Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

William Tincup Conferences, William Tincup

Swag = crap

Say it out loud with me.  Swag equals crap.  Allow me to explain why I have come to hate the concept of swag at HR conferences.

We live in an imperfect world.  I know.  I’m at least 60 pounds overweight and I have a lazy eye.  I get it.  I also know that after attending over 100 HR conferences that we have a HR conference system that is broken.  The people that put conferences together are smart.  They focus on putting great content in front of their audience.  The HR practitioner.  Practitioners attend HR conferences for a lot of different reasons but mainly to learn.  The freight for HR conferences is mostly paid (sponsorships and exhibiting) by the vendor community.  Those marketing and selling to the HR practitioner.  Makes sense, right?  Wrong.

I have no problem with sponsorships.  I like quiet money, and as a recovering marketer I damn sure like access to attendee data.  But, I hate the Expo hall as it currently exists at most HR conferences.

What happens in the Expo hall of most HR conferences is despicable.  Rational, logical, intelligent beings are reduced to cartoon characters.  It’s so sad actually… the juxtaposition of intelligent, thoughtful content delivered in the sessions and keynotes versus the smash and grab carny atmosphere of Expoland.  Grown people running around the expo looking for free shit.  Stuff that they could buy at any office supply and/or toy store.  Devolution personified.  People acting like animals.  Sucks actually.

I blame everyone.  I’m that guy, so of course I would blame everyone.

I blame the women and men of HR who are more interested in chocolates, shoe gift certificates and yoga mats than having a thoughtful conversation with a vendor partner.  Most HR practitioners thoughtfully pick the sessions they attend during conference.  Why not the same approach for what vendors to meet?  I’ll tell you why… swag.  Swag is the enemy of thoughtful people.  It represents all that is broken in the relationship between HR practitioners and HR vendors.  Before you think I’m overreacting… pause… long pause… ask yourself this question, would squishy globes, cheap plastic shit and beach balls be given away at a CFO conference?  A conference for CEO’s?  No.  Hell no.  In fact, you’re crazy if you think so.   So why is it okay at an HR conference?  Is this something we can control?  Can we change our own behaviors and desires?  Can we change the vendors’ behaviors and desires?

Speaking of the illustrious vendor community.  They have blood on their hands as well.  Especially the marketers and sales teams that think they can bribe / persuade intelligent HR leaders with swag.  In some ways, I blame them more… they should know better.  Swag is degrading… people running around trying to gather tricked up office supplies.  Makes me want to barf.  Here’s an idea… don’t give away swag.  Rest on the fact that you have awesome software and want to have serious discussions with serious people about serious stuff.  Take the effin high road instead of placating to the lowest common denominator.  I get it… if you’re a vendor and you’re reading this… you’re thinking this is the way it is done.  Horseshit. Dare to be different… dare to be humane.  No more swag.

This didn’t happen overnight and we won’t fix it overnight, but we need to elevate the level of discourse.  Swag is a speed bump to serious discussions and, moreover, people taking HR seriously.

You might be wondering how we fix it… simple… we create standards at our HR conferences.  We tell both sides that we’re having a NO swag conference.  We manage expectations for both contingents and we foster communication between these two parties.  We enable serious business discussions.  Both sides will come to LOVE the new order of HR conferences.

Here’s the thing… we need to have more respect for ourselves and we need to demand that others within our ecosystem share that respect.  Nothing respectful about swag… those who desire it and those who peddle it.