Thoughtful displays of gratitude go a long way with clients

The holiday gift-giving season may be over, but recognizing and thanking your clients is a year-round affair. Keith O'Brien discovers the most appropriate ways to show your appreciation

The holiday gift-giving season may be over, but recognizing and thanking your clients is a year-round affair. Keith O'Brien discovers the most appropriate ways to show your appreciation

Showing your client that you appreciate their business is a common desire among agencies. Before giving a gift, however, firms must analyze a few practical issues, such as when and how to make the gesture, and at what cost.

While larger agencies with hundreds of global clients may not have the opportunity to truly personalize gifts, small and midsize agencies can go beyond the engraved iPod to reward clients for a successful partnership. In addition to cost savings, providing a unique and personalized gift allows agencies to reinforce their specialized approach to marketing communications and ensure clients feel rewarded.

Allyn Magrino, president of the Susan Magrino Agency (SMA), notes that the agency's general gift-giving rule of thumb is to provide something that is emblematic of the agency's services or relationship with clients.

She adds that the entire SMA team comes together and tries to collectively come up with two or three ideas for gifts around the holidays. "It's in the spirit of the season to thank them with a personalized gift," she says.

This year, SMA gave clients a brown bowl filled with Hershey's Kisses.

"As an agency, we want it to be representative of the work we're known for," Magrino says. "It's really important to show the thought that went into the gift idea. We want to show we appreciate our relationship."

Magrino notes a more personalized approach is much more effective than ordering something expensive from a catalogue.

"Obviously, we keep a budget in mind, but that doesn't drive the process," she says. "It's more about the theme of our agency."

Magrino notes that agencies that have just opened have a great chance to come up with something compelling for little money. She says that when SMA was brand new, it sent gifts such as homemade marshmallows. Executives at smaller firms have to be wary of spending too much money on gifts during their growth phase, she adds.

Bob Zeitlinger, MD of B To Z Communications, notes that the firm settles on a food item, such as chocolate-covered Oreos, in a B To Z Communications-branded tin. The idea is to show creativity, without denting the wallet.

"As a small firm, we can't afford to buy all our contacts at each client an expensive gift," Zeitlinger says via e-mail. But "cheap gifts don't work for each contact, because, well, they're cheap. It reflects badly on [us]."

Additionally, Zeitlinger notes that food that can be shared rewards the whole client team, rather than just the VP or director.

While anyone working in an office can attest to the popularity of sweets during the holidays, Adrienne Arieff, founder of Arieff Communications, gives Harry and David pears, which sell for about $35 a basket.

Arieff says the healthy gesture is well received by those whose desks are deluged with chocolate and candy.

Anjie Meyer, PR manager for Denver-based GroundFloor Media, notes that the agency made the decision this year to give a holiday donation in its clients' names to the Tennyson Center for Children, a pro bono client of the agency, in lieu of a gift.

A holiday gift is a "way to thank them for working with us," Meyer says.

 She notes that agency staffers felt the donation would mean more to clients than a bought gift, and it also benefits the hospital client.

This approach reinforces the firm's dedication to philanthropy, Meyer explains. "The donation is a reflection of our focus on giving back what we can to the community," she says.

While many agencies stick with gifts, Project Works Marketing focuses on hosting an end-of-the-year luncheon for each client. Leslie Anne Mogul, senior manager, says she has also hosted holiday dinners for clients and their spouses.

"I find it a great time to reconnect, especially with those busy clients who only deal with us through telephone," Mogul says via e-mail.

Mogul notes that she first recaps the agency's work for the client over the past year. With newer clients, she talks about the future for their relationship. With older clients, they usually revert to catching up on each other's lives.

She will also have a small piece of artwork created for each client, as a personalized memento.

Sample gift ideas

A branded tin or box filled with treats that can be shared

A lunch or dinner with individual clients or all clients

A donation in the client's name to a charity

A personalized gift reinforcing your relationship with the client

Health food or something that will stand out among the glut of sweets

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