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Magazines > ONLINE > May/June 2009
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Online Magazine

Vol. 33 No. 3 — May/June 2009

Conference Swag, Goodies, Tchotchkes, and Collateral Materials
Marketing Information, Services, and Products

By Cybèle Elaine Werts

Trade show giveaways are big business. In his article “Trade Show Promotional Items Add Impact,” R.J. Williams writes that “event attendees are 52% more likely to stop by your exhibit if you have an appealing promotional item to give them.” Even better for companies giving away promotional products, research conducted by Georgia Southern University in 2003 strongly supported the culture of giving away such promotional goodies. According to the article “Effectiveness of Promotional Products as Giveaways at Trade Shows: An Attendee’s Perspective” (, 62.6% of trade show attendees stated they had received a promotional product, and 71.6% of attendees who received a promotional product remembered the name of the company that gave them the product.

These observations, along with the studies cited as evidence, predate our current recessionary economy. It’s an open question as to whether there will be the same level of goodies available at the SLA (Special Libraries Association; Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., this year. On the plus side is the fact that 2009 is SLA’s 100th anniversary, and its centennial conference planning committee promises an extravaganza. Offsetting that exuberance, of course, are current economic conditions.

At the 2008 SLA conference in Seattle I scoured the exhibition hall for promotional giveaways—also known as swag, goodies, tchotchkes, and collateral materials—that I considered “best in class.” Companies exhibiting at SLA obviously invest in these giveaways to effectively market their products. Does it work?


Five parameters define what I believe is an effective marketing giveaway:

Does it relate to the service that it’s selling? A book bag or some kind of book-related product is perfect for a book services company such as Blackwell Book Services. A map of the Seattle area or a key ring with a temperature gauge? Maybe not so much.

Is it useful and do I want to keep it for myself and use it? Fun is good; useful is better. The article “Tips for Selecting a Trade Show Item With High Perceived Value” ( notes, “Your give­away should be viewed by prospects as an object of value, something people want to keep. For example, a gift certificate or discount coupon conveys something of value and is also an incentive for future contact with your business. A product demo or sample on a DVD or CD will have high appeal from your target audience.”

Does it relate to information professionals in some way? CDs with resources, journals, products related to books and libraries, or a month free to try out a service are perfectly matched to us info pros. Football soda cozies, computer “rearview mirrors,” and blinking pins—probably not as attractive.

Does it include the company name and website? If not, then the user has to take an extra step to look them up. While that may or may not be difficult, it should not be necessary in the first place. The article “Tips for Selecting a Trade Show Item with High Perceived Value” reiterates this, stating, “A high-impact giveaway conveys a positioning message, educates your target audience about your company or product, and above all, promotes your business.”

Is it something that’s kept in the office or in a place where I will see it and can access it regularly? After all, if I’ve given it away to someone or it’s kept in my closet and only taken out occasionally—such as a luggage tag—that logo and URL aren’t being seen very often, if at all.

If this isn’t an argument for investing in a thoughtful approach to marketing, then perhaps you might check your desk and see if there isn’t something somewhere in your drawers with a logo or a name on it.


The following marketing items are a few of those I selected as the “best of the best” based on what I saw in 2008. Each includes comments on why it rated special attention, as well as a total rating based on the guidelines listed. Of course, your mileage may vary, as other observers of the trade show biz have their own parameters as well. One excellent additional guideline comes from the previously mentioned R.J. Williams, who asks, “Is your giveaway unique and different from others you’ve seen?” In his opinion, if it isn’t, then it’s not a good choice as a promotional item.

Cybèle’s Faves

Flying monkey: IBISWorld (

Puzzle pen: OpenHelix, LLC (

Miniature red and blue erasers in the shape of a very realistic book: Blackwell Book Services (

Water bottles: Wiley InterScience (

Book-clip lights: Standard & Poor’s (

“Tox Mystery CD—Kid’s Game: Finding Chemical Hazards in the Home” (plus stuffed animal): National Library of Medicine (

Book bag: Greenwood Publishing Group (


2009 Challenge

Help Cybèle determine the best (and maybe worst) of SLA 2009 conference giveaways. If you’re in Washington, D.C., for the 100th anniversary of the association, keep your eyes peeled for tchotchkes that either meet or fail to meet the five parameters. Share your findings with us here at ONLINE. We’ll be at the Information Today, Inc. booth, or you can email the editor (

Rating 5 out of 5, based on the listed parameters, was the “Tox Mystery CD—Kid’s Game: Finding Chemical Hazards in the Home,” which included a stuffed tabby kitten mascot, given out by the National Library of Medicine ( After trying out this game, I’m convinced it’s the perfect product for NIH. This instructional game is exceedingly well-designed. It’s highly interactive and available in English and Spanish. It has audio and visual feedback and provides positive help as well as gentle corrections for mistakes, plus it is easy to navigate. Also, I learned quite a bit about toxic chemicals in my own home!

Also 5 out of 5 were Wiley InterScience ( water bottles. Not only had the very bright Wiley marketing people gotten into the green theme of the conference, but they also reflected their company’s current initiative on the back of the bottle. It had a highly abridged history of the world, which included critical dates from history back to the Big Bang. Is a water bottle just a water bottle? No, not when the maker goes beyond the call of creativity.

Almost up there in the 5 out of 5 category, coming in at 4.5 out of 5, was OpenHelix, LLC ( Its super cool puzzle pen not only matches its “Puzzled?” marketing theme but also the company’s bioinformatics and genomics knowledge. I downgraded it by half a point in the “does it relate to information professionals in some way” category, while recognizing that we do like smart toys.

Little things have a high “cute” factor, and Blackwell’s miniature red and blue erasers, each in the shape of a book, look particularly realistic. However, they don’t include the company name and website ( As for usefulness, I don’t use erasers, and I’m not sure too many other people do, either. On the other hand, many librarians love books, so a book-shaped eraser is just our thing. I gave the eraser a 3.5.

Standard & Poor’s ( had book-clip lights as its tchotchke. It won’t be in my office, but it will be on my bedside table, which is just as good (at least for me). Letting me see to read in bed, however useful, does not get S&P’s marketing message out to a wider audience. It doesn’t really relate to the product it’s selling, nor does it have the company website. I rate it at a 3.

Every SLA conference provides us with a wide range of bags to choose from—paper, cloth, and plastic. The beauty from Greenwood Publishing Group ( is a keeper. This particular product was provided only to those who invested the time to listen to Greenwood’s spiel. But why didn’t Greenwood put its website on the bag? I knocked it down a point for that omission.

Were there ineffective giveaways on the exhibit floor? Yes—although very popular, the flying monkeys from IBISWorld ( failed my parameters for success. I admit there’s nothing like a furry monkey flying at you to start you squealing like there’s no tomorrow. If they were actually useful in any way, I’d have given those monkeys the highest of my honors, but they’ll have to settle for being the most fun and fabulous. I could only give them a 1 out of 5.


From flying monkeys to kid’s games, the array of marketing collateral at SLA 2008 was fascinating. Some you had to sit through a presentation to “earn,” while others were simply handed to you.

Will 2009 be different? Will giveaways reflect SLA’s centennial? Will they be more in tune with my five parameters of effective marketing? I’m anxious to find out.

Cybèle Elaine Werts (; is an information specialist in Boston and co-editor of Education Libraries, the peer-reviewed journal of the Education Division of the Special Libraries Association ( SLA).

Comments? E-mail the editor. (

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