This evergreen post offers law firms, lawyers, marketers, consultants, and other professionals an inside look at traditions, tips, and ideas for corporate holiday gift giving. (Originally published Nov. 2012)
Corporate Gift Giving at the Holidays
While holiday greeting cards, whether eCards and traditional, are always appropriate, taking the time to choose a gift for your most valued clients, vendors, and/or referral sources during the winter holidays is a great way to recognize and honor existing relationships. Now, if only it was so simple.
“They always gives me bath salts,” complained Nobby. “And bath soap and bubble bath and herbal bath lumps and tons of bath stuff and I can’t think why, ‘cos it’s not as if I hardly ever has a bath. You’d think they’d take the hint, wouldn’t you?”
― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather
Offering holiday gifts of appreciation is often rife with unspoken rules, not to mention the juggernaut that can be created when a committee or team gathers to contemplate the why, who, what, and how much, not to mention the need to ensure that the gift is appropriate, memorable, and welcome* for broad, diverse recipients. (*Many companies have policies on what their employees can receive on the holidays. If you don’t know, ask.)
For gifts that come from “The Firm,” two things are foremost: (1) settle on your budget and (2) determine your recipient list. For gifts that come from individual lawyers, well, there’s more wiggle room as the lawyer will have more specific criteria as to who gets a gift, the personalization of the gift, and perhaps spring for part of the cost if it exceeds the allowed budget.
(Most quotes used in this post were contributed by givers and receivers during a discussion on law firm holiday corporate gift-giving.)
1. WHAT IS YOUR OBJECTIVE FOR GIVING A GIFT
Are gifts sent to clients and business associates over the winter holidays just a nice gesture or a smart marketing tool to remain top of mind and get your name in front? Maybe both, but in any case the pros agree on one rule of thumb: holiday gifts should represent a token of appreciation, not a bribe or a blatant marketing play. They should deliver good will, thoughtfulness, or thanks. The form of the gesture may vary, however, the pros say that sending any item with your logo boldly emblazoned in blaring letters across it has the potential to look cheap and worse, easily discarded.
“Nothing with your logo. I have received two fleece blankets, one just says happy new year. The whole family enjoys them.”
“I received a Nike + watch the other day–the client knows I like to ride outside. I was thrilled. So, customize the gift to the person where you can – nothing with your logo.”
Yes, you want your logo out there and you want your client to remember you. But sending a garish gift with little value will only make your gift seem cheap. Instead, the pros suggest that you select a high-quality item that is useful, and if you must, use only a tasteful engraving or stitching of your law firm name (not logo).
2. WHAT IS YOUR BUDGET FOR GIFTS
Forget the excess of the boom times and embrace the opportunity to select a holiday gift that makes the recipient feel as if you thought specifically about them.
It’s perfectly acceptable to choose a modest gift that is tasteful and maybe even a bit understated. Recipients are likely to remember unique gifts, especially those that show you are familiar with what they care about, no matter what the dollar amount.
“Most unique [gift]- a mason jar with a mechanical butterfly inside that moves when you tap the lid. Truly a conversation piece in my office too – looks life-like and fools many people.”
“Gifts for their dog and/or cat: If you know enough to know if your client has a dog or cat, you know your clients. Also, they will NEVER throw it away.”
Larger firms sometimes find that creating a gift catalog of vetted, appropriate selections allows lawyers to choose and personalize gifts for individual clients AND stay within the budget. Catalogs include gifts that appeal to basic themes such as sports (golf, tennis, boating, etc.), pets, families, hobbies (wine lovers, cooks, book lovers), and etc.
For the budget minded gift giver:
My first year in business as an independent consultant I had accumulated a lot of people (clients, referral sources, and industry friends) to whom I wanted to send holiday cheer but I had a very limited budget. So, to cover everyone, I designed and printed a holiday card with a festive cup ‘o joe on the front, a greeting inside that invited them to join me for a “virtual” cup of coffee, and inserted a (measly) $5.00 Starbucks gift card. I was surprised that it led to many quick thank you follow up emails. It was the thought that counted, not the dollar value.
General advice: Use common sense. Your business reputation is on the line. Your best judgment can make your gift a real success and enhance the relationship. When in doubt send only the very best you can afford.
