Analysts and swag – A waste of time and money… or worse

By Carter Lusher

On Twitter this weekend there was a little round of tweets between some analysts about the worst swag (aka gifts or giveaways) they had received from tech vendors. This online conversation might continue on Monday with more analysts providing examples including naming vendors. Here are a couple of examples:

@idarose: my most inappropriate giveaway was from a bluetooth chip manufacturer who gave away a corded mobile phone headset

@jonathaneunice: Most inappropriate swag was from Sun. For several years, they’d preach Open, then give away some utterly closed, proprietary gizmo.

Most swag given to analysts – either for attending a vendor’s event or during the end-of-the-year holidays – is a waste of money and effort. Often swag sent in the mail ends up in the trash or in the firms’ break rooms for administrative staff to pick through. Event swag frequently gets left in hotel rooms because it’s too bulky to pack into an already overstuffed carry-on roller bag. Some firms are concerned about the appearance of conflict of interest so they outright forbid that their analysts accept gifts.

What is worse than a gift that is simply thrown away, are gifts that contradict the vendor’s message like the two examples above.

However, there are times when an analyst gift can provide business value to the vendor:

  • Reinforces the enterprise strategic messaging, major marketing slogan or event theme
  • Provides ongoing visibility of the vendor’s brand
  • Travels well in carry-on luggage (if given at an event)
  • Fits into analysts’ existing work habits (e.g., no leather bound notebooks for analysts who always take notes on their laptops)

If the proposed swag meets most of these criteria, you may make an exception to the “no gift” rule.

The best swag does not necessarily have much if any monetary value if it contains another prized characteristic such as “bragging rights.” For example, consider a framed group photograph of analyst attendees at an exclusive executive summit or deep dive with top executives. If done well, this photo – likely to be hung in the analyst’s office – will be a constant reminder that the vendor values both the firm’s and analyst’s participation and advice. One of my former colleagues has two such photos – with Microsoft’s Bill Gates – on this office walls and he speaks highly of the AR team that put those events together and the value he got out those exclusive events.

SageCircle Technique:

  • Reconsider and resist any impulse to give analysts swag or gifts
  • If you cannot resist, then carefully evaluate the role of the swag to make sure it meets the above criteria
  • Ensure that swag does not have a negative consequence such as contradicting your message

Bottom Line: Analysts who cover a vendor or attend a vendor event do not require a gift because it’s their jobs. Regardless of the motivation for giving analysts something, picking a gift can be fraught with possible missteps that could backfire. Frankly, the best possible gift for an analyst may be a private conversation with your CEO.

Question: AR Teams – Why do you think it is necessary to give analysts swag or trinkets? Analysts – What are examples of the best or worst swag you ever received?

 

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30 Responses

  1. IDC’s Policy on Gifts (from IDC employee handbook)

    “Do not accept gifts valued at more than $25 from suppliers, vendors, competitors, publishing subjects, or anyone else doing business with the company or any other IDG company. This does not include reasonable and reciprocal entertainment, in keeping with social and business customs.”

    Source: Michael Shirer, Corporate Communications Director, IDC

  2. Gartner’s Policy on Gifts (from Gartner Code of Conduct)

    “In order to proactively address any potential conflicts of interest, Gartner has a specific policy regarding gifts. Basically, it stipulates that Gartner associates can not accept gratuitous payments, services, gifts or entertainment, except gifts and entertainment of nominal value only (such as business lunches or advertising novelties), from any former, current or potential client or supplier. All gifts (or offers of gifts) that are not “nominal” should be reported to the General Counsel immediately and returned to the donor. We define a nominal gift as being under $50. ”

    Source: Andrew Spender; VP, Corporate Communications, Gartner

  3. Forrester’s polcy on gifts (from Forrester Integrity Policy)

    Analysts can only accept gifts of up to $100 from vendors.

    Source: Karyl Levinson, VP, Corporate Communications

  4. AMR Research’s Policy of Gifts

    “We don’t have a policy that completely excludes gifts (such as the notebooks, T-Shirts, bags, etc.), but we prohibit analysts from receiving gifts over $100.

    Source: Kevin Reilly, Communications Director, AMR Research

  5. Most inappropriate. I know the Sun swag Jonathan is talking about and I agree (although I have to admit that a couple of those proprietary thingies I actually use on an ongoing basis). Another vendor was fond of leaving big food baskets–how were we supposed to get those home?

