FOCUS: CHRISTMAS GIFTS AND INCENTIVES - Wrapping up that corporate gift horse/It’s the season for coming up with those special gifts for clients that can’t be looked in the mouth. Holly Acland investigates

When Tony Blair called upon MPs to ’Remember you are not here to enjoy the trappings of power but to do a job’, the acceptance of lavish Christmas gifts by corporate lobbyists was probably not at the forefront of his mind.

When Tony Blair called upon MPs to ’Remember you are not here to

enjoy the trappings of power but to do a job’, the acceptance of lavish

Christmas gifts by corporate lobbyists was probably not at the forefront

of his mind.

Christmas does, however, lend itself to extravagant gestures of goodwill

which - under the guise of festive bonhomie - could be seen to

compromise the recipient. While the Ministerial Code, published in July

this year, clearly underlines that MPs should not ’accept gifts,

hospitality or services which might appear to place him or her under an

obligation’, in the corporate sector guidelines are not as clear


No PR company wants to be accused of attaching a bribe to a gift or

incentive, yet attracting the attention of the press, as well as

clients, remains part of the business.

According to Mark Borkowski, chairman of Mark Borkowski PR, companies

have to be wary of how they conduct their relationships with the


’It is a slippery slope if you start giving gifts to journalists. Not

only are lavish gifts slightly tacky and naff nowadays, but their

motives could be questioned.’

Rather than spending vast sums of money on gifts companies are taking an

innovative approach to gifts. ’You’ve got to think creatively and be

spontaneous,’ says Borkowski. With this in mind, he recently spotted a

voodoo set which was sent to selected clients along with a cryptic


’This is the way to be remembered,’ he affirms.

Given the reality of a limited Christmas budget, many companies have no

option but to think creatively. Last year Revlon targeted its top 40

journalists with a Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore hot water bottle. ’We

don’t have a huge Christmas budget and operate in a sector where

journalists are showered with freebies,’ says Marion Scott, Revlon press


’This was an original idea and we had a great response.’

More and more companies are discovering that novelty gifts, as well as

being memorable, are relatively inexpensive. Last year, sales promotion

consultancy Originator sent a Scratch’n’Sniff t-shirt, featuring a

pine-scented Christmas tree, to its clients.

And it’s not only agencies which are looking for new and imaginative

ways to communicate with their clients over Christmas. WWAV Rapp

Collins, the UK’s largest direct marketing agency, pioneered a charity

TV appeal for the first time last year. ’Instead of sending out

Christmas cards, we are funding a festive appeal for our charity

clients,’ explains Gerry Scott, client services director of WWAV Rapp

Collins. The NSPCC, Age Concern, Oxfam, Scope and Shelter all featured

in a two-minute commercial on Christmas day, inviting viewers to make a


Altruism aside, directing Christmas budgets into charity support and

away from direct expenditure on clients is a good PR exercise in


Rosalyn Palmer PR also took a new approach to its Christmas campaign

last year. The company adopted an Orca whale through the Whale and

Dolphin Conservation Society and sent clients a photocopied picture of

the whale for Christmas.

’We actually wanted the card to look low budget,’ says Helen Donald,

deputy managing director. ’The point is that we’re not spending money on

them but on the charity.’

Simon Brocklebank-Fowler, managing director of Citigate Corporate, keeps

his distance from any sort of gift giving over Christmas. ’Corporate and

financial agencies don’t tend to build relationships in this way. Gifts

are more common among consumer agencies. An invitation to a corporate

entertainment day would be a more typical gesture,’he says.

His is a typical response from the industry and PR agencies remain wary

of divulging details of Christmas budgets. One PR hack recalls the

extravagant 1980s when gift-giving was in its heyday and hampers crammed

with champagne raised no suspicion. Journalists dream on.

Holly Acland is a reporter on Promotions and Incentives


A is for Alcohol

You can only move the goal posts for Christmas gifts so far and alcohol

remains a tried and tested favourite. A bottle of champagne with a

personalised label from What’s in a Name! will make your gift stand out

among the plethora of bottles clients are sure to receive. Champergift

UK also provides champagne, wines, spirits and combinations,

ready-wrapped and bearing a personal message card.

