You decided that participating in a trade show should be part of your marketing plan. You paid your rental fee, and you bought some nice signage and displays that will attract attention and encourage people to stop at your booth and talk with you about your products and services.

Other than the cost of travel, if the show is out of town, you have all your expenses covered – except, of course, the money you will spend on items to give away to potential customers. You’ll certainly want them to remember your business and your contact information, and the best way to accomplish that feat is to give them items they will hang onto and use after the trade show or convention comes to an end.

But Isn’t That Expensive?

If you really want to, you can spend a lot of money on giveaways. Depending on how many items you buy, T-shirts, laptop bags, stainless steel water bottles, baseball caps, duffel bags and jump drives can cost anywhere from $3 to $20 each. Polo shirts and dress shirts emblazoned with your company logo can set you back as much as $50 each.

Considering how much these items cost, you should ask yourself some important questions before you decide which items you are going to give to the people who drop by your booth.

  • Are your freebies useful after the show? – Many companies give away backpacks, pens, notepads and tote bags because people can (and will) use them once they leave the show.
  • Are your freebies fun? – Silly stuff is always popular. People will flock to your booth once they find out you’re the one giving away stuffed monkeys that scream when you hurl them across the room or balls that bounce really high.
  • Are your freebies useful at the show? – You can attract attendees to your booth by giving out snacks or drinks. Some people will be spending much of the day at the trade show, and they’ll probably appreciate a cold drink and something to eat.

Less Expensive Options

You can spend a lot of money if you are dead set on having the best giveaway at the show. However, you can choose from a wide range of reasonably inexpensive items that will remind people about what your business does long after the show is over.

  • Pens – Even in our digital world, everyone still uses pens, and, relatively speaking, they don’t cost much.
  • Coffee mugs – People other than coffee drinkers use mugs. They work just as well for other beverages, and they also can be paperweights or serve as storage for pens and pencils.
  • Key chains and key chain flashlights – Most people have keys, and a flashlight is a useful tool, especially for opening a door at night.
  • Lip balm and hand sanitizer – These are both popular personal items. However, as soon as the product is used up, the container, along with your advertising message, will go into the trash can.
  • Chip bag clips – Nobody likes stale chips or pretzels, so your potential customers will probably keep these around the house or office and see them often.
  • Golf tees – They don’t cost much, and anyone who plays golf will find them useful.
  • Eyeglass cleaning cloths – Even if your potential customers don’t wear glasses, these can be used on a computer screen or a keyboard.
  • Reusable shopping bags – These are useful, and they’ll also help the people who visit your booth feel good about being kind to the environment.
  • Reusable water bottles – People take these along to the grocery store, the mall, the ballpark and everywhere else they go. That means those who didn’t attend the trade show also will see your message.
  • Sticky notes and notepads – Many people use these around the house and at the office.
  • Tape measures and rulers – These are useful at home and at the office, so you can expect people to hang onto them for quite a while.
  • Calculators – Some people still use calculators, even though they are included on most smartphones.

Prizes are Good

Keep in mind that your freebies don’t have to be items people take away from the trade show. Many visitors would be thrilled with a relaxing chair massage, which they certainly would appreciate after a long, hard day at the show. As a bonus to you, they’ll also be spending more time at your booth.

Another option is to let your visitors compete for prizes. They can guess how many marbles are in a large jar or spin a wheel to determine what their prize will be. You can give away gift cards that can be used at local or online stores. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on prizes; people will visit your booth simply for the opportunity to compete. They won’t care what the prize is as long as they win it.

Be as creative and innovative as possible when you decide what to give away at a trade show, but keep in mind that your goal should be to make sure those who visit your booth remember you when the show is over.

Allison Rice is the Marketing Director for Amsterdam Printing (, a leading provider of promotional marketing pens and other promotional products to grow your business and thank customers. Allison regularly contributes to the Small Business Know-How blog, where she provides actionable business tips.