Happy Holidays! Client Gift-Giving Etiquette

December 2, 2015

[able images/corbis]
[able images/corbis]

It’s that time of year to fill mailboxes with seasonal cards and gifts. This brings us to an issue that both independents and larger agencies face during the holidays: What is the best way to express goodwill to clients, associates and friends?

Independents observe the holiday season in a range of ways. So, here are a few holiday greeting etiquette tips:

Don’t lose your humanity. It’s possible to mark the season without being generic. I remember one law firm that was so paralyzed with fear over the direction of its annual holiday card that it avoided even the remotest visual or verbal connection to any particular holiday. This resulted in the firm’s card as a stark, colorless and bland depiction of a cold winter scene: snow on a bare branch, a pine cone and no text.

You don’t have to be a risk-taker to deliver a genuine message. While this does not mean that you need to showcase any particular holiday, don’t be afraid to use warm colors and symbols that reflect your style and message. And remember to personalize the greeting. One of the more commonly well-received touches is to include a handwritten note.

A rule-of-thumb is to ask yourself if recipients will feel like you really thought about them, or if it just looks like an exercise in checking them — and the season — off your list.

Realize that it’s the thought that counts. Some independents hand-select separate gifts for individual clients. Others donate to a charity in clients’ names. Whatever you do, just ensure that you put thought into it. Make it matter.

Anne Isenhower, an independent media relations consultant in Atlanta, likes to send her clients gifts of appreciation every November.

“I figure that everyone likes to get food, so I usually send big holiday-themed baskets of cookies, candy and popcorn from The Popcorn Factory,” she said. “Even if someone is cutting back on calories, they can always share it with their colleagues or family. The cards that accompany the gift baskets feature a message of continued appreciation for their business and for ‘being so good to work with.’”

Be smart about plastic. A gift card can make the right or wrong statement during the holidays. On the one hand, if you give your client a gift card to a large department store, then this could indicate that you didn’t put much thought into the gift. On the other hand, if you give your client a gift card to his or her favorite lunch spot, then it stands a better chance of being used and appreciated.

Remember that less is more. Don’t overdo it with your business’ brand on the cards, packaging or gifts. Gift-giving during the holidays is a gesture of goodwill. Excessive use of your logo, tagline or other marketing content can create the perception of shameless self-promotion and undermine your opportunity to strengthen a bond that is built on mutual trust, and even friendship.

Regardless of how you decide to approach business gift-giving, the spirit of the season warrants that this is an appropriate time to reach out to those who have been with you on your journey and to let them know that you value them.

With that in mind, if you are a regular reader of this column, then I hope you’ve benefited in some way over the past year. Know that you are appreciated, and have a very happy holiday season!

Tim O'Brien, APR

Tim O’Brien, APR, owns O’Brien Communications, an independent corporate communications practice in Pittsburgh, and hosts the “Shaping Opinion” podcast. Email: timobrien@timobrienpr.com. Twitter: @OBrienPR.


Jodi Shapiro says:

Great tips! Really like the part about asking yourself if the client will feel like you really thought of them. It's so much more impactful to send something unique, that makes the client truly feel appreciated rather than simply sending something for the sake of sending it. - Jodi Shapiro @workperks

May 7, 2018

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