At most trade shows, you could stock up on enough pens, notepads, tote bags, and keychains to start a thriving second business as a flea-market dealer. The problem with such giveaways isn’t that they aren’t useful; it’s that there are so many such items handed out that they make only a minimal impression, at best.

“I have buckets of pens, and I couldn’t tell you one company I’ve taken them from,” says Susan Friedman, a certified speaking professional and author of Meeting and Event Planning for Dummies. Friedman works with exhibitors, show organizers, and meeting planners to create more valuable results from their events. “The whole purpose of a giveaway is memorability,” she says. “You should give something away that is related to what you do, preferably something unique.”

The giveaway might be a small product sample, a useful item that’s just a little out of the ordinary, or even just an attractive postcard with product tips printed on it. “A sufficiently novel or useful giveaway can actively help draw prospects to your booth,” adds Friedman on her Web site, Tradeshowcoach.com. “So make sure your prospects know about it. Send a ‘tickler’ invitation with details of the giveaway, or create a two-part premium, sending one part out to key prospects prior to the show and telling them to collect the other half at your booth.”

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One company that makes the most of its giveaway uses playing cards, says Friedman. Prior to the show, they send “kings” to their key customers, “queens” to suppliers, and “jacks” to new or hot prospects, with a note inviting the recipient to visit the company’s booth and exchange the card for a special gift. When the cards are presented, booth staff immediately know basic information about the visitor and can respond accordingly.

Giveaways can be a great way of keeping your name in front of potential customers long after a trade show has ended. Choosing a special item that is more likely to stay on the client’s desk than end up in their trash can is well worth the added investment in time, creativity, and marketing dollars.