The Swag Bag Dilemma

I have been to a lot of conferences and conventions—hundreds of them. I’m not kidding. And I’ve been adult trick-or-treating in the expos on many occasions, dashing from booth to booth, collecting whatever it was they were passing out—the swag, giveaway, handout, freebie.

Like a remorseful binge eater, I’ll then sit in my hotel room hours later, realizing I’ve overdone it. The problem: I’ll never fit all this swag in my luggage. That’s when the dilemma arises: What makes the trip home and what gets tossed?

It’s a question many attendees will be facing at this week’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference, an annual confab in San Francisco that brings together tech’s current and future stars. For anyone grappling with what swag to keep at Disrupt – or at any conference, for that matter – here are my thoughts:

Good Swag: Business-relevant books. If they make me better in my job or give insights into my industry, they are keepers. And I’ll stand in line to get the author’s autograph.

Bad Swag: Books no one wants. Do I really read (or will even keep) the book of that semi-famous celebrity / athlete / politician / spokesmodel? Sorry, no. And I won’t remember who had them sitting in their booth either.

Good Swag: Quality shirts, fleece pullovers, etc. in my specific size (not one-size-fits-all). You can never have too many weekend T-shirts. Hint: Put your logo on it in a subtle way—like a crest or embroidered on a sleeve. That’s enough. If you have to say something in 13,000-point-type on the back we’re never going to wear it.

Bad Swag: Anything that blinks. Maybe I’m just getting old, but every time I look at a blinking pen, pin, magic wand or poker chip I feel like I’m one of The Simpsons watching Battling Seizure Robots on Japanese TV.

Good Swag: Fresh food like hors d'oeuvres, freshly squeezed juice, veggies with dip, and I am a sucker for a warm chocolate chip cookie. No, I can’t take the food home, but I’ll listen to your pitch for the longest time just to stand there and smell cookies in the oven.

Bad Swag: Bite-size chocolates, tins of mints, or anything that if were you to unwrap it decades after the zombie apocalypse would look and taste the same. The only exception: Energy bars. We’ll eat those on the plane ride home.

Good Swag: Useful office items. Nice pens that don’t run out of ink after 12 uses (and don’t blink), Moleskin portfolios, notebooks (which we’ll probably use right away during the conference to capture ideas), even stainless steel water bottles. We are not naïve, we know you need to put your logo is on the items; you’d be crazy not to. But if you do, then make sure it’s a quality item. It’s a statement that your company is best-in-class.

Bad Swag: Anything cheap: Inexpensive pens, letter openers, key chains, stress balls, magnets. Cheap is just cheap. Don’t bother.

Good Swag: Stuffed toys. I’m interested to see if you agree, but I love these things. has a little creature they give out at shows and people will push over a pregnant grandmother to get them. Your kids/nieces and nephews/grandkids think you are a hero when you bring them home; you can display them in your office space; or you can use them as recognition items at work.

Bad Swag: Large items: Luggage, foams hats, etc. They are hard to pack and if you do happen to get them home they are not the same shape … and not as funny as you thought. “Yeah, honey. It’s a big foam finger. The guys at the conference thought it was hilarious. Yes, I agree, you probably had to be there.”

Good Swag: A quality, 4GB+ jump drive. Even if there is company propaganda on it I don’t care. If it’s a good one I’ll keep it and think of you fondly every time I pull it out of my bag.

Bad Swag: Folders of company literature. You may think: “If only one in ten people reads our brochure, the conference will have paid for itself.” Regretfully no. We aren’t going to read it unless we specifically asked for it. Just send me a pdf after the show.

In short, I think the best giveaway is something useful, something well made; and in a perfect world, would connect us to your company and what you do.

I’d love to read your thoughts and hear about the best and the worst conference freebies you’ve encountered.

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Source: LinkedIn

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