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Event Managers’ Guide to Event Swag

Everyone loves free stuff. For an event planner or manager, leveraging this love can offer a unique way to get event-goers to interact with your brand. A bag of free goodies, much like a kids’ party bag, can provide an opportunity to engage with customers and potential customers and keep your brand at the front of people’s minds. However, as the event manager, you want to avoid handing out a bag of uninspiring junk that will end up in the trash.

Bag of free goodies

So, how do you choose swag that will get event attendees talking? Thankfully, this article will cover everything you need to know about assembling the best event swag possible. We’ll cover some awesome swag ideas you should consider, some lame items to avoid, and all the other considerations you need to account for.

What is Swag?

Put simply, swag is the little extra touches that make an event that extra bit special. It can take the form of prizes, giveaways, or goody bags. Although any good event or conference should focus on delivering engaging content, the added bonuses are what can make it memorable. Of course, how much you giveaway depends very much on your budget. The TED conference is known for giving attendees huge amounts of incredible freebies. Although this is way beyond the budget of most event planners, you can still create an unforgettable and practical swag giveaway.  

Ted Swag
Image: Flickr/Ted Conference

Ted Swag Picture
Image: Flickr/Ted Conference

Why is it Important?

Swag has become somewhat expected in recent years. Event goers like to feel that they’re getting their money’s worth, even if it’s through token gestures. Longer corporate or professional events can soon become a drag, so having some awesome free stuff to play with can feel like a reward for the hard work. Ultimately though, it’s a means of keeping your brand name in people’s thoughts, and tweets. Providing items with genuine worth, something that will be used multiple times gives you an excellent marketing opportunity.

Strategy for Handing Out Free Stuff

Event planners should consider how their trove of assembled freebies can be best utilized. At a trade show, in particular, you’ll want to make your booth stand out from the multitude of others. Having swag that’s desirable and that everyone is talking about is an excellent way of increasing footfall to your display. Most organizations will give away free stuff, so that alone is not enough to stand out. Try and find something that is unique and creates a buzz, try to build your giveaways around a theme that’s going to connect with everyone. Social Media Week in Toronto assembled a great themed gift bag for All Access Pass holders back in 2016, for example. Sell your brand and its USP.

Handing Out Free Stuff
Image: Flickr

Awesome Swag Ideas

Hopefully, our introduction has gotten your creative juices flowing, but don’t worry if not. We’ve got some tips, and ideas, that can help you on your way:

Provide Things People Will Love

This may seem like a bit of an obvious statement, but try to find swag that’s really going to wow people. Of course, it depends somewhat on your audience, but there are certainly some options that are guaranteed to be crowd pleasers. Try and follow current trends without seeming like you’re jumping on the bandwagon. Currently, a retro-themed swag bag could potentially go down very well. Elements that evoke happy memories from childhood are sure to be appreciated.

Know Your Audience

We mentioned this above, but your giveaway items should be audience specific. A great example is the Comic Con bags from San Diego Comic Con 2017. The bags themselves were themed around beloved Warner Bros. characters and contained an exclusive pin from the DC franchise. There are very few Comic Con goers who would have been disappointed, even with just the bag. Think about your brand and the people it appeals to; what is something novel, yet useful, that they’d get a kick out of?

Comicon Swag
Image: Flickr

Some Awesome Ideas

Without further ado, here are some top ideas that you should consider for your event swag:

A (Nice) Branded Notebook

Notebooks are always useful, whether it’s for taking notes (or swapping numbers) at the event itself, or for when you return to the office. Having a nice notebook with your brand on it is a great way of keeping at the front of people’s minds in a practical way. Professionals will carry it around, keep it on their desk, and take it to meetings.

Notebook and a Pen
A good quality notebook that recipients will use can make for excellent swag, particularly at a conference.

A Coffee Thermos or Water Bottle

Sustainability is an important factor when assembling swag, so a reusable coffee thermos or water bottle could work well. Again, it’s something that everyone is going to use, particularly those who spend time in an office environment. If your audience is more health-orientated a water bottle works well. However, many of us need our daily caffeine hit when we’re on the go.

Watter bottle event

USB Devices

Although USB flash drives are, like, so 10 years ago, other USB devices are still incredibly popular. Even a discreet and branded USB charge cable could be a welcome surprise to your patrons. Alternatively, a USB charging bank would also be appreciated. They can be surprisingly inexpensive and are also so useful for long conferences.

USB Event Swag
Image: Flickr/Jeffrey Zeldman

Retro Sweets

We’ve already mentioned a retro theme, but sweets from attendees’ childhoods are sure to get a warm reception. Stick to treats that aren’t going to melt or cause a huge mess, but try and focus on known crowd pleasers. If you can sneak your branding in there it’s a bonus, but you’re likely to get a good amount of footfall just with the nostalgia of the sweets themselves. If your audience is more health conscious, try instead to find an interesting yet healthy snack that will get people commenting.  

Sweet Candies
Most people have a sweet tooth when it comes to swag, and retro sweets can be an excellent choice to include.

Seasonal Items

The weather can play a big part in the overall vibe of an event. Playing to that vibe with seasonally appropriate swag can be a great idea. If it’s sunny, try some flip flops, a Frisbee, or a cap. The jury is out on sunglasses; a reasonable pair with polarized lenses could be great, but a cheap plastic pair may end up in the trash. For winter, why not try some cocoa sachets or a wooly hat. Your swag recipients might just thank you for it.  

