6 Swag Trends at Conferences Like #SHRM13

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I attend a lot of conferences as a blogger, thought leader and speaker inside and outside of HR. Because of my extensive conference travel, I think of myself as somewhat of a conference swag connoisseur. In fact I’ve blogged about conference swag at SHRM in 2011 and swag again later that year among mommy bloggers. I’m looking forward to critiquing and finding the best swag at the SHRM’s Annual HR Conference in Chicago in just a few weeks.

Grabbing Attention at SHRM Conference in Chicago

While swag is important, it should not be the most importance part of a service provider’s customer engagement and marketing strategy. Tools like social media allow for instant interaction with potential customers and media opportunities. Often times I swing by a booth because I’ve made a contact with someone on the team because of social media. Good conference swag is just an added benefit to adding a face to the company or Twitter avatar.

Conference Swag Suggestions

Conference attendees loves swag. They grab and go like it’s going out of style. While swag might get people to your booth, it doesn’t really produce conversations or even allow for conversation. Personally, I’m really focused on targeted swag that makes the most of your time and money. Here are a few swag trends, I have already or would like to see.

  • Funny T-shirts. At HR Tech last year, my absolute favorite t-shirt was from Achievers that said, “Luke I’m your HR Administrator.” Other t-shirts that caught my attention of the HR variety were, “50 Shades of HR” and “I Scored at SHRM.” It needs to be fun, catchy, even edgy that makes me want to wear it again and again.
  • Wine Gift Delivered to Room. I wrote about this trend in 2011, and to date, I’ve received one bottle of wine delivered to my room.  Strawberries were included and I was over the moon. Rayanne and I are staying at the Hyatt McCormick Hotel if it’s something you are considering. The hotel room our quiet refuge to get away from the constant activity, sessions and madness that is SHRM. A glass one wine would make that refuge complete. If you really want to impress a potential client or thought leader, nothing says special like a gift package or room service thank you. Don’t forget to include at least two wine glasses because the plastic cups in the room won’t do. 
  • Something for the Kids. Nearly 80% of the HR population is female making us likely mothers, aunts and grandmas. When I travel, Ryleigh, who’s 4 loves a gift and the right conference swag with the kids in mind makes it super easy. My favorite kid focused swag pokes at my nostalgia in the form of Monkeys In a Barrel for me circa 1983. This swag is cross generational as it was first invented in 1965. I received this swag in the mail no less from my friends at the Public Relations Society of America. It’s my favorite especially since I had one as a child. Personally, Manpower (pictured above with Laurie Ruettiman and Jennifer McClure) needs to offer branded super hero capes and eye gear with their logo. I’d be totally down for that. Ryleigh would too.
  • Liquor Flask. If I’m attending a conference like this, give me something I can actually use and enjoy quietly and discretely for months and years to come. A classy branded flask says volumes. Add in a nicely branded cigar and you will make this thought leader’s day. In Vegas in 2011, the Starr Conspiracy offered up mini bottles of alcohol and a cocktail shaker to influencers which came in handy before we left the hotel room for the evening.
  • Mobile Chargers. Mobile is everywhere and it never seems like I remember to bring my cord to charge my phone. I’ve accidentally donated my fair share at hotels and other venues. For a blogger and social media diva, there is nothing worse that being unable to tweet, share or Instagram when you are at an event because you don’t have an battery juice left in your phone. Service providers can offer cool, multi-purpose mobile chargers that are compatible with many different types of devices. Do one better and invest in a mobile battery charger for under $15, add your branding and I am truly mobile. Here’s a small cell phone battery pack on Amazon (affiliate link) I think would be a great investment in building relationships and making an impression at SHRM and other conferences outside of HR.

Are you ready to collect some swag?

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  1. I mostly despise swag. I have boxes of the junk that I just recently threw out. It took me dozens of conferences to learn that I don’t need 10,000 pens, pill boxes, lint rollers, rubix cubes, magic 8 balls, etc. Now when I walk a conference floor the only swag I take is something I can use in that moment (usually hand sanitizer and candy).
    So, here’s my issue. In this post, what I hear is “I dig gifts” (and we all do) but what I don’t hear is that those gifts make any more likely to buy from that company. And let’s be honest…that’s the goal of swag. I have a hard time believing that 90% of swag makes any impact at all. Now, I would certainly remember a vendor sending wine or dessert to my hotel room, but honestly, I don’t put that in the swag category. I put that in the category of being highly courted because you know they didn’t do that for all conference attendees.
    So, what I want to know is has conference swag (the kind you pick up in a vendor’s booth) ever influenced your purchase of that vendor’s product?

    Breanne |
    • Breanne,

      I agree with you. In fact, I regularly say no to swag. Mostly because I know the cost of that swaggy item because I’ve had to buy them in past jobs in bulk. There are a small number of swag and promotional items I have used that were probably good advertising for vendors, and I can only think of one visit to a booth where I picked up swag that led to a sale.

      It’s just one of those things that makes vendors feel like they are generating quality conversations and leads when for the most part it’s not doing that at all. This is why I am in favor or “targeted swag.”


  2. I have purchased from several vendors I got “swag” from. Specifically for employee events/gifts, etc.. This is a great reference guide. I do love some cool giveaway items. 🙂

    Amy Smith |

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