The holiday season is upon us–according to retailers, at least–and many businesses are mobilizing staff to sign, stamp and send a barrage of greeting cards to clients and colleagues. These merry missives can represent a significant bite of your client-relations budget, but how many are ending up forgotten at the bottom of a recycling bin?
If you want your holiday hellos to be remembered in the cold light of January, they really have to stand out. “Everybody appreciates the care you put into the holiday season,” says Tony Elenis, general manager of the Holiday Inn Select Toronto Airport. “We're dealing with very important people to us, people with whom we build relationships.”
To that end, Elenis and his staff try to outdo themselves with creative alternatives to the standard card each year. “A cookiegram with a personal message is a wow, and it's meant for more than one person, so if you have an office that you want to thank, then it's great,” Elenis says. “At some of the Holiday Inns I've worked at, we've done Christmas ornaments with 'Holiday Inn' and the year on them, and a CD of popular Christmas songs with our own message printed on it.” Another option, he adds, are chocolate CDs with a personal message.
Elenis tailors these special touches for small lists of less than two dozen recipients, and the response is strong. “It's wild,” he says. “You can tell from the smiles on their faces and the little notes you receive.”
Other organizations take a different approach. “Being in the courier business, we can deliver more than 2,000 gifts for clients over the season,” says Joanne Hurd, general manager of Critical Path Couriers Ltd. in Toronto. “We used to send out gifts ourselves, but quite frankly, when you're handing out that volume of gifts, you start to think about those that do without.”
A few years ago, Critical Path informed clients that it would be making a donation equivalent to 25 gift boxes for needy children to the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund, and that for every 10 boxes purchased by clients, they'd add one more. “It was really exciting,” says Hurd. “We had a lot of people calling to inquire about it, and it gave us some great communications with our clients.”
Critical Path added a second charity the next year to give clients more choice. “I don't want to discourage gift giving, because it's one of our busiest times,” says Hurd. “But when the office is waist-high in gift bags and baskets, it does remind you that there are a lot of lonely people with no Santa Claus.”
Karl Straky, CEO of the Mortgage Training Group in Windsor, Ont., schools mortgage professionals in client relations. He usually advises avoiding December greetings altogether, but scored a hit when he e-mailed clients a warm message that told them he would be diverting the standard holiday card budget into buying 1,000 Christmas dinners at a local homeless shelter on their behalf. “At this time of year it's nice to give back to people who are not able to realize the dream of home ownership,” says Straky. After sending about 75 messages, “I received about 35 e-mail responses saying it's a great program and a dozen inquiries about how they could do that in their own communities,” he adds. “What a worthwhile investment of your holiday marketing budget. I will never send a holiday card again.”