Christmas is coming and as any event organiser will affirm, it is always good to have a theme. This year’s hot favorite is restraint. Tradition may dictate that December is the season of corporate excess and festive giving, but in recessionary times it seems more tactful to seek inspiration from Scrooge.
It is hard to justify corporate largesse as the climate of economic gloom bites, delivering government bank bail-outs, wage freezes and job losses. Moreover as customers and employees face their own financial uncertainties, it is surely inappropriate for big corporations to be seen splashing the cash on expensive gifts and festive blow-outs.
Only three months back there was public outrage in the US at AIG forking out $400,000 on a retreat for independent brokers in a plush Californian resort, just days after the insurance giant ÂIG had been bailed out by the US government. Similarly, last month, the Belgian insurance subsidiary of Fortis bank was forced to issue a public statement explaining a $150,000 lunch for 50 guests at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo.
Admittedly, quaffing vintage bubbly in millionaire hotspots is beyond the corporate entertainment budget of most marketers. However, this still leaves the fancy branded hampers and luxury gift vouchers that do the rounds each year. It is tricky and it is one of the reasons that we treat each client separately and give what is appropriate to them.
Companies on the one hand, don’t want clients to think that the business is failing badly due to the economy, but equally they don’t want to appear to be casual about money either. The situation is further complicated by the number of clients who have a policy of not accepting gifts or even festive lunches because they could be misconstrued.
Marketing director of consumer review and social networking says that her company’s attitude to the issue is based on the relationship it has with each individual client. If they created a special partnership with clients and businesses every day, sending them something at Christmas is not so important. However, as the firm is strongly committed to sustainability issues and one of the site’s most popular categories is restaurants, the director is favoring the idea of meal vouchers for use at one of London’s eco-dining venues.
Suppliers, of course, take a slightly different view. Sending gifts to valued customers can be a very effective part of a company’s customer strategy in the B2B space. The retailer has added several ‘foodie’ items this year, including a fair trade hamper, an organic hamper and a ‘carbon-neutral’ wine.
But it has also introduced a number of smaller items, including a burgundy wine and venison pat gift priced at £30. Sainsbury’s is also promoting its reasonably-priced line in corporate gifts.
Over recent months a strengthening focus on companies rewarding valued customers was noticed. Meanwhile, making a gift of networking events with a twist, such as learning how to cook Italian cuisine are growing in popularity.
These can start from £60 a head, so don’t have to cost the company much. However, as firms become more wary of public shows of conspicuous consumption, there are signs that the slack is being picked up elsewhere. Head of Harrods corporate service, says her division has noticed a trend toward fine jewelry and gift cards, which can be loaded to any value of more than £25.
Meanwhile, the retailer estimates that sales of its Christmas wine gift-boxes are up on the same period last year. It is possible that companies are choosing to send key clients special gifts this year, rather than taking on the expense of a Christmas party. Nonetheless, the ROI of spreading festive cheer is particularly hard to measure, leading some firms to shun the practice.
PR agency Fishburn Hedges never thought that Christmas corporate gifts were particularly appropriate. They consider it as a sad condemnation of a business relationship if it is dependent on those kind of things. Last year the agency created digital Christmas card inviting recipients to post a festive wish online, with the 100 best contributions earning a £10 donation from the firm to charity.
One of the pitfalls in giving inexpensive Christmas gifts is that they can make brands look cheap by association or suggest that the relationship with the recipient is of no value. Conversely, no matter how lavish, in isolation a gift says nothing. Thinking that a valued partner is for life, not just for Christmas goes a long way.