Corporate Holiday Gift Etiquette

by | Nov 23, 2011 | Blog, Blog Archive, Distributed Marketing, Multi-Channel Marketing | 0 comments

Guest post by Kevin Wessner, Senior Vice President, MarketingFX

A gift basket that can be shared may be a good option when budgets are tight.

I’ve been in the business of supplying promotional items to corporations for many years, and every year, I get questions like these about this time of year:

  • I want to send a gift to my customer, and I want to put my logo on it.  But I don’t want it to look cheap or tacky.  What do I do?
  • I need to send a gift to someone I work with, but I don’t know them well.  How do I pick a gift that they’ll like without running the risk of offending them?
  • My boss has a huge list of customers he wants to send gifts to – but he’s set a budget that will only let me spend a small amount for each person.  What do I do?
  • When should I send a holiday gift to my customers, vendors, and business partners – and when should I settle for just a card?

It’s true that there’s a different etiquette for corporate gift giving than there is for personal gift giving.  But it all boils down to common sense.  You’ve spent a lot of time (and money) building your business reputation, and you don’t want to ruin it with the wrong gift.  I usually advise against sending liquor or cigars, as they may offend some recipients, and clothing is also best avoided, as it may be considered too personal.

Don’t forget that some companies prohibit employees from accepting gifts.  Check with a company’s secretary or human resources department before sending anything over.  This keeps your recipient out of hot water – and avoids the embarrassment of having the gift returned.

Another sensitive area is sending gifts to prospective customers. In general, I avoid this because it can give the appearance of looking a lot as if you’re hoping to influence the buying decision.  Better to send a nice, hand-signed card with a sincere note that says that you hope to work with them in the new year and leave it at that.  (A formal, hand-written note on nice card stock is never out of place, even in the era of email and Twitter.)

Good taste is the standard for any item with your logo on it.  If you can afford a digital photo frame or a nice desk clock, or a crystal bowl filled with chocolate, no one minds a small, tasteful logo.  But an inexpensive gift with a big logo on it may be perfect as a trade show hand-out but inappropriate as a holiday gift.  I find it ok to put a logo on the ribbon or box used to send a gift, especially for food items intended to be shared around the office.

Considering the whole team before sending a gift is an important step in the budget planning process. Was there a pool of designers or engineers who backed up the boss and made your year profitable? Did you work with a group of particularly helpful account executives? Then send a fruit basket, cookies, candy, or another gift that the whole team can share instead of individual gifts.

If possible, deliver your team gift yourself, with your sincere thanks and good wishes.  If your team is halfway across the country, make sure you build shipping costs and time into your plan.  If your recipient is outside the U.S., do your homework on gift giving carefully to avoid giving offense.  The fact is that while gifts are optional in the U.S. and U.K., they are anything but optional in some countries, and you can ruin a relationship with a gift that’s improperly given, given at the wrong time, or even one that contains the wrong number of pieces or parts.  Here’s a link to some basic international gift-giving basics.

If you start a gift giving tradition, keep it going – if you’ve sent a gift to a client every year for the last five years (especially now, as we come off a recession), and you stop now, they may wonder what’s wrong.  Don’t radically change the size or value of your gifts, either.

Speaking of value, one of the most common questions I’m asked is how much to spend on a company gift.  If you spend in the $50-60 range for a nice gift basket, you’re probably spending in the average range.  But if you have a customer who spends hundreds of thousands of dollars with your firm every year, you might consider your holiday gift to them carefully.

A lawyer I know says that 1-3% of a monthly retainer is standard at his firm, while a PR executive caps spending for client gifts at 5% of a monthly retainer for clients who’ve been with the firm more than a year, and 3% for clients who’ve been with the firm less than a year. When you get into that range, you can find some awfully nice gifts to send!

But don’t despair if you can afford to spend just $25-40 per corporate gift.  There are lots of nice options in that range, too.  Find a reputable supplier who understands corporate gift giving, and talk to them about your budget and what you want to achieve.  We work with our clients year round to deliver the best impression at the lowest cost, and we appreciate it when clients start by letting us know what budget limits they need to work with.

Sending a hearty “Happy Holidays!” message is the perfect end to the year, and a great way to start off 2012, too.  So get those gift lists ready, and start sending some holiday cheer to the people who helped you succeed in 2011.

MarketingFX is a leading supplier of corporate holiday gifts, and its virtual warehouse model allows fast, cost effective delivery world-wide. 

Photo credit:  This image from Godiva Chocolates was offered under a Creative Commons License on Flickr.