Monday, July 8, 2013

No Swag Left Behind......

Recently, I had the opportunity to read a blog post from a gal named Jen , author of the blog “The Martha Project” titled, “So you are going to be hosting Blogher at your hotel……”

Jen penned an…….let’s call it  “instructional” post for the Chicago Sheraton to assist them with catering to the needs of the 2013 Blogher Conference attendees. Her post has sparked a firestorm of comments and a wee bit of a controversy.  

One piece of advice jumped off the page and sadly….provoked a physical reaction that caused me to spill my morning coffee.

I love my morning coffee.

What could possibly have caused such a reaction?


Who knew?

Not me.

I had no clue that there were still conferences that did that kind of thing. I had no clue that there were still conferences where attendees would receive so much “swag” that they would have to leave three feet of “stuff” stacked in their closet with a note explaining that housekeeping could have it.  If you don’t want your crap….what makes you think that Housekeeping does? And why does it suddenly become the responsibility of Housekeeping?

That was the comment that made me spill me precious java.

As a sustainable meeting planner, swag is looked at very carefully, very thoughtfully. I am a wee bit horrified that a high level event such as Blogher may not have a policy in place to limit wasteful/unwanted swag. And while we are on the subject of policy……Jen advises that the hotel should come up “….with a policy for items left behind in the room for housekeeping”.


The Blogher conference organizers should be creating the policy surrounding swag and communicating that policy to expo or tradeshow participants. If Blogher already has a policy surround swag then.....the Blogher conference attendees should have an ethical policy NOT to accept items that they will not use or items that will simply get left in their hotel room for Housekeeping to manage or dispose.

There is a silver lining…..If the attendee’s of Blogher are the “shopping powerhouse of the family”, then this conference has a tremendous opportunity to influence behavior.


I know many sustainable meeting planners who would LOVE the opportunity to green the Blogher conference….myself included.

After I cleaned up my coffee and poured a fresh cup, I immediately sent this tweet to Heidi Thorne. 

Heidi is a promotional products marketing expert and speaker and has a background in the tradeshow and hospitality industries. She is also editor of the Promo With Purpose Today blog and author of SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business. 

Heidi is also a friend and I knew that she would have something to contribute to this conversation:

I totally agree that it is not the hotel's responsibility to deal with the overabundance of swag, it's the conference's. Being from a hotel background, I recognize that this creates a difficult scenario for the Housekeeping Department. Housekeeping personnel are instructed not to mess with guests' belongings. Say the Housekeeping Manager observes one of the staff walking out with a bunch of these items (since Jen says they were nice). Was it given to the staffer? Or stolen? It puts the Housekeeping staff in a difficult position.

In Jen's defense, I understand the problem. I've been to these types of affairs myself and come home with a TON of swag that I don't know what to do with. What I usually do is donate it to our local charities. But for those who are traveling by air and have to drag the swag home, it's a problem.

What I'd suggest is a "Share the Swag" collection bin near the exits of the conference on each day. Since it appears that many of the items were of good quality, they could be donated to a local charity, maybe a women's shelter. The charity may even agree to pick up the items in exchange for some plugs during the conference or even a donation. Otherwise, the conference could box them up and ship them to the charity. True, sponsors may be a bit unsettled by this plan. But alerting them in advance of the program may make them think twice about what they are giving away.

It is also the conference's duty to guide sponsors on what is appropriate for the group. Conferences can even limit the amount and type of swag that is distributed, selling those limited items as sponsorships. For example, a conference could have a T shirt sponsor, a water bottle refreshment sponsor, etc. I've observed a couple of events over the years who have done this and I think it's the alternative to a giant bag o' swag that no one wants. It also eliminates the duplication of items. No one needs three water bottles.

Thanks Heidi! You have provided some great tips. Thanks to Jen from "The Martha Project" for sparking so many different conversations about the importance of rethinking giveaways. The time for deciding what to do about the swag is BEFORE the event, not during.



Shawna McKinley said...

Great ideas Judy and Heidi! Another idea: virtual swag! As a blogger I'd love to be able to collect redemption codes for trial periods of blog widgets and gadgets, for example.

The Green-Eyed Event Planner said...

Thanks Shawna! What a great idea for swag!! I would love to have that offered at an event in place of stuff that I don't need.


Doreen Ashton Wagner said...

GREAT article, Judy and thank you for sharing... That's one conference I would love to attend myself... one day. :-)

The Green-Eyed Event Planner said...

Thanks Doreen - Me too! I would love to go to a blogging conference or a writing retreat one day.......

Betsy Bair said...

Judi and Heidi, thank you for this post! All that leftover sway shocked me, too. I do have a question about sponsored water bottles: is this still an acceptable sponsored item for a conference? It seems there was backlash some years back from people who don't use them and therefore throw them away. I suppose a recycled bin or receptacle in a public area for those they don't want them would be in order?

The Green-Eyed Event Planner said...

Thanks for the comment Betsy and perhaps Heidi can also respond to your question.

A really good quality water bottle still remains a great sponsor item, but I like the idea of having a couple of different offerings that attendee's can choose from in advance (at time of online registration) Perhaps include some virtual offerings (like Shawna suggests) for those individuals who already have a plentiful selection of water bottles. I also heard of a wonderful sponsorship item today. It was a "suitcase cozy/covering. Apparently, they are a piece of stretch fabric that go over your suitcase and protect it from scratches, dirt/grime, etc. I think it is a wonderful idea.


Melisa said...

BlogHer actually does have a Swag Exchange suite: they've had it for the past several years.

The Green-Eyed Event Planner said...

Thanks for the information Melisa - that is wonderful news!

I appreciate you taking a moment to comment.


Heidi said...

Hello Everyone! Thanks for the insight and convo re the swag issue.

Shawna, I do love virtual swag. Also, media download cards and gift cards. It's the "choose your swag" solution.

Doreen, we'll all have to tweetup at a blogger conference one day. :)

Betsy, I do still think water bottles work, but it depends on the conference and crowd. Meeting planners need to have a pulse on what would work for their group. And, yes, there needs to be a receptacle for unwanted swag of all types.

Judy, there are so many cool and non-traditional swag choices out there. I'm going to ASI Chicago (promo) show this week. So watch for a report on trends and new stuff from the show floor soon.

Melisa, I am all for a Swag Exchange Suite. That is a great idea. I also like a Swag Distribution Suite, too, where people can "shop" for the swag they want.

Thanks again, all, for your input!