1. Sell Your Guests
We don't mean this literally, of course. We're talking about demographics. When it comes to getting the goods in your goodie bags, you have to give companies a compelling reason to participate. "The only reason someone is going to give free products is to reach a demographic that they're looking for exposure with," says Debra Scott, formerly of the New York firm Luxe Bags, and who recently joined Distinctive Assets in Los Angeles. Scott says she gets too many calls from potential clients looking for just anyone to give away products. "I don't think there's any real strategy that takes place," she says. "People just call anybody and everybody, instead of thinking and targeting the type of company that would be interested in their demographics." By convincing companies to think of your gift bag as another advertising medium, you have a better shot of getting them to pony up their products. Guests will be happier with their loot, too, if it's actually targeted to them.
2. Forget the Filler
"Don't fill your bag with junk just for the sake of having a bag," says Caryl Chinn, group director of culinary marketing at Karlitz & Company. The reason: "If guests don't feel the bags are worthwhile, they could end up all over the street outside your venue—that's your brand in the gutter." What constitutes "junk"? Brochures or literature, and branded tchotchkes like mints and pens. (We write for a living, and even we don't want another pen.) If that eliminates everything you have to give, remember that there's no rule that you have to provide a bag at the end of the night. "I think it's better to do no gift bag at all than to create one that's going to leave guests disappointed when they open it," says Amy McFarland, co-founder of gift bag company Snap Sacks. "I'd rather [guests simply] walk away thinking, 'That was a spectacular event, and I had a great time.'" If you don't have enough for a bag, Chinn recommends putting a favor at guests' place settings, such as a small box of chocolates or cookies.
3. Hunt Down Something Unexpected
For gift bags that get talked about, make sure yours contain at least one item that will wow your guests. "I always like to have at least one weird or wonderful item," says Stephanie Jo Klein, founder of New York–based gift bag marketing firm Klein Creative Communications, "something really fun." At a recent women-oriented book launch, Klein included an item called the Cleavage Cooler—an aromatherapy sachet that can be frozen and then tucked into a bra—that guests went gaga over. Unusual or overstuffed bags often get press attention, and great buzz about a bag "keeps people talking about an event and gets them excited to attend the event next year," McFarland says.
4. Consider the Size
Everyone loves a gift bag chock full of goodies like large bottles of upscale alcohol and beauty products, but strive for balance when it comes to size. If your event is an after-work cocktail party or early evening affair—leaving guests time for after-event dinner plans—consider a smaller, less bulky bag, says Sara Dallaire, manager of special events for Tiffany & Company. On the other hand, don't make it so lightweight it lacks a wow factor, Klein says. "Gift certificates are wonderful, but you shouldn't give a gift bag that's only filled with paper. The bag should feel like there's some weight to it."
5. Control End-of-the-Event Chaos
We've all seen bad behavior at an event's exit—some people will do anything to get a gift bag (or two, or four). "People love free [stuff ]," Klein says. "They'll want to take 10, even if it stinks." To keep greedy goodie bag grabbers in check, you need a system. Increasingly, event planners are forgoing the random, end-of-the-evening handouts in favor of more organized systems. "I definitely recommend having a strong person as the gift bag captain, as it's never an easy distribution," says Lindsey Hicky, special projects director of Condé Nast Traveler. At the magazine's recent Hot List party, Hicky and her staff gave guests branded poker chips as they entered the event; guests redeemed them on their way out to get a gift bag. "This process worked well, and better managed the multibag requests," she says. Klein has started using customized rubber bracelets that have the event name on them and tiny tearaway labels that can be ripped off to redeem a gift bag. "If you don't have the bracelet and tag, you don't get a goodie bag," she says. "The whole point is not to have it be a free-for-all." Still, sticky-fingered attendees aren't worth causing a scene. "The best thing is to be very gracious and have lots of extras," Dallaire says.
—Erika Rasmusson Janes
This story originally appeared in the August/September 2005 issue of the BiZBash Event Style Reporter.
5 Tips for Gift Bags
Yes, everybody likes free stuff, but putting together a great sack of goodies isn't so simple.
1. Sell Your Guests