Trade show giveaway items

Sep 09, 2016

Keep the inexpensive items on the table and hand them out freely, but give the good stuff only to those who seem truly interested in your firm.

Costs for attending trade shows can range from reasonable to extremely expensive, depending on your level of involvement. In addition to registration, a booth, and perhaps hosting a hospitality event, there is the question of: “What do we give away for a booth visit and/or for attendance at a hospitality event?”

In addition to cost, much of the decision is about “bang for the buck.”

So what do you give away that will be a legitimate marketing/public relations expense? It depends!

My trade show experience has mostly been with A/E or multidiscipline engineering firms.

I worked a company booth where people had to get a card stamped for a drawing. They didn’t care what we did or what we were giving away. They just needed a stamp on a card. You don’t need to give these folks anything.

On one occasion, I told a young man that I would only stamp his card if he spoke with me for two minutes. He said, “Sorry,” and went to the next booth for the stamp. He didn’t need a giveaway item either.

On another occasion, an older woman looked at the giveaway items on my table and said, “I have five grandchildren. May I have one for each?” I casually asked her which one of her grandchildren purchased engineering services. She gave me a “deer in the headlights” look. Apparently, she thought firms took booths and gave away items just to help her cut Christmas costs.

My experience tells me that you should have two or three gifts at your booth, with one more expensive than the others. The less expensive item(s) can be arranged nicely on the table, and folks can pick up whichever they like. These items are generally pens, mechanical or regular pencils, key chains, mouse pads, etc.

If you can find an inexpensive item that won’t be on every other table, that’s even better. For a fun item, one of my employers gave away colored, clear plastic yo-yos with lights that came on when the yo-yo rolled up and down the string. Everyone wanted one, but we knew they were going home to the kids.

Whether someone is just going table to table collecting “stuff,” or sees someone else with the item and asks where they got it, these items get people to your booth.

The more expensive item – which might even be custom made – is kept under the table, out of sight, and given only to those who stick around for some real discussion. Anyone who tells you what their firm needs and lets you talk about how you could help them has earned the more expensive item.

I think the important thing is to have some giveaway item(s) that people will want and use when they get back to work. When I started my business, I had two favorite items.

The first was a leather bookmark. I found that senior people are always reading, and don’t want to dog-ear pages. I had someone make me a great leather bookmark with my company information embossed into the leather. Given the size – approximately 1”x 7” – the item was made from scraps that would otherwise have been trashed, so it was inexpensive and available in many colors.

The second was a blank book that I created myself and had printed, cut, and spiral bound. The book was approximately 8”x 8” in size. When opened flat, one side was totally blank. The other side had a light-grey, 1/8” x 1/8” grid, to allow sketching to scale. My engineering clients loved the book and often asked for another when the first was full.

One caution: “Bang for the buck” is about the recipient seeing the give-away item often, for a long time. So you want an item that someone will keep on his/her desk and see all the time. Even better, you want an item they can actually use, like a great pen, the most amazing coffee mug, the best leather binder, etc.

But if you give away an item the person will take home for their child, it won’t have the “bang for the buck” you want. The child may love the item, but the prospective client will rarely see it. And yes, the light-up yo-yo mentioned above falls into this category; while it might be remembered by the recipient, its most frequent user would be the child to whom it was passed.

Just like you have to present the facts a client needs to hear rather than just what you want to tell him or her, you must have give-away items that the client will need or want to use daily and not just something you think is “great” or attractive. A pen passed to the receptionist doesn’t improve your marketing results, nor does an ordinary coffee mug that gets stuck on a shelf with a dozen other ordinary coffee mugs.

Bernie Siben, CPSM, is owner and principal consultant with the Siben Consult, LLC. He can be reached at 559.901.9596 or

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