To swag or not to swag—and how to green your goodie bag if you do

Conference freebies. They’re almost a given—as well as a $19.4 billion industry, according to Event Manager. But if you’ve seen discarded tchotchkes at a meeting’s end, you know that poorly chosen giveaways waste budget and natural resources.

What can you do instead of peddling pens and keychains? We’ve got three ideas. And if you choose giveaways, how can you lessen their environmental impact while still providing attendees with branded items they’ll value? We offer three thoughts on that too.

First: Consider What Gets Tossed

While deciding if you want to offer freebies, Event Manger tells us the most common items that people toss before they even head home.

To reduce waste, avoid:

  • Printed collateral
  • Anything that gets hung up in airport security, such as liquid items that exceed the 3.4-ounce limit
  • Things that are over-branded and unattractive
  • Low-quality items

Consider your goals for the event too. Will a premium help you achieve your objectives or can you do without? Also find out what your venue does not allow, such as noisy or sticky objects.

Above all, ask yourself: Is this item what our organization wants to be remembered for? The answer can help you decide whether or not to place an order.

If You Ditch the Swag

Several studies conclude that an increasing number of people, especially millennials, prefer experiences over things. That means planners have a rich opportunity to fulfill that desire in creative ways.

Three good ideas:

  • Host an event. “The Hot House’s Big Backyard BBQ” is more memorable than any water bottle. Events also make it easy for attendees to share photos on social media and talk about the fun they had. The publicity stretches your marketing dollars.
  • Create an experience. Think five-minute chair massages positioned near break areas or a virtual reality booth—anything easily branded and that attendees will enjoy. While participants won’t bring home a physical object, they will have a story to tell and likely a photo to share.
  • Be the change. A Cone Communications study found that 90 percent of Americans are more likely loyal to a company that supports social causes. One way to tap into that reality: Ask people to leave their business cards. For every one collected, donate $1 to a cause connected to your business plan or mission. After the event, publicize the results in a thank-you email, to media outlets and on your company’s social media platforms. Use a well-crafted email campaign to continue the relationship with your new prospects.

If You Go with Goodies

Many audiences, regardless of demographics, appreciate low- or no-waste giveaways.

Greening your goodies is easy. Consider:

  • Consumables in a reusable lunch cooler. People appreciate snacks and drinks, especially if they’re in recyclable packaging. Keep the branding on the cooler classy and subtle and it’ll get used for years.
  • Plantable paper. Vegetable, herb or flower seeds are embedded in paper made from post-consumer materials. Print your logo and message on the paper and literally plant the seeds of a good relationship.
  • Smart-looking totes. While cheap bags get tossed, stylish and high-quality totes stay in circulation. To make them even more desirable, allow your attendees to choose from among several designs—maybe created by local artists. Attach your logo on a handle tag rather than feature your branding on the bag.

Frame your “to swag or not to swag” conversation within the context of your business plan and brand, and you’re sure to do what’s right for your company.

To learn about planning a meeting at Monona Terrace, contact Laura MacIsaac , Director of Sales, at or 608-261-4016.