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Giving Schwag Without Giving Crap

As a business owner, I know that having schwag is one way to promote the company. The right schwag can help keep you top of mind with your customers if it’s something they’re going to look at on a regular basis. In my first year in business I went to a schwag expo where I saw dozen of vendors who could put my name and logo on just about anything – pens, Frisbees, shirts, water bottles, notepads, mouse pads, toys, etc.

Carter Law Firm Lip Balm

Carter Law Firm Lip Balm

Here’s my challenge with schwag: a lot of companies have crappy schwag that’s either cheap or something I’ll never use. When I go to business expos, the most common thing I take from businesses’ tables is candy. I refuse all company literature and schwag unless it’s something that I think will benefit me in some way. Because of this, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what type of schwag I would want to give out.

I belong to Local First Arizona and they have an annual Fall Festival where they give out schwag bags to 500 attendees. It seems like a good opportunity to create some schwag and see what kind of effect it would have. I have my company postcard, but I wanted something that was more useful on a day-to-day basis. A fellow Local First member, HP2, is a schwag company and they have thousands of options. I poured through their catalog and ultimately decided on company lip balm because it’s something I use several times a day. I rarely leave the house without it.

I went to the Fall Festival and I got there early to make sure I got a schwag bag. I wanted to see what other people were giving out, and to be honest, I only had 500 lip balms made, so I had to get a schwag bag to get my own schwag. Local First promoted the fact that the schwag bags had 60+ pieces of schwag so I was excited to get home to see what was in the tote bag. I was mostly disappointed by my fellow contributors’ lack of creativity and usefulness.

Total Contents of my Fall Festival Schwag Bag

Total Contents of my Fall Festival Schwag Bag

Local First did a good job of encouraging companies who were contributing to the schwag bags to give something other than a flyer or business card, so I was surprised by the amount of paper that was in my bag. Not all paper is bad – there were some coupons, business cards, and flyers in there for places I want to visit. (Some came in the bag and I picked up some at the tables during the festival.) I also kept the notepad, my company lip balm, soap samples, matches, and the Local First Small Wonders Maps.

But not all tangible schwag made the cut. Into the give-away-or-throw-away pile, there went a beer cozy (don’t drink), a dinosaur toy (don’t need a toy), a bottle open (don’t need), a tape measure (already have 2), and two regular pencils (I use mechanical ones).

Divided Schwag - Keeping the stuff on the left, Getting rid of the stuff on the right

Divided Schwag – Keeping the stuff on the left, Getting rid of the stuff on the right

I will probably always have a mental conflict related to schwag. I want my name to be out there, but I don’t want to give people crap they don’t need, especially since I’ve started integrating minimalistic ideas into my life. Having schwag is probably part of the cost of doing business, but I hope to never be someone who pushes it on people who don’t want it.

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6 Comments

  1. Ruth,
    Hey, I really liked your blog about schwag. It is a dilemma for a designer too. Many times people will ask us for ideas. Our toughest one was for people who could buy corporate jets. The typical customer in that realm was a demographic of 60yr old men who were CEO millionaires. What do you give them? I suggested a commemorative coin with our client’s new model of jet. It was a hit.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks Jeff! You really have to think about what your demographic might want so your shwag will make an impact and not just end up collecting dust or being thrown away.

  2. Chip Keeler says:

    Hi Ruth,
    Nice article. You are right about usefulness. With all the people in the promo business in this town anyone can sell you a pen or water bottle. The good ones ask why you want to, and what you want to accomplish before they start to offer advice.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Very true! I was lucky to work with HP2 who get my perspective on shwag and worked within my budget.

  3. Sara says:

    Lipbalm is a great idea! Gum or mint packs are also somthing I use everyday :)

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Ooohh…gum…good idea.

      I’ve considered post-it notes and blue pens. (I always tell my clients to sign contracts in blue ink so it’s easier to keep track of the original document.)