Smarty Pants: Will your promotional products survive spring cleaning?

Fairware welcomes back guest blogger, Shawna McKinley.


After fifteen years working in the event sector it’s an understatement to say I’ve accumulated a lot of conference crap. Spring cleaning took many casualties this year: 16 conference bags, 7 water bottles, 5 mugs, 2 martini shakers, 1 tambourine and 1 flip flop (yes one, not even a pair). Here’s hoping customers at the Goodwill can find them useful.

A few survived the cut. Perhaps more interesting than what I kept, is why I kept it.  For therein might lay some wisdom for designers and purchasers of promotional event products.

IMG_2691Lanyard, Sustainable Tourism in Destinations Conference 2002, Capetown, South Africa.  Beaded by an artisan co-operative in the townships, I’ve had this lanyard for over 11 years. It has been used in place of many an itchy, gaudy sponsored lanyard, thanks to the easily-convertible style that fits most badge card clips (as well as on my sunglasses!). Plus, I’ll admit, it makes me feel unique and pretty, and is often a conversation-starter for many conferences I attend.



Delegate bag, World Urban Forum III, 2006, Vancouver, Canada. Shout out to Ginny Stratton for the selection of this story-filled bag. Featuring an attractive First Nations design, I appreciate too the social good behind its creation. Sewn by women at the Aboriginal Mother Centre Society, this is not only an event bag, but a way to provide women and children on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside an opportunity to create a better life.




Mug, IMEX 2012, Frankfurt, Germany. I love me a good mug or water bottle, but I really don’t need 12 of them. The mix-and-match mug shelf in my cupboard messes with the idea my kitchen should be a den of coordinated dishware. Why did I keep this one and not the other 5 I got rid of this year? Goldilocks reasons: it’s not too big and not too small for my perfect cup of tea. Just right!




Shower timer, Eventcamp Vancouver 2011. I’m a sucker for a nifty green gadget that helps make me feel like a planet-saving super-hero. The Get Your Green On Game shower timer from Eventcamp Vancouver not only reminds me of a great event I was fortunate to be involved in, but also speaks to my values. It affirms my sense of self and the idea each little thing I do can help the planet.




Gift card, Visit Spokane, Religious Conference Managers Association Conference, 2009. While it may not have a compelling story of social good, or boost to my ego, there’s no disputing the utility and design of a good old gift card. This is one of three branded cards I’ve had over the last few years, with two others given by Travel Portland. I appreciate they are practical, easy to use, flexible and recyclable. Delicious!

What lessons do my surviving event artifacts have for those who want to maximize their investment in their promotional event products?

  • Use your giveaways to tell an interesting story that inspires your audience.
  • Think about how promotional products allow the user to express a part of their identity and act on their values – values they share with your brand.
  • Demonstrate social good and consciousness by how the product is manufactured.
  • Design the branded item well with attention to utility and quality in mind.
  • And above all, make them (re) useful!

Shawna McKinley is a Director of Sustainability for MeetGreen, an event-planning company specializing in “green meetings” and based in Portland, Oregon. She lives in Vancouver, and is the author of Sustainable Destinations, a blog that shares information and ideas that lead to discussion and action about sustainable events and event destinations. Shawna’s favorite Fairware product is the lanyard library.