Major conferences are shipping swag to your door as Covid-19 shuts down business events industry

Noble Horvath

The media summit swag bag is likely a money-loser after factoring in shipping costs, Rosenbaum said, but there is hope it could drive more late interest and sales for the event. Recipients have been posting pictures of the swag bag on social media, he said, getting the event in front […]

The media summit swag bag is likely a money-loser after factoring in shipping costs, Rosenbaum said, but there is hope it could drive more late interest and sales for the event. Recipients have been posting pictures of the swag bag on social media, he said, getting the event in front of more people.

 

Zoom and a host of other videoconferencing platforms have made it relatively easy to shift event programming online. But the events are competing for attention with Netflix, children, dinner and other distractions. Without the perks of letting people pass business cards and chat over pastries, virtual events are left asking a smaller audience to pay chopped-down ticket prices. Online conferences pull in about 13% of the revenues expected for in-person equivalents, according to a September report from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, a trade group. The same report projected that large business events are unlikely to return until late summer or fall next year. 

 

Trapped in the digital realm, the race is on to find new ways to engage people.

 

Just about every organization we work with is sending a kit—bottles of wine, a meal kit, a cocktail kit—as an elevated ticket package, said Eric Wielander, strategic director at Eventique, an event planner in Midtown. 

 

Major events are incorporating packages by mail into their virtual programming. The New York City Wine & Food Festival, last year held at Pier 97, is mailing meal kits to people who sign up for a $130 burger bash Oct. 9, hosted online by Rachael Ray. Comic Con, typically held at the Javits Center, launches Oct. 8 with premium ticket packages starting at $70 that include mailed autographs and other merchandise related to the conferences many panels. 

 

Most events are thinking smaller. Water bottles, mugs, candy and cookies are the most popular items for virtual swag bags, according to Jeremy Parker, chief executive of swag.com, a virtual marketplace for promotional items.

 

This has been the strongest month in the Garment District companys five-year history, Parker said, with more than $1 million in sales. The company expects to reach revenues of about $10 million this year, up from $7 million last year, despite the loss of sales from in-person events.

 

Swag.com was at first boosted by companies sending branded merchandise to new remote employees, but Parker said sales from virtual events are climbing quickly.

 

It is a very weird time, and everyone is trying to figure out how to make an impact and connect, he said. If you are not in-person, how do you show people that you care? 

 

One way, he said, is a nicely presented box of freebies.

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