By: Jason Williams

Reporter’s Notebook: Freebies Galore At Trade Show

NEW ORLEANS – As I struggled back to the shuttle, the complimentary
conference bag bursting with Yo-Yos, Frisbees, minifootballs, key
chains, T-shirts, water bottles, hats, and other trinkets, another bag
emblazoned with a company logo filled with even more booty, I felt as
if I had just robbed a bank and was now making my slow getaway on a
commuter bus.

I had to remind myself that it was all in the name of research. After
all, I had to discover what were the hot, branded items that were being
bandied about the conference this year and conduct scientific
experiments to determine the usefulness, durability, and overall
promotional impact of the … oh, who am I kidding?

I wanted free stuff. Vendors were more than happy to supply me with
their wares too. Some decided to supply the attendees with food, hoping
that they would hang around long enough to hear the presentation while
they chomped on cookies or candy. The Danish company Borsen had
reproductions of a newspaper on tiny chocolates. and On Tempo
supplied thirsty guests with water bottles. Universal Press Syndicate
didn’t have any water bottles, but their booth was suspiciously close
to the fully stocked (and free) bar. also gave away ‘MyWay-

toids,’ a box of ‘curiously strong’ mints, which I needed to mask the
coffee breath I had after visiting’s flavored-coffee

Another basic need fulfilled was clothing, as I now have more T-shirts
than a Hanes outlet store. Other vendors gave away hats, although they
were stingy with them, and it very often took two or three tugs to get
them off their heads. Some apparel was only offered to astute question-

askers: Janine Warner, director of New Media for The Miami Herald ,
was giving away flip-flops, for the lucky pre-conference attendee who
asked the best question. But these were no ordinary beach accessories.
These flip-flops were specially designed to leave an imprint of her
site’s URL in the sand as you walked. And of course, traditional New
Orleans beads were given out at many booths – no show required.

Infinet offered massages again this year for weary travelers who needed
to get out the kinks. Still other vendors offered playtime instead of
resttime, giving out all kinds of toys. A common question one vendor
said was, ‘Can I have a few more for my kids?’ Vendors handed out Yo-

Yos, Superballs, and Frisbees, and when pressed for more, one vendor at
iSyndicate said they had BMWs in the hotel parking lot, but he said the
keys wouldn’t be in them.

The hottest item of the show & People2People’s glow ball. EVERYONE
talking about and playing with a small ball that looked like it
swallowed an electric bug and blinked red when it was bounced against
any surface. I, of course, had to test it for the sake of good
journalism, but I also saw many adults playing with the glow balls that
they had supposedly picked up for their kids all through the conference

Some vendors raided the office supply closet for the conference
bringing pens and Post-Its and stress balls, etc. was
giving away Compact Disc business cards, which were the size of regular
business cards but could be played on CD-ROM player. The vendors of supplied a complete office set, including pens, a mug,
a letter opener, a stress reliever shaped as a computer mouse, a mug, a
screen sweegie, and Windows 2000. OK, no Windows 2000, but delivery is
expected sometime before the next millennium.

But it wasn’t all office trinkets and dollar-store toys; some companies
ran contests where they awarded some big-time prizes. Pentawave
sponsored a contest to win an iMac. Job Options was giving away a Palm
V to one lucky winner, and OnTempo gave away the slick new Nokia 8860
cell phone. In a somewhat disconcerting promotion, OnTempo also made a
deal with hotel staff to affix a huge sticker reading, ‘Look who has
the power to build your online newspaper’s bottom line’ to each
conference guest’s bathroom mirror, a deal that Vice President of
Marketing Doug Denton said, ‘was comparable [in cost] to our $20,000
water-bottle promotion.’

But there were those among the crowd that refused to buy into the gifts
and gadgets. AdOne didn’t even have a booth. ‘These booths cost a lot
of money,’ said Brendan Burns, president and CEO of AdOne LLC. ‘We want
to focus on marketing our site to consumers.’ Of course, it should be
noted that AdOne doesn’t need to attract new newspaper partners because
they’re busy getting their existing affiliates online. So when I return
to New York on Sunday, my suitcase will be a little bit harder to
close, but it’s not for me, it’s for my kids, really.


Jason Williams ( ) is the new
media reporter for Editor & Publisher magazine.

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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