    I can live without photos from these events unless someone wants to shoot some digitals. Vendors do sometimes come up with cool appropriate stuff–processors in plastic and the like. Of course, their own products are often reasonable–easier for some vendors than others. I agree about no bulky stuff in any case.

    I find a lot of vendors buy things that are probably expensive enough to cost a lot of money collectively but little enough to be crap.

    Personally, I’d often prfer that they raffle off some nice gifts. I understand that can sometimes be an issue because of company policies–even if, frankly, it seems a bit of an academic distinction given the money spent of food, events, and so forth.

  6. No analyst ever refused a bottle of wine, especially if French and a ship-back option (no liquids for carry-on…) was offered…

    And a few lucky chaps still remember getting a 40 centimeters long T-Rex to announce the launch of a new mainframe…

  7. Gordon, Thanks for the comment. What about the idea of contributing some money to a charity?

    Ludovic, Hmm, why didn’t I get any of those when I was a Gartner analyst? >>grin<<

  8. Is swag merely a feel-good thing, or are there people out there who believe it would actually influence an analyst’s opinion about their company?

  9. One would hope that analysts could not be bought for trinkets.

    The majority of the AR pros I talk to think swag builds relationships and is a way to say “Thank you.”

  10. Hmm…Forrester has a policy on this as well, but it’s not my place to copy and paste here as I’m leaving a personal comment, not “official company statement.”

    In my recollection, I used to get a much higher volume of swag when I was a client-side marketer and had an advertising budget to spend. Anything I receive these days is very much appreciated and shared with my colleagues in the office.

  11. Of course swag doesn’t influence us. But if you give us a small dojigger that’s fun to play with, it’s likely to end up on somebody’s desk. If it’s a marginal company, the swag will likely outlast the company.

    By the way, for analysts reading this — we have a little project under way that involves swag. We’re looking for goodies that are small (less than 6″ across) and from Web 2.0 companies preferably. I promise return payment . . . in enjoyment. (Have to be mysterious for now.) Contact me at jbernoff@forrester.com and let me know what you’re got . . .

  12. The best thing I’ve ever seen was SAP at last fall’s analyst conference where, instead of giving us yet another briefcase or pen or whatever — enterprise software companies are limited in their product give-away potential — they made donations to a charity. Bravo.

  13. re: giving to charity. I’ve seen this; IBM did it at one recent event. Eh. If a company wants to contribute to charity, fine. If it wants to give the equivalent of a housewarming present to attendees at some event, fine (so long as its not more a PITA or stupid). If it wants to give analysts something that it hopes will provide some subliminal mental reinforcement about the company to either the analyst or someone who sees said swag, that’s fine. And if it wants to say “Thank you for spending time with us,” that’s fine. But I don’t really see this as being any sort of $$ or equivalent “owed” and therefore a charitable contribution something that’s needed in lieu of something else.

    I have no expectation of receiving anything. I’ve received relatively modest items that are appreciated. But, to be clear, they’ve never influenced my public opinion of the company.

  14. [...] Analysts and swag – A waste of time and money… or worse « SageCircle Blog (tags: schwag via:twitter analysts) [...]

  15. I’m less concerned by the $30-50 trinkets that generally get put in the trash in the hotel room anyways. I’m more concerned when I see analysts accepting 6k+ aifrares, expensive dinners and expensive entertainment at vendor events – especially when I sometimes see some analysts who are favourable to a vendor at the front of the plane while others are at the back.

  16. The worst thing I was ever given was sent in the post – a GPS device from a networking company with the message (I paraphrase): “We’re finding our direction, now you can too.” GPS devices were very expensive at the time, and I felt it was way beyond the bounds of acceptable gifts so I gave it to my local scout unit. The whole thing was just so wrong, in so many ways – including the message!

    But no, apart from that I don’t mind being given some trinket – and useful is preferable to expensive every time. Or something for the kids – who take the brunt of a parent being away for a few days at a stretch. Please, no more WiFi detectors though :-)

    Incidentally we don’t have a fixed policy on these things apart from our “standard” mantra which is “Don’t take the p***” – we apply this to our own giving away of free time, consulting, presenting etc as much as being invited to product launches, corporate events etc, and of course free stuff.

