Rethinking swag: Practical ideas to increase promotional effectiveness


By Arlene Shilke

Everybody loves free stuff! There is no better place to find free stuff than at conferences and events. Let’s face it, most of us arrive at the conference registration desk with high anticipation of the swag we are about to receive. After all, who doesn’t love the latest gadget or trinket that will become a talking point to help us build a connection with other attendees?

What about all the resources and materials provided to us by exhibitors detailing solutions that will make our lives easier?

The reality is that most of the swag we receive will not enhance our engagement and most marketing materials will be left behind in our hotel room trash bin. Much of what we bring home will be destined to remain in a desk drawer or the back of a closet.

How can you as an event organizer do better? Here are some ideas:

Make it optional

Consider making some items optional. Not everyone will want a water bottle. Keep them at the registration desk and ask the attendees as they check-in if they would like one. What other items can you consider doing the same for?

When attendees are asked to opt-in to receive swag they are more likely to only accept items they can make use of. This will increase the likelihood that the items get utilized after the conference.

It is also a great approach to support green initiatives your conference has mandated. Reducing waste and the amount of products required also leads to savings in your budget.

Make them earn it

With the gamification of events catching on and becoming more prevalent, consider how swag can be incorporated into the process. Create a situation where the attendees have the opportunity to earn, win or hunt for swag. As your attendees race to get their hands on the prize, they will find themselves engaging with others and having conversations they may not have otherwise had. This approach is less about promoting a brand as it is about promoting engagement and connection amongst attendees.

Focus on value

What role does value play in the distribution of your swag? Hold value in high regard and focus less on the dispensing of mass volumes of product. A few high-value items can be more effective than many low value items.

Find practical items and not just another trinket. Is the perceived value of the item substantially greater than the actual cost? Does the item support your theme or program?

You must also consider the value each item brings to the theme or program. If there is little or no value, continue looking for items that will enhance the conference.

Is each item meaningful, functional and relevant? Often combining items is a great alternative, like the ever popular USB lanyard.

Re-evaluate bags

Tote bags or satchels are important at conferences to provide attendees a place to carry program materials and the swag they receive. It also provides a consistency of visual brand to help attendees identify each other as fellow delegates.

Consider focusing on style over marketing. Tote bags are inexpensive and provide plenty of real estate for printing the conference brand and sponsor logos. However, a stylish messenger bag or satchel will have greater longevity and use post-event, especially with a well-placed logo.

Avoid printing the conference date on the bags to allow for distribution at later dates. It also affords longevity post-event as the attendee is not continually reminded of its age.

Find conversation starters

A large part of attendee engagement is connection. When your delegates reinforce existing relationships and start to build new ones, they will return home with a greater sense of satisfaction. It all begins with conversation. Seek out products that will be conducive to starting conversations. These items should be unique or anything that will get noticed.

Is there a product that is representative of a particular sponsor, the conference theme or even the local culture? They will provide a reason for your attendees to open a conversation.

Rethinking swag and making it more effective is a win-win for event organizers. It will afford you greater attendee satisfaction, increase sponsor engagement and at the same time it can help you reduce your conference budgets. Most importantly, it makes you feel good giving away free stuff!!

About the author

Arlene Schilke, CMP is the President of Event Supply Canada, a promotional supply company in Edmonton, Alberta that specializes in conferences and events.  She uses her 18 years of experience in the meetings and event industry to help her clients find meaningful swag.

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