Cisco gave me a chair once.
It’s not just me, you understand – they’re giving away one to every person who attends their analyst event, at their UK offices in Bedfont Lakes. It was a nice chair – one of those collapsible ones you want to take camping, but it has an extra feature – a removable footrest, so you can sit back and watch the sunset in luxury. It’s blue, and the firm, yet comfortable head pillow has the Cisco logo emblazoned on it. I know, wherever I travel, that Cisco has my back, or at least my neck, fully supported.
As that chair was cradled in my arms by a happy analyst relations professional, I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for those analysts who didn’t make it to the event by car. Some will brave public transport to return to their London-centric bases; others are on trains or even planes to travel home. Looking around me, I saw the faces of many, somewhat confused analysts. It was a very nice seat, but it had… consequences? And maybe it’s expensive?
It is likely that some in the room may have been party to the 3Com GPS debacle of a year or so ago. 3Com was rebooted under new management, and its analyst relations program began with a big budget and a desire to impress. Analysts, including myself, were sent a snazzy Garmin GPS device, with a caption along the lines of “we’re finding our way.” The campaign backfired as many analysts, including myself, felt the expensive gadget crossed the line. We cannot be bought by a shiny object! came the feedback. For the record, I gave mine to a local scout troop.
Reflecting on these memories, I can’t help but wonder why salespeople give things to analysts in the first place. I can think of several very good reasons, not least of which is that branded swag (as it’s called on the tech conference circuit, also various freebies and gizzits) serves a solid, general purpose – in a market that a maelstrom of competing brands, how better to maintain a presence than a pair of bright colors, belogoed socks (I’m a breast for this), or a handy bag for all your cable (thanks, Red Hat)?
At analyst events, swag serves an additional purpose. Humans want it, you see – despite millennia of evolution, we can’t escape our inner, bird-brained urge to collect shiny things. Seasoned AR pros know the best way to get analysts to fill out a feedback form at the end of an event, is to have a row of white cardboard boxes behind the desk: even the most ridiculous of industry experts can be found, lining up at the counter with their filled forms, then dozing in the box with all the excitement of a child in a lucky dip. A USB cup warmer, you say? It’s cold!
Despite such, reasonable (albeit bad) reasons for getting branded paraphernalia into the hands of generally savvy industry influencers, there must be a line. I haven’t been to the AR pro meetings, but I can imagine the “What are you giving them?” the topic has arrived. From an analyst’s point of view, swag handouts can be like party bags: anyone with kids will know what to give the kids who deserve to attend your little munchkin’s birthday event. . What starts out as a pencil and lollypop turns into an all-out war between overly competitive parents trying to show off how good they are at ignoring their kids.
In my experience, every now and then the party bags see a reset, a return to the pencils and lollipops and a collective sigh of relief from everyone involved (everyone except the kids, who won’t hold back on “what the it” in the car on the way home – they’re used to it). You encourage feedback, a simple way to keep in mind.
Even the cost may not matter much, if the cost has a purpose. I received a Dell PDA from Dell, and an Amazon Echo from AWS for example, knowing that I will use the items and see if the sellers speak the meaning. Software vendors may struggle with this, but when I think about it, I don’t see why software licenses or service packs are off the figurative table. And for analysts, I’ll share another golden rule: if you’re uncomfortable talking about an expensive ‘gift’ in public, you should ask yourself why – and possibly return it .
Overall a little thought, including adding skips full of broken electronics and plastic mountains, can go a long way. (I immediately remembered a towel from Hewlett Packard, emblazoned with the words, “The next e: e-Services.” It was a nice towel, so good that it lasted e-Services, and indeed the whole which is HP’s software division.)
Perhaps, above all, the one thing we see in swag is that it is a small token of gratitude. The analyst industry is built on relationships: less an exclusive club, and more an ecosystem of evaluators. As analysts we know that we can connect with technology vendors so that we can properly represent the market: this is not a right, but a very welcome feature in an otherwise complex and fast-moving industry where we work Similarly, I hope that marketers, and their analyst relations teams, recognize the challenge for analysts as they look to keep up with all of this: spending half a day or more on an activity is necessary and challenging, because of the amount of change.
So, let’s be happy with what we have – relationships – and if AR teams choose to label them in some way, that’s fine. Perhaps the point is not to worry about spending too much: it’s the thought that matters most. The chair won’t last forever, by the way, but we got years out of it, taking turns kicking up our feet and watching the sunset. While I can’t honestly say that this has changed my views of Cisco in any way (which is mostly reasonable), I still have fond memories of the AR team that made this possible.