B is for Beauty products

Beauty and body products have come a long way since bath salts were

standard Christmas fare. Guest International specialises in luxury

aromatherapy products while Doctor Frog targets children with its range

of customised oil-based creams and potions. Glossy, manicured nails are

back in fashion and Nail and Beauty Promotions offers a selection of

products from emery boards to nail buffers.

C is for Corporate histories

Book Production Consultants promises to turn the rather turgid topic of

a company’s corporate history into a lively and novel marketing


With access to company archives, professional historians compile a

conclusive corporate history which make a fun and unusual Christmas


D is for Desk accessories The desk is the obvious platform for keeping

your company name in permanent view and desk accessories are becoming

increasingly hi-tech and eye-catching.

The touch-and-reveal mouse mat from B&H Liquid Crystal displays a

full-colour message while Biblio International has incorporated a

calculator into its mouse mat. A miniature wide-angled mirror from The

DesignAware Company will alert computer operators to what is going on

around them in the office.

E is for Edibles

It’s the season to indulge and food suppliers are already bracing

themselves for the Christmas rush. JB Confectionery specialises in

tablets of Belgian chocolates sprayed with sugar to form a bespoke

design. For a healthy alternative to the usual chocolate-laden Christmas

hamper, Renaissance supplies exotic fruit hampers.

F is for Fireworks

There are a number of companies specialising in fireworks and products

range from a pounds 12.50 Supreme Rocket, courtesy of Barnum’s, to an

all-singing, all-dancing firework pack from the Firework Company for

pounds 2,000. The Firework Company will also set up and operate your own

firework display if you just want to sit back and enjoy the show without

getting your fingers burnt.

G is for Glassware

Glassware is perfect for collectible gifts which can be added to over

the years to give continuity to your Christmas giving.

Nazeing Glassworks specialises in hand-made glassware in modern designs

and its range by designer Rob Allen includes paperweights, vases and

wine glasses. For a more traditional look, try companies like Caithness

Glass and Villeroy and Boch.

H is for Hi-tech Hi-tech gadgets offer hours of amusement and are

usually reasonably priced.

The VodaZap! from Vodaphone is a miniature digital messaging service

with up-to-date info on anything from the top chart hits to premier

league scores. For the desk-bound, the Mega Calc by Incentives For Less

features a digitally programmed company logo or message which builds up

in stages to keep the recipient’s attention.

I is for Interactive

Tailoring a CD-ROM to a client’s hobby - be it gardening, opera or

cookery - is made easy thanks to the array of products now available.

The companies World Reference Atlas CD-ROM brings the globe to life

while its Eye Witness series ranges from nature and science to space and

the universe. Sierra On-Line specialises in CD-ROM games and its

Christmas range includes a First World War flight simulation game.

J is for Jewellery

John Donald specialises in the corporate sector and creates his own

pieces of jewellery combining traditional techniques with modern design.

For glamour without the cost, Cabouchon launched its designer costume

jewellery collection in the UK last year. Korporate Creations can

incorporate a logo or motif into brooches, pins or cufflinks in silver

and gold.

K is for Kites

The Skippy and Funfli Stunt Kites from AMT Marketing and Sales both cost

under pounds 5 while an eight-and-a-half foot Club Sport would set you

back pounds 29.99. For those who would rather be airborne themselves,

Flying Pictures manufactures and pilots a wide range of balloons. The

gift could include champagne breakfast followed by lunch in the launch

field for a maximum of four. For larger parties, The British School of

Ballooning caters for big hospitality groups.

L is for leather

A leather bound personalised diary or address book is a universally

popular gift and there are plenty of companies offering quality products

at good prices. Leather gifts from Richard Jardine, as well as Marshall

Bros include personal organisers, desk blotters, key rings and


M is for Music

Rather than opting for another re-hashed Christmas compilation CD, The

CD Card Company specialises in bespoke CDs - selected from its own

repertoire - complete with a customised greeting card. For a novel CD

player or radio, Akura has recently secured the licence from Umbro to

conceal a music machine in a plastic football.

N is for Noel

While some may abhor tinsel-festooned desks, embracing the Christmas

spirit can be fun. A Christmas kissagram to surprise or embarrass a

colleague would cost around pounds 50 from Kissagrams First Class in

London. For a less risque approach, tickets to a Christmas panto should

get clients in the festive spirit or leave the choice of entertainment

to them with a voucher from Theatre Tokens.

