The Art of Business: 'Tis the Season to Give Gifts... Thoughtfully
How fast time flies. It's that time of year again to find the right gift for clients, vendors, and colleagues. It's a task that seems to get harder every year due to the ever-constricting gender, religious, cultural, and business parameters that define our working world.
But it's worth the effort, first, because it's a great relationship builder, and secondly, because it's a wonderful way to say thank you to people whom you presumably care about.
Making the list
Before thinking about what gifts to give, start with a list of who not to give to. For starters, it's best not to send gifts to someone with whom you're negotiating a contract. It may appear as a feeble attempt at a bribe. It's also best not to send gifts to those you've recently met or to those with whom you have only a passing relationship. This may make them feel uneasy and guilty for not thinking of you. Who's left?
- long-term clients who pay their bills;
- past clients who you appreciate;
- vendors and colleagues with whom you work regularly;
- the administrative assistant to the client who signs the checks;
- inside collaborators and "point people" with whom you work closely;
- your postal carrier for delivering checks and the UPS driver for undamaged boxes;
- your accountant and other professionals who keep you legal and keep the IRS at bay.
Making the choice
With the list in place, it's off to the cybermall to find the right gift for each person. The key words to remember are discretion, good taste, and planning. You don't want the gift to be too expensive -- that may appear extravagant. But that's better than spending too little and, consequently, looking cheap. After all, wouldn't you prefer to receive an inappropriately expensive gift than an inappropriately cheap one? Unless you know someone very well, stay away from gifts that can be construed as too personal, such as clothing and jewelry, as well as any gift with a religious connotation.
Before giving a gift to someone in a large corporation, ask the company about its gift policy. Some corporations have iron-clad "no-gift policies." Others have restrictions on the gift's cost. If it's a small company, ask around informally about the type of gift usually exchanged within the office and stay within these parameters of cost and taste.
When giving gifts to staff or people in the same office, it's best to give, if not the same gift, then a gift of equal perceived value, if for no other reason than to avoid sowing the seeds of envy among those you work with regularly. But there's always a caveat, which is why business gift giving is so difficult. You may, for example, want -- and should have every right -- to give a nicer gift to a long-time colleague than to someone who's new on the job.
That said, if possible make each gift unique, so that when the office or e-mail chatter finally gets around to you, people will concur that you're a truly remarkable person in addition to a gifted creative professional.
Here are some gift ideas:
- something that relates to the type of project you worked on with the recipient;
- an item that punctuates a little running (tasteful) joke;
- one that fulfills a desire mentioned in passing;
- a small item you know they need for day-to-day work;
- an addition to a collection you know the receiver has an interest in.
Gag gifts are very hard to pull off. Unless there's a tie-in with a running joke, as mentioned above, forget the gag gift. You can never predict someone's sense of humor and what's funny to one person might be insulting to the next.
Finding the right gift
Perhaps the best type of gift is best described as a reward gift -- something recipients wouldn't necessarily buy for themselves, but would be happy to own. My personal favorite comes from the digital gift bag -- a key-ring USB flash drives, available for as little as $10.
Outside the digital realm, consider art books, a pound of premium coffee or teas, fruit baskets, CDs, DVDs, a bottle of fine wine (if they drink), a gift certificate to the movies, a nice desk clock, letter opener, paperweight, or cool gadget. Something of enduring worth is better, because it will serve as an enduring reminder of you. Think of all the things you want for yourself but never buy, and you'll build a list fairly quickly.
Here's an online index of corporate gift Web sites.
Take the time or spend extra to have the gift wrapped nicely. Include a handwritten note with a personal sentiment. And, if possible, hand deliver the package. It's the little things that count.
Happy holiday shopping
Read more by Eric J. Adams.