3. WHO ARE YOU GIFTING?
If you can’t gift to everyone, how do you decide? There’s no ideal formula, but typically law firms will choose based on revenue generated. In addition to top clients, firms may decide to send smaller gifts of appreciation to valued vendors, media contacts, advisory board members, or friends of the firm (referral sources).
The key here is to start the identification process early. For larger law firms, you may want to consider using a request form that requires specific information about the intended recipient; i.e., questions about the depth of the relationship, the client’s community involvement, potential, and etc. (or you might find this information in your CRM).
If the relationship is strictly with an individual attorney rather than the firm, consider matching funds up to a certain amount and let the lawyer choose the appropriate gift on their own.
The president, CEO, or General Counsel may sign the checks, but the company works as a team. Who backed up the “boss” and made your year profitable? Did you work with a group of particularly helpful secretaries, account executives, or staff counsels? If so, then you should consider sending a gift everyone can partake in. The person with whom you have the client relationship will appreciate the gesture, especially where the company mission statement is team oriented: it can show that you are tuned into their philosophy and mission. (If you don’t know, check out their website!)
4. WHAT IS THE GIFT
Ahh…the great conundrum. Marketers are typically tasked with finding fresh gift ideas and something unique, yet one that suits most everyone on the list. The following ideas are not exhaustive by any stretch, but may start the wheels turning. If it’s not too late for 2012 (probably), you can file this post for next year! If you have examples of corporate gifts you’ve sent that have been well received, please share them in the comments. (No VENDOR pitches, please.)
Make it a contest.
Give employees a dollar amount and ask them to come up with ideas. Here are a few for starters.
“Donations are terrific.”
Let the recipient choose from several charities. You can do this via your holiday eCard after the greeting. Program a screen that allows the recipient to check off one from a list of four or more charities that the firm will donate to on their behalf. Better yet, customize based on the charities you know your clients support. (If you don’t already have this in your CRM – you should – you can look it up on their website, where most will list their pet charities or projects.)
“I spoke on a client webinar for a communications company. A couple weeks later I got a thank you note where they indicated that a donation was made in my name to the Midnight Mission. It’s an organization they know that I personally support. It was completely out of the blue and so thoughtful, as it was personal to me.”
Food is always welcome:
“We’ve done Tiffany. This year we are trying a chocolate bar. We’ll see how it works.”
“We did the giant chocolate bars. Very much enjoyed. I will say that I miss getting food items at the office. A big basket of Mrs. Beasley’s might go far at the holidays.”
“One of my colleagues did giant gourmet fortune cookies once and people LOVED them. They are not only fun, they are actually delish.”
“A consultant I used to work with sent out nice silver boxes (small – like 2 or 3 inches square) with a different word engraved on the top each year – i.e., Imagine, Hope, Change, Dream, Vision, etc. The boxes were a different shape every year too. They are among the most commented-on items on my desktop. You can put paper clips, business cards, candy, etc. in them, but I have just left them as-is in a group. None of the consultant’s branding appears on the boxes.”
“Depending on what you want to spend, we did Simon Pearce clocks as speaker gifts after an event once (about $50 each at the time) and they were extremely well received.”
“[My former law firm] used to produce a music CD of solo piano or jazz, performed by a Colorado musician. Clients loved them (to the point it was hard to stop making them).”
“I have been given custom tailored shirts. Very cool…the person came to my office, measured me and then we picked fabrics, collars, etc.”
“Most functional – picnic blankets and portable beverage coolers.”
“Don’t forget to take a look at your client list for those that might have products that would make cool/unique gifts. Supporting and promoting your clients’ businesses can be a great value add to the relationship.”
“Depends on the number of clients, but we personalize every client gift and make them all about the client. For example, client logo branded water tumblers, cookie centerpieces (delicious too), branded tea cans filled with organic teas, media coverage plaques, boxes of local specialty chocolates or cakes, etc.”
Here are some other clever ideas that I’ve seen gifted (or personally received) with great appreciation.
- Museum memberships
- Coffee-table books
- Tickets to the theater or a sporting event for client and spouse or whole family
- Hand picked compilation CD of holiday music
- Environmentally friendly gifts
- Regionally themed treat baskets
- A fleece jacket
- A high quality tote bag
- Amaryllis bulb kits and an attractive pot (they bloom in January when you really need a burst of color in your office)
- Chocolates in a hand-painted box that was suitable for stashing things after the chocolates were gone, and still sits on my desk!
Happy gifting! And, happy holidays!