Vendor: ‘Can We Do Another Box?’ Swag Boxes Piling up the Dollars and Fun

“It is crazy in our office. All those drive-by pickup people are coming today and tomorrow. We have about 20 sponsors—a school, a math tutoring company, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Girl Scouts, Maryland Hall for Creative Arts, Annapolis Pediatrics… We go live Monday night.”


That’s from an email from Donna Jefferson, publisher of Chesapeake Family, sent me last week with the accompanying picture you see. What’s going live is their annual STEAM Fair, pushed to the virtual stage this year but advanced forward by the “event boxes” that participants pay for.


There will be four days of early evening events, starting tonight, and although they are geared for kids, other publishers have proven that adults can have the same wide-eyed enthusiasm getting swag boxes as kids.


About a month ago, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, a Financial Times company, sent me a unique video that they “published on the value sponsors can get from sponsoring virtual events and providing swag.” In the very funny video, two young children open a swag box meant for one of their parents. You see the enthusiasm and playfulness of the kids, and it makes the point that what’s wrong with a little swag in all of our lives, young or older.


“I thought this video did a great job showing that virtual sponsorships can have huge value,” Fink wrote me. “Money-Media doesn’t do a lot of conferences, but our parent company’s conference division, FT Live, does tons of events. They asked to use the video clip as a way to encourage sponsors to provide swag for virtual events. Those are the video producer’s kids.”


Taking a step back, the idea of event boxes is many-fold: provide some of the swag that we’re used to getting at in-person events; help ensure that people registered for events will actually attend; give your sponsors and exhibitors another way—a very personal way—to connect with your audience; and inject some fun into a tough period.


Bustle Digital Group (BDG) started giving away product kits ahead of some of its sponsored events. These kits include items like yoga mats—for its virtual yoga retreat—and lip glosses in order to make for a more immersive experience, but also to get attendees more engaged with the sponsoring brands. The event kits were complementary for the first 150 attendees to RSVP.” Always good to set a limit like that—gives people more incentive to respond quickly.


“It’s important to get products into consumers’ hands,” said BDG president and CRO Jason Wagenheim, adding that this will enable them to promote via word of mouth and social media, turning attendees into micro-influencers for brand sponsors.


We know that vendors and exhibitors still very much need to connect with customers. “We work with sponsors and brand partners to acquire products, and we also go direct to factories to have specific products manufactured for every box,” says David Webb, editor-in-chief of Explore, which has also gone all in event boxes. “Our brand partners are a big part of the box—they appreciate that they can get their materials and products directly into the hands of active users and buyers through us.”

Explore now has a warehouse and factories on contract. They learned quickly that the boxes take a commitment to do, so now they do it for others. “We had to learn everything from the ground up,” Webb said. “We packed the first test box in our office, and the next one at a warehouse space. We learned it all on the fly, and used these lessons to be better with the next one.”


For Jefferson, while the office looks like a shipping warehouse, the process has been mostly smooth. Because Chesapeake Family is a regional publisher, people have the option of driving by and picking up the boxes, or, of course, they can be shipped.


“We used Fed Ex to do the shipping—that was the most expensive part, and only one complaint that it arrived damaged. We replaced it right away.”


She said the demand, as you can see, has been huge. “One vendor has already asked if we could do another box. So far, so good.”

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