O is for Oxfam

Oxfam’s Christmas calendar is published this month and contains hundreds

of gifts, all of which have been manufactured and distributed in

accordance with the charity’s fair trade standards. Unicef - the United

Nations Children’s Fund - launched its Business Collection of Christmas

cards last year and services include an overprinting option for a

company to add its own logo and corporate message.

P is for Pens

Coprom has come up with the hypochondriac’s dream - a two-in-one

thermometer set inside a plastic pen. Another novelty gift is the mini

tie pin pen available in gold, chrome or black. For the more

traditionally minded, a top of the range President fountain pen from

Senator is a replica of the 1950s original with a gold plated clip and

diamond finished gilt fittings.

Q is for Questionable taste

Christmas is the time for loud and garish festive accessories.

Magnificent Mouchoirs has successfully transformed the staid male

accessories market with its newly launched Mad Dogs and Englishmen’

collection. The range includes Asterix boxer shorts, Dougal and Zebedee

cuff-links and Wallace and Gromit silk bow ties and braces.

R is for Rare.

Worldwide Exotic Plant Promotions specialises in supplying rare and

unusual plants and flowers including lychee and pomegranate plants as

well as a peanut bush guaranteed to deliver at least 25 peanuts a year.

For an alternative florist, Paula Pryke designs innovative flower

arrangements which include gilded fruit and vegetables and tropical


S is for Stress busters

Pounding the life out of a lump of moulded foam is a cheap and cathartic

means of stress relief. Lancewich manufactures squeezable Santas and

Snowmen with plenty of space for a Yuletide message. Alternatively, a

gift voucher for an aromatherapy, Swedish or therapeutic massage at

London’s exclusive health spa, the Sanctuary, is sure to be


T is for Toys and games

At the cutting edge of toy innovation, the Tamagotchi - a hand held

virtual pet game from Bandai - has proved popular among adults as well

as children while the Magic Cube from the Louis Kennedy Partnership

combines the frustration of a Rubik’s Cube with the cathartic properties

of a stress ball.

U is for Ultimate personalisation

Using a distinctive cartoon-style, artist Robert Duncan designs

calendars tailored to individual companies. As well as producing bespoke

calendars, his Face in the Crowd service uses access to historic

pictures to replace a famous figure’s face with that of a friend or

colleague. Each print is double cut-mounted and presented in a


V is for Vouchers

Easy to send and increasingly easy to redeem, vouchers are a popular

Christmas gift, especially if you are unsure of the recipient’s tastes

or hobbies. Whitbread Leisure Vouchers can be redeemed in over 3,000

leisure, food and hotel outlets from Pizza Hut to Marriott Hotels. Going

Places gift vouchers range in value from pounds 5 to pounds 1,000 while

sporting vouchers from Active offer the ultimate buzz with activities

including bungy jumping and abseiling.

W is for Watches

Prepare for the turn of the century in style with a Millennium watch

from Junghans UK. The watch features a panel displaying the number of

days, hours, minutes and seconds until the year 2000. If you’re

concerned that this gift has a two-year shelf-life, think again because

the watch can be used for personal countdowns such as birthdays,

holidays or even the number of minutes until lunch time.

X is for X-rated

What better way to fill your stocking - or anything else for that matter

- than with Ann Summers’ latest range of Christmas goodies? The company

has just celebrated 25 years of fun and its new Christmas products

include the innocent-sounding ’novelty chocolates’ and saucy lingerie


Y is for a Yard glass

Usually found gathering dust on the walls of a pub, the yard glass has

been re-fashioned to bring it firmly in line with the 1990s. Originating

in America, this yard glass from Fish Tank features a neck strap to keep

your hands free at concerts or festivals and the bottom can be moulded

into various shapes. The range also includes a six-inch double shot


Z is for Zoo

The adoptive parent of an animal from London Zoo will receive a

certificate, photograph of the animal and a listing on the Zoo’s thank

you board. While an Asian elephant would set you back pounds 6,000, a

passion fly butterfly or black widow spider can be adopted for just

pounds 20. For an unusual venue for a Christmas party, a champagne

reception in the Exotic Bird House or Reptile House is sure to be


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