    And finally, while I think of it I don’t understand why vendors don’t get their own stuff out to analysts more often. Particularly software and online service vendors, as there’s no real cost to them but its a great help to actually try things out – a Powerpoint may be worth a thousand words, but the thing itself is worth at least a thousand Powerpoints when it comes to understanding. And no, I’m not talking about 3-month evaluation copies – that’s never long enough to really try something out, unless you operate a fully fledged test lab, which most analysts do not. We have offered a tit-for-tat service to some vendors – you give us your stuff to play with, and we will give you feedback on what we really think about the products. Hasn’t always been pretty.

    Of course, that begs the question – might offering real product be seen as unduly influential on an analyst? I answer this one a bit from the sidelines as our business model does not centre on direct product recommendations for customers. But it is a strange one – after all, if a product is really that good, wouldn’t you want the applicable analysts to know so? And indeed, should they be arrested by the analyst thought police if they say, “I tried something, and it worked just fine”? I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do believe that if everyone acts like grown ups rather than bleating about the potential for foul play, the insertion of “real product” into the mix can only be beneficial.

  17. The best gifts are good communications and knowledge from vendors!
    Gifts are gimmicks that don’t impact my ability to do objective analysis.
    I notice that some vendors give gifts to encourage analysts to submit their feedback on meetings. My bottom line — it’s just not important.

    Judith Hurwitz, President, Hurwitz & Associates

  18. we dont have a formal policy on this, but as with everything at redmonk the basic principle is dont do dumb stuff. we all trust each other not to act inappropriately. Microsoft is about to give us a Zune, i believe, at teched 2008, which will likely go to my son.

    I am with Jonathan Yarmis though that a gift to charity on my behalf, would be appreciated. Perhaps into something green, to help offset the ludicrous carbon footprint these events generate.

    re David mitchell’s comments, i am far more sanguine about business class travel, particularly on flights over 8 hours. if i am taking three days to go to a vendor event, i really don’t want to lose another day when i get back because i am utterly exhausted.

    biggest problem with gifts is probably that some of them are so unutterably crap. poor shwag does nothing for your brand.

    one of my favorites was a BMC mug that simply said: Official Analyst Mug. I still use it some five years later.

  19. Carter, It’s only because you were not an EMEA analyst covering storage or mainframes!

    On a more serious (ethical) aspect, it’s a good one for the IIAR Ethics Working Party -will ask them. Personally, I think it should come after, as a thank you. But never before as a bribe. And it should stay in proportion. A GPS, gaming console, a NAS Storage Device or a Laptop may be borderline. What’s wrong with expensive restaurants though?

  20. I generally think material goods of any kind are a waste, I often leave it in the room for the cleaning folks. Goods sent to the office are unacceptable. Access to beta of services, or actual trial use of software does make sense, and is part of the job.

    What is the point of these giveaways? If to impress the analyst then the products/services should speak for themselves. If the point is to “thank” the analyst for attending an event, well attending is just part of the job. No thanks necessary. Pay the cost of travel, if anything.

    However, one “gift” that does say “thanks” for the stresses of long air travel is a gift certificate for a massage at the hotel spa. After 6 hours (or more) in a crammed plane trying to do email and the risks of canceled or delayed flights, and therefore lots of quality time in the airport, a spa hour can bring the dead back to life, and therefore more able to concentrate on the content. I’ve had two vendors supply these, and it was amenable.

    On memory lane, I used to be a car writer and reviewer in the late 1980s. The Big Three used to lavish stuff on the auto media, like new luggage in your room when you showed up, access to cars to “review” for weeks at a time, small pieces or art even. As trade press goes, the auto world was deep into unsavory territory compared to anything I’ve seen in the IT space.

  21. @lludovic I would much rather go to a cheaper restaurant with great atmosphere, brilliant service and excellent company. I’m afraid I don’t get too impressed by expense for its own sake (though I know that’s now what you meant). Richard East at IBM did a great job of organising restaurants in The Hague for example.

  22. Have never believed expensive, pointless gifts to analysts were appropriate – don’t believe it results in favourable reviews and does nothing to further their understanding of my (vendor) technology.

    I am, however, all for giving analysts access to your technology in fun, creative ways to encourage them to use it and further their understanding. It’s a strategy that not all vendors can use, however (hard for Sun to send folks w/ some serious hardware) and can backfire if said technology or software is not received well.

