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Making the Most of Conferences with Creative Branding

“Dude, you gave me your concert tickets,” a new friend exclaimed at SXSW before taking a closer look. “Whoa, these are the second coolest business cards I’ve ever seen at a conference!!” ????


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“Yeah,” he says,” someone embedded marijuana seeds in their cards so you can throw it out on the ground and grow weed” ?? “he’s in first place. But this is awesome.”

With Austin’s conference winds to a close with a most welcome reminder than we’ll return to a world together, our minds are reeling with the fresh ideas and suggestions offered to make even more of the business cards, er… tickets, we spread throughout. Just days before the tradeshow, we found ourselves scrambling for a printer who didn’t presume we were trying to counterfeit real concert tickets; to get our hands on a pretty creative approach to business cards, ideally suited to MediaTech Ventures.

The best conference giveaways

Think back to the last conference where you spent some of your time, I’m sure you’re familiar with the branded swag bag, promptly filled with free stuff branded or themed.

Done well, you leave a great impression on attendees, but to be frank, I tend to find most of the material given away was waste of valuable company budgets thanks to a team who simply felt they had to do *something* to stand out.

Thanks for the production here, by the way, goes to Eventgroove, whose great customer service team put up with my frantic, last minute, questions, and who delivered these incredibly promptly (yes, we came up with the design for those).

On my way to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), decades ago with Yahoo!, a sales executive on the plane leaned over to me with a remark related, “I don’t bring my business cards,” said with a smile as he looked over my shoulder admiring my own, first ever, business cards. “If you can’t leave a memorable enough impression when meeting, your business card won’t make much of a difference; do something memorable for them and connect online.”

That quip stuck with me so much that today, I don a fedora and bow-tie familiar in town, and rarely carry business cards because we should be able to find meaningful reason we should know one another, without contact information on a card. That is, until these concert tickets; things can be memorable, when creative.

To help you give conference gifts that your attendees will find memorable, useful and fun, here are a few ideas to give you some inspiration.

Quality branded stationery

While we live in a digital world and collect more and more by way of our smartphones, that tends to also mean we don’t have a pen stuffed in a pocket. I often find myself searching for a notepad and pens to scratch and save or share some thoughts. At a conference, a nice leather diaries or creatively shaped sticky notes make your branding handy. These days, a QR code on there, maybe linked to something like an NFT, adds a hint of innovation.

Food and beverages

Most, greatly appreciate something small to enjoy when they’re on the move. Whether KIND bars because they have a great name, or cobranded candy, because who doesn’t love candy, at least speaking for myself, I’ve been known to skip a breakfast or lunch so that I can get in more face time with opportunities. A little food goes a long way.

Water bottles

The days of labeled single-use plastic water bottles are thankfully behind us (don’t do that); and a nice Yeti or creative bottle are ideal. At least one of us has taken too much late-night advantage of what a city has to offer and plenty of water is a welcome sign. A more creative tip: get filtered water brought in via dispenser so that everyone can congregate around the water cooler, rumor has it, great conversations emerge there.

An even more brilliant suggestion, give away water that is actually FreeWater. Incredibly well branded and designed, FreeWater’s own marketing and promotions are incredible, plus, ten cents from each beverage is donated to charity to build water wells for people in need.

Gift cards

In commerce or retail, selling merch, or making your art available online? A gift card enables attendees to choose what they want. And since it’s the size and shape of a business card, it’s a business card that people will remember to use again back in the office.

Eco-friendly gifts

Sustainability is finally at the forefront of everyone’s minds. From branded packets of seeds to grow-your-own kits for vegetables and plants, to business cards embedded with marijuana seeds, an eco-friendly gift is a unique way to encourage your attendees to think about the environment and take home a memento that keeps on giving. 


While smartphones are very annoyingly killing off the ports for headphones (and forcing everyone to wireless bluetooth), I, like millions of others like me, are holding out! And we constantly loose our headphones (which is why I don’t want to buy $80 wireless headphones). A great logo on the earbuds or slogan on the case, and you’ve made some appreciative fans.

Scratch cards

Giving your attendees a branded scratch card (yes, I said lottery style scratch cards), with some fun discoveries or prizes, usually keeps an audience around your booth while they scratch off. Everyone loves that anticipation, it’s the size of a business card and easy to keep, and if you think outside the box, you can direct people to your website or app to discover more or claim prizes.

Oh by the way, this is FreeWater

Branded clothing

Now, here’s where I’m on the fence a bit about apparel made available to guests. BE CREATIVE. I love a good logo’d shirt or hat WHEN it’s associated with where I’m working. But will others wear YOUR brand? Maybe, if it’s a great shirt. One of the great parallels I love about our work in Media is that we’re more exposed to the creativity of the Music and Film industries. When thinking about apparel to give away (or even sell), keep in mind people are more likely to wear an awesome shirt, than logo’d apparel (and that is, after all, what you want, yes?). Find a creative designer or hold a contest from which artists can provide distinct designs of your logo, associated with movie, music, historic, or artistic themes. You hand me a t-shirt with your logo on it and I’ll be frank (for your benefit), it probably goes in a drawer; but you if you hand me your logo on a shirt that looks like it’s from a rock concert, I’ll have it on next week.

Phone chargers / power banks

Just try to tell me you haven’t been in this position. You’re on the floor or at a late-night meetup, and your phone is near dead while your charger sits accidentally at home. One thing I love seeing at a conference, is that forward thinking tradeshow booth with a stack of phone chargers for the taking. Power strips, solar powered chargers, and phone cases that are second batteries, this can be an expensive tchotchke but you’ll win over many of fan when then can thank you by getting that phone back on to take a selfie with you.

We’d love some photos. What have you seen, what have you done, where have you found something amazing to use at a conference? Working with startups, we’re frequently asked what swag is best for a meetup or conference. What works for you?

Paul O'Brien

Silicon Valley technology and startup veteran, Paul O'Brien is affectionately known as SEO'Brien for an extensive past in the search industry. Today as CEO and Founder of MediaTech Ventures, O'Brien works in Venture Capital Economic Development, serving the investment and venture capital economies directly, through thought leadership, consulting, and startup development. More, a regional Director of the Founder Institute incubator and mentor in DivInc, Galvanize, and various startup Accelerators.

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  1. This is interesting, have seen branded paper pens with seeds in them.

    Merchandise is really important and still relevant. Bonus points if you can make people smile. People remember that feeling.

  2. *note to self* next year, concert ticket business cards embedded with marijuana seeds….. and bluetooth.

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