The Ultimate Corporate Gift-Giving Guide

Choose corporate presents wisely to make lasting impression

By Pam George
Special to Delaware Business Times

The Hartmann luggage, the Tiffany bowl and the Coach weekend bag — these are just a few of the gifts that vendors and supervisors once gave corporate executives. Alas, those days died with the Great Recession. Today, while most corporate gifts are no longer lavish, they still present an advantage.

For business owners and account representatives, holiday gifts are a way to thank customers for their business. They also pave the way for a dialogue about the year to come. For employers, a gift shows employees that they are appreciated.

The trick, however, is to select an item that delivers the best return on your investment.

Author Leah Ingram: It’s OK to give gifts only to top clients.
Author Leah Ingram: It’s OK to give gifts only to top clients.

1. Ask HR before you act.

The size and cost of a gift are not the only things that are different these days. “What’s changed even more is how much human resources has gotten involved with corporate gift-giving, especially among employees,” says Leah Ingram, the author of “Gifts Anytime: How to Find the Perfect Gift for Any Occasion” and “The Everything Etiquette Book: A Modern-Day Guide to Good Manners.”

Many HR departments have guidelines so that both the giver and recipient don’t feel uncomfortable. “Check with HR before you buy a gift or promise to take you staff to lunch,” Ingram says. “You don’t want to create an awkward situation just by trying to do something nice.”

Similarly, the HR department may have a policy about accepting gifts from people outside the company.

Gift boxes from Simon & Co.: Premium products, fully packed.
Gift boxes from Simon & Co.: Premium products, fully packed.

2. Gift “down” within the company.

To avoid the teacher’s pet syndrome, give gifts to your subordinates and not to your supervisors. Better yet, institute a Secret Santa policy for the entire department, which creates a level playing field. Each person draws a name and gets a gift for only that person.

A white elephant exchange, or Yankee swap, is another option. Each person brings a wrapped gift and draws a number. The first person unwraps a gift. The second may either take that gift or choose a new one and so on. Combine it with a potluck lunch, Ingram recommends.

No one says no to bags of wine and chocolate from Harvey Hanna & Associates.
No one says no to bags of wine and chocolate from Harvey Hanna & Associates.

3. Be selective.

In the past, Ingram sent gifts to all her clients, regardless of the amount of work they gave her. When the economy tanked, she limited the list those who’d paid a certain dollar amount and above. “I think it’s completely fine to have a cutoff,” she says.

Many local business owners would agree. Wilmington-based Shop LuLu — which sells scarves and jewelry online via OpenSky, Etsy and Amazon, as well as on its site — purchased locally made chalkboard ornaments to give to top customers. Each ornament will have a handwritten thank you message on it.

Patricia Rivera, the owner of Lewes-based Hook PR, only gives gifts to her top 10 clients. Last year, she purchased handcrafted pens from a local artisan. This year she plans to send Harry & David fruit-and-cheese baskets.

4. Consider consumables.

It is hard to go wrong by giving food. If the recipient doesn’t like the item, he or she can share it with coworkers or give it to someone who does, Ingram notes.

Wine is a natural choice for Harvey Hanna & Associates. The real estate developer owns Premier Wine & Spirits on Limestone Road near Stanton.

Ryan Kennedy: Personal delivery is a nice touch.
Ryan Kennedy: Personal delivery is a nice touch.

“We give gift bags with a bottle of red and white wine with assorted chocolates and peanuts,” says Ryan Kennedy, marketing director. “We hand-deliver the gifts over a two-week period in December, which is always fun for us. It’s a festive gesture and a great way to close out a year — acknowledging everyone we worked with along the way.”

At Swigg, a wine store in Wilmington, owner David Govatos has prepared boxes with up to six wines and tasting notes. But most people ask for customized boxes that often include chocolate. (Swigg sells products by beautifully decorated Chocolate Moonshine Co. bars, which bars come in such flavors as black cherry bourbon and tiramisu.)

Customization rules at Simon & Co., which creates high-end gift baskets and towers in its Claymont studio. Unlike the pre-made gift baskets you might find in big box stores, Simon & Co.’s baskets are fully packed. “We never cut corners,” says Jennifer Simon, who founded the company in 2009 after working with 1-800-FLOWERS. “We only use the best foods, and we make sure the recipient gets a nice, full basket.”

Simon says many of her customers send a basket or box to an office or a department rather than to one person. Consider the periodontist who sends gifts to thank the dentist and dental lab practices that refer patients to his office throughout the year.

5. Personalize it.

Don’t let your message get lost amongst all the cookies and cheese. The periodontist’s basket includes the practice’s card and company logo. A financial services company gives a gift tower topped by a photo box with a personalized greeting card.

Wine labels are another way to personalize a gift. University of Delaware grad Dani Mackey, owner of D.C.-based Dani Mackey Communications, creates a custom label, which is affixed to Windsor Vineyards Wines.

Kevin Fleming’s photo books: Great corporate gifts.
Kevin Fleming’s photo books: Great corporate gifts.

6. Go local.

Wine with local flavor makes a gift unique, and there are four Delaware vineyards from which to choose, along with wineries just across the state line.

Other Small Wonder goodies can make a big impression. Consider “The Beach,” a book by Lewes-based photographer Kevin Fleming. “I have some clients that buy 1,000 books at a time,” says Fleming, who also sells calendars featuring his photography of local scenes. “They make great corporate gifts.”

Olevano, owned by Wilmington residents Tom Delle Donne and Al Fierro, sells corporate gift packs with imported olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The company also sells body-care products made with olive oil. Marketing consultant JulieAnne Cross recalls an IT executive who bought 14 items to give to her team members.

7. Give back.

Sometimes the gift benefits many. Instead of a holiday party at the Hotel du Pont and client gifts, Belflint Lyons Shuman decided to put the funds toward charitable endeavors.

“It was a tradition started many years ago and has been very meaningful to our clients, as well as the local community,” says Jenni Fleck Jones, who handles marketing for the company. Every year, BLS picks five nonprofits and lets their clients know via a seasonal greeting card.

Jennifer Simon launched her brand in 2009 after working with 1-800-FLOWERS.
Jennifer Simon launched her brand in 2009 after working with 1-800-FLOWERS.

8. Time it right.

When it comes to a holiday gift, timing is everything. Just ask Cross, who once worked through Christmas at MBNA, when many of her colleagues took off. She wound up taking a shipment of frozen Omaha Steaks home because few were there to claim their gift and there was no room to store them at the office.

Ingram suggests sending gifts the first two weeks of December. Or, wait until January, which is what she does, and send a salute-to-the-New-Year gift. Jayla Boire of The Right Idea, a Wilmington marketing firm, once sent a cooler of beverages to clients as a Christmas-in-July promotion. Clients were thrilled. “It really worked,” she says.

No matter what or how you give, make sure to leave a lasting impression all year long.

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