Golf Balls And Goodies: Choosing Client Holiday Gifts

Christmas is just a few days away, but the holiday frenzy started after Thanksgiving. Our Houston office is squarely in Houston's Galleria -- it can take up to an hour to exit the parking garage during the month of December. I received my first corporate holiday gift on December 1st, along with several queries from vendors as to what The Alexander Group is sending to clients this year. Good question.

At The Alexander Group we have done it all. When the firm was first launched in 1984, my founding partner and I actually baked cookies for our 25 clients. It takes a lot of time to bake over 600 cookies!

We carefully wrapped and mailed them ourselves, though on some we actually forgot to include a card. It was a big question back then: Do we call the client and say, "Just wanted to let you know the mashed up chocolate chip cookies are from The Alexander Group?" I still have a few of the thank you letters-yep, people actually wrote and mailed letters back then.

As the firm grew, we tried to be more imaginative and less labor intense. Over the next decade, we sent wine, cheese balls, pecans, poinsettias, and candy. In 1998, after I took up golf, I thought it would be cool to order The Alexander Group logo balls for our golf-playing clients.

I made two mistakes: I didn't realize there was a hierarchy of golf balls ranging in price from $4 a ball to a low of 99 cents. I ordered the 99 cent variety and quickly learned it was akin to giving someone who has a perfectly good car a Yugo. I also didn't realize that golf balls are given in sleeves of three. I actually gave clients one ball! I still remember one client telling me "Well Jane, I received your golf ball and I truly just don't know what to say."

With that, we threw in the towel and devoted our energies to creative holiday cards coupled with donations to charities in our clients' names. We didn't lose clients when we made the switch but come to think of it, we didn't get clients because of our gifts either. A gift won't make up for bad service and lack of a gift will have no impact if you have provided good service.

Fortunately for the corporate gift industry, we are in the minority. The companies giving client gifts will increase by 9% this year, with food and beverages being the most popular items, followed by calendars and power sticks. Even though we aren't in the gift giving business anymore, as a receiver I know what works and what doesn't:

1. One size may or may not fit all While you do not want to make a gift overly personal (nix the pajamas), don't be so uniform that the gift is not noticed. For this reason, I'm not a fan of flowers and plants. Similarly, the can of pecans doesn't do it for me either unless there is something special or distinctive.

2. The devil is in the details Pay attention to what your business associates like and their interests. One of my favorite gifts to receive was a desktop golf calendar - a different golf course for every day of the year. And while we are on details, be sure to make sure your card is enclosed, that you have tracking numbers of all gifts, and that it arrives by December 15th.

3. Mix it up. If you send the same gift every year, it looks like you are on "auto give" or your assistant ordered the present by the thousands. Be open to change. There are a million new gift ideas every year.

4. When in doubt, don't overlook a charitable donation You can't go wrong with a charitable donation, especially if you know which charities are meaningful to your client. After getting the most anemic (but expensive) potted plant every year, I casually mentioned to the gift giver that no one in the office noticed the gift, and that we would love a donation in our name to a Food Bank or animal shelter. This year, our business partner was only too happy to comply. After all, 'tis the season!

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Jane Howze

Jane S. Howze

Managing Director