October 28, 2005

TIME OUT: Conference Swag

We love it.
When the description is more interesting than the session, conference goers skip out to search for swag. This year’s ACP conference was swag deficient. Perhaps the hasty relocation to Kansas City from New Orleans caused vendors to scale back their presence, if they even showed up at all. However for every item we pass up, someone back home will want it.

I knew a copy editor who loved media pens. She squealed like it was Christmas morning when I returned from the ACP conference in Orlando with a 25 pens – all for her. On the final day of that conference, I asked conference organizers for extra name badges. They served our staff as reporting kits. They held our press passes, reporter’s notebooks, pens, and business cards.

A veteran of the journalism conference circuit, I’ve inadvertently started collecting reporters notebooks. I have about 75. Occasionally, I dig into my bag of swag and give a staffer a gift from the media gods. For many, a Knight-Ridder hacky sack or New York Times coffee mug goes a long way when it’s accompanied by praise for a job well done.
Many journalists have problems with the ethics of accepting swag, as they should. Don't trade your integrity for an iPod. Staff manuals should contain a code of ethics addressing gifts. If there's any question about accepting swag -- don't.
My theory is that the praise accompanying the re-gifted swag is the real value. Staffers don't care about the “Rent” poster or the pen from the Associated Press.
Just as you never know what’s going to send a staff member over the edge, you never know what’s going to put a smile on his or her face. Before throwing away share the wealth while offering praise.