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From software shopping to catching a speaker, there is a lot to glean from attending Accountex, but for Richard Sergeant the most exciting part of a trade show is the swag. Discussing this with his accounting friends, he discovers that he is not alone.
Lurking in my office drawers and house are branded pens in various states of disrepair. They’re proud reminders of events attended and in some cases, poignant tombstones of those that didn’t make it.
The giveaway, freebie, or the more common term swag, is a conference and tradeshow staple that love it, or hate it, comes with the territory.
First, the classics: I’m prepared to guess that over the years you’ve picked up pens, mouse mats, and of course mugs. Some of these items have become essential tools of our working lives.
A classic example of such being accounting journalist Kevin Reed’s “horrendously old school but I still love these babies” Lovell Consulting highlighter pens.
But in this era of cloud, MTD and GDPR, things have changed in the SWAG world, too.
Cute and collectable
The cute and collectable niche (and niche is good remember) is hard to beat from both a delegate and exhibitor perspective.
Collecting ‘the set’ can become slightly compulsive, as I can testify with the branded rubber duck (pictured above). Brightly coloured, playful, distinctive and easy to carry around, what is there not to love?
Current champions here though are those that can push the plush soft toys - and no one has done this better than Draycir with its Credit Hound soft toy. Not only do soft toys ram home the brand name, but those lucky enough to bag one are practically guaranteed to be made a hero in the eyes of their colleagues.
Catering for all tastes
But it’s not all fun at an exhibition, and we have to think carefully about sustenance as Hayley Bradshaw director of Progression Accountancy reminds us. “Good swag has got to be something edible - enjoyable, memorable, gets people to your stand AND it doesn't need carrying around all day”.
And careful consideration should be given to hydration too. Setting expectations high for London, Sage’s Cameron John noted: “Having been to the French Accountex a couple of times - it has to be champagne! Fortuitously, many of the champagne houses are Sage customers.”
Meanwhile, accountant Mark Telford referred to the previous trade show swag favourite, Chaser’s remarkable Debtor Daze beer.
As ever though, trouble brews in knowing what you are dealing with. For this reason, I tend to avoid pre-packed sweets and Quality Street in goldfish bowls purely from a best before date point of view and a perceived lack of variety for those with specific dietary requirements.
That’s why Progression’s Bradshaw demands trade show stalls “cover bases like gluten-free or vegan as I can vouch that there's nothing worse than seeing lots of goodies everywhere and can't actually have any of them!”
Practical but sexy - the M&S knickers of swag
While I have never seen underwear as swag (not ruling out), the sentiment rings true. Lovely notebooks (Fluidly ones are very nice), fine pens (thanks iwoca) and “for practical purposes, umbrella's” said Sage’s John, continuing to show impeccable taste as ever. “I'm forever losing mine so can never have enough in the cupboard,” John added.
The point being that, we like nice things, and if they feel quality and happen to be practical too then this reflects well. But sometimes this practical approach to swag can defy logic; my favourite example of this was a rather heavy bike lock that I regretted taking almost immediately.
Tech is a winner but becomes obsolete
Gadgets and electronic gizmos tend to wow, but are perhaps the classic example of swag with no longevity.
The shape novelty of a branded USB drive (peanuts, bottle openers, toothbrush) is inversely proportional to the likelihood of it actually ever being used (and who uses them these days anyway?). And can anyone remember business card shaped CD ROMS?
However the new wave offers hope with in-ear headphones in convenient cases (looking at you, 9Spokes), mini torches (still looking at you, 9Spokes), and mobile chargers (add it to the list, 9Spokes).
Matching more discreet branding with items that have a business and personal use is definitely the way forward.
If the cap fits
Perhaps the best incarnation of cool swag is getting with the fintech vibe, and sharing wearable, cool brands.
Whether that’s in the immortal words of Practice Ignition’s Trent Mclaren “hoodies and snap backs” (that’s hats for grown up kids just in case you’re wondering), t-shirts, or the legendary GoCardless baseball jacket - wearing your startup credentials with pride has a lot to say for the importance of brand, presentation and association.
And perhaps a brief mention for the free book; the slaved over manifestation of research and keyboard wounded fingers.
Accoa’s Rudi Jansen has such an accounting tome ready for Accountex, so please don’t let him carry the heavy box all the way home.
By my estimates, you should have your reading sorted for your upcoming beach holiday after just one round of the stands.
The ultimate test
For attendees with a penchant for branded novelty, the one-month free use of your software just doesn’t quite have the same cache. But I do appreciate the thought, effort and cash involved in allowing me to leave a happier and more weighed down delegate.
But as I sit on the train ride home, the one critical question I will ask myself and the one thing that will prove its ultimate worth is: “I wonder what the kids will make of THIS!”