Do most companies still partake in the holiday corporate gift giving tradition? At least in the professional services and small business classification, it seems a majority still do. CNBC says that last year, 51 percent of these businesses would be sending out representative thanks and good wishes to their client companies in the form of food, music, tickets to entertainment, and other various, corporate-branded mementos.
According to Forbes, some of the top corporate gifts for the holidays are “subscription-based” (think the next generation of Fruit of the Month Club), a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year, ostensibly keeping the “giver” in mind every time another package arrives. This presumes a fairly close level of familiarity with the intended recipient – how often do detailed lifestyle habits, media preferences, or even general food allergies come up in intermittent business conversation?
Beyond sending a recipient to the hospital in anaphylactic shock from an inappropriate food gift, sending meaningless, generic gifts can backfire in more mundane fashion.
Beyond sending a recipient to the hospital in anaphylactic shock from an inappropriate food gift, sending meaningless, generic gifts can backfire in more mundane fashion. As one CEO for a major professional services firm recently remarked (after receiving another sleeve of low-end, corporate-branded golf balls from an outsourcing provider) – “What are they thinking? We are fortunate to have everything we need, why not just make a charitable donation in our name!?”
In fact, for those close client relationships, the New York Times advises tailoring to the recipient as specifically as possible, while still keeping true to the “giver” company’s own brand values – people want to do business with companies whose values reflect their own. At The Alexander Group, for many years, we sent gift baskets, golf balls and other hit-or-miss tokens. But now, we use our annual holiday card to allow our clients to choose one of three charities for us to make a donation in their name. We’ve received wonderful feedback from our clients in this regard and we’re grateful for the opportunity to help meaningful organizations further their causes.
The extreme example of sending an overly-specific gift without knowing the “tastes” of the receiver occurred a few years ago, when a national law firm sent “holiday hams” out to each of their clients. When the firm realized they forgot to include cards stating who the hams were from, they had to take the embarrassing step of personally calling each client and relaying that the hams were, in fact, from them. Imagine their further mortification when one particular client, a strict observer of Hasidic Jewish faith, replied back that the gift violated his religious tenets and that he found it offensive…a quick backtrack call to say “Actually, we were mistaken, the ham wasn’t from us” did little to ameliorate the situation.
The corollary to specific tailoring is that quality is king – a garish, oversized holiday display that is unlikely to “vibe” with a client’s décor is more of a burden than gift, while a cheap trinket calendar seems equally archaic and indicative of minimal personal and professional investment. Each in their own way saying more about a company’s lack of thoughtfulness, insight, and a check-the-boxes approach to client relationship management.
Despite the potential pitfalls, companies that send well-thought-out, quality (not necessarily expensive) tokens of thanks and holiday wishes will only underscore and further cement the strength of their client relationships – but remember to include an epinephrine pen with any food baskets, just in case.