Just got back from the Morningstar Investment Conference at Navy Pier in Chicago. I’m struck by the major commitment, both in time and expense, made when asset managers exhibit at Morningstar and other major conferences. I love to see the industry’s marketing pros work trying to elevate their brands and the creativity of the teams who think long and hard about the SWAG they offer to entice advisors to their booths.   

This year did not disappoint. Here’s our list and a few photos of some of our favorite swag from MICUS24: 

Principal-asset-management-morningstar-popcornMilliman-Morningstar-popcornBest nosh: Hometown favorite Garrett’s popcorn 

Food is always a draw at these conferences, and several asset managers chose smartly in the food department. I’ll admit to taking more than one bag of the Chicago-favorite Garrett’s popcorn offered by both Principal and Milliman. Shout out to Milliman for adding a sticker to the bag to remind people who to thank later for the deliciousness!

A few honorable mentions in the snack wars: Congrats to Morningstar for the THEATER-sized boxes of candy that went fast. While only a few boxes were left when I took my picture, the earlier pile included Swedish Fish and M&Ms! The Schwab booth had some tasty shortbread cookies. Broadridge offered chocolatecovered pretzels and Janus Henderson had some chocolatecoated cookies. Yummy.

Golf gear (minus the balls) 

Edgewood-morningstar-golfPast conferences have been a great way for me to score logoed sleeves of brand-name golf balls, so I was again on the lookout to refill Baird-Morningstar-swagmy golf bag (I lose a LOT of balls). Sadly, I didn’t find any. I did score some awesome plastic tees from Edgewood (proving you don’t have to spend a lot on swag) and cool ball markers from Baird Funds. (Shout out to Baird for offering a nice selection of swag including bag clips, decks of cards and pens. In the past I’ve taken home many of their sturdy bag clips…and I still can never find one when I need one.)  

Fiduciary-morningstar-onesiesCute brand-aligned swag: for the baby contrarian

I’ll admit that I am a sucker for anything to do with babies. Value investing pros Fiduciary Management offered onesies labeled “Future Value Investor.” My guess is the average Morningstar attendee, most with a little bit of gray hair, snagged these for their grandchildren!

Summer swag: drink up 

BNY-Mellon-Morningstar-swagMy personal favorite of this year’s conference was the branded plastic wine glasses from BNY Mellon. The stemless glasses are perfect for the patio or a picnic and are a nice giveaway in summer. Many snagged the insulated wine bottle bag from Fulcrum Asset Management encouraging us to “stay calm and stay invested.” Nuveen’s environmentally friendly reusable straws also fit the theme. 

Most coveted: Grill lights 

PIMCO gets the prize for the most buzz for the grill lights they offered. The supply of tiny, powerful—battery-operated Cuisinart lights went quickly—to the relief of the hard-working staff in the booth who preferred not to lug the remaining boxes home.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the recyclable bag I lifted from the Gabelli booth to hold all my bountyA white-haired advisor seeing my full bag of swag commented, “I’m not bringing any of that stuff homeWe’re trying to get rid of junk, not add more!” I had to disagreeI’ve set a precedent over too many years of lugging home bags full of treats for my family to enjoy, thanks to thoughtful and creative fund marketers. 

Change in venue, format changed the vibe

The change in venue to Chicago’s Navy Pier brought a new vibe to the Morningstar conference, which I’ve regularly attended for upwards of 25 years. It is one of the premier networking venues for asset managers and their wealth management clients, and is well attended by our friends in the financial media.

While I’m not privy to the details, I think the “Hosted Advisor Appointments”—which enabled advisors to attend the conference for free in exchange for agreeing to meet with at least two asset managers—worked. The Exhibit Hall and sessions felt full of advisors.

One exhibitor I spoke to said they felt the traffic this year was better than past yearst​hat they were having more and deeper conversations with their existing clients as well as new advisors they had not talked with before.

The two jam-packed days (down from three days in the past) felt about right too, though the schedule offered less room for offsite dinners and events that have always been part of the Morningstar conference week.