To gift or not to gift, that is the question. For the last five or six years, companies cut back on the quantity and value of corporate gifts given to clients. It was understood that times were tough and businesses could scarcely justify giving gifts to clients when they were laying off staff, freezing hiring, cutting salaries and increasing workloads. The economy could legitimately be blamed for a reduction in gift-giving. After all, corporate profits in the first quarter of 2009 hit its lowest level in a decade.
However, the economy seems to have turned a corner. According to a recent report from the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. corporate profits for the third quarter of 2012 reached a record high, even adjusted for inflation. Moreover, the increase was entirely a result of stronger business at home. Likewise, the real estate sector seems to be bouncing back. The current share of non-distressed sales is at its highest level since August 2008. With these positive signs, businesses are once again contending with the annual discussion around client gifting. Should we or shouldn’t we? If we should, to whom do we give? Who will compile the list? How much should we spend? What level of gift should go to which people? Must we match or up the ante over what we gave last year? These can be tricky questions. Here are some suggestions for creating and fulfilling the shopping list for clients.
Ten Corporate Gift-Giving Tips
1. Do Give Personal Gifts
Make sure the gifts are personal. Gifts purchased in bulk and given out of obligation reek of indifference. The person at the company who is purchasing the gifts for the clients should be given information about the client. Much like information given to a gifting concierge service, there should be some personal information about each client. What holidays does the client celebrate? What interests does the client have? Does the client engage in any hobbies? A personal gift shows the client that your company cares by paying attention to the details.
2. Do Give Professional Gifts
It is not appropriate to give gifts that are too personal. Personal is good. Too personal is offensive. Giving a client that enjoys camping a leather-encased stainless steel thermos for coffee or hot chocolate shows that you remember his interests. It would not be appropriate, however, to give that client thermal clothing. The gift should be thoughtful and personal while keeping the relationship professional.
3. Do Give Gifts of Differing Values
Some clients, such as those who work in the financial, legal or political fields, are unable to accept gifts that exceed a certain dollar amount, usually over $35-$50. Other clients may not have such limitations. Also, some clients may have been faithful to give all of its business to your company, while other clients only send business occasionally. It is acceptable to give gifts of different value. If a company has to purchase gifts for a large number of clients, it may make sense for the person acting as the company’s gift concierge to establish a menu of several gifts at various price points from which managers and leadership can select based on the client’s specific preferences. For example, a good gift for clients that love technology and gadgets might be the latest in compact speakers (think the size of a salt shaker) that can be plugged into a pad, phone or laptop to provide top quality sound during conference calls or a Bose Headset.
4. Don’t Feel Compelled to Top Last Year’s Gift
Often, due to a good year or a big deal, a company feels compelled to give certain clients extravagant gifts. The gifts were more expensive than what was spent on most other top clients. Then, the next year, the company isn’t sure how to either match or exceed the gift given from the previous year. There is no need. Few people will remember what gift they received from a vendor from year to year, and they are even less likely to expect to receive a gift that is better (more expensive) than the gift from the previous year. What will be expected is for a company that has taken the time to give thoughtful gifts in the past to give thoughtful gifts again… and they should do that. Again, it is not as much a matter of cost as a matter of how personal and thoughtful a gift is.
5. It’s Okay to Send a Card Instead of a Gift
Since the economy is only somewhat improved, not all companies can afford to give clients gifts. And many companies have too many clients to make gift-giving possible. In that case, a personalized holiday card will suffice. People appreciate the thought that goes into sending a card with a thoughtful handwritten note expressing how much their business and relationship is appreciated. Even small gestures can go a long way.
6. Don’t Be Late or Give a Gift for the Wrong Holiday
Companies should take the time to find out which holiday a client celebrates. Then an appropriate gift should be delivered on time for that holiday. Regardless of faith, make sure gifts are delivered early enough so that clients receive them before they take time off to celebrate the holiday… whichever holiday.
7. Do Give Memorable Gifts
While food and alcohol is delicious and company break rooms overflow with platters and baskets during the holidays, many of those gifts are consumed without anyone ever knowing who sent the gift. However, if the gift has meaning — such a Wine and Spirits company sending a case of Sparkling Wines to a top client – then that gift will be both enjoyed and remembered. For companies that don’t produce any food or beverage items, it makes more sense to give a gift that has some kind of meaning related to your company or to the client.
That said, stopping by a client’s office with a platter of baked goods or chocolates that can be shared by all is a thoughtful way to do something more for the many staff that work for a particular client. It is important to nurture the relationships with the people who do the day-to-day work as well as with the owners. For very special clients, that can be done in addition to a personal gift.
8. Beware of Giving Gift Cards or Gift Certificates
Gift cards or gift certificates can either come across as very thoughtful or very insensitive, depending. It can either say “I care enough to give you a gift that allows you to get what you most want.” Or it can say “I couldn’t think of what to get you so I am giving you money instead.” So when is a gift card or gift certificate appropriate? Again, it has to do with being thoughtful. A gift card to Starbucks for an executive that is a known coffee-holic could be viewed as both amusing and personal. Likewise, a gift card to Home Depot for an executive who just bought a home can be viewed as very considerate. On the other hand, a gift card to Toys R Us for an executive who does not have children will likely be re-gifted or forgotten ten seconds after it was received. To make an impersonal gift card more personal, include a hand-written note that denotes the thought behind the card. For example, send an Amex card for $250 along with a note that says “We hope that you and your family will be able to enjoy an extra day on the slopes or a great dinner at the lodge when you go skiing next month.” The note makes the impersonal gift card suddenly very personal. And, of course, the client is ultimately free to use that card any way he wants.
9. Remember that Presentation Matters
As in most things in life, style matters as much as the substance. It is not enough to purchase and give an expensive gift. The presentation and method of delivery also matter. A gift should be packaged and wrapped beautifully. If the gift can be hand-delivered, that is best. If not, then it should be shipped in a way so that the wrapping is not crushed or ruined along the way. Even gifts that are shipped should have nice gift wrapping.
10. Be Judicious with Branding
Company logos are acceptable on gifts as long as they are discreet or unobtrusive. However, if there is no way to add a company’s logo without ruining the beauty or usefulness of the gift, then do not put the company’s branding on the gift.
Quote of the Week
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill
© 2012, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.