Creativity, Collaboration and a Killer Swag Box: How a Distributor's Virtual Client Event Became a Smash Hit
In the spring of 2020, Naomi Bodway was in a position all too familiar to most distributors. Live events, the lifeblood of the industry, had come to an abrupt halt, and it was now clear that they wouldn’t be coming back any time soon. Business had dried up. Bodway, owner of The Source House, an iPROMOTEu affiliate based in Osseo, Wis., needed solutions. So she did what she does best: She got creative. Bodway, along with 10 other iPROMOTEu affiliates—many of them frequent collaborators in a group they affectionately call the “Swag Sisters”—hatched a plan.
“The idea was already afloat when I got involved,” said Bodway. “But I believe it came out of discussions of options for survival in the pandemic and how we would respond to the lack of events in an event-driven industry. The idea of hosting a virtual event for our clients—in an effort to show them what a virtual event looked like, felt like and how it worked—seemed to be a great way to respond to the challenging circumstances of 2020.”
By now, virtual events are the norm outside and inside the industry. But, at the time, many formerly live events had yet to make the transition to virtual, or had rushed into it—out of necessity—without adequate time to plan. Many businesses and brands that would normally hold live events weren’t even aware they had the option to go virtual, let alone how to do it in a compelling way. Bodway and her collaborators saw the enormous potential virtual events had for their own businesses. Now, they needed to communicate that potential to their clients.
“The goal was to help our clients understand that they could still make their ‘events’ legitimate and successful, to embrace the important engagement portion that imprinted marketing tools would be, and to share with them the realities of what it is like to attend a virtual event,” said Bodway. “… The theme of the event was ‘Engage, Educate, Empower,’ which were words we carefully chose for their relevance to the times we were in. We wanted to engage, educate and empower our clients, and for them to understand just how important it is for them to engage, educate and empower their employees, their clients and their prospects.”
To do that, the group settled on an instructional, interactive format aimed at inspiring attendees and generating ideas. The event would feature a keynote speaker, breakout education sessions and a panel discussion, each showcasing the possibilities of the virtual format. More importantly, each attendee would receive a curated swag box, highlighting the crucial role promotional products play in the now-virtual event space and showing recipients how to use them for maximum marketing effect. Each box included an eco-friendly T-shirt, a three-pack of pens, a door hanger (printed with “online” on one side and “offline” on the other), a full-wrap camp mug, a phone stand, a full-color journal and more, all decorated in the “Engage, Educate, Empower” branding and color scheme.
With their plan in place and an event platform selected, the group began inviting clients and prospects, hoping to reach 150 attendees. They ended up with more than 200. Interest in the swag boxes, in particular, was through the roof. Bodway said each distributor involved in the event had more requests for boxes than they had boxes available. The event directly resulted in multiple orders for each distributor, generating immediate return on investment and some significant business. (One distributor landed $149,000 in orders from three clients looking to use similar swag boxes for their own events and employee appreciation plans.) But the long-term impact was even greater.
“Absolutely the event resulted in orders, but it also was incredibly valuable for what it taught attendees about what we have to offer, the trends they needed to be aware of, and the ability to work with a respected, on-trend, capable distributor who was able to be on the cutting edge of virtual meetings,” said Bodway.
“The pre-event marketing, the quality of the presenters at the event and the swag box all served to increase our credibility, showcase our creativity, and communicate the depth and breadth of the products/services we can provide,” she added. “We believe the project helped to set us apart from our competitors and to provide the ‘value-added’ expertise that would engage and encourage clients to work with us on bigger and more significant projects.”
The event was such a success that Bodway and her collaborators—some new, some returning from the first event—already have a follow-up in the works, happening in late January. This one, called “Innovate, Inspire, Ignite,” will follow more of a trade show format, giving clients the opportunity to visit virtual booths for 30-plus suppliers, see new products for 2021, hear success stories and discuss effective ways to use promotional products in their marketing. And, of course, attendees will get a swag box—“an even more crazy creative” one, Bodway said.
None of this would have been possible without Bodway’s creativity and determination to adapt to circumstances that can be charitably described as “less than ideal.” But Bodway, a true professional with some 40 years of industry experience, credits the Swag Sisters—with whom she Zooms once a week and has become close personal friends—for making it happen.
“The camaraderie that we built as affiliates and business owners was invaluable in keeping us motivated, affirmed and aware of the incredible business challenges we were all facing,” she said. “We have continued to meet weekly, sometimes with a supplier as a guest advocate, or sometimes someone from another discipline, but always someone that we believed would strengthen our position as business owners and add to our ‘toolbox’ in doing so.”