The request starts off simple enough: I’m looking for a takeaway gift to give my event attendees that’s new and unique, relevant, and cost-effective. But this innocent request can be surprisingly complicated to nail down. We call this “finding a unicorn gift.” If there’s some new trendy swag, your competitors are likely using it already. Or it’s going to be cost prohibitive. Or it’s plain old junk that’s going to get tossed the minute the event is over. Finding the perfect gift can be like finding a unicorn—nearly impossible.
That said, as members of the Firewood events team, we’re often faced with this challenge. It takes effort to stay up to date on the latest trends—which is especially tough in a fast-paced industry that evolves by the month. And research requests take valuable hours away from time needed to plan successful events.
While searching for new technologies and giveaways we found items that we’ve actually put into use this year at events like the Insta360 camera, Klik smart badges, and Woodchuck wooden journals, which can be branded and personalized.
We looked for a solution to efficiently and proactively keep our finger on the pulse of not only event takeaway gifts, but of the events industry as a whole. Instead of handling research requests on a time consuming one-off basis, we decided to share the responsibility across the team and develop a quarterly newsletter. Each season, a pair of event managers takes note of the coolest trends, innovations, and case studies that they see across the industry and collect them into a digital newsletter website that we call The Download. The Download typically consists of industry-related content sections that we hope can be helpful and insightful, such as:
- Event innovations and trends, including industry case studies, conference recaps, and learnings
- Food and beverage trends
- New technology that we could incorporate into events
- Hot new gifts
- A section called “Love Our City” that features new venues and restaurants across San Francisco
- And upcoming local events that we can attend to get event inspiration—or just have a good time
We’re always looking for the latest food and beverage trends to bring to events like the plant-based Impossible Burger, self-serve food displays, and matcha-based drinks.
During a quarterly team meeting, a pair of event managers shares their findings with the larger team—sparking ideas, excitement, and collaborative ideation among their peers. Sometimes, we’re sharing things that have worked well at a recent event or site visit, like using a new 360-degree camera to capture images and video that give a fun and more realistic post-event representation of what the space feels like than flat photos would. And sometimes the ideas are pretty off the wall and meant to spark creative conversations around questions like “What if the budget wasn’t a consideration?” For example, having a robotic bartender serve your guests perfectly poured drinks throughout the night wouldn’t be very budget-conscious, but it sure would be fun and memorable for attendees.
We all chose events as a career path because, at some level, events excite and invigorate us. And it’s fun to explore and brainstorm how we can make the next event more stunning than the last. Whenever we’re heads down and deep in the weeds planning, it’s nice to come up for a breath of fresh, creative air that might spark an idea that really takes your next event from great to unforgettable.
At the end of the day, we’re lucky to work in a creative field where the solution to a challenging request can turn into a team exercise with unintended benefits like collaboration, inspiration, community building, and networking. Not only does researching and creating The Download make us more informed events people, it gives us a reason to engage with the local business community. While we research, highlight, and inevitably visit and recommend new venues across town, we’re both expanding our professional database and becoming advocates for these local businesses. Innate in event planners is the desire to share the newest, hottest locations and trends with our networks and friends, because we love what we do.
We took what was a common yet narrow request to conduct event-swag research and expanded it into a multifaceted and up-to-date tool that we can keep in our back pocket—ready to support a myriad of future client requests. Next time you’re faced with a potentially mind-numbing research task, consider ways that it could grow into a team effort, engaging everyone from the summer intern to your VP in collaborative idea sharing. And think about how you can scale the output so that it reaches more than just your team—there are people everywhere who can benefit from the research you’ve done. Lastly, don’t forget to have a little fun along the way!