It’s no secret here in the office that swag gives me a pain in the neck. From keeping track of little plastic trinkets that attendees receive when they register, to the appalling excess of Hollywood swag bags, swag is not my favorite feature of event planning.
But despite my annoyance, swag, large and small, is an integral feature of most events and cannot be ignored. What’s more, a recent report from Shamini Peter, director of product safety and compliance at Axis, the branded promotional products firm, warns the industry that serious liability can be attached to otherwise innocent looking tee-shirts and lanyards that litter every event from Seattle to Miami. “More and more, the promotional industry started becoming the industry that the Consumer Product Safety Commission was paying attention to, and now we’re definitely in front of C.P.S.C.”
Peter reports having this exchange with planners across the country; “Nobody told me I had to put that special label and that special code on a kids’ T-shirt, and we tell them it’s because either the supplier doesn’t know or they don’t want to tell you about it because it costs a little bit extra money. But it is a law.”
What it is
Some surprising items—including lanyards and T-shirts—pose safety threats. Lanyards, for example, are inherently considered choking hazards, so many of Axis’s clients will only give out lanyards that have breakaway clasps.
Peter counts toys, cosmetics, and electronic items as high risk. “All electronic items need to meet certain regulations,” she says. “The mercury in the battery is one thing you have to think about, and there are state regulations as well.”
“Be especially careful when giving out products that even resemble toys,” she says. “If companies hand out products such as yo-yos or Nerf footballs to adults, it’s still a kids’ item,” she says. “The [event guests] are probably going to go home and give it to their kids, and the item is automatically considered a children’s product.”
Where it Comes From
And don’t count T-shirts out as risky. “If you’re buying a Fruit of the Loom or a brand-name T-shirt most of those T-shirts from massive retail businesses are meeting the federal guidelines at this point,” Peter says. “But if a client wants to screen print it, we have a select list of screen printers that we use because we have testing on the ink that they’re using.
“And importing from China is still a little bit like the Wild West,” Peter says. She points out that China has no safety regulations resembling ours and if you prioritize price over safety when deciding where to source your swag you could be putting yourself and your client in danger of a lawsuit.
Where It’s Going
We are advised to consider where our swag is going, as well. “The reason you ask that question is because some states, like Illinois and California, are very strict,” Peter says. For example: “Illinois has lead laws. So, if your product had lead content that’s more than the regulated amount, then you must put a warning label on the product prior to giving it out to the consumer,” Peter says. “Another example, under Proposition 65, California businesses have to place warnings on items that contain chemicals to let consumers know of any potential health risks.”
Pain in the Neck
You see? I was right. Swag is a “pain in the neck”. But, since it is not going away, it’s a pain planners should gladly welcome. We should see swag as just another detail in a mountain of detail that must be attended to by any serious professional planner. That’s why our services are in demand. Swag, as it turns out, is not a pain in the neck. It’s job security!