Better to burn your marketing dollars in a hole?

I was recently at a conference where another promotional company was the approved swag vendor.  As part of their sponsorship, the company placed their logo at the closing of association slides and had sent a couple of junior people, or what appeared to be junior people, representing their firm (btw, don’t sit together, you already know each other; sit apart and network).

Between the entrances to the main hall, there was a small table with their company logo simply stuck onto a small plastic stander, along with a stack of pens for people. The pens however, remain a mystery. Were they for us…I’m always reluctant to take anything unattended unless its cookies. I think because it was another agency “swagging” the event, I found it shocking for the following reasons:

Staff the activation. Going into the hall, was I to assume to take a pen? There wasn’t exactly a horde of people descending on the table, so we just kept walking.  I’m ridiculously curious about promotional products, but the lack of direction didn’t exactly drag me to the table.

  1. Theme. Without a theme or any real connection to the event, it was hard to have any lasting memories about the company.  Pens are great, very useful for most, and of course have a high repeat of image, but a logo alone without text or something else impressive doesn’t create a connection or even a memory.

  1. Professional Artifacts. Our recent Ethnography report on conferences showed that a large percentage of swag collected at professional events represent our professional experiences and value in our offices…unless they are not picked up.

  1. Proper Branding.  Did the pen have the company logo? Check. Did it have a contact name, phone number or call to action? Nope.  I can guarantee you if you were not already dealing with this company, you would have no clue who they were after putting the pen in your pocket— not ideal.

If you are going to simply throw money at a group without a little investment in planning, save yourself the time and parking money. You might as well burn your marketing dollars in a hole in the ground. You’ll get the same result each time— money gone with nothing to show for it.

Fortunately, PRG had an opportunity to bring products to handout at the conference under a sub sponsor. Here’s our road map on how we approached the conference:

  1. Guerilla Marketing. If the event is right for us and we feel we can create a connection, without hesitation we are going for it. Our philosophy is to put shyness on the backburner.


  1. Creating a connection. Finding a way to connect to the event that you are sponsoring is key.  The theme for the conference was r/evolution. From there, “Hear the R/evolution” was born.Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 4.57.30 PM

  1. Utility.  The product, whatever it is, must have utility. This is essential in creating a repeat of impressions; always a big part of why you buy branded merchandise.  With our theme “Hear the R/evolution”, we opted for ear buds, which I am endlessly looking for as my kids are always taking mine. Needless to say, they were a big hit.  As the speakers were getting ready, all I could hear were people opening the packages (quietly) at my table and all the tables around me… more on packaging in a later post!


  1. Point of activation.  If you aren’t part of the event or official sponsor list, it is tough to get in the tent and as close as possible to your target audience. It’s important to try and make it as easy as possible for the recipient to be in contact with your products. Fortunately, we asked and had all of our products at the conference tables. Couldn’t be any easier for the recipients.

The next time you start a project and someone shows you a catalogue, just ask them to leave. Your best results will come from working with someone who asks insightful and open ended questions about your project.  If you are interested, send me a note at and I will send you some earbuds while we have supplies in store. Hope you hear the revolution that I’m talking about.