Friday, March 7th, 2014

BY David Raether, Head Writer

There you are, stuck with booth duty.  You were the last hire in the Marketing and Communications Department for your startup so you get stuck with booth duty for all three days of the trade show, for all eight hours the convention center is open.

Okay, that’s gonna suck, but on balance things are going pretty well with the company: they’ve got actual revenues, the CEO doesn’t come back to the office from board meetings with the investors looking like someone just ran over his cat, there’s a ping-pong table and free beers in the employee lounge area.  Best of all, you’ve paid rent on time six months in a row.

And then this guy shows up — the Swag Hog.  He’s got a couple of complimentary grocery size bags he snagged at other booths, and they are stuffed with knick knacks and branded office supplies from booths all around the convention center.   And he’s got a major haul going on in those bags.  Free stuff from all over the trade show: pens, note pads, key chains, USB flash drives, bottle openers, coffee mugs, cell phone covers, stress balls, breath mints, cheesy sunglasses, aluminum water bottles, Post-It Notes, and, of course, more shopping bags he can use to grab more stuff.  Some booths even give away popcorn because the smell draws people to their booth.

First of all, what is swag?  Originally, swag meant a bouquet of flowers, and then later came to mean the loot stolen by a thief or a burglar.  Then it came to mean the bundle of items hobos carried with them in Australia.  Then swag (and the bag that carried these items — the swag bag) became part of the lexicon of Hollywood to describe the bag of goodies that Oscar nominees received as part of the honor of being nominated.

And here’s what separate the Trade Show Swag Hog from the ordinary trade show attendee.

1. They have way too much free stuff in their bags. In fact, they have two or three bags full of free stuff.  And the free stuff they have is from EVERY SINGLE BOOTH at the show.  Seriously, dude?  You’ve visited every single booth and taken something free from them?  Try to be at least a little selective.

2. They have a lot of pens, notepads, and other office supplies. The bags of popcorn, the fancy brochures, the water bottles: only a few of those.  But actual office supplies: tons of them. My theory? These guys work for underfunded startups and the main reason they are at the trade show is not to develop sales leads or network with colleagues or showcase a new product.  No, the main reason these guys are here is to restock the office supply cabinet for free.

3. They make the fake return visit. The Swag Hog shows up at your booth, pretends to listen to your pitch, acts interested and says he’s going to get a colleague, and takes one of your free pens and a free Post-It-Note pad with your company name on it.  He moves onto the next booth and does the same to them, then looks back at your booth.  “Oh, you’re talking to another customer?”  Time for the fake return visit.  They swoop back and pretend to look at your display, then casually grab a handful of your free pens and take off.

Here’s my proposed solution: make the swag at your booth free flowers (the original definition.)  There you go, sir, you can say: “Take this home to your wife or girlfriend.  If you have one.”  They will leave and never come back.  And not to worry.  The Swag Hog wasn’t going to be a paying customer anyway.