This may come as a shock to some of you, but I have a day job that doesn’t involve writing about people peeing on the side of the road, sending cottage cheese through the bank drive-through tube, and making fun of the Kardashians. 

It seems my book royalties are not sufficiently high enough that I can retire on the beach and drink rum-intensive beverages. So, like all of you, I have a regular day job. I work on the education side of the fundraising/philanthropy world. And this means I often travel to conferences and inhabit a 10 by 10 booth, waiting for passersby to stop and ask about what we do. 

What we do is subject people to a 200-question, 4-hour exam so they can be credentialed in this industry. And if you’ve ever been to the exhibit hall of a convention, you know that all the exhibitors are competing for attention. So, they give away swag. 

Swag is the term for company-branded crap that seems awesome when you’re getting it for free, gets less awesome when you are packing your bags to go home, and is nowhere near awesome when it breaks or the printing fades a week after you get home. 

But people LOVE swag at conventions. Last week, my sister-in-law went to the Sweets and Snacks Convention in Chicago. She came home with three paper grocery bags filled with candy and snacks (food is the best swag, by the way). We had a gathering at our house and she poured it out on the kitchen table and let us go at it, picking our favorites. It was like adult Halloween! 

Earlier this year, I was at a conference where one vendor was giving out fuzzy slippers. The line was unbelievable and nobody went to the education sessions until they got their slippers.

Unfortunately, our organization has boring swag. We give away little ribbons with funny quotes you can attach to your conference badge. We’ve tried fundraising fortune cookies, pens, and notepads. All pretty bland. As you can imagine, I’ve made suggestions that I think would make us the talk of the convention, but my ideas go unheeded. 

For example, I used bubbles at one event. I paid $5 at CVS for a bottle in the toy aisle and then blew bubbles around the booth. The other vendors thought I was crazy (which I am) but the attendees loved it. Sadly, this was not adopted by the organization. I also suggested live goldfish, just like a carnival. That was dismissed with prejudice by our marketing director. 

But my dream swag stunt would be the t-shirt cannon. You’ve probably seen the t-shirt guns at sporting events. Well, the University of Nebraska has a t-shirt cannon that shoots 114 shirts in under 10 seconds. It’s so big, it has to be pulled on a trailer. I have been recommending we add this to our swag repertoire with no success. 

Who could NOT love this idea? Why passively distribute your swag when you can spray it around the entire exhibit hall faster than you can say, “Would you like to learn about our organization?” 

Oh, you’re going to learn about our organization alright! It’s coming at you at the speed of a Major League fastball via a cotton/polyester blend bullet that should be washed in cold and dried on low!

Someday, I’m going to drive that sweet weapon of promotional marketing warfare onto the floor of our industry’s biggest convention, launch a few hundred screen-printed salvos into the heart of the exhibit hall, and then stroll proudly out while the big vendors/exhibitors watch with their jaws on the floor.  

As the song says, “To live and die it seems, is a waste without a dream.”*

Carry on, Citizens!

From the song Looking For Me Somewhere by the Bodeans.