my Davis has given away more free stuff than “Let’s Make a Deal.” “We gave away smoothies, caricatures, neck massages, clocks, mints, T-shirts, coffee-table books, even Godiva candies,” says Davis, former trade-show manager for Bernafon, a Swiss company that specializes in hearing-aid technology.

But no matter what she passed out, none of the giveaways forged a relationship with the recipient — one in which the name of the company or product sticks in the mind like Krazy Glue. So Davis and Bernafon dispensed with the old, and came up with an interactive giveaway — a refillable dispenser.

Davis purchased 40 candy dispensers, filled them with Jelly Belly jelly beans, and gave them away to customers during the holidays. The company mailed out boxes of the treats to refill the dispensers once a month for three months.

The feedback from the Strawberry Daiquiri, Toasted Marshmallow, and Caramel Corn jelly beans was positive. About a fourth of the recipients responded. “The calls were significant because they were made specifically to discuss the giveaways,” Davis says. “It brought us to the front of their minds.”

Bernafon hadn’t received calls like that about the caricatures, clocks, or coffee-table books it had given away in the past.

And Davis didn’t have to sugarcoat the results. Even though the company mailed out refills for just 90 days, she estimates the $90 expenditure strengthened Bernafon’s relationships with the 25 percent of companies who responded. “The benefit was that we were noticed, and remembered,” she says.

Most giveaways don’t give you results that sweet — but it isn’t for lack of schwag. There are an estimated 450,000 individual giveaway items sold by promotional companies (and that doesn’t include the homemade ones or regular items repurposed as giveaways): stress balls, keychains, snow globes, caps, T-shirts, matchbooks, hula hoops, mini-Frisbees, calendars, kazoos, and the number one favorite of cats and dogs everywhere, the bouncing balls that light up.

And if you think there are a lot of giveaways available now, the number is expected to double to 900,000 within a few years. Most will be tossed into a garbage can before the show is over. Even the survivors that make it home will probably just end up in the hands of kids or the paws of pets. Only a few will actually be kept and remembered, and even fewer will help spark some kind of ongoing relationship with your clients, which is the whole point of giveaways in the first place. In other words, giveaways should keep on giving.

Medieval armor-makers had already figured this out back in King Arthur’s day. Artisans gave out complimentary wooden pegs, engraved with their names or marks, to knights. The jousting jocks then stuck the pegs into the wall and hung their armor on them — making the craftsmen the real winners in the battle for
Middle Ages mindshare.

Giveaways that keep on giving fit loosely into three categories: renewable gifts, useful tools, and reference. On the next pages,
you’ll find some examples of what they are, who has used them, and how you can incorporate them into your giveaway program.
Whichever type of promotional items you choose, if you don’t make it a giveaway that keeps on giving, it won’t amount to a hill
of (jelly) beans.
Giveaway Type 1: Renewable Gifts
Bernafon’s jelly-bean dispenser is a classic example of a renewable giveaway — a gift that combines regular use with interactivity. Also referred to as “continuity programs,” renewable gifts make sure you’re in the client’s face — and on his mind.

The idea is to distribute a giveaway that you renew regularly, or which the client has to ask you to renew. Either way, it creates a pretext for you to interact with a current or potential customer, and makes them less likely to avoid your call.

Who, for example, would say they’re not interested when it comes time to re-up for Dick & Harry’s Fruit-of-the-Month Club? Other variations of the same theme include coffee-, book-, salsa-, jelly-, tea-, pasta-, cheesecake-, pie-, cheese, -fruit-, beer-, and pizza-of-the-month or any items that will need to be replenished.
Giveaway Type 2: Reference Guides
The first thing James McClead lands on when he attends the National Business Aviation Association show is Ac-U-Kwik’s North American Airport/FBO Directory. “I always look right away for the Ac-U-Kwik booth or any one of the many others who give it away,” says the chief pilot for the Gorman-Rupp company in Mansfield, OH. The annual guide, which is jammed like an economy-class flight with information on airports, runways, radio frequencies, U.S. customs locations, air-to-ground radio stations, and more, is ”something I use everyday,” McClead says.

You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to know that what Medtronic Inc.’s Powered Surgical Solutions division did at the recent 53rd Annual Congress of Neurological Surgeons was smart. The Minneapolis-based company had neurosurgeons lining up by the hundreds for up to two hours to get to their booth. The maker of implantable medical devices was giving away a neuro-anatomy textbook — “Rhoton-Cranial Anatomy and Surgical Approaches”— that’s a must-have for anyone in the field. Offered to the first 500 who came to the booth, the giveaway was so popular that the show floor stayed open for 45 minutes after the exhibition closed.

Reference-based giveaways have the advantage of regular use and interaction. You might fiddle briefly with a stress ball, but a reference work is something you’ll touch, hold, carry, use, and most importantly, depend on. Another popular type of reference giveaway is a calendar. For example, The Palm Beach County Convention & Visitors Bureau mails out a small pocket-size booklet called “2004-2008 — The Essential Guide for Meeting and Convention Planners” every year that becomes an indispensable, use-all-the-time tool.
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Giveaway Type 3: Useful Tools
Mim Goldberg, co-owner of Westboro, MA-based Marketech Inc., points to her own desk as a living example of giveaways that keep themselves firmly lodged in her mind’s eye. “Every day for 10 years, I set my coffee mug down on a leather coaster I got from one company. When I travel, I use luggage tags another client gave me. And when I set up my laptop on the road I go online using a modem cable cord yet another company gave me. Every time I use these items, I think of the people that gave them to me.”
Candy Adams, of Trade Show Consulting in Carlsbad, CA, likes “ghost” tag lines or messages on Post-It Notes. She says, “A Post-It Note is a traveling mini-billboard — every time it’s used, there is the possibility of it traveling to another potential buyer.”

Another favorite is “memory sticks,” which can hold your pictures, sound, and other data and let you switch them between different devices, such as digital cameras and camcorders.

On a less sophisticated but still useful level are: picture frames, filing-cabinet magnets that have clips to hold papers, and the calendars with adhesive strips that can be attached to your computer monitor.

Charles Pappas
staff writer

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