I can't say I ever focus on getting the swag at conferences, as I see some people doing. I know there are plenty of people that get around all the sponsors as soon as they've arrived, collecting whatever goodies they can, sometimes as token gifts for those at home, sometimes as giveaways for the user groups they attend. I remember a few years ago at my first PASS Summit, the SQLCAT team gave me a large pile of leftover SQL Server swag to give away to my user group – piles of branded things to stop your phone sliding off your car dashboard, and other things. The user group members thought it was great, and over the course of a few months, happily cleared me out of it all.
I tend to consider swag to be something that you haven't earned except by being at a conference, and there was no winning associated with it, it was simply a giveaway item at a sponsor booth. That means I don't include the HP Mini laptop that was given away at TechEd Australia a few years ago to every attendee, or the SQL Server bag and Camelbak bottle that I was given as a thank-you for writing a guest blog post (which I use as my regular laptop bag and water bottle for work). I don't even include the copy of Midtown Madness that I got as a door prize at my vey first TechEd event in 1999 (that was a really good game, and even meant that when I went to Chicago last year, I felt a strange familiarity about the place).
I don't want to include shirts in the mix either. I was given a nice SQL Server shirt about five years ago TechEd Australia. It's a business shirt (buttons, cuffs, pocket on the chest), black with the SQL Server logo on it. It was such a nice shirt that I commented about it to the Product Marketing Manager for Australia (Christine, at the time), who unexpectedly arranged for me to get another one. That was certainly an improvement on the tent I was given at one of the MVP conference I attended.
So when I consider these 'rules', two pieces of swag come to mind, and I think both were at PASS Summits (although I can't be sure). One was a hand-warmer from HP, one of the "crystallisation-type" ones, which proved extremely popular when I got home, until one day when it didn't survive being recharged – not overly SQL related, but still it was good swag.
The other was an umbrella, from expressor, which was from the PASS Summit in 2010, my first PASS Summit. I remember it well – Blythe Morrow (now Gietz) (@blythemorrow) was working the booth, having stopped working for PASS some time before, but she'd been on my list of people to meet, as I'd had plenty of contact with her while she'd worked at PASS, my being a chapter leader and general volunteer. There had been an expressor dinner on one of the first evenings, which I'd been asked to be at, which is when I'd met lots of SQL people in person for the first time, including Ted Krueger (@onpnt), Jessica Moss (@jessicamoss) and Blythe. Anyway, at some point the next day I swung by their booth to say hello and thank them for the dinner, and Blythe says "Oh, we have the best swag – here!" and handed me an umbrella.
And she was right. It's excellent.