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TCMPi6 Things No One Wants to Talk About when It Comes to Holiday Business Gifts


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No matter how well you plan your corporate gifts this year, you should be prepared for some mistakes and have a plan for how to correct them.

It can happen to anyone. But it doesn’t have to. “It” is the dreaded gift giving mistake. Gaffe. Blunder. Faux pas. The holiday business gift that somehow goes awry. The corporate gift that turns out to be inappropriate at best and an insult at worst.

1.  The “better late than never” – or is it – mistake.

Even the most careful planner is at the mercy of the delivery service she selects to deliver business gifts. It stands to reason that the earlier you buy and send your gifts, the more likely they are to be delivered on time. But things go wrong. Sometimes shipping companies mess up just like everyone else. Heavier than expected traffic slows things down. The USPS gets overloaded.

The fix? Profound apologies obviously; preferably handwritten or in person. Possibly followed by an invitation to lunch or a similar preferential treatment.

2.   The “oh-my-goodness, I-forgot-someone” mistake.

Remember the Santa rule: check your list twice. In fact, check your list three or four times. Then, if you’ve somehow left someone off, see number 1 above.

3.  The “culturally-secularly-politically-or-otherwise-inappropriate” mistake.

Let’s face it: it’s a complex world we live in. It’s full of different ideas about religion, politics, food, alcohol, etiquette and just about anything else you can think of. The first rule for not making blunders is to know your recipient. If you are in close contact with the person (or someone in your company is) make note on your gift list of any obvious or learned preferences. Without being obvious, you can learn things like a preference for vegetarian fare, a non-drinker, a non-practitioner of any particular faith, even political and cultural standards.

If, however, you somehow stumble into an error, be sure to apologize. Make certain your apology is not condescending or additionally hurtful. Make it short, make it sweet and make it sincere. Offer to reclaim the gift. Offer to replace it. Offer to donate an appropriate amount to the cause of the recipient’s choice.

4.  The “I-just-plain-messed-this-one-up” mistake.

Your business partner’s name is misspelled on his crystal bookends. Your tennis-loving client got a golf-themed desk accessory. Your French employee “Jean” got a woman’s scarf instead of a man’s tie.

OK, this one you can fix. Just replace the incorrect item with one that makes sense. There will probably be a delay, especially if you have to get a gift personalized, so be sure to apologize right away. Then retrieve the incorrect item and send a follow-up note. You can sweeten the pot if you wish by adding a gift card or taking the person to lunch when the corrected item arrives.

5.  The “oh-no-it’s-not-a-bribe” mistake.

This one is a very sticky wicket. Usually it occurs when you decide to give cash, a cash equivalent or an “over the top” gift like a trip to the Super Bowl. The first order of business is: don’t. Don’t give cash or its equivalent to clients or business partners. Don’t send them on trips to Tahiti. Just don’t.

But if you do, make absolutely sure when the gift is given that it is in the spirit of appreciation and respect and that there is no hint whatsoever that it is meant to secure future business.

That being said, if you violate the rule and give this sort of gift, someone may be insulted or indignant. Again, if this occurs, apologize profusely. Do it in person then send a follow up note as well. You can even send a small token of your appreciation.

6.  The “thanks-but-no-thanks” mistake.

Sometimes you can insult a client, business partner or employee by giving a gift that has no emotional value or that appears to be too small a recognition of the person’s contribution to your company. Gifts that are flagrantly promotional are the most common errors in corporate gift giving. They carry a message that says “I’m thinking more about me than I am about you.” Leave them for promotional activities and give memorable, brand name gifts at holiday time.

If you’ve made the mistake, there’s not much you can say or do except not repeat it. Or, you can find another gift giving occasion and make up for your past errors then. Remember, too, that a token business gift at holiday time is perfectly fine if you are rewarding performance, loyalty or business at other times. Significant gifts are appropriate when an employee receives a review, on a client’s birthday or anniversary or when a business partner goes above and beyond.

There’s a lot involved in planning and executing a holiday corporate gift program. For the most part, you can make it go more smoothly with some patience and attention to detail. But if something should go wrong, the key to making it right is to apologize in person and in writing, replace the offending gift and vow to never repeat the mistake again.

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