Now that AWS re:Invent is done, conference season is over for me this year.

I feel quite virtuous, because I have managed to collect only a single vendor T-shirt and one cellphone stand all year, leaving all the other tat behind at the various shows.

The fact I’m not hauling it home doesn’t mean all of that tat doesn’t have an impact though. Here is a good roundup:

It’s not just tote bags, which only make up 8.4% of total promotional product sales. It’s also T-shirts, which represent more than a quarter of sales; writing instruments, which make up 6.1%; and various tech accessories, like USB drives, which make up 7.5%.

The promotional products industry in the United States is worth $24 billion and has grown by 2.5% over the last five years. There are 26,413 businesses in the space, which employs 392,820 people, according to the most recent figures. While cheap swag is popular across industries, education, healthcare, insurance, nonprofits, marketing companies, and technology are the biggest consumers of these items.

As we all start to plan the 2019 shows, here are some suggestions for event planning teams to minimise the footprint of all this activity.

No Printed Brochures

For a start, while a few people still genuinely prefer hard copy materials, most of the paper brochures handed out at trade show booths go straight into the nearest recycling bin. Instead of scaring a bunch of trees, why not have a panel in the booth with a row of QR codes so that attendees can grab electronic copies of the materials? Or combine that with a station where they can email themselves relevant material directly from the show floor.1

No Show-Specific Materials

I would suggest not to have any give-aways that are specific to one show. I have seen all sorts of ridiculous hats, wristbands, and even headbands. These are even more likely to be left behind in a hotel room than the general run of the mill giveaways.


T-shirts are a mixed bag. Some manage to achieve the status of becoming actual collectibles – see e.g. the Splunk shirts, at least a few years ago. Most however will at best be used for decorating, or as sleeping attire for the female attendees. Probably not where you wanted your logo displayed: the audience is generally very small, and it’s probably too dark to read anyway.


More positively, you can do something that is specific to the location of the show; maybe you could raffle off tickets to Cirque du Soleil for a show in Las Vegas, or a tour of the city somewhere like London. At smaller events where most attendees will be staying at the same hotel, you could also offer hotel vouchers for spa treatments or room upgrades.

Useful Give-Aways

People do like a little tchotchke, but try to make it something useful – and not fake-useful, meaning no 256MB USB keys, low-quality tote bags, or yet another fidget spinner. Instead, my suggestion is to align the giveaway to your brand identity: pocket tools or batteries for "useful", drinks for "refreshing", and so on.

Rest Easy

Finally, I can’t claim credit for this one, but there was an excellent suggestion on Twitter during AWS re:Invent:

This seems like an excellent idea: people will genuinely want to use the pillow, and so provided your logo isn’t too tasteless, they will be reminded of you every time they travel. For an example of a company doing this right, AWS themselves always manage to have excellent hoodies for re:Invent attendees: high quality, and with branding that is recognisable but sufficiently subtle not to be in your face.

See you on the show floor in 2019!

  1. Yes, eagle-eyed events people, this would indeed give you an extra opportunity to get their contact details – but mind that GDPR!