Goodie bags. Tchotchkes. Giveaways. SWAG. Who doesn’t love to get stuff for free? I find it’s particularly true for those of us in the entertainment industry—top executives and big stars love to get good SWAG as much as we peons do. There’s even a whole industry of experts and companies that specialize in making or selecting items to be used as SWAG. 

Well-chosen SWAG (“stuff we all get”) can serve many purposes. For example, when it takes the form of a T-shirt and is worn by a celebrity, it works as branding and product placement. When it’s given to guests at the end of an event, it becomes either the icing on the cake (if it was a good event) or the saving grace (if it was a bad event.) And when it’s a useful item that people turn to again and again (such as a flash drive or a good-quality umbrella), it can generate name-recognition and good will for your brand for years.

Like everyone else, I love getting SWAG. But I love giving it even more. There’s a lot of thought and creativity that go into the creation and delivery of SWAG, and I’ve had years of practice with a variety of different companies. Here are my top tips for getting the most out of your SWAG campaigns.



Make sure your SWAG is …

First-rate: Don’t even bother to produce something if you don’t have the proper budget to do it up well. A cheap item will backfire on you and have the opposite effect you are going for.

Targeted: Certain items work for everyone (who can’t use another tote bag?). Other items should be created for a specific audience; if you’re working with mom bloggers, for instance, you may want to choose an item that’s self-care oriented or indulgent, or features appropriate humor. 

Useful: Flash drives, beach towels, pen-and-pencil sets, mini-manicure and first aid kits … these are all items that tend to be kept because they are useful. And as mentioned above, it never hurts to have people looking at your brand name every day of their lives.

Visual: When I give SWAG to celebrities, I’m usually doing it in the hope that they’ll be photographed with it or wearing it, and that the photos will end up in one of the celebrity weeklies. So if ever there was a time to be obvious about your brand, this would be it. Be sure to give them t-shirts, hats and tote bags on which your brand is clearly visible so that the logo photographs well.

Memorable: In an ideal world, your SWAG would directly reflect the product or event you’re promoting. A film set in New York City? Why not a scale model of a Yellow Cab or a gift basket from Zabar’s? A children’s brand? How about branded Legos or stuffed animals?

Experiential: While not exactly SWAG in the traditional sense, the free cardboard virtual-reality viewer distributed with the Sunday New York Times several months ago, along with the free “NYT VR” app, creates a unique and buzz-worthy experience for readers/viewers every time a new VR-enhanced story is published in the Times.

Exclusive: When one of my clients creates a clothing line, we’ll often produce customized versions of certain items exclusively for the celebrities we want to model the products. These will feature high-end fabrics and accessories, and, of course, be packaged beautifully and delivered by hand. It’s a great way to make an excellent first impression.

Personalized: I recently met with the representatives of an upscale hotel at which I was considering hosting an event. Shortly afterward, I received a beautiful hand towel from the hotel with my initials embroidered on it. It was a lovely personalized touch, and, of course, it made me give them serious consideration—it showed me that the hotel would do a first-class job. (In fact, we did end up holding our event at the hotel, and it turned out beautifully.)

When done the right way, SWAG that’s given away for free can end up paying you back in spades.

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