10 June 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Conference Swag: Assembling Bags People Will Actually Keep



Need swag for your next event? Print custom bags and t-shirts in our design studio.

I want you to take a moment and think about the last conference you attended. You got a conference bag, right? What’d it contain?

Can you even remember?

Don’t be too upset if you can’t. The truth is that many conference organizers don’t pay attention to what their conference bags contain – some don’t even know how to design them. The result is that anyone who attends their conferences ends up saddled with yet another forgettable, boring bag of burdens that’ll just collect dust in their closet when everything’s said and done.

You don’t want to be one of those organizers.

“Swag bags are a great way to show people you appreciated their presence at your event,” reads a post on the attendify blog, “but they have this effect only if they are done correctly,”

A conference bag is the first thing you’ll give most of your guests. It’s the closest thing to a first impression that you as an event manager can make. In order for it to be valuable, you need to ensure the bag is both well made and filled with quality items; stuff your guests will actually enjoy.

In short, you want to hand out swag, not trash. That’s where we come in. We’re going to go over everything that goes into a good swag bag – and how you can put together one that’ll leave guests smiling.

Let’s get started.

Give The Gift Of Good Swag

Just as there are certain gifts that work will in any swag bag, there are also some items that you should never hand out to event attendees. Anything that’s too heavy, generic, outdated, or unwieldy should be avoided like the plague. The first step in putting together an awesome swag bag is knowing the difference between good swag and bad.

Here, according to award-winning author Chester Elton and Hubspot’s Rachel Sprung, are a few items that are a great choice for your conference bag:

  • Mobile chargers: Everybody brings their smartphone or tablet with them to a conference…but not everyone remembers to bring a way to keep their gadgets juiced up. Handing out mobile chargers as swag will help them be more engaged, as they won’t constantly be worrying about battery life.


  • Seasonal items: Is it summer? Hand out a pair of sunglasses or flip flops for the beach. Winter? Give people a scarf or some gloves to help with the cold. Spring? Why not hand out an umbrella in case it rains? According to Sprung, most businesses don’t bother handing out seasonal items, so the very act of doing so differentiates you from other organizers.
  • Moleskines/journals: Most people need to write something down every now and again, and touchscreens aren’t the best medium for that. Journals might not be the cheapest gifts in the world, but if you hand them out to your guests, you can be sure they’ll make use of them, says Sprung.
  • Water bottles: A reusable water bottle not only helps out the environment, it helps guests at your event to conveniently stay hydrated. Plus, it gives them something they can actually use in their day-to-day life.
  • Relevant books: If there’s a must-read book in your industry, putting it in a swag bag is probably one of the best things you can do, advises Elton. Any books that make an attendee’s job easier or gives them industry insights are “keepers.”
  • High-quality clothing: “You can never have too many weekend T-shirts,” writes Elton. Custom clothing – whether it’s a T-shirt, a sweater, or a pair of pants – is an awesome choice for your gift bag. Just one warning, though: make sure your logo is subtle, “like a crest or embroidered on a sleeve,” explains Elton. “If you have to say something in a 13,000-point-type on the back, we’re never going to wear it.”
  • Food: Wandering around a conference floor can be hungry work. Try tossing a voucher for nearby food vendors, an energy bar, or some fresh foods into your gift bag. People will appreciate the thought, especially if the food is tasty.
  • Stuffed Toys: Plenty of people attending your conference have kids at home, and those who don’t probably know somebody that does (or has a private appreciation for stuffed animals). Either way, handing out a branded stuffed toy at a conference is never a bad choice.


  • Digital Gifts: The world’s increasingly digital these days, right? Why not give your guests some tech-related swag, then? A voucher for a free song/movie on iTunes, a free industry-related application, or access to an exclusive online event can go a long way towards spicing up your swag bag.

Good swag is stuff people want. It’s stuff they’ll actually use, both at your event and afterwards. Most important, it emphasizes quality and utility over quantity.

“If attendees are more likely to chuck your gifts into the bin than to read/wear/write with/or otherwise use them, skip it,” says Attendify. “Keeping quality in mind, a useful book or quality sweater will do a lot more for attendees than several junky gifts.

…And Avoid The Sin Of Bad Swag

By that same vein, bad swag is essentially garbage that no one’s going to bother keeping. It’s outdated, cheap, or simply useless to your guests. Drawing once again from Sprung and Elton, bad swag might include the following:


  • Useless books: Did one of your guest speakers write a book on how they got ahead in their field? That’s great, but make sure you take a look at the reviews before you think of handing it out as a gift. Giving out a book nobody wants is as bad as not handing out a book at all.
  • Unwieldy objects: Large, heavy objects are a definite no-no for conferences. Not only are they hard to pack, they’re also a chore to cart around the show floor all day. You want your swag to make guests happy, not aggravate them.
  • Tacky marketing merch: Are you thinking of handing out a foam finger, an obviously-branded ball cap, or something with a bunch of flashy lights on it? Don’t, says Elton. You’re giving your guests a gift with this bag, not trying to sell them something.
  • Brochures: People aren’t going to read your company literature if you foist it on them in a conference bag. Don’t do it.  Avoid business cards, too.
  • Anything cheap: This sort of goes without saying. Always go for quality over quantity. Stay away from pens, key chains, stress balls, and magnets. Not only are they super generic, people probably aren’t going to use them anyway.
  • Flash drives (or anything else that’s outdated): We’re living in the age of mobile phones, Google Docs, and Dropbox. Sorry to say, but this makes USB drives effectively obsolete. Instead of handing out a flash drive, why not distribute conference materials through a cloud storage platform?


Make Your Bag Look Cool – Maybe Even Make It A Case

Instead of just handing out a regular old cloth bag, why not give your guest a case or a tote bag? Provided it looks good, a branded case can be a gift in and of itself. If you want an example of what you should do in this case, look at the bag organizers handed out at TED Global 2010.

It’s pleasing to the eye, it looks good, it’s high quality, and – most importantly – the logo isn’t completely overpowering.

“From my experience, people enjoy using cases after conferences,” EpicLaunch’s Ben Lang explained to Inc Magazine. “Just don’t over-promote your brand on the case, otherwise people won’t use it.”

Pay Attention To Pop Culture

Your conference doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Pay attention to the areas of popular culture your attendees are likely to know about, and consider working in a few references. You’d be surprised how effective that can be.

“Some of the most popular swag items at conferences find a way to incorporate pop culture trends,” writes Mashable’s Erin Bury. “At SXSW in 2010, ShareThis had a variety of stickers with “quotes” from Kanye West (“I’mma let you finish … but ShareThis has one of the best sharing services of all time!”) and Mr. T (“I pity the fool who doesn’t ShareThis!”). They were funny and relevant, while still getting the brand message across.”

One word of advice, though – don’t overdo it, or you’ll come across as unfunny and out of touch.

Be Green

People today are more environmentally conscientious than they’ve ever been. For that reason, making your swag bag environmentally-friendly is a great way to play to the sensibilities of your guests, cut down on waste, and promote sustainability. There are other ways too, says Bury – charitable donations, eco-friendly goods, and digital swag are just a few.

Closing Thoughts

Too many conference organizers fail to pay attention to the contents of their swag bags. Their events suffer for it. Now that you know what’s required, you can avoid being one of them – you can provide your guests with a collection of awesome, memorable, and high-quality gifts that’ll keep them looking forward to your next event.

Need swag for your next event? Print custom bags and t-shirts in our design studio.

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