Growing or Self-Assembly Kits

An eco-friendly and memorable swag idea is a self-grow kit of some kind. Think of a plant, herb, or bonsai tree that requires some care and attention. Not only is it thoughtful and environmentally positive, it will help you stand out from the crowd. Other items such as self-assembly kits would also be a novel and impressive inclusion.

Grow a Plant
Self-growing kits are a novel and eco-friendly way of engaging with event goers.

Lame Swag Ideas

Now that we’ve seen some cool, interesting, and novel ideas for your event swag bag, let’s focus on what not to include. It’s easy to misjudge these things if you’re not careful, so keep reading.

Things That Won’t Stand Out

One of the most important points we’ve tried to highlight is that you need to stand out. This is particularly true if you’re managing an event or stall at an expo or trade show. Attendees are going to be swamped with freebies, and they’re really not going to notice another bag filled with a branded pen, keyring, and USB flash drive. Snore.  

Boring Swag
Image: Flickr

Don’t End Up in the Trash

You should be environmentally conscious when you’re planning your event swag collection. Free stuff for the sake of free stuff is likely going to end up in the trash. Ask yourself some questions about the items you’re considering: Does it fit with our brand? Is it useful? Would I, or our audience, actually want this? If the answer is ‘no’ to any of those, take a pass on the idea. Try and keep to a theme, either for the event itself or your brand’s presence at it.

Don’t End Up in the Trash

Lame Swag Ideas to Avoid

Before you rush off to order several hundred novelty somethings, make sure to consult our list of swag ideas to avoid:


An item that is eternally ubiquitous at trade shows is keyrings. It’s very rare that anyone actually uses them. The exception could be if it’s a particularly useful keyring (like if it doubles as a bottle opener), but even then, it’s not that exciting. Keyrings are so often used that they just don’t stand out, particularly if you receive 17 different ones at a conference.


Pens are great, and if they’re particularly interesting or complement a nice notebook, they could work well. However, a simple, cheap, branded pen really isn’t that thrilling. What’s more, every average event manager is going to think it’s a great idea to include one. Unless the pen is going to make your patrons actually say, ‘wow,’ it’s probably not worth the cost or the effort. It will likely just end up in the trash.

Paper Weights

What are these even for? Perhaps this was the swag item to give away twenty years ago, but they’re incredibly outdated now. Plus by their very nature, they’re heavy, which is far from ideal when carrying it around a busy conference.

Phone Screen/Glasses Wipes

This is another item that will most likely end up in the trash. For those who wear glasses, they’ll already have a bunch of these that are likely of a higher quality. The same applies to people who like to keep their phone screens clear of grime and fingerprints. These kinds of clothes will probably get dirty, lost, or used to clean up a spilled beer at the after-conference party.


Magnets fall into the same category as paperweights. Unless they’re in some way practical or useful, a humble (and cheap) magnet with your brand on is not going to live long in the memory. The same can be said for most office/desk items. If it’s cheap and plain, it’s not worth your time, or your audience’s.

The Most Interesting Swag Ideas

Action Figures
Image: Flickr

If you’re still looking for inspiration, or just want to see some examples of extreme and interesting swag that’s been handed out at events, look no further. Below we’ve highlighted some incredible examples of giveaways from events. Some we think are very well executed, whilst others are just fantastic:

  • Hollywood awards shows. Perhaps the most luxurious swag bags we’ve seen come from the biggest events in Hollywood, the Oscars and the Golden Globes. Attendees to these events could have expected to receive everything from designer bags, cosmetics, and technology, to holidays, DNA kits, and pepper spray.  
  • E3 Games Show. Many of the developers at E3 2016 pulled out the stops to deliver the very best of video game-themed geek chic giveaways. Game pins, a mini arcade machine, socks, and figurines were all present. This is a perfect example of how to cater to your audience and attract footfall to your display.
  • Worldwide Developer Conference. The event organizer at Apple impressed attendees at the WWDC of 2017 with a stylish, custom Levi’s jacket, Apple pins, and Apple TV dev kits. Once again, this attracted praise by event goers who were quick to tweet about it.  

WWDC Event
Image: Flickr

Although these examples are mostly on the higher end of the budget scale (to say the least), what they show is that they follow the swag rules and suggestions we’ve already outlined. They cater to their audience, are interesting or useful things, they won’t end up in the trash, and they get people talking.

Where and How to Source Swag

Now that you have some awesome swag ideas, your next challenged is knowing where and how to source the right items. There are a fair few options available to you:

  • Work with existing suppliers. If you already have a close relationship with a supplier, consider contacting them with your ideas for swag. You might be able to secure yourself a good deal, particularly if it’s a mutually beneficial one.
  • Use a customization service. There are many companies that offer customization services on a host of different products. If you have a specific design or branding in mind, a service that prints directly onto items could be just the thing you need.
  • Try local suppliers. Supporting local businesses is a great way of securing unique, thoughtful, and interesting swag items. It also reflects well on your brand that you’re willing to collaborate with local companies.
  • Use sustainable sources. We’ve already stressed the importance of taking an eco-friendly approach and minimizing waste. A good idea is to source items that are made from sustainable sources or recycled material. Customer will appreciate it, and so will the planet.


Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you now have all the information and ideas you need to assemble the most awesome, useful, and interesting gift bags for future events. When you’re in the planning stages, remember to keep the focus on delivering relevant and practical items that are going to connect with your audience. Your aim is to get people talking about and interacting with your brand. Stay away from the dull, wasteful, and heavy items that will soon be forgotten. Although the budget is definitely a consideration, try not to cheap out on uninteresting items. Be environmentally conscious and try to work around a theme.

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