Feature Article - July/August 2011

To Give Is to Achieve

Our Annual Guide to Business Gifts

By Deborah Vence

Corporate discretionary spending might have shrunk on account of economic hardship, but that's not necessarily stopping companies from splurging on their employees and clients when they can. What is shifting slightly this year, however, is a move toward giving more customized gifts for special occasions, such as an anniversary, or handing out a smaller number of gifts throughout the year.

So, while companies are not necessarily more lax about gift giving, they are more conscious of it—about what they're giving and how often they're giving it.

"We are definitely seeing an uptick in business gifting. It hasn't come back to the 2007 and 2008 levels, and I don't foresee that happening for a while. But, there are definitely signs of life when it comes to gifting," said Brian Rivolta, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Maryland Heights, Mo.-based Incentive Concepts LLC.

Mike Landry, director of special markets for South Plainfield, N.J.-based Tumi, a high-end luggage manufacturer, added that there has been a continued trend of budgets getting cut back. Companies still are handing out gifts, but they're choosing fewer items, while selecting products of a more upscale nature.

"So, budgets have shrunk, but there is a core that is saying we still want to give some of these people something nice aspirational brands, something that perhaps someone might not buy for themselves, but ultimately receive as a gift, such as a Tumi, a high-end watch brand, a higher-end travel type brand or small leather goods," Landry said.

Likewise, Melissa K. Paladino, B2B Marketing & Gift Card manager for Omaha, Neb.-based Omaha Steaks Special Markets, a company that manufactures, markets, distributes and packages beef, seafood and other foods, noted that she sees companies "Giving gifts that have a high perceived value and are customized to show real thought has been put into them."

A Return to Gifting

Omaha Steaks definitely is seeing a comeback this year in corporate gift giving.

"I would say that companies are definitely spending more on business gifts this year in comparison to the past two years," Paladino said, adding that the holiday season—October, November and December, is the busiest time of year for Omaha Steaks. "I think it's important that companies find a place in their budget for employee and customer gifts, especially in times like now. You are not only motivating your employees, you are creating loyalty with them, as well as your customer base."

Paladino noted that one of Omaha Steaks' clients, a company that sells electric breakers, is running its promotions more frequently with Omaha Steaks now. For example, they ran a holiday program with Omaha Steaks the first year and have since expanded to include a summer and holiday program.

"You are seeing companies, and maybe it's at a lower price point, but they are running promotions longer. They might be cutting budgets down, but they're running promotions for a longer period of time," she added. "Or, they might not do an annual gift, but decided to do an anniversary gift, or holiday repeat business."

Part of the decision by clients to run promotional programs longer or not could be attributed to continuing uncertainty about the economy, or it could simply be that these programs that run every year for clients are due for a change.

"They might want to do something different. [Or they might say], 'Oh, we're looking for a different option.' It could be either one. 'Well, we're not really sure if we're doing a program.' It's kind of a mix of people doing something else this year," Paladino said. "People have to be motivated, especially in a down economy. But, we do have those companies that aren't doing anything this year."