Free Stuff!

People call them tchotchkes, swag, give aways or branded items.  It took me a few tries on google to find the spelling of tchotchke.  In so doing, I discovered “swag” can stand for “Souvenirs, Wearables and Goods” or “Free Stuff We All Get.”  These are little trinkets which you give away to clients with your name on them in the hopes they will remember you or keep it for future reference.  Swag is an excellent way to stay on your audience’s mind – when the items are chosen carefully. The key is in choosing the right item for the right purpose.  But, most give aways are a waste of money.  What makes one item worthwhile while another a waste?  My thoughts on tchotchkes follow.


Factors to Consider

Promo items are pretty common, so you should give thought to what you chose.  I believe the quality of the give away is important.  Although better quality cost more, I believe it makes a better impression.  Although all swag comes from China, you don’t want it to look like it came from China.  Pay a little more to make a good impression.  I made this point when discussing business cards.  Consider your audience.  Who is getting your promo item?  We’ve passed out small stuffed animals to clients’ children.  A branded thumb drive may be appropriate at a speaking engagement but not to your everyday client.  People normally keep functional items rather than things they can’t (or won’t) use.  Finally, consumable items are always a hit, at least if the quality is there.  Mints, gum, candy, cookies are all appreciated.  Branded hand sanitizer always goes over well.  As many of you know, we have branded coffee bags which we fill with locally roasted coffee beans which I bring when meeting with referring attorneys.  Consider your audience, go with quality and be imaginative.


Who, What & When

The first decision to make is what promo item do you want to use?  Consider who you will give it to and under what circumstances, which will be discussed below.  Second, you need to decide where to get it.  You may want to start with a promotional company which will provide you ideas you may not have thought of.  I get most of my promo items from Great Promo Items.  They have always taken good care of me.  There are many other companies around and you should consider requesting a catalog.  As for when? All the time!  You should be giving promo items out all the time to maximize their effectiveness.


Event Sponsorships

I have found that events are a great place to pass out your swag.  Often, an event will have a bag which attendees take home with them with anything the sponsors choose to include.  Thought must be given to who the attendees are, what items will prove memorable or useful and the cost of the item.  Keep in mind that most attendees will end up throwing everything in the bag away.  Depending on the event, the number of items can be extensive.  I once looked into passing out swag at a City parade and was shocked to find out they recommended 50,000 items.  Needless to say, this was outside my budget, especially considering the low rate of return.  I have had good luck sponsoring the bag itself at events.  It’s large, inexpensive, and gives you a lot of space to print your message.  Finally, I recommend using a tracking number for material passed out at large events so you can track whether anyone calls as a result of your sponsorship. 


Speaking Engagements

This is similar to event sponsorships, but the number of attendees tends to be smaller.  Rather than simply pass out business cards or have your bio in the materials, consider passing out a branded item to attendees.  I am a big fan of branded thumb drives with the materials from the speaking engagement contained on it.  Even though thumb drives are cheap, people tend to hold onto them and even reuse them.  I still have a drawer of thumb drives I have received from CLE’s,  Come to think of it, I am not sure why I still have them.  Passing out swag is good at a speaking event is good, it does not replace getting attendees’ email addresses for follow up marketing and newsletter purposes.  Finally, like event sponsorships, consider using a tracking number.



While I have not had a table at a conference, I have been to enough conferences and seen enough swag to feel comfortable in commenting.  In the past ten years or so, it seems that items dealing with electronics are the most popular.  I’ve seen credit card holders for the back of iPhones, microfiber screen cleaners, ear buds, phone amplifiers, car USB adapters (do cars even come with lighters anymore?) and back up cellphone batteries.  These all seem like good ideas, but I usually pass on these items.  Office items are also popular like pens, customized Post-It notes and the like. 


My Favorites

Call my a traditionalist, but pens are still my favorite.  We buy in bulk, so they are about a quarter per pen, and of good quality.  It’s all we use around the office.  Clients grab them by the handful.  I leave them at restaurants when I sign my credit card receipt and at the bank.  There have been several occasions where either myself, a staff member or client has come across our pens in public.  We always have a supply of t-shirts, once again, good quality, which are under $10 apiece.  Finally, we have a supply of coffee mugs which are about $1 each.  While everyone has more coffee mugs than they need, I couple the mugs with a customized coffee bag filled with fresh roasted coffee from a local coffee shop.  It’s always a hit.


Give always are an inexpensive way of getting your name out there and to stay top of mind to your clients and potential referral partners.