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The Art of Corporate Gift Giving

Corporate gift giving is serious business. As part of a well considered program, it can help establish or enhance critical relationships and become a cost-effective means of recognizing activities that benefit the business. This article describes the many issues to consider if a corporate gift program is to succeed.

According to many surveys, most corporate gifts and awards are given to major clients. After that come employees, then prospective clients. Reasons for gift giving range from thanking long-standing customers for their business to recognizing a valued employee for working on a weekend. The general reason is the same: to affirm relationships and enhance the personal connection between giver and recipient.

Gifts differ from incentives in that they are offered with no explicit preconditions for performance. They differ from ad specialties in that they do not contain any blatant imprints or advertising. That doesn't mean there's no bottom-line benefit to be derived from corporate gift giving. For some companies, it's an essential part of marketing strategy. Just about everyone agrees that, done correctly, gift giving is a cost-effective way to build a feeling of partnership with valued associates.

Although there's hard evidence relating corporate awards and gift giving to increased business activity, it won't exactly give you the confidence to make specific return-on-investment projections in your marketing plan. Chances are you won't be expected to come up with that kind of hard data anyway. The Promotional Products Association International conducts regular surveys of corporate gift givers and recipients.A recent one shows that vendors who gave were twice as likely to increase their chances of being contacted by customers as those that didn't have a gift program.As long as you do it right, gift giving will help to build the relationships that are the lifeblood of your business.

GIFTS VS. INCENTIVES

To recognize what an effective corporate gift strategy is, it helps to understand what it isn't. Start by making the distinction between corporate gift giving and incentive award programs. Though gifts and incentive awards often involve similar types of recipients, they are different on both strategic and practical levels. Corportae incentives are awards for achieving defined levels of activity, such as sales quotas, safety improvements, or good attendance. In contrast, corporate gifts are more or less spontaneous, given not as part of any defined exchange between giver and recipient. The corporate gift recipient doesn't consciously set goals in anticipation of an award, whereas the incentive recipient does.

It's tempting to view corporate gift and incentive programs in the same light. After all, you want to know that you're getting your money's worth from any business investment, and most givers want to motivate the recipient in one way or another. But be careful. Leaving customers or employees with the impression that they're being bribed can do more harm than good. Instead, look at gift giving as a subtle, long-term process of relationship-building, following the basic guidelines described in this article.

THE ETHICS OF GIVING

A few words of advice:

Giving gifts during a bidding process is a definite no-no, even if a holiday happens to fall during this time. Lavish gifts, such as cars and luxury vacations, are suspect and should be used only after careful consideration. Even when there isn't a stated restriction, be careful not to create the wrong impression with a gift. Anything that might embarrass your recipient or lead to a reprimand can sabotage a valuable relationship.

THE ETIQUETTE OF GIVING

Consider the following major areas before you go shopping:
Appropriateness. Care should be taken that the corporate gift is appropriate to the business relationship. This has less to do with the dollar value of business transacted, or even the amount of time one has been doing business with the recipient, than with the closeness of the relationship. If a client seems aloof and excessively businesslike, don't try to loosen him or her up with baubles. It can backfire. With a new relationship, don't get too personal or too lavish with the gift. Frequency of giving generally should be restricted to major holidays and special occasions. Again, be sure to avoid the impression that you're bribing the recipient.

Personality. It's great when a corporate gift has personality, but the real issue is whether the gift reflects the personality and interests of the recipient. Is she a sports car nut? Does he have an obsessive relationship with his sailboat? What's her favorite color? Try to find out these kinds of things discreetly because when you do (and your gift reflects it), the impression is that you care about the person and have taken the time to understand their style and taste.

Timing. The most popular times for giving, of course, are holidays, but the true champions of corporate gift-giving know that other times of the year can have a more profound personal impact on the relationship. For instance, birthday gifts are bound to impress, since they show that you've bothered to learn a thing or two about the recipient. Important dates, such as the anniversary of a new job or the day you initiated a business relationship, may be good occasions for a gift. You can also mark such events as a promotion, the birth of a child, or completion of an important project. Whether you stick to established holidays and impersonal occasions or get into the personal life of the recipient depends on the nature of the relationship. It may seem slightly presumptuous, or even intrusive, to choose the wrong occasion for a gift.

Presentation. Special care should be taken in preparing the gift. Invest in some nice wrapping paper, and take the time to compose a personal, handwritten card. This can be as important as the gift itself, since your message to the recipient conveys your intentions and sincerity. Then there's the issue of whether to mail or present in person. Mailing can reduce any feelings of obligation on the part of the recipient, and it can provide some unexpected pleasure in a routine work day. If the relationship warrants it, mailing to the person's home may add a personal touch, particularly when the gift commemorates a personal occasion like a birthday.

Customizing. To logo or not to logo, that is a key question. For many businesses, customized corporate gifts keep the company name in the minds of recipients. When the item is a practical one that is likely to be used every day, such as a calendar, coffee mug or tote bag, this amounts to free daily advertising. But there is a tackiness quotient to consider. They may make great trade show premiums or leave-behinds, but customized items should never be considered for personal, deeply heartfelt gifts. In general, avoid obvious self-promotion when giving expensive gifts or any time you want to leave the impression that the gift is coming personally from you.

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