by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | March 01, 2008

Meeting and trade show giveaways are an essential part of an event’s branding strategy. When selecting these items, it’s important to select swag that ties into the overall theme, signage, etc., of the event and is of use to recipients, so that it serves as a marketing promotion opportunity.

There’s a distinct difference between MPO gifts and the typical tchotchkes handed out at trade shows. MPO giveaways often should have a more significant and integrated marketing plan behind them (making them typically more expensive than traditional booth giveaways). How can you make sure your giveaways have meaning and won’t be tossed into a dark closet or buried in the recipient’s office? Following is some advice.

What’s out

Steer clear of 1990s-era giveaways, such as:

* Nylon briefcase bags and duffle bags. Why? Your attendees probably cannot find room in their closets to store them. Furthermore, you don’t want attendees to see the same items priced at three for $10 at the neighborhood thrift shop.

* Pens and note pads.

* Excessive printed collateral from conference sponsors. They’re expensive and an environmental disaster.

What’s in

Among items attendees will appreciate:

* Messenger bags made of repurposed materials such as boat sails or old leather jackets.

* Edible messaging, such as photo cookies with brand logos and messages.

* Custom thumb drives with 2 gigabytes of RAM (with software and sponsor collateral preloaded). Thumb drives can be made in virtually any shape if you have at least two months’ notice.

* Branded and sponsored relaxation stations, oxygen bars and mini spa treatment booths. These are not new to conventions or events, but they remain exceedingly popular. More importantly, these experiences or services can be carefully engineered to support the messaging or branding of the sponsor. It might be as obvious as a manicure that includes a small logo as nail art or as subtle as oxygen bar scents that are cleverly named after corporate products. What you could lose in a durable item like a flashlight is compensated for in the longer-term memory of ingenuity and a compelling experience.

Other tips

Never give out stuff for the sake of giving something. Everything should have a distinct purpose, and every item should be related to and support or improve the others.

For example, if the primary theme of an event is a benchmark anniversary of a merged company, items reflecting traditional wedding anniversary gifts (paper, tin, clocks, etc.) could be clever.

A product launch for software designed to save time and streamline processes can feature like-minded gifts (a good source of time-saving items is

Push your marketing promotional vendors to seek out and search nontraditional sources. The best marketing promotional companies
either already do this or should be amenable to doing so. If you need to source items yourself, scour the Internet. Two sites to explore: and

Remember, this is not about you and your taste. Yes, you likely have been hired in part for your impeccable judgment and skills, but that must include a strategic, objective mind that will evaluate the needs of your program and put them first. In short, your limited comfort zone will limit the potential impact of your marketing opportunities.

And stay on your toes: Never use the same types of items for more than two years in a row.

Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM,is senior event operations manager with George P. Johnson Experience Marketing in San Carlos, Calif.