In my mailbox at work on Friday, for the first time ever, was a 4imprint catalog. 4imprint sells "imprinted promotional products" a.k.a. that crap they give out at the vendor tables at conferences. I can only guess that I have received this catalog because I manned a table at a GIS conference last March, but I have nothing to do with ordering these things. I gave out my company's pens at that conference and I couldn't believe how excited people got about cheap free pens.
I don't attend a lot of conferences, but the ones I do seem to have way too much "vendor showcase" time. So I have given quite a bit of my conference time seeking out the best giveaways. Here are my rankings:
Good: Nice pens. The kind that I'll get upset about when someone walks off with it. Or one that's just cool looking.
Better: Anything beer related. I don't even know if symmetryny.com is still around, but I've been using their bottle opener every weekend for the last four years. And although I've never actually seen one at a conference, if you were to give me a pub glass I would probably throw some business your way.
Best: Anything I can bring home for the kids. This saves me the trouble of shopping for something to bring something home to prove that I actually thought of my kids while I was gone. My conferences aren't always held in what you would call destinations. They are often held at state universities and I usually end up buying t-shirts for my boys, and university bookstores aren't known for their low prices. Stress balls are big hits. A calculator is good, too - the 7yo knows how to use it and the 2yo thinks it's his very own PDA. Compasses are cool, though I barely know how to use one, let alone my kids. Rubber ducks are a big hit with the bubble bath age group and look good on my desk if I can snag an extra. In fact, most kids stuff looks good on my desk.
Bad: Cheap Pens. Your name is going to be associated with this junk. Do you really want someone cursing your name when that pen falls apart, stops writing mid-sentence, or explodes all over them? This also includes pens that aren't going to be used. I thought those three-sided hi-lighters were bad, but now they have five-sided ones. How are you supposed to hold these things?
Worse: Things that look okay at a conference, but are too dorky to use in the real world. I don't need any more help looking dorky. There's a reason I keep my ID in my pocket until the guard asks me for it. Because lanyards look geeky. And Canvas Totes? You're kidding me, right? Again, do you really want your name associated with something this lame? What are you, PBS?
Worst: Things I only need one of, and I've already got it. Sport Bottles. Ugh, do you know how many of these things I have? In addition to the conferences, every race gives these things away in their goodie bags. For the love of God, no more sport bottles. And no more really nice Business Attaches. I feel bad when I get one of these, because I know two things: 1. Someone spent a lot of marketing money on them and, 2. I have absolutely no use for them. I (like most people) already have a bag for work, and it has the added benefit of not having your company's logo on it (unless your company is G. H. Bass and Co.). These things are too nice to just throw out so I hang on to them just in case something happens to mine. After two years I dump them into the Goodwill bin.
On second thought, forget it kids, I'm keeping that Pocket Etch-A-Sketch for myself!