Channel events and promotional items go together like peanut butter and jelly. Whatever you call the pens, notepads, lip balm, stuffed animals, stress balls and myriad other items vendors foist on attendees—swag, gimmes, promos—if they are really cool, chances are they make it into channel partners' suitcases for the ride home.

And I love promos—the cooler they are, the better chance they'll be added to my collection.

But what makes a promo “cool”?  What makes it something I’m going to make sure I get before I leave the expo and keep for years to come?

Is it nostalgic? 

I once saw a Rubik’s Cube from Sophos and had to have it! Sophos offered me a very nice speaker’s gift after doing a session at its partner summit and, while I thanked them profusely for the gift, I asked if I also could have a Sophos’ Rubik’s Cube. Why? Because it reminds me of the first one I ever had when I was… well, let’s not go dating ourselves. This one stays on my desk and I see it all the time—which is an excellent way for vendors to remind partners and customers who it is and what it does.

Is it cute, fun or entertaining?

I have a monkey in my collection that has elastic tubing inside if you hold its fingers, pull its tail and let go, the monkey will slingshot across a room. I’m not kidding—this thing gets air. The best part is when it lands—it makes this monkey-like noise. If that’s not a great way to break up a long workday, I don’t know what is!

Same with a pen I received from NetApp and sumo stress ball from Hitachi.Data Systems. Funny and functional, they make me smile when I look at them, and I’m a big “fiddler” while I’m on the phone, so both come in handy.

Is it useful?

I’m always excited to come across the next fun gadget that actually makes my life easier. The Microsoft mouse or USB extender is the perfect example. I also had an iPhone tripod I really liked using, until it broke. The great thing about promotional items is you’re not heartbroken if you lose or break them. My favorite promo items still are little tins of mints. They're not new or cool, but talk about useful! There’s nothing worse than walking around a conference hall with lunch still on your breath.

So what does this mean to you?

Why should you bother? Our friends at The Performance Group, a leading event management and experience company, make a really good point. “Event hosts can use gifts to promote their own conference.  One of our clients provides their partners with a yearly conference giveaway bag, and they’ve learned that other partners see the bag and ask how they can get invited, so it’s also about advertising next year’s event,” said Dawn Witherspoon, account executive.

As you’re thinking about which promotional items you should be ordering, sometimes it makes sense to spend a little more on ones that people will keep on their desk or will use for some time. Not good at this type of thing? Me either. That’s why I always call our buddy Max at Ellco Promotions, give him a sense of what our theme is, and he comes up with some creative ideas. Last year we helped the McAfee channel team pull off a very cool retro cocktail reception for partners including wristbands, Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, and glow-in-the-dark drink mixers. Come to think of it, I never got my wristband!

Let us know what cool promotional items you’ve discovered or used in the past. We'd love to hear about them!

Contributing blogger Heather K. Margolis, the Channel Maven, has led channel programs for major IT companies.