FLASH FRIDAY: The Return of In-Person Conferences (and Swag)

Terry Flanagan

FLASH FRIDAY is a weekly content series looking at the past, present and future of capital markets trading and technology. FLASH FRIDAY is sponsored by Instinet, a Nomura company.

As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, the financial industry is ready to log off Zoom and return to in-person conferences. 

Summer is generally slow on the event front, but the fall promises a return to normal, or at least close to normal. This means live events — and the distribution of shirts, caps, pens, lip balm, mints, and other promotional items, colloquially known as swag.

The Security Traders Association’s 88th Annual Market Structure Conference is scheduled for Oct. 6-8 in Washington, D.C. Appropriately called “The Great Return,” the event will be held in-person with a virtual component. Then the FIA Futures & Options Expo, another large industry event that was virtual last year, will be held Nov. 2-4 in Chicago.

There will be swag.

“While the market is clearly excited to once again conduct business in-person and network over cocktails, I suspect many are equally thrilled to re-up their stock of branded vests, pens, phone chargers and stress balls,” said Kevin McPartland, head of market structure and technology research at Coalition Greenwich.

The swag industry has come a long way since the late 1800s, when Ohio printer Jasper Meek convinced a local shoe store to supply book bags imprinted with the store name to local schools. In 2017, promotional products revenue in the U.S. totaled $24 billion, with 26,400 businesses employing nearly 400,000 people, according to Wikipedia.

For companies seeking to market themselves, swag is a balancing act — you don’t want to spend much on marketing that might not even work (and how do you know if it does?), but you also don’t want to spend too little and have your brand be associated with rubbish. No swag is better than cheap swag.

Water bottles, tote bags and apparel are among the most effective promotional items, according to ePromos. Key considerations are that the item be practical, noticeable, and durable, with a prominent imprint area.

One good outcome for a swag distributor is is to have your swag shared on social media.

Swag of defunct Wall Street firms has a bit of a cult following. On eBay you can find Lehman Brothers beach towels, duffel bags, and flashlights; Knight Capital LEGOs; and an MF Global mouse pad.

There’s also this apparently non-serious seller of a Bear Stearns jacket.

Of course, Traders Magazine owns some well-worn swag.