Are you “giving it away” for the right reasons?

Fall is upon us. Conference and event swag and freebie hunters are on the loose. But when is donating a good move? And when should you say no?

The talented entrepreneur Casey Morris grew up in London, England with two great role models: her mother and her father. Both were exceptional weavers. Casey’s early memories include looms, threads, dazzling colours and a home studio where her parents taught her to weave at the very early age of three. She likes to say that weaving is in her DNA. Last year, at age 23, Casey decided to “break out of the nest” and launch her own line and business where she could run her own show, express herself as a woman business owner and take the art of weaving and fabric design to a more avant-garde place.

She burst onto the scene with bright orange palettes and quickly grabbed attention. Her work was covered in two edgy design publications. Next month, she is booked to speak at three design fairs in England and the US and has just been invited by The Smithsonian in Washington, DC to submit one of her fabrics for a new museum collection. The attention happened faster than she expected.

Coming with this attention were a swell of requests from promoters and industry specialists asking her to donate pieces and give away product as a “favour” or ostensibly as a way to promote her brand. Inundated by requests, Casey called for guidance. She wanted to know how to decide; when is donating product a good move? And when should you say “no”?

Here’s the skinny on giving it away:

It always feels good to see your name in lights or your product on a display table. Most people experience a momentary high when they’re asked to put their product in front of an audience. Few can resist the temptation, especially when, as with Casey, you’re a young businesswoman anxious to have your name and work become more recognized.

But when the request comes in for “freebie” product, a smart businesswoman does not just automatically say “yes.” It cannot be a willy-nilly decision to dig into the inventory closet to grab leftover merchandise or, better yet, get rid of product you may never need again. She has to determine the value of the product she’s giving away – and the value her business will get in return. A businesswoman should always evaluate freebies based on the following three criteria:

Criteria one: Does the audience for this product have the potential to be converted into a future customer?

The first question to ask is: Who is going to be in the room? The second thing to think about is: Who will see the product and what’s the purpose of the event or display? For Casey, if the room hosts design- or fabric-industry moguls, then showing her product is a smart move. Her product will garner attention and stir conversation. Casey also needs to find out the demographics of the audience to determine if they are potential new customers. It’s fair to ask! It must be part of the decision-making process. If no one can provide information on demographics, chances are giving away product is a waste of your resources and money. If, however, the demographics align with the giveaway, seize on it as a strategic opportunity to build new business.

The next step for Casey is to decide what product she wants to display in order to reinforce her brand, increase the buzz and generate potential new orders. If Casey decides to pass, she has to handle it with grace. Here’s the best way to turn down a request: Always thank the promoter for the opportunity. Make it clear that you took time to evaluate the offer and the audience. Explain that, as your company expands, you may consider participating again and your door is open for future requests. And keep in mind that it’s completely acceptable to say, “No, not now, thank you, as the company is seeking other opportunities that are a better fit.” 

Criteria two: Does the product cost less than the cost of a PR push?

It’s not wise to give away product without looking at the cost, not only of the product, but also of the delivery and potential loss of competing options. If you can determine that the giveaway has benefit (according to criteria one), then first compare it to the cost of a PR effort. Keep in mind that sometimes a small, but very strategic PR push is just the thing a company needs to get attention or entice a new audience. It might be more effective and less costly to place a good story about your brand in trade publications than agreeing to a giveaway. It may be more fun and strategic to participate in a panel discussion at the next industry symposium. Developing and promoting a hands-on workshop might garner more attention. Don’t be so quick to drop product if other approaches might serve you better – and cost less.

Criteria three: Will the product be displayed in such a way that gets due attention?

Display and presentation matter. You should always expect that your product gets the front and centre it deserves. Always ask where your product will be shown, what other product will sit near it, how many other items are being displayed and when the product will be distributed.  Too often, event coordinators are more focused on gathering many items to make a splash rather than thinking about how to curate the giveaway collection. If you’re giving product that will end up at the bottom of a gift bag, don’t do it! If, however, you can supervise the gift bag and be the lead product, then that may serve you well. If you can orchestrate where and how your product will be seen, with proper brand identification, the opportunity can be worth pursuing. Consider having your product custom-boxed, to give your company logo more visibility, a marketing coup!  But, if you ultimately determine your product will only be seen as swag, walk away.

Back to Casey, who was considering an ask from the Summer Design Expo in New York City to put 100 woven table runners into a gift bag. It would be exciting to show in New York, but she had to consider whether the circumstance really was right for her. I told her she’d know the answer once she filtered the request through the three criteria.

We quickly went through the checklist together: Was this a customer-driven expo or a fair that was open to the public with no required entry credentials? How much time and product cost would she be giving up to “play” and could her money be used more strategically to buy an ad? Could she control the placement of her table runners or would the expo manager be in charge of all product placement? As a business owner, Casey couldn’t justify anything on the checklist! She suddenly found it extremely easy to decide and called the expo team to decline. More importantly, she had discovered a newfound freedom in saying “no”, without guilt or regret.

 

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