    Expensive dinners? They’re fun, for sure, and perhaps they contribute to relationship building – but a prolonged lunch in a country pub talking about technology directions and strategy has a similar effect. Question with the more social stuff, though, is at what point it stops becoming a business meeting and starts being lunch with friends (or a concert with friends) and a) whether that matters; or b) whether it’s influential (and if it, are you still friends or just colleagues).

  23. What a great discussion. Interesting to see what different vendors do.

    Love the charity/donation idea, particularly monkchips’ idea to offset carbon footprint of an analyst gathering.

  24. A few final comments–and this is why I tend to stay out of meta-analyst discussions :-)

    1. @monkchips. I’m at TechEd as well. The Zune seems a reasonable gift esp. given that it’s Microsoft’s own product and might give many of us the opportunity to decide if it’s the horror that Apple fans say or actually a decent product. (And an iPod Nano would have been a clear case of an INAPPROPRIATE gift in this context :-) )

    2. I agree that vendors often seem surprisingly stingy with their own products, even software which is close to free. Personally, I have little use for short-term loaners or 180-day trials with many types of products. I may, in fact, chuck the product in a corner after 6 months (or 1 week) but knowing that I may have to disrupt something I’ve inserted into my primary workflow after some period–which is the best way to give a product a real shakeout–makes me far less inclined to try it at all.

    3. With all due respect, I don’t see how donations offset carbon emissions. Such emissions are a cost of having such events. A donation may make everyone feel better, but…

    4. Frankly, any remotely in-bounds gifts are pretty much dwarfed by the T&E associated with IT analyst events. This T&E is excessive by the standards of some organizations (e.g. a lot of government) and is pretty pedestrian by the standards of press junkets in some circles–as Dana notes. However, I don’t have any reason to believe that the dollars involved here influence the opinions of reputable analysts.

    5. Except insofar as covering expenses does influence how many analysts will willingly take time out of their schedules to spend time with a company. Which gives the company the opportunity to present themselves in a better light (or conversely did them deeper into whichever hole they’ve chosen).

  25. @NaomiHI @jonno re. dinners: you got it right, the point is about the conversation and, alike other gifts, the host need to make sure she/he doesn’t choose something that will make the guest uncomfortable. I’ve had great times with analysts in cheap tapas bars and really also in nice restos -all depends of the company, the time, etc… The point is not to go OTT. But we know this in Europe, don’t we?

  26. (from Carter) Vendor swag that I have kept and used the longest is a heavy duty tape measure from Norton. Big yellow sticker on side “Norton Utilities 3.0 The right tool at the righ time.” Got it back in the mid- to late-90s. I had stopped covering the PC software space for Gartner by the time they sent it to me (outdated analyst lists is a topic for a future article).

    While the tape measure was never in my River Oaks office, because I used it a few times per month at home it kept the Norton brand in front of me with a positive, useful image.

  27. (from Carter) There have been a few comments about travel and airfare. That was an interesting topic of debate in my team at my former employer. It was Bob who insisted that EMEA and APJ analysts get business class tickets when coming to our analyst conferences. Makes sense as you don’t want analysts wasted from travel when they walk into a meeting with your execs. A bit of a pain for the team because we had to fight for travel policy exemptions. Bob would work the system, I approve it and hope I wouldn’t be called on the carpet to answer for it. >>grin<<

  28. Some things I fancied include a really nice headset (impressive bass) and a quality set of toiletries (carry-on). What I really want to have now is that “Official Analyst Mug” James mentions! :)

    Vendors shouldn’t try too hard to communicate any message or specific company value with swag. More often than not, it comes across laboured and is no fun at all. It might even devalue the message they’re supposed to carry.

  29. Federal Employee policy is (from memory):

    1) No individual ‘gratuity’ worth more than $20. This includes meals, etc

    2) No more than $50 per year from an entity.

    In other words, you could accept up to $50/year, but it has to be in chunks less than $20 each.

    Similarly, the gifts from two divisions from within one company need to be considered in total.

    Finally, there’s also an overarching provision regarding ‘real or perceived conflict of interest’. Bottom line is that if there’s any doubt on appropriateness, then accept absolutely nothing.

    Of course, the irony (or hypocracy) isn’t lost that the members of Congress who imposed these ethical rules on Federal Employees conveniently extempted themselves.

    -hh

  30. [...] gifts to avoid any PR disasters. See the comments from analysts on both sides of the issue in Analysts and swag – A waste of time and money… or worse. Complying with firm policies on vendor gifts just adds an additional layer of effort onto already [...]

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