Business

Creative gift choice can build small firm’s relationships

NEW YORK — When Patricia Smith gives holiday gifts to her clients, she doesn’t select something from a catalog or Web site. Her suppliers are her clients themselves.

Smith, owner of Denver-based OnTarget Public Relations LLC, has given clients T-shirts from a women’s outdoor clothing firm she represented and bath salts manufactured by another company she’s done projects for. Her holiday cards are printed by yet another customer, a stationery firm.

“I’m not overtly selling the product, but saying I believe in what my client is doing,” Smith said.

That gives all of Smith’s clients the message that she’s committed to them and their products and services. Moreover, she said, “they appreciate that they get something unusual.”

It can be tempting for a small business owner to go the quick-and-dirty route of holiday gift giving to clients: mugs or other knickknacks imprinted with the company name, fruit baskets, oversized tins of popcorn. But do that and you miss out on some great marketing opportunities.

The whole point of giving gifts to clients or customers is to let them know how much you appreciate not just their business, but how highly you think of them. Giving the obvious doesn’t convey that message, but getting creative about gifts absolutely will.

Neil Vineberg, who owns a public relations firm in Westhampton, N.Y., looks for gifts that will help his clients in their work.

“They’re hard-driving, entrepreneurial types, techie types, a lot on the road,” he said.

So he tends to give iPods and USB portable drives to the top executives of the firms he represents. The rest of his clients’ staffers get big food baskets to spread the goodwill around.

Ervin & Smith Advertising in Omaha, Neb., also tiers its presents, giving larger, more personalized gifts to general marketing directors and other top executives at clients.

But the company also strives for creativity in gifts — this year, Ervin & Smith is sending tins of candy with prepaid gas station cards. But each tin will still be as personalized as possible, with an ID card attached to a keychain.

One of the keys to being creative about client gifts is to start shopping early — the later you begin thinking about gifts, the less time you have to pick out something unique and order it.



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