Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Joy of Swag

Let's face it: we reason most of us work is for the money. Of sure, there's the joy of being part of a team. And the satisfaction of a job well done. And the feeling of starting something and seeing it through to a conclusion. And yada yada yada. But at the end of the day or week or biweek, what really counts is the number on the check that we use to buy the necessitates of life, like chips and salsa.

Unless there's swag involved.

For those of you not familiar with the term, swag is/are the goodies that any given company, team, band or enterprise has that sports their logo. Not to be confused with officially licensed merchandise, examples are as varied as snowflakes, but also as ubiquitous as Justin Bieber missteps. Virtually desk in America boasts at least one pen emblazoned with the symbol of a well-known company, and/or a coffee mug with the same. And it can go way beyond that. At the lower levels there are can coolers and key chains and stress balls. Look to the top, and the ne plus ultra might be a winter parka or designer fleece. And if that fleece sports an Olympic or Super Bowl logo, you're talking Holy Grail material.

But just as it costs only a few cents to manufacture a medal, earning one usually requires, if not risking your life, at least showing up. And that's the right way to acquire said booty. It's not the same if your next door neighbor knows somebody who knows somebody who can get you an iPhone Developers Conference water bottle. In that case, you may as well just buy it on eBay. No, for swag to really "count," you have to be in it to win it.

Even then, there are levels of personal involvement. At the bottom are goodies from the trade show thrown by vendors who sponsor the organization. As you walk around to find out about the latest in accounting software or restaurant equipment, manufacturers' reps will offer some cheap chachka they hope you will display proudly back at home. Like an adult version of trick or treat, hold out your official carrying bag (swag itself!), and they will drop in flashlights, stadium cups, sunglasses and adorable plush animals each labeled prominently with the sponsor's name. Looking in my backpack as I write this, I see a tube of Donnelly Corp. branded generic chapstick obtained at some show. And no, I have no idea what they really make.

Further up the chain is the official golf shirt or hat or pullover given to all who attend the meeting. It's one per person, and so scarcity and exclusivity confer a higher level of value. To get this item, you have to be a registered attendee at the event. That means when you get back to home base and wear it, others in your circles will recognize you for the high flier you are, or just as likely, the guy who is way behind on his workload after having been out of the office for a week.

Finally there's the same item referenced above, but bestowed as a thank you by the client to the worker bees who make the event run. This is the world I inhabit. Me and my ilk see the stuff that the attendees are sporting, and hope that perhaps the people hiring us will score a few extra to distribute. Never mind that we are professionals, and being paid to do our jobs. Rather, it's like we're back in middle school, and covet that cool stuff that we see all the other kids wearing.

Until we get home that is. Then we open a closet to find 20 others like it that we lusted after at the time, and are now pushed to the back and forgotten. That's because the reality is this: where you gonna wear it now? Not to another client. After all, you can't wear a Pepsi jacket to a Coke event. And there are not many social occasions where the right fashion statement is a tee shirt immortalizing the 2003 National Dairy Council Strategy Summit. With one exception, that is: when you need to cut the lawn, there is nothing more stylish.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is very proud of his Olympic jacket, though he didn't go to Sochi to get it. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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