Knick-knacks covered with your logo are not Christmas gifts; they are shameless attempts to turn your clients into billboards. The rule here – logos on gifts must be tasteful and discreet. I might like your company, and I like cufflinks, but unless I am the CEO of your company I really don’t want your logo on my sleeve. If you go to the expense of buying leather Coach coasters and must have your logo on them, make it small and elegant so I feel good about putting them on my table. (A caveat to this rule. If you are Prada, Nike, Gucci, or Bentley – feel free to give me anything you want with your logo anywhere you want.)
Don’t give me knock offs. A few years ago a company sent me what was obviously a 42nd Street rendition of a Mont Blanc pen that they represented as authentic. When I tried to use the pen it exploded and my middle finger was blue for three days (making the gesture I made at the pen and its giver all the more dramatic). I would rather have a nice ten dollar pen that works as opposed to a “pretend two hundred dollar” pen that doesn’t.
Don’t send delicate items unless you are willing to make a big investment in packaging. A supplier sent me a beautiful Japanese tea set a couple years ago that arrived in three inch shards. It took extensive forensic reconstructive work to determine what they had sent so I could pretend it arrived in one piece.
Artwork is subjective and potentially a risky gift, unless it is so classic and timeless (think Bauhaus mugs) that you could not go wrong.
While I applaud charitable donations, I don’t know if it is technically a gift to me when you make a donation and tell me about it – unless of course you are actually forwarding the tax deduction.
Don’t forget to send out thank you cards for every gift, regardless of your rank in the organization or the relative insignificance of the gift. Despite the fact that corporate Christmas gifts can sometimes seem shallow, but there are people behind them that took time and effort to get them to you. And don’t be a Bah Humbug gift recipient. Several years ago a client at one of the television studios called me to actually complain about his gift. We had sent out special edition Pendleton blankets, and he wanted to “trade his in” for another gift, as “it never gets cold enough in LA to warrant a blanket”. Good and bad manners are always noticed and noted.
The best corporate Christmas gift is something everyone uses a few times a year, and you don’t mind receiving even if you already own one.
A few suggestions; interesting tool sets you can keep in your house or car, corkscrews, ice buckets, wine glasses. One year someone gave me a really nice hammer that I use all the time.One of the best gifts I ever received came from The Discovery Network. They gave me a beautiful robe that I wore for several years, and I didn’t even mind the small logo on the pocket. I liked the idea so much I copied it – and put our small logo on the sleeve – so you could roll up the cuffs if you didn’t want to see it.
Do make sure the gift works before you send it out. Several years ago I gave Johnny Carson a portable DVD player at Christmas to celebrate our release of his new DVD set. This was early in the days of DVD players when there were compatibility issues, and unfortunately the player would not play his DVDs, leaving Johnny to wonder whether we bought him a cheap DVD player or screwed up his DVDs.
New technologies have been the most popular “big gift” we give out, and I love to be able to give a great gift that also makes a statement about the company without being offensive. Last year we gave major clients video iPods with our latest work downloaded.
But great gifts don’t need to be complex or expensive. A few years ago I received a terrific metal travel mug and a pound of good coffee. The coffee is long gone but I use the mug every day. Though food baskets are not particularly original, they are always used and appreciated, and particularly good when you have a full office full of clients you want to thank. Also, many companies with gift restrictions will allow baskets.
Undoubtedly the most unusual gift I ever gave was a Toto electronic bidet toilet seat. Toto was a client, and we installed the vibrating, self-cleaning, high technology toilet seats in our office (which we affectionately called the electronic ass washing machines). When visiting our office a client always marveled at how much he liked the Toto, so the week before Christmas I made the trek to his office in Denver carrying a twenty pound toilet seat. Getting it through airline security was a bit of an ordeal, and a toilet seat is really not appropriate as a gift for most clients.