The 6 Do’s and Don’ts of Event Swag

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I still have swag that I got from conferences and events I attended years ago, but there aren’t many items that have survived this long. Roughly 90% of what was given to me met the early demise of a trash compactor not long after the event took place. The only items that lasted were ones I found actually useful. 


Now I work for a company that attends these conferences and along with them goes our own swag. Just recently, a few team members attended Dreamforce, one of the biggest tech events in the United States. This team was also in charge of determining what swag would be given away.

This process taught them a lot about what to do and what not to do when ordering and giving away swag at an event.

Here are the six do’s and don’ts of event swag that we learned after our past few attendances to Dreamforce.

1. Do: Limit the number of decision makers on event swag

Haven’t you heard that too many cooks will spoil the broth? (At least that’s what I learned from watching that really long 90’s sitcom intro prank on Adult Swim.)

In the context of event swag, our team found out that the fewer decision makers there are in the purchasing process, the faster the process itself.

Too much input took the team off track, leaving fewer days to decide on what to bring and what to buy. The final decisions were made with barely enough time for processing and shipping.

2. Don’t: Underestimate the time needed for the ordering process


We’ve all grown accustomed to Amazon Prime-style shipping where you can get your deluxe solar-powered nail clippers the very next day in order to deal with your mutant-looking toenails. No? No one else? Just me? Either way, our economy is more on-demand than any time in history, which leads us to underestimate just how long it takes to process and ship orders, no matter their size.

When it comes to event swag, especially bulk orders of swag, setting a decent amount of time ahead of an event to receive these materials is so very important.

Our Dreamforce team found that in terms of shipping time alone, a week was the minimum amount of time you should set aside for shipment, and that doesn’t even include paperwork, conference approvals, director approvals, and production time.

In other words, you should set an entire month aside for swag alone.

Do not to put yourself in a position where your swag arrives too late to be used at the event

3. Do: Ask for quotes before buying

This one is far more self-explanatory: the last thing you want is to be stuck with hidden costs and fees that weren’t factored into the original budget for swag. Your budget can’t afford it and neither can your nerves.

Save yourself the stress and request quotes from all vendors that you consider.

4. Don’t: Invest in generic throwaway items


“Generic throwaway items” is a polite way of saying “garbage.” That’s exactly what it is. It is amazing the amount of nonsense that is thrown at event attendees by vendor tables that all either finds its way into the trash, in some bin in a closet, or becomes yet another useless paperweight.

This includes lanyards, coasters, keychains, magnets, bracelets, actual paperweights, and crappy Bic pens.

It’s all garbage and space wasters. If you must give away pens, for example, invest in decent quality.

Your swag ought to be geared towards things YOU would actually want and use. Look into t-shirts, reusable water bottles, hoodies, notepads, bags to carry swag, and phone chargers.

When branding these items, especially in terms of shirts and hoodies, make sure you keep it tasteful and subtle. People don’t like feeling like walking billboards, so you should brand your swag, but make sure it is stylish and subtle enough that it doesn’t bother your guests to wear.

5. Do: Match your swag to your crowd


Sunglasses and fanny packs may be perfect for the younger attendees of SXSW, but are much less appealing to attendees of an accounting convention. Just ask yourself what is useful to the attendees you are giving these items away to.

Could you imagine Dwight from The Office wearing stylish Ray-Bans? Neither can I.

Taking this into account will save your swag from the trash bins stationed at all corners of the convention center.

6. Don’t: Think big

Event swag ought to be small enough to transport home on a flight. No one wants to deal with airline security or personnel more than is absolutely necessary, nor have to worry about their bags being searched over items that are too large to fit in their already oversized luggage.

A phone charger, t-shirt, or sunglasses are perfect for stowing away in luggage while other ridiculous items like frisbees, tons of books, or bags full of more small items than necessary. Sometimes less is more, not only in terms of space but also saving you the money of purchasing items that will just be thrown away in the mess.

Think small and think useful.


Event swag is all about brand recognition and if all of your swag is meeting a trashy fate, then the only people who will recognize your brand are the employees of city waste management (unless that also happens to be your target demographic). Be sure to follow these do’s and don’ts!

Are there any other tips you felt that I missed? Be sure to let me know in the comments below!

Looking for Event Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Event Management software solutions.

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About the Author


Nick Morpus

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Nick Morpus is a former Capterra analyst.


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