• Keep Your Swag in the Bag

  • In the midst of what entertainment-philes refer to as “the awards season,” you may hear references to “swag bags.” For the red carpet events, these are the coveted “goodie bags” for both participating and attending celebrities. For example, last year’s goods for the Academy Award nominees included an Australian luxury vacation, a Vampire Facelift (a non-surgical procedure that uses your own plasma … who knew?), and $5 a piece condoms. I can’t make this stuff up.

    Although I just read that UGG sent swag bags, including their furry boots, to the celebrity friends of Phillip Seymour Huffman, hoping they would wear them to the funeral in a cold and windy New York City.

    Which causes me to ponder, “Why on earth would a company send random, unsolicited products to celebrities or members of the media? Or give away such pricey goods as free trips, clothing and medical procedures to folks who can well-afford anything they desire?” The answer is two-fold: Companies hope the celebrities will use/wear the product (perhaps even make purchases in the future), and then the company can capitalize on the phrase, “as worn by” or Tweet out a photo over social media.Which all made sense until I was sitting at lunch with the travel editor of a national magazine who proceeded to share her tales of “swag bags” … or what a public relations/marketing professional would think of as simply sending product samples. Except the largess of the samples was bordering ridiculous. Examples: A huge case of frozen bakery goods, multiple monogrammed items from various spas and resorts hoping for a visit and a good review, and the usual run of logoed coolers, mugs, and travel bags. “Really,” she said, “why on earth would I want four coasters and a spa robe emblazoned with your logo?”

    So, what do they do with all those goodies? They all go into a closet, confided the editor. And at the holidays, they open up the closet and have their office “white elephant party.” Yes, they draw numbers and get to pick stuff – aka some poor marketing person’s well-meaning product samples — out of the closet.

    So, unless you really want to provide entertainment for an editorial staff or have your items go ignored (which is reportedly what happens to most of the goods in the aforementioned Academy Award swag), think strategically before you place an order for the latest, greatest promotional item or decide to send anything randomly to current customers, potential clients or the media.

    What does that look like? Ask yourself these four questions before loading stuff into a box and calling the FedEx guy.

    1. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you saying “thank you?” People love a simple, handwritten note these days … no need to send them something they don’t want. Are you trying to attract a new client? If they have no connection to you, why would they want something with your logo? Do you desire media coverage? Sending along well-written information describing your product, service or organization, a link to your website and asking if they’d like samples of your product is perceived as a more reasonable approach.
    2. Did You Ask Permission? Most important when sending product samples to the media. A “food drop” to media outlets is a common practice around special events or restaurant openings. It can garner great chatter and mentions … but do call ahead to make delivery arrangements. Many reporters are not allowed to accept such freebies.
    3. Do you have a specific recipient in mind? When ordering promotional items, do you have a specific purpose or event? Are they for a trade show or health fair? In that case, promotional items are a good way to be remembered – as long as it’s not the same tired item that everyone else has given away for the last year. Avoid the “marked down” items and go for the unique and innovative. And if you are sending a product sample, for heaven’s sake, send to an actual (and appropriate) recipient and not just a general delivery.
    4. Does it represent your brand? Does the promotional item or product sample represent the very best your company can offer? And how will this item transport? The only thing worse than sending someone an unsolicited product sample or promotional item is sending a broken or tainted product sample or promotional item.


    In conclusion, product samples and promotional items can be an awesome way to build brand awareness and create a buzz about your company. But it can also be a huge waste of time and effort. Until you have a clear strategy as outlined above, keep your swag in the bag!