I have a confession to make: I am not really a big fan of trade conventions. This is due to a combination of disliking the drudgery of travel, the impact of being in crowded environments and the indignity of being overcharged by nearly every vendor in and around the convention center.
But, perhaps, my least favorite aspect of the trade convention experience comes in the exhibition hall. This has nothing to do with the companies that set up booths in the hall – I have great respect for what they are bringing to the industry. My problem, however, is the promotional gifts they bring to their booths and what they push on the attendees.
Getting the right promotional item as a convention giveaway is never the easiest thing, since there is a challenge to offer something that is relevant and practical. It would seem like a fairly simple concept, but too many companies botch it up.
The most ubiquitous item being offered is the lowly pen. I have an entire desk drawer full of pens picked up over the years from too many trade conventions that I have never used, and I assume that I am not the only one with such an unwanted collection. And considering how society has moved away from the pen-and-paper routine to handheld devices, I am surprised that anyone would spend money to push pens as a promotional item anymore.
Of course, promotional items are designed to keep a corporate brand in front of existing and future clients. This may explain the glut of thick pens with company names and logos printed in what appears to be an expensive and tasteful manner – after all, you’ll always think of that company once you pick up the pen, right? Well, not really – I don’t know anyone who decided to start a new business relationship because of a logo on a pen that they carried home from a trade show.
T-shirts are also commonplace as exhibition hall giveaways, and equally as problematic. T-shirt giveaways almost always feature items with a one-size-fits-all garment (which, of course, never really fits anyone), and the quality of these t-shirts is rarely spectacular. I recall a friend of mine that used a promotional t-shirt from a well-known Fortune 500 company to wash and wax his automobile – he said the shirt was too tacky to wear in public. For myself, I have a crummy t-shirt from a major lender that I wear while gardening – the only ones that get to see me in the t-shirt are the bees that pollinate my rose garden.
Other exhibition hall giveaways that I can do without are golf balls (I don’t play, sorry), candy (just what the dentist and dietician warn me against), mousepads (I can only use one at a time and I already have one), yo-yos (I could never get the damn things to work), rubber balls (why?) and keychains (got one already, thanks).
To be frank, there is only one exhibition hall gift that I picked up that I truly cherished: a Mr. Potato Head doll. The connection between the gift and the vendor was clever – the company was based in Idaho and, of course, potatoes are that state’s cash crop. I still have Mr. Potato Head, and his presence in my home ensures that the five-year-old within me remains alive and happy.
But, ultimately, the best promotional gift that any company can give is the combination gift of professionalism, respect, sincerity and honesty. People will not remember your company if you give away pens or t-shirts or golf balls – and, to be honest, I had to look through my notes to be reminded who gave me Mr. Potato Head.
My advice: forget the pens, t-shirts and trinkets – just do a great job and build a strong corporate reputation. If you treat customers like royalty and you run an operation where your staff is loyal to the brand, then your company is giving the world a gift that everyone can appreciate.
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