Award Winning Ottawa Event Planning

Swag Bag (a.k.a. bag of fire starter)

I am one of those people that is afraid of anything that goes bump in the night. I hear every little sound and anything that might startle me has me lying wide awake, staring at the doorway or the window or wherever I thought I heard the noise for hours on end. Tonight it happened which is why I found myself lying wide awake at 2am, 3am, 4am and now 5am. In order to pass those long hours of not being able to move because I am too scared I have started trying to read through LinkedIn in hopes that I might catch an article that will take my mind off of whatever it was that woke me.

The article I found today was a good read and the timing was perfect because of an event we are currently pitching to a potential client. The issue of swag bags for an event is a constant headache for me. Why? Because they are always full of fire starter as I like to call it. It’s a bag full of flyers, not swag. In the Urban Dictionary swag is defined as;

“An acronym that stands for Souvenirs, Wearables, And Gifts. Swag generally refers to such items that are given to attendees at a trade show, promotional event or awards ceremony, especially in the entertainment or music industry. Swag is generally provided by promoters (e.g., CDs or T-shirts that are given to media or industry representatives at a premiere or performance) or by manufacturers or retailers (e.g., cosmetics, fragrances, bags or accessories that are given to celebrity guests at an invitational event). In each case, the donors of such gifts hope to introduce their products to people in high-profile positions who may provide favorable buzz, endorsement, or publicity for the donors and their products.”

Nowhere in that definition does it say “an opportunity for companies to hand out their business card and rack card”. I am a business owner, I get it, it’s expensive to hand out free gifts to everyone at a show that you are participating in. But I also believe that if you are going to do something do it right. If you are going to put stuff in a “swag” bag you better make sure it’s actually “swag”.

I have learned over the years that there are lots of ways to hand out great “items” that will come back two-fold if you do it right. Last year at Love is Proud I handed out over $25,000 in services. Yes you read that right. Let me explain.


If you sell a product swag bags are much more of a no-brainer than if you only provide services. So for example, if you sell make up then providing a sample of the newest lip stick or eye shadow is your best bet because if a person tries it and loves it, they will contact you to buy more. But in the service industry it is really hard for us to provide a sample of our “product” in a bag.

So in this case our target market was couples that are getting married. I had to come up with something that couples would want to receive. We talked about lots of ideas, beer koozies, note books with our logo on them. Well let’s see, we don’t sell beer. And a note book that we picked up at the dollar store says what? We’re cheap and “here’s a notebook do the work yourself”? Most definitely not the image or message we are trying to put out there. So instead we settled on gift certificates for our service. We put a $250 gift certificate in every bag and VIPs got a $500 gift certificate. How can we possibly give away that much you ask? Easy, not everyone is going to claim the gift certificate so I know for sure I am not giving away $25,000 in services. And in order for them to use the gift certificate they have to purchase our planning packages which means in exchange for me giving them $250 I am still guaranteed to make at least $4750.

Technically my gift certificate is still “fire starter” because it’s just paper but the point is that I gave something of real value that was directly related to the services I was trying to sell. Last year I attended Wedding MBA in Las Vegas and I came home with great swag. I stood in line for swag, I was handed swag as I walked around and I was handed swag when I arrived. But the truth is I got caught up in the getting free stuff moment of the conference and I can honestly say I actually only kept a handful of useful things, the rest of it, all of the fire starter, made it’s way to the recycling bin before I even left the hotel. I brought home a t-shirt that we got to pick the colour and the image we wanted for the front (that is now a pyjama top), a selfie stick and 2 pairs of sunglasses (for my daughters) all from WeddingWire,  and two notebooks and pens from The Knot to bring back to my team.

Although the article on Event Farm I read this morning doesn’t talk about making your swag relevant to your service or product it does talk about making sure it is a quality item that people will actually use. The article says to avoid using keychains, pens, USB drives, phone cases, paper weights and backpacks. They do recommend however, non-perishable foods like cookies and pretzels so that they can be consumed on site, reusable water bottles (again usable on site as well as for years to come), branded clothing, notebooks, phone pockets and coffee mugs (I disagree with this last one but that’s just me because I am that one person who does not drink coffee…or tea…and I also hate having mugs that don’t match and that have logos on them, but that’s just me).

If you’ve been asked to provide swag for a bag be sure it’s really swag, make sure it’s useful and make sure that it is a reflection of your product or service.

Julia O’Grady has big vision, fresh ideas and a proven track record in the events industry. She and her team work hard to exceed client expectations and push ITM Events to achieve greater heights. A driven entrepreneur, Julia also manages the business side of ITM Events including human resources, finances, marketing and writing grant and sales proposals. In taking a high level approach to event management, Julia is able to visualize a project from inception to successful execution. She attracts valuable sponsors by offering meaningful opportunities to engage with participants. Julia uses her keen analytical mind to create incredible events that maximize the available budget. When Julia isn’t planning unforgettable events, she loves travelling the world with her family, staying active, and enjoying fine food and martinis.


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