Whether a vendor holiday gift to clients, a corporate gift or a conference takeaway, there’s a lot of crap with corporate logos out there. And I’m sick of it. I have drawers full of crap, and it keeps coming. And so today I’m going to do something about it! That’s right — I’m going to complain.

The Plan Your Meetings staff tells me someone stood up at a planning meeting once and said, “I don’t need another stress ball!” Remember those? How many of those did you get? Where are they now? That’s right — in the trash.

And how many other things can you say this for? Try it out:

  • I don’t need another calculator!
  • I don’t need another T-shirt!
  • I don’t need another coffee mug!
  • I don’t need another water bottle!
  • I don’t need another tote bag!
  • I don’t need another clock!
  • I don’t need another mousepad!

HINT: It helps if you use expletives too!

And that’s just the typical crap everyone hands out. Some places come up with creative, new forms of crap: A few Christmases ago, a vendor gave everyone a Coleman lantern. We work in New York City. I wouldn’t even know where to get fuel for this thing. It’s still sitting unopened on everyone’s desk. And it reminds us what idiots they are for getting it for us. Not exactly what they were hoping for, I think.

Another example: A few years back an executive creative director bought everyone a hula hoop. The accompanying card explained that we needed to have more simple, creative ideas, and he hoped this inspired us. At first this led to a number of broken glasses, as the more adventurous were sure they could do it (they couldn’t). But after a week of hundreds of these laying around the office, getting in the way, it became a symbol of how stupid and out of touch he was. No one missed him when he eventually left.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, last month our company gave everyone a mousepad/calculator with our logo on it.  It’s the Swiss Army Knife of pointless! That was our Christmas gift. Sadly, this is not a joke.

Not to be outdone, the staff at PYM tells me a fertility clinic once gave a mousepad with plastic sperm in it, and when you moved your mouse, the sperm swam around. I refused to believe them — this must be an exaggeration — but it turns out they saved it to trot out as a negative example for future generations of planners. Here’s a photo:

So yeah, there’s a lot of crap out there. But how do you know it’s crap? I’d say crap is …

  • left on the table at the conference.
  • a carton of stuff at a thrift shop that no one will buy for a nickel.
  • in your way everywhere you turn.
  • a team-building T-shirt appearing soon on a homeless guy near you.
  • something the office clown will mock behind your back. And he will mock it. I know because I am your office clown.

One day, someone decided that giving coffee mugs to office workers was a good premium, because people would drink out of it every day and continue to see the logo. And maybe that was true once, but I’ve worked in a number of offices, and in every single kitchen, the cupboards overflow with vendor coffee cups. Nobody, and I mean nobody, needs another coffee mug!

And don’t get me started on T-shirts. No one over 30 will wear your T-shirt, even on laundry day. Maybe they’ll wear it under a sweater if it’s high-quality cotton, white, and with a subtle logo that won’t be visible. But really, if that T-shirt doesn’t end up at a Salvation Army, then it’s being used to mop up grease in the garage.

You know what? I think I’d rather just get a card that says “A piece of crap swag has been sent to a landfill in your name.” Just cut out the middleman and send it right to the trash.

Having said that, what’s wrong for one group might work for another. For instance, if you’re planning a conference for 20-something techies, then T-shirts will work, because anything that lets them postpone laundry another day is something they’ll wear. And another coffee mug? Sure, they’ll take that home because then they’ll have two cups for the next time someone comes over to play the latest version of Call of Duty.

But not all swag is crap. Some of it is actually good.

To my way of thinking good is …

  • anything your coworker or spouse will steal from you.
  • something they still use long after.
  • something that your boss sees someone else do and says, that’s cool, we need to do that.

Walk around your office and see what people are using, what they are ignoring, and what there is way too much of. I think you’ll see my point.

At my desk people always walk off with these two things, which means they are good and that I always could use a few more:

  • Pens: good heavyweight pens, not crap.
  • USB drives: handy and reusable. Anything less than 1GB is trash. Any time I get a pen or a USB drive, I keep it. Sometimes I even say thanks.

Another good example: A few years ago the company I worked for gave everyone an umbrella. It was a black golf umbrella, high quality, and the logo was subtle. Even though I no longer work there, I still carry the umbrella!

My coworker’s favorite: One of our vendors gave out a custom Magic 8 Ball years ago and my coworker still likes to consult it. (Though I suspect she really just likes to point out that it gives advice as good as any she gets from her internal clients.) Either way it’s still in use.

My all-time favorite piece of swag: I had an airline client years ago and while every trip down to headquarters involved a pile of luggage tags, stickers, T-shirts, and other crap, one day they gave us all model planes. Simple, easy enough for a 5 or 10-year-old to put together with an adult and then play with. I was a hero with my nephew! So much so that on future visits I would say, “Skip the crap. I want another one of those planes.” Eventually, I even had one on my desk and, when people stopped by, they’d pick it up and swoop it around for a few passes before getting to the point.

So in the interest of being constructive, I offer the following lists of good and bad (compiled with the help of PYM’s Promote Your Message staff):

Good Crap
Pens (good ones, ones you’d steal from a coworker) T-shirts
USB drives over 1GB Coffee mugs
Lint brush (something that can be kept in the desk at work or carried in a purse) Mousepad (Who doesn’t have a hundred of these? And with laser mice, they aren’t even needed.)
Mirror for desk Calculator (I already have a phone that has a built in calculator, so I’m not carrying this!)
Solar charger for batteries Notebooks or notepads (Sure some people like these, but the chance the one you give them is the kind they like to use is infinitesimal.)
Magnetic picture frame (It works for me because it’s my picture) Pocket protectors (I’m just kidding. No one actually gives these out any more, right?)
Coffee to-go cups (Like one of those Not A Paper Cup reusable mugs. And the logo can’t be obnoxious — I refuse to look like an idiot taking it in to Starbucks in the lobby.) Laptop bags (Will the one you give out fit the laptop I have? Doubtful.)
Purse clip (Something that will support those big bags off the table or stall so it doesn’t get stuck to the bathroom or movie theater floor.) Tote bags
Business card holder (This one surprised me, but a quick survey in the office every person said they liked these.) Clocks (Since everyone has a cell phone that never needs batteries or winding, a watch is only jewelry now. The clock is an artifact; no one needs one.)
Booze (Put a company sticker on a bottle of bourbon or scotch and you instantly have the best vendor holiday gift ever.) Calendars (If your calendar isn’t as entertaining as the 2011 MeetingBoy Wall Calendar — available for sale online at http://meetingboy.com/calendar) — then why would they take that down to put yours up?
Magnets (Except photo frames)
Water bottles
Paper fans (We’re not Blanche DuBois being overcome by “the vapors” in our cube.)
Keychains
Pins (No one will wear your pin. No one.)
Baseball caps (At least a T-shirt is good for spills. A baseball cap is good for nothing.)

Do you see a pattern here? Useful is king. Something that suggests you know my personal style — crap!

So next time you pull out that catalog, please go for useful, or I might create an employee revolt where we blockade your desk with all the useless crap you’ve ever given us. You’ll be buried alive. I’ll do it! Don’t make me!

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Obviously I’ve only scratched the surface on the best and worst vendor swag out there. So to make it interesting, tell me in the comments below about the best and worst you received. Post a picture (where possible) and include the link. Then the staff at PYM and I will choose the best and worst, and I’ll give a calendar to the person who sent them in, and give one away at random to anyone who leaves a comment. Deadline is Jan. 18, 2011, so tell me your story.

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