The Big Idea: Showing Holiday Appreciation: Gift ldeas and Cautionary Tales

For many legal marketers, 'tis the season ... for agonizing over what to give that good client, or that outstanding administrative assistant, or the mailroom worker who helped get that RFP out the door on time back in July.

The holiday period can be a great opportunity to use an appropriate gift to acknowledge the help you received from others during the year, or to reach out for a new business relationship, or to solidify relations with a client or vendor.

But corporate holiday gifts can be tricky, and law firms need to think carefully about what they're giving and how it will be perceived at the other hand. As long as a firm wants to go beyond the generic (say, Starbucks cards at the low end, iPads at the high end), delicate and unexpected issues can crop up.

Corey Garver of Baker Botts once worked for a firm where a senior partner gave each member of a corporate legal department a bottle of expensive wine. This lawyer was surprised, to say the least, to find that very day at the firm's doorstep a messenger from the client returning all the wine. Accompanying the return was a note explaining that because of a recent accident involving an employee's overindulgence in strong drink, the company had instituted a policy prohibiting the acceptance of alcohol as a gift or its consumption at any corporate events. The lesson: Make sure you know your clients' cultures.

Another member recalls a situation in which a firm selected a lovely gift for a client at the U.S. Postal Service. Unfortunately, the standard delivery option from the gift catalog was Federal Express. The post office headquarters staffers weren't happy to see a FedEx delivery man in their office with package in hand. Again, you need to think ahead.

Corey also recalls once receiving a frozen turkey as a corporate gift. In any case, it was frozen when it was shipped. Its condition when it was received was another matter entirely. It was far from cold, and far from edible.

For each nightmare scenario, though, there are positive ones as well. Helena Lawrence of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan bakes cookies and cakes and gives them to her team members and to others who have helped her over the year. She calls it her annual "thank you for what you do for me." She includes the firm's technology department, facilities department, and library - as well as people who work in the firm's lobby and parking garage, and even the Metro station.

Another member gives $50 gift certificates to JustGive.Org to management committee members of a client with a strong public interest bent. These certificates enable the recipients to donate the face value of the certificate to one of thousands of charities just by logging onto JustGive and putting in their certificate number.

Like everything you do, you can do holiday gifts well or poorly. The difference is care, thought, and time.


By Jonathan Groner, a public relations and writing consultant in Washington, DC, for the November/December 2010 Issue of the Capital Ideas Newsletter

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