In higher education we love our swag. The polos, the stress balls, I do not think I have purposely purchased an ink pen since Prince’s 1999 was about the future. And the swag comes from everywhere, and there are categories, more on that later. But this post is bout my favorite piece of swag and for me that is simple.
So, when I took the job as Executive Director of the Florida Consortium one the first things, I did was to hire an Assistant Director of Communications and Marketing. I hired a woman named LaToya Hodge. One of the first things we did was to discuss how to properly market the Consortium and send the right kind and level of message using our promo items. We decided on two things above all – the first was a well-made folder. We wanted to make sure when we were presenting something there was a vessel to present it with class and simplicity. Also, since we were a collective group who was built on network improvement, we felt an item where we can deliver everything in one package was a bit symbolic.
Now, what we needed was a good pen. Not a stick pen, not a highlighter, a nice pen. As we talked, we discussed why this was important. First, every group has branded pens, that is not unique, but not all invest in good pens. And think about it when you get a good pen at a conference you notice. You use it. It elevates past collecting in your drawer and goes to, on your desk or portfolio. So, we looked for style and quality. And we found the one pictured with the blog post. Here is what we liked about it; the ink was smooth and came out at a .8 rate so a bold mark but not a thick mark. Secondly, we wanted one of those little rubber dot things on the pen that you can use as a stylus. That is a cool look and I use pens that have those all the time. Then there was the “click”. It needed to make a statement. I wanted to hear it. It announced, this is a good pen.
But there was more, this was the first pen that really represented what we were trying to do. Work on something new and innovative, we cannot cut corners on change like that. Now, I am not sure why or how this became a thing, but the pens have been a hit. And we got a great deal on them, so we have a TON of these pens. And in just about every office on my three campuses I visit I see people using these pens. This includes my President’s and Provosts. This shows reach and I really like that. Also, it is a conversation starter. How many times have you had a good pen, and someone wanted to know where you got it? A true marketing item. And I know that a pen is not that big of a deal, so I realize that in the end, its just a pen, but its our pen and LaToya and I made a good call there.
As for swag in general. There are four categories of SWAG and the quality of said SWAG differs a lot.
- Conference SWAG – These items usually differ depending on two factors, are you an attendee or are you presenting or on the conference committee. Usually, conference committee is the best. High end portfolios, nice pens, maybe a thumb drive. I even got a small Bluetooth speaker one year I use on the patio all the time. As an attendee you get maybe a pen, stress ball, and one of my least favorite items, the canvas bag. While I can appreciate the meaning (sustainability and to carry all the swag) these rarely make the suitcase.
- University SWAG – These are your staff shirts and coffee mugs and the like. You usually get these for a “holiday” thank you gift from your VP or as part of your office marketing tools. The cool polo is really the best. Now you have school colors to wear to the game and they look sharp when done well. The other side of this are things you will never use. I have like 10 university mousepads, no less than 500 highlighters, especially the ones with the little sticky tabs, just useless.
- Student SWAG – These are the items we give out to students and which students buy themselves. These usually have no real utility but have collectability. An example of this is each year UCF produces a rubber duck for Homecoming to promote our campus pep rally called Spirit Splash (if you have not seen it, watch this, its pretty amazing). It will remind you how great things were before COVID.
- Promotional SWAG from companies – to be fair, these companies would hook us up if it was not outside of our ethics and compliance rules, so this is not their fault but really, the pieces of candy and the cheap pens are fine, but they really don’t do much. I would much rather have a login code for a week on their site or a white paper I can use more. No shade, it is just I’m not going to be sold because you got me a package of sour patch kids.
So, this was fun, what is your favorite item of SWAG?