Promotional products your attendees will love. Really.

By Connie Jeske Crane

When it comes to swag, the downsides don’t need a lot of elaboration. Who doesn’t have their own stash of shame? Cheap logo-strewn drink cups, dried out pens, ill-fitting T-shirts? And just how many stress balls does one person need?!

Yet, done right, swag also offers planners a lot of promotional mileage. According to a recent survey by the Advertising Specialty Institute, respondents reported owning 30 promotional products on average. Incredibly, more than half said they’d hung on to their favorites for five years or more.

As meetings resume, the reimagining of swag—which started pre-pandemic—involves delivering all the good stuff, without the pitfalls. We asked two industry insiders for advice. How to create meaningful, memorable but non-trashy swag? Here are some key considerations:

Goals and objectives

In Winnipeg, Jonathan Strauss, president and CEO of Promotional Product Professionals of Canada, describes a procurement process that’s become more rigorous. “Challenge the promotional products distributor you’re working with to find you the right fi t…Set out what your brand goals and objectives are and let them partner with you to research the best products and companies.”

Quality and sustainability

Strauss sees another shift here: “Clients may be ordering fewer items, but they’re not spending less.” Organizations, he says, want to be associated with a quality product and convey a message that “‘I’ve given you something that you want and will use.’ And that plays into environmental sustainability.”

Brand power

Versus generic pieces, Strauss says attendees love swag from premium brands, apparel in particular. Subsequently, “People are really co-branding, so they’re taking the value of a retail brand and adding to that.” He cites Roots’ line for the promotional product industry as one well-received Canadian example.

Non-traditional inclusions

In Edmonton, Peter Kmech, president of Creative Promotional Marketing Agency, sees a shift to less generic approaches with swag boxes. While traditional elements can be included (that familiar logo coffee cup or wellness item), he’s seeing well-curated boxes enhanced with local products—including foodstuffs. “We’ll have a client that loves a local coffee company or cosmetics company…. If it’s meaningful and ties into the event theme, it’s very well-received.”


Kmech says swag must also accommodate the new normal of hybrid events. One option, he says, is to incorporate digital swag. (His company has one “shockingly popular” offering where virtual attendees ‘plant’ trees online—but also fund real tree planting in Canadian forests.) Alternatively, the same experiential swag boxes can be delivered to both in-person and virtual attendees. While a huge hit, Kmech says, “the cost of shipping now can be expensive” and needs to be budgeted for.

Personal touch

Finally, Kmech advises taking the time to add key messaging to swag. Whether that means notes on product use, or “a handwritten note that goes to that recipient saying, ‘Hey, this is why I sent it to you’ or ‘You’re valuable.’” That personal communication, he says, really helps tie your offering together.

other articles in this section

Banff, Alberta

Incentive Travel Insights

Gifting Guidance

The Renaissance of Incentive Travel

Promotional products your attendees will love. Really.

Incentive Research in Action

History in the Making

Mindful Indulgences

Dynamic Duos

Status Report

Editor's Choice: 6 Springtime Gifts

Warm up to Winter Ski Incentives

Set to Impress

Expert Tips for Virtual Incentive Events

Party Pivots

Presents of Mind: The Art of Virtual Gifting

A Rewarding Experience

Noteworthy: Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, Bermuda

Cards vs. Cash

Good Times

Value Validation

Trip Trends

Sailing Away

The More, The Merrier

Holiday Angst

Making the Connection

Make an Impact

Mutual Appreciation

Healthy Options for Incentive Trips

A Rewarding Experience

Cruising the Rhone River

Celebrating Employee Milestones

How Do they Do It

Eyes on the Prize

Healthy employees = Healthy company

Measuring ROI

Hawks Cay Resort, Duck Key, Florida

Good Sensations

How to Design an Effective Gift Card Incentive Program

Fogo Island Inn, Fogo Island, Newfoundland

The Case for including Spouses on Incentive Trips

Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya

On-site Gifting

Rim to River Hiking in the Grand Canyon

Sparkling Hill Resort, Vernon, BC

Creating incentive trips that appeal to everyone

The Brave New World of Gift Cards

Award Show Winners

Capella Marigot Bay Resort and Marina

Take me to the river

Click + Praise

The Science of Incentives

Incentive trips go family-style

Knock-their-socks-off gifts for hard-to-buy-for executives

Building a Better Program

Perfect Pampering

Indulge Me!

Customized Recognition Programs

Virtual gift cards, the new reality

Gift Cards that Give

Go with a Pro, in the Spa and on the Greens

Chartering private jets

Offsite Employee Engagement

Behaviour-based Recognition

Canadian tax implications for employee gifts

A Christmas Bonus with all the Fixin's!

Peer-to-peer recognition

Everyday Green Heroes

Recognizing Environmental Actions in the Workplace

Reward and Recognize Every Day!

New Year, New You!

Co-Branded Cards

Last-minute gifts and rewards

Double Pampering Hits the Spot!

Hidden Gems: Cobble Beach Resort


Free and Fab Employee Rewards

Incentive Programs Used by the Pros

Think Local for Corporate Gifts

21st Century Gift Cards

Time for an Incentive Travel Update

Reward Best-Practices for the Holiday Season

Small Product, Big Impact

Spa Rewards, Done Right

Staying Motivated

Gift Giving Guidelines

The Pros and Cons of Gift Cards

Eco-Friendly Corporate Gift Ideas

Green Guides

Travel Rewards Strategy

Speaker Gifts that Shine with Gratitude

Tax Treatment of Incentive Travel