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How to make your pre-virtual event swag not suck.

I've had the pleasure of being a host or participant in several virtual events over the last few weeks. I'm energized by the pivot that many organizations have made and by the creativity that a select few are bringing to their audiences, ensuring that these are actual events and not just one-way webinars.


Zendesk was one of the first out of the gate with their virtual event when their in-person event was cancelled on the Sunday before it was supposed to start. By all accounts, the pivot the virtual was a roaring success. Great content, an engaging host, levity, hope, and community. Well done!


Reboot 2020, put on by EventGeek, was another that I thought did a phenomenal job of bringing in Slack channels for conversation, new event formats for variety, and great content and networking in a low-cost, low barrier-to-entry sort of way.


Our team helped one of our Fortune 500 clients run their Sales Advisory Board and Customer Advisory Council, just 7 days after they made the decision to move to virtual, and the feedback was phenomenal and has become a best practice inside their company due to the interactivity, the pre-event gift box, the engaging content, and the conversations that were able to happen in the breakout sessions.


And then there's the swag... I attended a few events where the event organizers and sponsors were generous enough to share a pre-event swag box with the participants. It's always exciting to get something sent to you - even more exciting now when we can't leave our homes! Something to break up my day! Yay!


But some were more successful than others. I will refrain from posting pics of the sucky ones to protect the organizers. :-)


In one swag box, I received the crap that I would have received at the event if it had been in-person. A tote bag, a bunch of postcards and paper fliers from sponsors, some pens, and a whole lotta packing material.


In another, I received a t-shirt (that wasn't my size), a decent pen (branded), a very cheap journal book (think stapled paper with a cardstock cover), and a card with the event agenda on it (I think it cost more to mail it than all the stuff inside combined!).


And finally, in the third one, I received everything I needed for the event and items that tied directly to the content. Not to brag, but that's the one our team put together for our client. I'll share a picture of that one:


This box included Budsies (ear buds for listening to the event content). A small Bluetooth speaker in case you'd rather hear it that way. A Corkcicle champagne flute for use during the event happy hour, a resistance band and sweatband for the guided stretch breaks, and a deck of cards for use during the magic break to learn how to do a card trick.


We have had so much fun working with our clients to create swag boxes that are helpful, relevant, and fun to get. From tasting samplers for a guided Sommelier-led virtual tasting experience to cook-at-home meal kits for a virtual cooking experience with a celebrity chef, we are loving the creativity we get to put into creating elegant and fun "supply" kits for virtual experiences.


So anyway, much like an annoying Pinterest recipe where you have to learn all about the author's great-grandmother's life before they actually tell you the recipe, I'm finally getting around to my Top 10 Ways to Make Your Virtual Event Swag Box Not Suck:


10. Think of it as a care package and put some care into it. Don't make your swag box just a checklist item. Ensure that you are putting thought into what participants are receiving and that it benefits them in some way. If the recipient feels like you gave a damn with what they got, they will respect you and your brand all the more for it.


9. Make it relevant to your content. A tote bag, a journal book and a pen may be standard in-person event swag, but since participants don't have anything to carry around in those totes in their home office, make the giveaways more useful. Perhaps it's a grocery store tote with hand sanitizer that ties back to a keynote session's content tenets. Maybe it's a branded mousepad with an infographic relevant to a key product launch.


8. Include something useful. Journal books and pens are always useful, but what about a resistance band that goes along with a planned stretch break? Or compression socks for those feet now that people are either sitting all day in their home office, or standing all day at their fancy new standing desk?


7. Make sponsored items meaningful. Don't throw in a squishy ball unless it serves a true purpose. Perhaps your sponsored item is a Corkcicle champagne flute, instead, ready to fill and raise for cheers during the event happy hour. Heck, you might even include a mini bottle of Prosecco!


6. Be creative with your packaging. Okay, boxes are how are you ship things. OR ARE THEY? What if your event sponsor sprung for a $40 mini suitcase for select VIPs and your swag was shipped in that? Or what about swapping out that shredded paper mess for jellybeans or loofah sponges? For once, you're not at a hotel or convention center... so be unconventional.


5. Include a gift. Sure the whole box is a gift, but if you follow the core tenets of the contents, you'll have something useful, something meaningful, something fun - now make sure there's something that feels "gifty." Perhaps it's as simple as making those "useful" compression socks upgraded to be extra nice quality. Or perhaps you select a special set of Bluetooth headphones. It doesn't need to be expensive, just something that feels like a gift recipients will appreciate.


4. Include something fun or funny. Again, you can combine it with an already-included element like making the compression socks humorous, or you can go the extra mile and include fun things like fidget spinners or stickers or awesome desk accessories or a silly hat for them to wear during an icebreaker at the opening session on video conference.


3. Include something shareable. It doesn't have to be shared with the whole office, but a small bag of candy or something you want to pass along to the kids or shared with a spouse makes receiving the box all that more fun for everyone.


2. Make it Insta-worthy. The object of the game is to get your participants to take a photo of the box or its contents and share it online. They won't do that with a brown box containing a tote bag and some shredded paper. Just like the welcome experience at your event, the unboxing must be part of the experience. Make it awesome!


1. Get it to your attendees on time. There's nothing worse than creating an amazing box for participants that arrives the week after the event. Plan properly with your agency or suppliers to ensure all elements are in stock, can be kitted on time, addresses are verified, and shipping times are appropriate. Get them their box on time!


In the end, my three core tenets of pre-event swag are:

  1. Give them something they want.

  2. Give them something they need.

  3. Give them something delightfully surprising.


And to help make your life easier, Haute Dokimazo and Haute Rock Creative have teamed up to create the Haute Box: a pre-event swag box just perfect for these experiences! We have off-the-shelf options that can be purchased for your Haute Dokimazo Spontaneous or Strategic Think Tank (pictured here!), or customize your box with your own logo and contents for your own virtual event! We have the supply chain and fulfillment services set up and ready to source amazing contents and meet your deadline for in-hand delivery. Message me and I can connect you with our team to help build out the perfect pre-event (or post-event!) swag box for your virtual event.


Liz Lathan, CMP is co-founder and CEO of Haute Dokimazo, a "spontaneous think tank” company that empowers participants to solve their business challenges. Haute Dokimazo is part of Haute Companies, a family of companies anchored in human connection, from events to media (podcasts, videos, and more) to direct mail to swag to entertainment talent management to strategy session facilitation.

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