Three tips for swag sponsorships for your conference or event

At a promotional products industry expo, I was chatting with a couple of colleagues who talked about their recent sponsorship of some conference swag bags. They had agreed to provide the bags (which apparently contained giveaways) and were hoping (key word here) to get some nice testimonials about their work, all with the intent that it would lead to more business. All I can say is that I hope it works out for them because it sounded like it was quite an investment.


I have found that sometimes conference and meeting planners do not consider a very important concept when soliciting sponsorships of imprinted items: Whoever is providing the products is buying a bundle of promotional considerations from you and your event. Most important is the privilege of promoting themselves to your attendees.

Seems obvious, right? But when the budget is staring an event planner in the face, that concept seems to get thrown out the window. I’ve had planners approach me about sponsoring and want to dictate the item, colour, and demand that my imprint be really, really small and/or some other place on the item which would have dramatically increased the cost. So we went with the small alternative. When I sent in the imprint artwork to the supplier, the supplier contacted me to say that my company name was so small it wouldn’t be legible. Yeah, that’s how small it was. In essence, this conference was looking for a donation, not a sponsorship. After that incident, I’ve been looking at sponsorship solicitations with much more scrutiny.

So here are three tips to help you get the swag you want while your sponsors get the exposure they want:

  1. Put a value on It. I’ve worked with a nonprofit that received several large in-kind donations for an event. While those donations certainly helped defray event costs, it was tricky figuring out just how much it was worth and how much promotional consideration should be offered in return. Whether you are soliciting or sponsoring, figure out what the standard retail value of the items is and equate it to what cash sponsorship level that amount would buy.
  2. Realize there is no prize closet. This is hilarious. I’ve had some groups ask if I had a bunch of pens, T-shirts, or whatever lying around that I can donate (custom imprinted and in their organizations’ colors of course) to their events. News flash: Promotional product distributors (especially) and sponsors rarely have a prize closet of goodies just waiting for your event. More likely is that the items being sponsored will have to be special ordered. So, yes, your swag sponsors will be forking over some cash to be allied with your event.
  3. Tell ‘em what you’ll sell ‘em. A swag sponsorship is a transaction, not a donation. If you are truly asking for a donation, then don’t expect to dictate every detail about the item. Your donors will offer whatever is within their budgets and big heartedness to give. But if you are selling a sponsorship, make sure you set all the parameters in advance so everyone in the transaction is satisfied.

About the Author
Heidi Thorne is a promotional products marketing expert and speaker who has a background in the tradeshow and hospitality industries. She is also editor of the Promo With Purpose Today blog ( and author of SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business, available through major online booksellers or at

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