To Give or Not to Give …

Well, it's that time of year. The stores have packed up the Halloween candy and brought out the Christmas decorations to remind us all that holiday giving time is just around the corner. It's not enough that we have to search for thoughtful gifts for our loved ones, but we also have to hunt down gifts for the clients that drive us crazy year round. Whether you own a large or small firm, you're going to want to send out holiday gifts to your clients to show your appreciation for their business. The one thing you should remember above all is:  It's not the thought that counts. Sometimes it's better to give nothing than to give the worst gift ever. Below you will find a few holiday gift giving do's and don'ts.

Let's start with what not to give your clients. Fruitcake rings in at number one. We all know fruitcake looks pretty but taste terrible. Every year I taste fruitcake because it looks so festive with its red and green cherries, and every year I spit it in my napkin. Fruitcake sends the message, "I really didn't taste this gift before giving it, but it was the cheapest thing I could find that caused me little to no effort". I don't care if your Aunt Betsy makes the world's best fruitcake; it's still the worst Christmas cake ever.

Rounding in at number two is the fruit basket. You might ask if I have something against fruit? I happen to love fruit, which is why I purchase fruit myself every time I go to the grocery store. Giving someone fruit is like giving them anything else on their grocery list. A fruit basket says, "Just in case you haven't had time to go to the grocery store and you can't afford apples, I thought I would give you some fruit". Inevitably, this fruit basket will be left at the office intentionally only to be found after the New Year covered with gnats.

Last but not least are office supplies, such as pens, stationary, and post-its, with your company logo. Christmas time is not self-promotion time, although there are sneaky ways to self-promote and give a great gift at the same time, which I will delve into below. Sending office supplies to clients for Christmas says, "business is really slow, and I'm desperate for new clients. Here are fifty pens with my company name and phone number. Please, please call me because I really need to make the money back that I spent on these pens".

Although there is a multitude of other terrible gifts out there, let's discuss what to give. If you're in design and marketing you'll need to be creative with your gift, whether it be through original art or a funny message. If money is no object or if you simply want to impress a few select clients, then a bottle of Veuve Clicquot with a label design by your agency is the way to go. Replacing the label on a bottle of wine or champagne is fairly simple. You can simply build a label to cover the original or use a product called "oops remover" to completely remove the label and add your own. You will want to use 3M spray glue to attach. This is the sneaky self-promotion I mentioned above. The label should consist of original artwork, an upbeat holiday message and, of course, your company name. If you want to take it a step further, begin a series and make these bottles collector's items. Champagne is great because you can send a "Happy New Year" message, and you certainly want your clients ringing in the new year with a bottle of champagne provided by your company; however, if the price is to high opt for a bottle of fifteen-dollar wine and do the same. A word to the wise, do not give bad wine or white zinfandel. Your clients will inevitably remember you when drinking the worst bottle of wine they've ever had.

Another alternative our firm has created in the past is the photo coffee tumbler. This will run you about ten to fifteen dollars, depending on where you purchase the tumbler. Instead of placing photos on the paper insert, you will build your own insert to size. As before, your insert should be designed thoughtfully by your firm, including your company name and perhaps a message of some sort. This is a great gift for those clients who don't drink or clients who drink a ton of coffee. Every time they have their morning coffee they will see your originally designed coffee mug. The best part is, you don't have to deal with spray glue.

Let's face it, it has been a tough year for everyone. If you have absolutely no money to spend but still want to wish your clients a happy holiday, then a card is your only option. You probably have a little time on your hands, so what better way to spend it then making a sensational Christmas card? Your card should be office-made and not store bought. How are you going to convince anyone you're a designer if you don't design your own holiday cards? You can go with a generic "happy holidays from all of us here at lameville" message, or you can take this opportunity to show off your humor and creativity. Many clients don't get to see your face that often, with primary communication for most agencies being email, so putting your face on the card is a great way to go. My company received a Christmas card last year from an agency where everyone dressed up like a character out of "A Christmas Story". They nailed this one, right down to the forty-year-old business executive in a footed bunny suit. The key is to make the card so funny or embarrassing that your client won't be able to throw it away. Sometimes a funny, well thought out card can even trump a bottle of champagne.

This holiday season, keep in mind who your audience is. Don't send wine to a recovered alcoholic, peanut butter cookies to someone who's allergic to peanuts or chocolates to a diabetic. Remember, it's not the thought that counts. Sometimes it's better to send no gift at all than to send them to the emergency room with anaphylactic shock. Make your gift memorable, humorous or classy and above all don't give fruitcake.


Sherry Pappas

Sherry Kington

Teacher and Part-Time Author