Reinventing Conference Swag by Giving Back

Your-Logo-HereIt’s time to make swag less about taking and more about giving.

If you’ve ever been to a business conference or event that has a handful of vendors itching for your business, you’ve likely run across swag. It’s the giveaways that organizations litter their booths with in the hopes that you will take a piece of their business home with you.

Swag is a funny thing, and to help elaborate my point, let me provide a little background from a Marketing Director’s perspective.

How the Marketing experience typically goes for a conference:

The money has been spent, the booth was built, the show was researched, the sponsorship was booked, the marketing slogan has been revised 50 times (then revised once more right before it’s sent to print), and, at this point, you’ve sat in countless meetings discussing what information that best explains your business should be handed out to the attendees.

But the anticipated event has arrived and there you are, fully prepared to broadcast your business plan to everyone your encounter. Your employees have your “oh-so-technical elevator pitch” down so now there’s just enough time to take a deep breath, give one last encouraging smile to your team and turn to see the conference doors opened and 12,000 attendees flood the floor. You straighten your collar – here we go – lead generation mecca, here we come!

It’s a Marketing Director’s dream. Where else are you going to find so many targeted decision makers in one place?

As the first group of backpack touting attendees approach your booth, you smile: “Welcome to the show, can I tell you a little bit about our SharePoint Hosting solu…”, but, as with every conference, you don’t get to finish your sentence because you’re interrupted by someone who’s eyes are darting wildly across your booth space as a desperate voice demands, “What are you giving away?!”

Sound familiar?

Is SWAG a drag?

Recently, I handed someone one of our newly branded snazzy emergency phone chargers (that people had lined up around our booth for and were calling “the best swag they’d ever seen”) to a gentleman who proceeded to look at it with a frown and say, “Can I have a t-shirt too?” I looked around, confused myself, and informed him that we did not actually have t-shirts. Visibly annoyed, the attendee questioned “why not!?” and then announced that he would much rather have a t-shirt than a phone charger. I did my best to assure him that he would more than likely find a t-shirt or two at the conference.

And don’t get me started on the people who try to grab obscene amounts of swag because they decided they needed it more than everyone else at the conference OR the people who pretend like they haven’t gotten one yet – yeah, we remember you.

Have you ever been having a great conversation with a potential customer and feel like a sale is on the horizon when suddenly you’re ripped out of the moment by someone shoving their badge in your face so they can be scanned and begin hoarding swag guilt-free.


Yes, we all know that dirty little four letter word. As a marketer, it haunts your dreams, kills your budget, and introduces creative shipping frustrations… oh lord, the shipping!  But as Marketers, we do it. We invest in swag because we believe it serves a purpose.

The purpose or goal is that you will give a potential customer something flashy – something that sits front and center in their day-to-day life with an eye-catching logo plastered on the front that works tirelessly day after day drilling its way into their brain so that someday, somehow the potential customer will be in a big executive meeting (surrounded by cigars and brandy I assume) and a problem will arise.  At that critical moment of deciding on a vendor, Jack will turn to Dave and say, “Wait a tic! I have had a pen on my desk for four years now that has on it, and they are a hosting provider!” Dave will look back at Jack and give a moment’s pause before suddenly ripping off his suit jacket to reveal a branded t-shirt underneath. “You mean, this!” (The entire board room erupts in applause). Contracts are signed.

The Reality of SWAG

Sadly in reality there is a good chance one of three things is going to happen with your marketing investment:

  1. It will be given to their child (not a corporate decision maker),
  2. It will be tossed in the trash (most likely in their hotel room or in the event hall)
  3. It will be used, but the branding will never be consumed.

Case in point – my absolute favorite water bottle to go running with is from a SharePoint conference, but if my life depended on it I couldn’t even tell you what company logo is on it.  Side note: If you are out there, thank you unknown company that uses orange font… it is a fantastic water bottle!

Reinventing SWAG

Well, I hope my long-winded diatribe has not sent you backtracking through the internets until you’ve safely returned to that video with the cat dancing to Justin Timberlake.  I am getting to my point, and that is… what is the point?!  What if we could reinvent Swag just the way charity: water has reinvented charity? Do something with those Marketing dollars that will actually make a difference?

Less about taking, more about giving

This week at the Worldwide Microsoft Partner Conference you have the chance to stop by and donate to charity: water, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing clean and safe water to underprivileged people all over the world. For every unique scan that gets at Booth 829, we will donate $2.  Each day, we will update our donation page and if you would like to donate on your own please feel free to join in!

And, it won’t end there. We will continue to offer this “swag” at conferences moving forward  and look forward to keeping our new friends that we meet at these events up to date on the projects that they are helping fund by stopping by our booth thanks to charity: water’s awesome tracking tool.

You may be thinking, what does this have to do with SharePoint?  The answer is nothing.

But neither do coffee cups, key chains, or hats. This is simply a way to put conference swag to good use while still keeping attendees excited to come by our booth. We think you’ll be as pleased to join us in giving to charity and that it will provide more satisfaction than an awkwardly fitting t-shirt. And the next time that guy pokes his head into the booth to ask “What are you giving away?” I’ll be very proud to respond, “Clean and safe drinking water to people who have never had it”.


2014-07-14T09:30:15+00:00 July 14th, 2014|


  1. Becky July 15, 2014 at 10:42 am - Reply

    Preach it, Ellie! GREAT idea.

  2. Ellie July 15, 2014 at 11:32 am - Reply

    Oh hey, THANKS Becky!

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