17 May 2021 | by Katie Perez

When it comes to corporate events, the landscape has changed dramatically in the last year. Arguably we were headed in the direction of virtual and hybrid events for some time before the pandemic, but the landscape of 2020 fast-tracked the process. For the past year, people have been seeing the benefits of virtual events, not least among these, the huge decrease in the environmental footprint. 

While it is easy to see the environmental benefits of less worldwide travel and less food and event-based wastage, one of the less obvious positive impacts of fewer live corporate events is the dramatic decrease in corporate swag. While everyone loves a tote bag, and maybe you really do need that USB stick, when you think about the energy and resources that go into making these brand tokens, that will most likely end up in a landfill, it is quite staggering.

Fewer live events equal fewer branded freebies. While this may mean you can’t find that garishly branded ballpoint pen from that long ago event when you need it, with the world’s beady eyes on sustainable business practices, this decrease in the churning out of swag that people rarely want or expect, can only be seen as a positive. And according to our CEO Dale Parmenter when he was interviewed for Wall Street Journal this is a trend that was materialising pre-pandemic with a shift away from appreciation of these free gifts.

“When you’re getting your head around the sustainability agenda, you’re starting to think, ‘are people appreciative that we bought them another T-shirt with a convention name stamped across it, that probably doesn’t fit them?’” Mr. Parmenter said. “I’m not entirely sure they are.”

So, what are the alternatives?

With this in mind many organisations are switching to more sustainable options such as customised giving, where delegates can select their gifts from a list or gifting services providing personalised freebies, tailored more closely to the individual. When you think about it, this is a logical step in the personalisation of the delegate journey, so as well as decreasing waste and the general production cost, you are simultaneously improving the delegate experience and increasing engagement in your event. Win, win!

Other alternatives include offering experiences at the events themselves. Several well-reported studies show that millennials are prioritising experiences over stuff. For instance, a back massage, a yoga class, a free headshot or even a good meal can make your brand stand out more than a free swag bag. If you wrap the event in your branding and create a meaningful experience for the delegate, there’s a good chance your target customer will remember that experience long after the swag bag is stuffed in a landfill somewhere.

Everyone loves free stuff, and our brains are wired from an early age to like surprises and gifts, but there is a big difference between the impulse to pick up a freebie at an event and the desire to actually take it home and use it. If you can cater to this impulse in a meaningful way and not just offer a short-term colourful distraction that is easily discarded, then you are on to a winner. Getting someone to remember your event or your brand after they have left is not about filling their homes with swag, it is about creating a meaningful connection with that person. The best way to do this is to make sure you are offering them value, showing them you know them, have done your homework and are catering to them and not just the masses.

The age of the generic, mass produced corporate swag is beginning to fade and, in its place a more responsible and sustainable response to event gifting from personalised gifts to experiences. You can create the same impact with a lower cost to both your organisation and most importantly the planet.


If you are planning an event and want to know some of the best ways to engage with your delegates through gifting and experiences, get in touch with us at hello@penguins.co.uk or if you want to find out some more ways to decrease the environmental impact of your event, check out our blog 5 tips to help you increase sustainability at your event.

Katie Perez

By Katie Perez

Content & Campaign LeadMore articles by Katie Perez