Conference Fail: In which I take the swag

One of the funny things about being a self-help writer is that people assume you take your own advice. I try to. I wouldn’t write it if I didn’t think it was effective. On the other hand, there’s the old adage that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And there is no annoyance like when you know you should do something…and don’t.

I have been quite adamant on the subject of not taking conference swag. Swag just clutters up your life after a conference and, more importantly, it weighs you down while you’re there. If you’re a busy person with a career and a personal life, the reason you’ve taken time to go to a conference is to network and make professional connections. Lugging around a tote bag of stuff works against that. Either you’re heading back to your room to drop it off, or you’re encumbered at receptions and between sessions. Either way, you’re less likely to walk around making conversation.

I know this. Yet at BlogHer in New York City this past week, I found myself with…a tote bag full of swag. Heavy swag. I dragged it out to drinks with some people, and dragged it around to the Friday evening parties, but wound up leaving earlier than I might of, mostly because I was tired. Why was I tired? Partly because I was sick, and partly because I had this giant bag. Sure, I could have just ditched it. But having carried it around all day, I succumbed to the sunk cost fallacy (also known as throwing good money after bad, etc.) and felt I needed to hang on to it until the bitter end.

I’ve pondered how this happened. Partly, it’s because BlogHer has a lot of people who write about home and family. Thus, a lot of the swag was useful household items. I am a recovering frugal sort who has a hard time passing up free toothpaste. I also love books, and one of the booths was sponsored by a publisher, whose rep casually suggested I take any books I like. Oh dear. The place looked like a pleasing aisle in Barnes & Noble where someone had just invited me to go on a shopping spree. And so, soon, my tote bag filled up.

Of course, when I got home, I faced the realization that I already have a lot of toothpaste, thanks to my Costco habit, and my queue of reading material keeps getting longer, not shorter. While I do think I will enjoy the books, the correct thing to do at that booth was to get the press contact’s name and email him or her on Monday to ask for review copies of the titles I wanted. The rule still stands. I shouldn’t take the swag.

Do you?



14 Responses to Conference Fail: In which I take the swag


  1. OMSH says:

    Just got back from the THSC (Texas Home School Coalition) Southwest Convention & Family Conference.

    I did not take the swag bag.
    Nor did I pick up any swag in the IMMENSE Exhibit hall.

    I recently read your book and really, REALLY am using it. But even before your book I figured out clutter did not make me happy…not even at Blogher (didn’t go this year).

    Though P&G did it right last year. They took my mailing info and sent a large box of goodies about 2 weeks later. It was a nice surprise and I didn’t have to figure out how to get all of it home on the plane!

    • Laura says:

      @OMSH – that is smart, especially if it’s a conference where lots of people had to fly in (less so in NYC). A lot of P&G products would be liquid so you’d have to check a bag just to get them home! So glad you’re enjoying the book and using it. Writing a book is a fairly solitary endeavor so it’s good to hear that it has an effect on people.

  2. Calee says:

    I take swag if I am there for the swag. At the ALA (American Library Association) conference last month one of my goals was not so much to collect swag, but get a real idea of what types of marketing materials we need to bring if we’re going to exhibit at a show like that. So yes, after 2 hours of walking around with a very heavy tote bag full of catalogs and signed books (who can pass up a signed picture book for your child? or a personalized drawing of Wubzy?) I headed home. BUT- I made sure to keep the cards of the people I connected with in a safe and separate spot so Monday morning I was ready to get to business. Also- all those marketing materials got photographed and recycled so they’re not cluttering up my office :)

    But- back when we used to go to cigar trade shows for my husband, he took and smoked the cigars (so he could tell what needed to be purchased) but we left the stress balls and pens behind.

    • Laura says:

      @Calee- your husband seems like he’s found a good line of work :)

  3. Kathy says:

    It’s hard to resist “something for nothing”–and books? Forget it. I’d need a wheelbarrow! I’m impressed that you were able to carry your own swag! I’d say as long as you do something productive with your swag, you haven’t committed much of an error. :)

    • Laura says:

      @Kathy- part of me feels like I showed admirable restraint, given that it was free books. I made it home with four books (I think) but it could easily have been more.

  4. Almost all of our cloth grocery bags say “American Economic Association” on them.

    • Laura says:

      @NicoleandMaggie- oh, I know. I’ve been trying to reuse all my conference tote bags as diaper bags. The problem is I never stick with the same one, so I’m never sure which one has been fully stocked. Sigh.

  5. KtP says:

    I had that conversation with a fellow BlogHer12 attendee: we don’t need it, we don’t necessarily like it, but if it’s free, we can’t refuse it! Such a strange phenomenon.

    • Laura says:

      @KtP – People go crazy for free. Even if we don’t want it, “free” seems exciting. What we fail to consider is the opportunity cost of time. Would I have made a great connection in the half hour I left early due to my overloaded swag bag? If so, I made a bad trade-off.

  6. I love love LOVE pens. I love how each pen has a different feel. I love how pens make me want to write so that even when I have nothing to write about, I write affirmations.

    I recently went to a national librarian conference in my city in large part for swag. I took a carry-on-size suitcase with wheels so the swag wouldn’t weigh down my shoulders and I’m still loving my new pens!

    -Diana

  7. Cara Marcano says:

    definitely write something about how a woman with purpose cannot have more than one diaper bag or too many purses… (I have a lot of diaper bags even though I’ve never bought a diaper bag) it is amazing how many people procreate like so many times over given how hard it is to pack and keep packed a diaper bag ! especially with the food etc.

  8. Great meeting you at Blogher 2012. I limited the swag to items I actually would use or stuff that family members could use. :)

    • Laura says:

      @Heidi- great meeting you too! I managed to pass off the Greek yogurt coupons on someone who really eats it, so I felt good about that one…