The season is here (almost) to choose holiday gifts for clients & others

‘Tis the season (almost) to remember colleagues, clients, and vendors at holiday time. It’s also the time to position your company and its values, as you decide between cards, gifts, or other ways to thank those who make your business successful.

You’ll want to thank people in a way that’s creative and budget-conscious, but no matter how you reach out with the spirit of the season, do it wisely. The holidays are a time to thank those who have helped your business succeed, an opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of your clients, and the chance to reach out to those you network with

(or might like to network with). People never forget something unique, yet they always remember a faux pas.

“Locally produced, custom-designed, brand-enhancing, aspirational and fun are my guidelines when planning holiday gifts or cards” says Christine Takacs, owner and creative director of the Brattleboro, VT, marketing agency Rapt Creative. “If it is a box of Vermont chocolates, I’ll wrap it in our brand colors. If I have time to design a card, it will be unique and quirky and communicate an inspiring message for the coming year. And in cases where timing is an issue, New Years cards/gifts work well and can have

a goal-oriented theme” advises Takacs. “Also, it is always good to remember not just your direct client but all of those people who really help you make things happen. Office managers, receptionists, etc. They really appreciate the recognition.”

Here’s additional practical advice about gift giving to clients and others at holiday time.

Greeting cards

• Keep the design and message secular. “Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year” is an inclusive message that won’t offend folks who don’t celebrate Christmas.

• If you don’t have a designer on staff or access to one who can customize a card, buy a card from a local artist or arts collective. Any quick-print place can print your company name and/or logo.

• Hand-address the envelope. Don’t use computer-generated labels. We hired a couple of high school girls to hand-address our cards; they tend to have good penmanship, and they can use the pocket money at the holidays.

• Personalize the card with something hand-written inside. Use an ink pen, if you can.

• If you have to use computer-generated return address labels, put them on the back flap of the envelope. The peel-off ones you receive from charities are appropriate.

•Try to find some seasonal yet secular holiday stamps at the post office, and hand-stamp the cards. Nothing says “impersonal” like cards run through a postage meter.

Gifts

• Buy your items from small local businesses and self-employed people. After all, you’re one of them.

• Go for practical choices, especially if you don’t really know the people well. An ad agency I used to share a client with sent out winter scarves with their logo embroidered into the design. The scarves were dark grey. I’ve worn mine for many winters since, and their logo is subtle, so I feel I can wear it when I visit other ad agencies.

• Consider a specialty food item or craft from your region. I’ve sent clients maple syrup harvested from a nearby farm. I include a card in the gift box and a couple of local recipes. A colleague of mine who has a cafe client sends out gift cards from his client’s cafe.

• When in doubt, send a gift card. Support a local theatre, symphony, or museum with a gift card for tickets, admission, or their gift shop. Support an independent bookseller. You’re supporting something local.

Contributions

When I had some non-profits as clients, I learned that year-end giving often plays an important role in their income for the year. People tend to be generous at holiday time.

Michelle van Schouwen, President of van Schouwen Associates, a marketing company in Longmeadow, MA, recalled, “About ten years ago, we started sending our clients and associates a card that told them we would make a charitable donation in lieu of giving client gifts. Following the 2006 death of van Schouwen Associates co-founder Steve

van Schouwen, we continued the tradition as a memorial to him, which seemed especially appropriate, because Steve had always cared deeply about people less fortunate than himself and had always been generous in giving to others. Now, each year, we send a donation to a local organization that provides food, shelter, support programs and/or other services to people in need. It has become a way to observe the

meaning of the holidays and to help keep Steve’s memory.”

My company, Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, has been doing the same since I chaired the board of a non-profit charity. We let our clients know with a postcard, but I’ve been able to donate more to a charity by using email to let my folks know. I also have a link to the charity that we’re supporting, so people can learn where the money

goes.

If you make this choice, give wisely.

• Make sure the organization you support is a legitimate non-profit.

You can learn about an organization through:

Charity Navigator: http://www.charitynavigator.org

Charity Watch: http://www.charitywatch.org/azlist.html

Give Well: http://www.givewell.org/charities/top-charities

• Never contribute to a political campaign, a religious institution, or a non-profit with a controversial mission as part of your holiday campaign. You may well believe in the above, so you can make that contribution personally. If you offend a client or colleague with your choice of organizations, you can strain your relationship with them.

• Give locally, a choice that makes you a good community member and a good neighbor. If you have a non-profit client, consider making a contribution to their efforts.

• You may think that dividing your gift among multiple charities is helping all of them, so you choose let’s say five groups and donate let’s say $10.00 to each. They’ll all be appreciative, but it probably costs them money to process the gift, so select one, or two at most, and give them more.

Oh, and one closing thought: If you get a gift from a colleague or client, acknowledge it immediately with a hand-written note. It’s good manners, and good taste, both being traits you want your company or service to reflect.

_________

Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

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