For exhibit and event professionals  

Dilemma: Are giveaways a given?

May 2, 2012 By Editor

Our “giveaway” budget has been severely cut back to reduce costs. But our long-term, repeat conference attendees have come to expect a pile of freebies as part of their relatively expensive registration fee. What can we offer as alternatives? Are there any well-received, low-cost items we can provide that will keep our attendees happy? Better yet, how can we wean them from expecting freebies? After all, aren’t tchotchkes passé?

— Charles, Events Manager

It’s a matter of give and take(away)

Charles, it’s understandable that since you have limited funds, you may be tempted to forgo the tchotchkes. But our readers believe you have to give to get — business.

They suggest you:

  • Pick the right inexpensive items.
  • Spend enough bucks.
  • Share the  glory.
  • Put your money to good use.

Pick the right inexpensive items

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on giveaways if you choose things people want and will use.

Judy Bragg, promotional marketing consultant with Bragg Resources, provides some suggestions.

“Giveaways are a branding tool, and there are many inexpensive, useful, effective items. I encourage my clients to look for something their clients can put on their desks, something they’ll use and that reminds them of their business. You can find useful items for under $1, $2 or $5, such as cell phone holders, coasters, rulers, letter openers, memo holders and reusable cell phone cleaning cloths. The right giveaway item keeps your name in front of your conference attendees, a lasting impression.”

An anonymous reader has found giving up on giveaways doesn’t always work.

“We tried to stop giving out these items and did an overall drawing for American Express gift cards. That seemed to work well for about a year. Then, we went back to adding the promo items, and now we do both.”

Jim Ewan, partner at Task Force 2, isn’t a big fan of giveaways and offers a suggestion for how to wean your customers off them.

“We ‘forbid’ our clients to use giveaways as they’ve been consistently proven to be worthless. As part of the weaning process, provide a series of advice booklets related to your industry. These have value as reference works and keep your details in front of prospects.”

Spend enough bucks

On the other hand, when you consider the possible returns on your investment, you may want to buy items that are a bit more expensive.

Roxanne Brooks, event production manager, explains why this might be a better strategy.

“Promotional items are useful for branding and informing, especially if they have staying power. So, skip the cheap things and make it something they really want and need. Car items are really the best. Uncluttered by other work environment noise, prospects see your brand every time they commute or travel.”

Share the glory

When you don’t have a large budget, there are ways to stretch what you have.

Linda Toomey, top banana at Monkeywise Marketing, speaks from experience.

“There has been a trend to cost-sharing, which has been a win for everyone. Many organizations are now including a second imprint on items and sharing the cost with another vendor/supplier. You don’t want to do this with your competition, but you can do it with your strategic business alliances. You’ll both benefit from the exposure and spend less, and the prospects/customers will be happy because they received their swag.

“If you’re hosting the event, your options are even better! Offer ‘gold’ status to exhibitors and allow them to sponsor a giveaway. Have a reusable tote for attendees, and imprint them with your logo on one side and the sponsor’s logo on the other. Allow the gold sponsor to include one piece of literature in the bag. The sponsor may pay the bulk of the cost of the bag (or all of the cost), but the company will be thrilled to have its literature going to all the attendees and having its name on everyone’s shoulder!”

Put your money to good use

A couple of other readers think there are better ways to use your budget — and enhance your company’s image.

Deborah R. Herr, consultant with Deborah Herr Marketing, offers ideas for how you can do this.

“Align with a nonprofit cause and donate on behalf of your attendees. Make sure you publicize the donation and the fact you’re doing it in place of giveaways. You could say: ‘We know you have enough pens and key chains, so we’re donating to _____ on your behalf.’ Ask attendees to consider donating as well.”

An anonymous reader suggests a similar path.

“Take your reduced budget and look at ways you can give back to the community or reduce your impact on the environment. Then, market your efforts to your attendees asking them to help you in these charitable and social causes. Everyone can feel good about that!”


  • Giveaways do work when done right. I’ve used a lot of low cost products that I received as giveaways and they help me remember the company should I need products or services. Consider the items you use in your daily work and that might be what others will use often.

  • Not one comment mentions “finding/getting” new clients! Think about what it costs to aquire a new client. If tradeshows are to get new clients, the people in the booth need training. All stats prove promotional items are very effective when chosen carefully and used properly and on average increase net income 23%. But tradeshow staffers have to be “on their game and completely engaged” and WORK the show. AND, they do have to follow-up immediately after the show with qualified potential clients, just as they have always done when they spot a prospect elsewhere. Show costs divided by each new revenue source/client = cost to aquire. New sales volume profits can quickly amortize aquisition costs. Preshow “BUZZ”, sharp engaged staffers, and attention to followups equal desired results. Promos are an effective and usually economical tool for success.

  • Whenever I attend a show, I pass on at least half of the giveaways. The items I take home with me don’t have to be expensive, but they’re usually fun, unique or useful. If they are, I actually keep them for a while, and that keeps the companies’ names in front of me long after the show.

    What do you think? Are giveaways really necessary?

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