Swag: Chances are, you are staring at a collection of it on your desk right now, given to you at trade shows, conventions and meetings. The paperweights, stress balls and coffee mugs, adorned with logos, most mass-produced overseas, are all meant to remind you of a place or venue. Chances are you have enough of this stuff to last the rest of your work life.
There are other options, far more creative ways, especially in smaller cities that have become savvy at promoting themselves with locally made products, to remind attendees of a place. Here are a few ideas for swag with local swagger.
No one leaves modern-day Winston-Salem, North Carolina (visitwinstonsalem.com), without feeling the influence of the Moravians, a devout religious group from Eastern Europe who settled the area in 1753. Moravians brought their art, culture and, most of all, culinary traditions from the Old World to the new. Delicious aromas waft from kitchens, bakeries and restaurants that make Moravian chicken pies, sugar cakes and, most famously, the near-paper-thin ginger, clove and molasses Moravian cookies. Well packaged for transport, they are perfect gifts for meeting attendees to take home — that is, if they can manage not to eat them on the way.
Another Visit Winston-Salem favorite is tiny artworks dispensed by repurposed cigarette machines called Art-o-mat. Winston-Salem was the first U.S. city to establish an arts council, and the Art-o-mat was dreamed up by a local artist At 2-by-3 inches each, the art originals it dispenses are easy to carry home.
Locally Grown Gifts
When you grow things as deftly as Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley does, it’s only natural to share the bounty. The area is known as the Mushroom Capital and America’s Garden Capital, so many meeting planner gifts are tied to those themes, said Nina Kelly of the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau (www.brandywinevalley.com).
Marinated mushrooms, dried mushroom snacks and mushroom logs — compost material that grows mushrooms —are possibilities and remind visitors that the region produces over 60% of the nation’s crop. The area’s glorious gardens are celebrated with take-home gifts like seed packets, or agendas and menus produced with imbedded seeds to be planted later. Eclat Chocolate and Longwood Gardens have partnered on chocolates infused with herbs, a welcome gift for groups with ties to gardening, as well as those without.
All That and a Bag of Chips
You won’t be in Dayton, Ohio, long before you realize that it sparks innovation. The Wright brothers worked on their bikes and airplanes here. It’s the birthplace of the cash register, too. And lots of small companies that started in Dayton a century or more ago are still cranking out products beloved by locals and visitors. Most popular are Mike Sells chips. The Dayton Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.daytoncvb.com) buys small bags in bulk to hand out to attendees, according to Cathy Petersen.
Smales Pretzel Bakery is even older; it’s been making its snacks since 1906. Small bags of the bakery’s twists also make a tasty remembrance. To balance the salty snacks, four-piece boxes of Esther Price candies, made since 1926, and Dorothy Lane Market’s trademark Killer Brownies, layered with caramel, chocolate, nuts and other treats, are also hits.
Memories of meetings at the beach in Sarasota, Florida, can go beyond collecting seashells along the shoreline. One of the newest attendee gift suggestions offered by Visit Sarasota County (visitsarasota.org) is custom sneakers made by Landmarks. Its Beach Collection has three different shoes with artistic takes on beach scenes. They can be ordered from its area warehouse. Landmarks also donates a portion of each sale to a local charity.
Another gift with ties to the seashore is sea salt, harvested from Sarasota beaches. For those who look forward to a rum punch or a daiquiri as they chill with toes in the sand, a bottle of award-winning Siesta Key Rum is just right. The spirit is produced in Sarasota County, and planners can arrange tours of the distillery. Although it sounds kind of corporate, a themed Tervis tumbler makes a great local memento. The highly popular and customizable drinkware is made in Sarasota.
Meeting planners can also get good ideas from gifts they receive when a CVB welcomes them to town for a site visit. The Lincoln, Nebraska, CVB (lincoln.org) often assembles gift baskets filled with Wax Buffalo soy candles, a brand launched by a young Lincoln mom; coffee and trail mix from RU Nuts; licorice from Licorice International, a premier candy store in the Haymarket that sells 160 types of licorice; and an Abraham Lincoln stress figurine, a miniature of the Abraham Lincoln bobblehead in the Lincoln Visitors Center in the Haymarket.
The Springfield, Missouri, CVB (springfieldmo.org) recently did a promotion that included sending a box of local items to meeting planners. The box included a Springfield Cardinals baseball cap, a box of taffy branded from Wonders of Wildlife, a fishing lure from Bass Pro Shops, a jar of Leong’s cashew chicken sauce, postcards and a notebook and pen with the CVB logo.