FROM THE Spring 2017 ISSUE

    Meeting planners and promotional companies champion products at meetings and conferences.

Thanks to key industries like agribusiness, life science, energy and advanced manufacturing, the state of Pennsylvania is home to thousands of meetings and conferences each year. Meeting planners understand that the trick for the success of these events it to be buzzworthy and have the memories linger long after the day is over. That’s why promotional products are so important. 

“Everybody wants to have something useful that people remember them by,” says Marianne Roberts, owner of Roberts Event Services in Marietta. “Meeting planners want their members to have a memorable experience and have fun, so they make sure to have interesting promotional items that they can give away. A useful promotional product is the best because it is more likely to be circulated from person to person.”

A savvy promotional item is a gift that will remind the recipient of an event or company for days, weeks or even months after it ends, and can be as simple as a notepad and pen, or as advanced as a briefcase depending on the budget. Promotional products are relevant in 2017 because they can include vital information like a company’s name, future important dates to remember and can even show the advertisers and sponsors for an event.

Successful companies know that promotional products offer advantages such as instant recall, repeated exposure, favorable impressions and increased business.

Jenna Worrell, sales and marketing coordinator for Visit Bucks County, notes promotional items are great for meetings because they allow a brand to remain in the minds of attendees during and after the meeting is over. For the cost of a promotional giveaway, that’s a pretty great ROI.

“Promo items at meetings act as both a conversation starter and a sign of gratitude from the company for people attending the meeting,” she says. “Plus, who doesn’t love free stuff?”

Joe Bass, owner and promotional product specialist at Good Promotional Products in Bridgeville, says each event is different and the promotional products should match the goals the company or meeting is trying to achieve. For trade shows, he recommends stress balls, pens, shirts and hats, while bigger events he chooses to go with things like branded portable cell phone chargers that can be carried easily in a pocket or purse.

“Things that are a hit these days … a lot of apparel,” Bass says. “People seem more interested in shirts, hats and anything they can wear. As long as you can put a logo on it, it’s hot.”

R. Keith McNally, an independent meeting planner operating out of Lebanon, has been working in the industry since serving as director of tourism for the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitor’s Bureau 25 years ago. He has seen a reduction in promotional products in recent years, which he attributes to the challenge of finding something useful.

“How many more bags do you need? he asks. “Conference attendees understand that it’s their money paying for these things so you need to find something that people will appreciate.”

McNally recently discovered that attendees at a recent conference liked the logoed umbrellas, as well as lanyards with flash drives, so he stresses the importance of finding the right items.


Promotional product trends are changing all the time. Trends recently have started to shift to more eco-friendly items, such as water bottles and BPAfree travel tumblers, but now tech products are more in vogue. 

“Anything that you can think of tech-wise that you can put a logo on is what millennials are interested in, and they are having a bigger presence at these events,” Bass says. “Everything from laptop covers all the way down to chargers, all the way over to briefcases or laminated portfolios. They are all promotional items geared toward this segment.”

Worrell notes that both meeting attendees and public consumers are interested in creative and inventive products that are relevant to their needs, so modern, useful and nifty gadgets that have a unique purpose, especially to make their lives easier and more efficient, go over best. 

“For example, cell phone cases with built-in credit card holders, a magnetic car holder for your cell phone, portable headphones, portable chargers, etc., are all practical and enjoyable items to receive,” she says. “Being brought up and educated on technology, electronic promotional items cater best toward the younger age groups.”

Roberts says recent trends include products that are practical, which includes brand-name drink containers such as Tervis, Contigo and Yeti—high-quality products that can be vacuum-sealed or insulated. 

“Many organizations like to use journals as their promotional product,” Roberts says. “Foldable umbrellas are old fashioned, but they never go out of style. People borrow them from one another and leave them behind, and this contributes to the circulation of the promotion.”

Leslie Bowen, owner of Leslie Janeen, LLC, a Washington D.C.-based meeting consultant who regularly arranges meetings in Pennsylvania, says promotional items are what reinforces the message from the meeting so there is a science to choosing the right items

“You want that take-home item that reinforces the company’s brand and their messaging in one item,” she says. “When I address clients, they may say they want to give out antibacterial wipes, but if it has nothing to do with the company, then that’s not the best way to get your message out. I like to tailor the item to the client or industry. Sometimes it’s not about having the newest or hottest item; it’s about having the most relevant item that makes sense and there’s a natural connection between the item and the brand.”

Bowen has seen portable speakers rise in popularity of late, and still recommends green products to many clients. 


Cheap promotional items are definitely out, according to most meeting planners. No one wants a tacky “throw away” item, like a keychain or koozie. 

“Promotional products are held to higher expectations with companies increasing their budgets for these items to keep up with the demand and desire for more modern, high-quality and long-lasting items,” Worrell says. “The whole idea behind a leave-behind item is to keep your brand in front of the receiver as long as possible. Though potentially more costly, it is overall a better investment to purchase promo items that you know the receiver will use daily.”

A lot of old-time promotional products have been replaced by an upgraded version. The standard coffee mug has been replaced by portable tumblers; pad folios have been replaced by journals; and insulated totes are becoming much more popular than the basic conventional tote.  

Bass says that while it may seem like items such as calendars and stress balls are falling out of favor, there are always those old-school clients who will put in a request for such items, so nothing is really ever completely obsolete. Even sewing kits and tool sets can still be memorable and useful gifts.

“Every year new things and innovative products will come out, but the staples are the ones you stick with because they are known and they are proven to work year after year,” he says. 

Bowen agrees that there are some people and corporations that don’t change with the times, but there are some items she wishes would go away

“Really cheaply made pens are something I really hate to see or receive at a show,” she says. “You don’t want people thinking your company only sees them being worth this 25-cent pen. I’m also not a fan of the gel-based hand sanitizers.”


Kristen George, area director of corporate sales for Landmark Hospitality (which owns and operates Hotel du Village and owns Logan Inn), provides a logoed pen and scratch pad to all clients.

“I do offer an outside promotional item, which has a cost, but often I will provide a complimentary team-building kit [Defrost Kit] so they can do their own team-building with little to no cost either before, during or after their meeting,” she says. “Once they request this item they are connected with the teambuilding company that provided it [Simple Creations Team Building] to receive an instructional video and booklet so they can execute this successfully.”

When Roberts sits down with those running or exhibiting at the meeting, she’ll first sit down with the individuals and discuss what types of things they are interested in giving away.

“If they have no ideas, then I suggest that they visit my website to look at different options,” she says. “As soon as there is an idea, then I go ahead and order samples for them.”

Bowen, like most meeting planners, is inundated by promotional companies, and she’s willing to work with new vendors based on the quality of their outreach. If she gets a nice sample, she’s more inclined to reach out for an upcoming job.

The main purpose of promotional products is to get a company or brand’s logo noticed and recognized by potential clients. Unlike traditional forms of advertising, promotional items get a company’s name on tangible, everyday products and help boost a company’s familiarity and overall reliability in the eyes of the customer. 

Over these past two years we’ve all become adept at managing virtual meetings. In 2022, we have a new challenge—hybrid meetings, where some attendees are in the room and others are Zooming in from remote location. In their new book Suddenly Hybrid: Managing the Modern Meeting (Wiley), Emmy-winning broadcaster Karin M. Reed and Joseph A. Allen, Ph.D., a leading expert on workplace meetings, offer a guide to navigating this new normal. We asked the authors about how to encourage a robust exchange of ideas during hybrid meetings.  


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