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Your Guide to Kickass Conference Swag that Won’t Get Thrown Away

We are just winding down from a big conference week (HRevolution and HR Tech Conference & Expo) and we’ve got a ping pong table full of swag we brought back to share with everyone at the office. I’ve been looking at this table of swag thinking that there were only, like, four things on the entire expo floor at HR Tech that were worth keeping.

See, swag is a lot like wedding favors.

We’ve come to expect them on certain occasions, we always complain about them and, on the vendor side, there’s nothing cost effective that seems worth it from the myriad of garbage promo items out there to choose from.

You can watch Dwane Lay and Paul Smith’s annual HR Tech Swag Video for this year to see what was given and what left an impression, but know that there was a weak batch out there if you’re not a hoarder.

So what do people want? Obviously I can’t speak for everyone, but from a picky stereotype of Gen Y, I can tell you what I want from conference swag and never get.


Conference SwagThere are so many crappy notebooks out there. Really, I mean notebooks designed by someone who’s never seen another notebook and didn’t even get the basics right. Those notebooks are almost always free branded with someone’s weird logo at the conferences and I remember every cheap company that gives me a trash notebook every time. Some of them get it right with a basic spiral branded notebook. But why not get it really right? Why not go Moleskine? Moleskine is expensive, I get it. If you’re prepping for a huge conference, probably not the best route. But Piccadilly has essential notebooks in similar style (and just as good, I’ve used them) from $1.35 each.


Swag-umbrellaWhy can’t someone give out just one umbrella at an event I attend? This may make me sound like a cheap jerk, but I have never and will never buy an umbrella. It just doesn’t seem like something you should have to buy. I know I sound like a weird old man to you now, but at the next HR conference, have a good-lookin’ umbrella for me and it will be the first I’ve ever owned. I’ll remember who gave that to me, I swear.

Mobile Chargers

Self-explanatory. Give me an iphone cord, just the USB to iPhone part, not the wall part. It doesn’t have to plug into my car. I just need more of those chords in my life STAT.

Anything Without Your Logo Prominently Displayed

Do you think people really want to wear a t-shirt that’s primarily your logo? Really? Instead, make them something trendy, nice looking, designy, and make it relevant to the industry like an inside joke and they’ll remember who gave it to them. Your logo can take a step back from center stage if it means making an impression.

That’s the main thing for me, when it comes down to it. Get creative with your swag and don’t choose a pen with your logo on it, yeah? Choose a t-shirt with a clever saying (like Cornerstone‘s 360 Degrees of Passive Aggressive t-shirts at HR Tech).

Work with a clever designer and really think about what you want to stand out from the squishy balls and cheap water bottles.

Give people a small stack of designer thank you cards that wear a small logo of yours on the back if you’re in recognition. Or just give everyone $5 Amazon gift cards and save your useless swag money.

What do you think? What’s your favorite type of swag?


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