The joy of organising swag/freebies for #GovCampNorth

Salma Patel
Sep 18, 2020 · 6 min read

Perhaps it is my working class background, or that I was bought up around people that didn’t go to conferences. So, when the man at the Bank offered me a free pen and a cloth bag when I was 19, I was delighted. Little did I know that this is pretty normal, and that there are even people in the world who turn them down. Yet, all the conferences I attended since then (and there have been many thankfully), have provided ample and sometimes exciting swag/freebies.

And my favourite to-date are stickers, cake and books (not necessarily in that order).

Joyful, really?

When we got together as a team to organise #GovCampNorth back in April 2020 (?), we split roles and chose to take lead on one role. Merchandise (choosing and organising the freebies for attendees) is what I went for, as I know it’d give me some joy! Why you may ask?

Well I love freebies, so I wanted it for others and I felt like I could play a small part in giving someone else joy. And what more can one ask for? Plus in my faith, giving gifts is a spiritual act. Prophet Muhammad said: give gifts to spread love to one another, and also, ‘love for others, what you love for yourself’ (not that I’m claiming these gifts are from me — thank you very much to our fabulous sponsors!)

But we also wanted to make sure that not only are the swags/freebies joyful, but also useful. We didn’t want them to be used once and end up in the waste bin or harm the environment.

What do we include? Mapping out the options.

The team did some brainstorming and we came up with different ideas, many of them were the usual swag items like lanyard, pens, notebook, etc. I also had a chat with Hugh Wells who shared what they do at GovCamp in London. We asked on Twitter to see what was attractive to our potential participants but we only got 13 votes, so not representative:

https://twitter.com/govcampnorth/status/1281165806785761282

As we were in the midst of Covid-19, we were not sure then whether the unconference would be face-to-face or online. If it was online, the team were keen on sending out a care package, which would include as well as the usual swag, perhaps some nice hand cream and a stress reliever.

By early July 20, we made a decision to have the unconference online this year, as this was most likely safer (and we were right, some of us are still under almost full lockdown in the north of England).

Therefore in early Jul, my 7 year old and I sat down to map out the different options of swag we plan to send out and find suppliers for them. We had just started looking for sponsors at this stage, so we didn’t have a set budget, which allowed us some freedom to explore and dream :)

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Some of the early swag options we mapped out. Note the acknowledgement to the 7 year old at the top ;)

The Challenge — P&P

Quite early on we realised that although we would love to send a lovely care package with different lovingly chosen swag items including say a mug, we also need someone to pack and post them. Although the team were happy to help out, it just wasn’t practical for us to make 300 boxes, pack them and stand in the queue at the Post Office to post them (and queues are longer these days with social distancing). I explored several options:

In came cake …

As I sat at my desk thinking that £8 was still quite a lot to pack and post out each small swag box, I was craving some cake (totally normal). Which made me wonder, how much would it cost to post out some cake to participants? Maybe this may be appreciated more and be a bit different (and logistically easier to manage)?

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So I had a look at different options. There were quite a few companies willing to post out brownies/blondies, and many of these catered for large companies, and for most dietary requirements too (vegan, gluten free, nut free, halal). However, I was still a bit concerned, as it didn’t cover all dietary requirements like Kosher for example. I knew if we went ahead, I would gather dietary requirements, and if there were some the supplier couldn’t cater for, I would source it elsewhere.

By this point, I was probably getting a little carried away (and that’s where the team come in to rein me in), but cake does that to some (many?). I ordered a sample of brownies, and my 7 year old was very excited to open them:

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Brownies kindly sent through the letterbox

This company provide 9 flavours, and we were sent two Triple Chocolate Brownie, one vegan and one non-vegan (both were gluten free). They were moist and very chocolaty. I’m not a brownie fan (I prefer cakes), but 7 year old loved them. But when she moved onto the second one the next day, she declared perhaps it was a bit too chocolaty, and I should look for other options. I’ve had a look at a few other companies, but I’m still searching for a company that posts out cake (not brownies) for under £8-£10. If you know of any, let me know please.

Let’s come back to MVP

The #GovCampNorth team are wonderful, kind and smart. I proposed the cake/brownie option at our weekly meeting, and Imran Hussain very kindly pointed out that let’s first decide what our MVP swag/product is and take it from there. And the team suggested we aim to fit our MVP in a large envelope so that it is easy for us to personally pack and post, rather than outsourcing that, which would save us money. So we decided as a team that our MVP swag is:

I’ve put together costs for this, and the content gathering and design is underway. If anyone is willing to write the facilitation skills for the notebook or design the #BlackLivesMatter sticker, please give us a shout!

What next?

As we are now clear on cost and suppliers for our MVP swag packages, the next step is to speak to our treasurer and see what budget we have remaining for other swag (I’m keen to get everything wrapped up at the weekend). This is also dependent on how many more sponsors we can get on board, and that’s why some of you may have received emails from me or my colleague Peter this week on sponsorship opportunities for #GovCampNorth.

I’m still keen on cake. I mean who isn’t? Maybe we can spare some for volunteers if not for everyone else? :) My 7 year old declared at breakfast this morning that our lead Imran Hussain deserves a big present (and I agree), but then she went onto suggest it should be for his son (right … I think I see where this is going …).

We would love to hear from you about your favourite swag/freebies and what you’ve made the most use out of? And an opinion on cake is always welcome too, of course! :)

GovCamp | North

An inclusive event that helps attendees to develop & grow into better public servants

Salma Patel

Written by

I’m currently head of user research at Ofsted & Associate Lecturer at The Open University. I have a PhD in Digital Health. www.salmapatel.co.uk

GovCamp | North

Connecting all people who want to make public service and the public sector better with a day of sharing ideas, thoughts and experiences. Providing the opportunity to learn new things and build better stuff.

Salma Patel

Written by

I’m currently head of user research at Ofsted & Associate Lecturer at The Open University. I have a PhD in Digital Health. www.salmapatel.co.uk

GovCamp | North

Connecting all people who want to make public service and the public sector better with a day of sharing ideas, thoughts and experiences. Providing the opportunity to learn new things and build better stuff.

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