutely use it as an opportunity to show off goods and services from your sponsors, partners, and your company. At star-studded events, these are coveted—and for good reason.

Influencer Gifts

Whether you’re hosting an intimate dinner party for some high-level bloggers and media, or giving your speakers the VIP experience, adding an extra-special touch is a great way to promote your event and create a lasting memory—especially if it’s something they will use, write about, or photograph and share.

Product Launch

If your event is around launching a product or concept, it’s obviously smart to include at least some aspect of your product as a takeaway. Great examples I’ve seen of this is a food partner sponsoring an event and sending guests home with a gift card to bring back to the store, and a beauty company (Revlon) teaming up to launch new lipstick colors at 29 Rooms in New York.

OK, but what if none of these apply? Wouldn’t my attendees use a reusable water bottle?

A Yeti bottle? Perhaps. Otherwise, I hate to break it to you, but chances are if it’s something that is easily affordable, it’s not going to have lasting value. In short, if your guests can easily buy it themselves, why gift it to them?

Here are some ideas with what to do instead:

Teambuilding Activity

Put that money toward a team outing, wine or beer tasting, or onsite gamification app. Activities and networking build far more connections and memories than things ever will.

Onsite Activation

Old-school photo booths are tired, but the new companies offer way more than props. Take local Philadelphia company CliqueCam, which offer digital, interactive green screens, digital props, and so much more. They also take it to the next level by offering built-in lead generation and marketing tools - what’s more valuable than that?

Useful Gifts

The operative word there is useful. Planning a conference with lots of walking between buildings and expecting a ton of rain? Branded umbrellas would be a huge convenience for your guests, and something they’d definitely remember if they forgot their umbrella. Holding a conference with a lot of business travelers? Splurging on noise-cancelling bluetooth headphones beats a bag of cheap promotional products any day.

Meaningful Touches

Can you team up with a local artist to design a custom bag or pin? That might be something that isn’t a throwaway. Each attendee taking home one of the keynote speaker’s books? Home run. There are ways to incorporate memories and special touches into whatever you do decide to give.

There are many instances where it makes total sense to have promotional products, or “Swag.” And, with the right promotional products partner, you’ll be able to come up with something that makes sense for your attendees and your budget.

What is the coolest attendee gift you’ve received at an event?