Choosing the right gift

The holiday season has arrived, and, with it, the opportunity for PR firms to show appreciation to clients and colleagues with a thoughtful gift. But when office kitchenettes overflow with popcorn, cheese wheels, and chocolates, are there any presents that really stand out -- without going overboard?

The holiday season has arrived, and, with it, the opportunity for PR firms to show appreciation to clients and colleagues with a thoughtful gift. But when office kitchenettes overflow with popcorn, cheese wheels, and chocolates, are there any presents that really stand out -- without going overboard?

Kate Zabriskie, a communications skills specialist and the founder of Port Tobacco, MD-based etiquette consultancy Business Training Works, says that while fruit baskets and candy are always a safe bet - especially if they arrive after the holidays have ended - gift-givers can add a personal touch by sending fare with local flair: gourmet honeys, for example, or regional wines.

Even more important, Zabriskie says, is making certain to add a handwritten note with every gift. Particularly for those working in the PR business, "clients really need to know how you feel about them, that they're not just a number," she says. And "don't send anything that makes the client go, 'Huh?'" Zabriskie warns: Unless you're in the toy industry, agency-engraved yo-yos are not the best idea.

Though pistachios aren't local to office home Charlotte, NC, Luquire George Andrews customizes the 800 nut tins it sends every year with fun, quirky themes, says Stacey Gibbs, an account supervisor at the firm. For the past 23 years, the agency's 40 employees have gathered for a tin-packing assembly-line day, she says; from folding tissue paper to scooping nuts (1,600 pounds of them), everyone has a job. In addition to building a seasonal bond among staffers - who this year were decked out in Santa's Workshop costumes, for an accompanying holiday Web video - the homemade gift also showcases the agency's creativity, Gibbs says. "So many creative and PR folks, all [who are] collaborating on one idea. Clients love to see what we're going to do next."

Gift-giving has become a collaborative process at New York-based Maloney & Fox as well. Since 1997, the firm has sent colleagues and clients cocktail coasters as holiday thank-yous, and the response has been fantastic, says agency co-president Margie Fox.

The coasters are a way "for us to express our appreciation for partnering and learning," Fox says. But they're also branded, and stay on clients' desks all year -- an added perk.

"We have contests within the agency: Who can write funny coaster material," Fox adds. "It's tough to be clever on a coaster." Over the years, M&F coasters have featured haiku, silver sparkles, toss games, and, even, adults-only content. And because they're so economical to produce, Fox says, the agency can not only send more than 1,000 sets every year, but also have funds left over for employee bonuses, a terrific office party, and charity donations.

For the past three years, Honolulu-based Hastings & Pleadwell has made a significant cash donation to a needy cause.

"Our associates think about this year-round as they come in contact with various community organizations," says firm partner Barbra Pleadwell. "It takes the consumerism out of at least one component of the Christmas season, and benefits folks who are really in need."

At Centennial, CO-based VolumePR, staff members actually "adopt" area families via the local Volunteers of America branch, says agency president Elizabeth Robinson. Account execs send clients detailed descriptions of the family adopted on their behalf, and take pictures of all of the gifts purchased for them.

"Seeing as we're really hooking these families up with presents, the pictures are powerful at portraying just how special of a Christmas these kids will be having," Robinson says.

And what about agencies who'd like to give their journalists friends a little something around the holidays? What rules should they follow?

"I'm going to send old-fashioned wooden pop guns," says Joe Dans, director of accounts at Fusion Public Relations in New York. "Makes a nice ice-breaker when I call them in January … and [it's] significantly under the corporate legal gift rate."

Key Points

Presenting clients and colleagues with holiday gifts is a thoughtful way to show appreciation for partnership over the year.

No matter the size of the client's account, gifts should always include a personal note.

Donating to a charity is a constructive alternative to sending boatloads of chocolate and popcorn.

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