AML in Print

Friday , December 08, 2000 Edition

Corporate Claus

by Linda B. Gretton

Natalie Perkins, president of Trone Advertising, prepares ornaments called "friendship balls"
If Santa Claus worked at a Triad business, he'd be pulling his white whiskers out just about now, figuring out what gifts to give clients, vendors and important contacts. "It's a huge undertaking," said Pam Lewis, office manager for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Greensboro. "The biggest part is compiling the list and making sure addresses are right."

In other words, making a list and checking it twice.

Last year, the CPA firm gave its clients boxes of chocolates -- big boxes for companies' reception areas and smaller boxes for individuals.

Lewis said she's unsure whether the firm will send out anything this year, since part of the problem is finding an employee with the time to manage the project.

Lewis pondered whether the effort was worth it.

After a moment's reflection, she decided, "It is a nice gesture. It's probably worth it. I think they appreciate it."

To give or not to give

Lisa Mirza Grotts, a national etiquette and protocol consultant, said the question of giving vs. not giving weighs heavily on many people's minds.

"Over 40 percent of people experience anxiety when confronted with this task," she said.

Still, over 65 percent of people in the United States plan to give gifts to their bosses, clients and co-workers, Mirza said, citing a market study she conducted this year on behalf of Microsoft Corp.

Mirza said the buzzwords this year in selecting gifts are "function and flair." She advises companies to select gifts that not only look good but are practical, too.

Mirza might be happy with the gift choice made by Replacements Ltd., a Greensboro-based company that specializes in finding replacement china, crystal and silver.

The company has 1,100 suppliers who search the world for these items. At the end of the year, the company says "thank you" to them with a gift.

But contrary to what you might think, Replacements doesn't send them a little crystal ornament or porcelain bud vase.

"They see them all the time," said Liam Sullivan, a spokesman for the company.

Instead, the company sends them something they can use. Last year, Replacements sent each supplier a flashlight.

"It's a useful tool," Sullivan said.

This year, the company plans to send out a leather portfolio with a calculator and notepad, he said.

Wright of Thomasville, label printers for the home furnishings industry, also gives a practical gift to its 500 clients.

Practical gifts

For about 25 years, the company has been sending out gift-wrapping kits, consisting of paper, gift bags and bows. Doug Wright, vice president of manufacturing, said the company sends the kits out around Thanksgiving.

"One of our strong capabilities is our design capabilities," Wright said, talking about the company's art staff, which has designed some of the paper in past years.

Gifts of food seem particularly popular at holiday time.

Ellyn Steinhorn, owner of Baskets by Ellen, said her Greensboro-based company created about 500 gift baskets last December, with about half ordered by corporate clients.

She expects to do about the same amount of business this year.

Steinhorn said her baskets range from about $35 to $250.

"We try to get a feel for what they want to send and how much they want to spend," she said.

She said some clients will bring her logoed items for inclusion in the basket.

Especially popular, she said, are gift baskets of products made in North Carolina.

At R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., gift-giving is left up to individual departments, said spokesperson Jan Smith.

"I don't think there's a centralized effort," she said. "With a company this large, it would be kind of a nightmare to do."

She said her department, corporate public relations, chose a box of food products made in North Carolina to send to vendors and people who assisted with public relations projects.

Ad agency gifts

Smith said the department gets gifts, too.

She recalled that last year the department got a tin of cookies from an ad agency.

The tin was beautifully wrapped, she said, but the most interesting part of the gift was the cookies themselves. Instead of being shaped like reindeer or wreaths, the cookies were in the shape of letters.

"As you worked your way from the top to the bottom, the cookies spelled out the name of their agency," Smith said.

The agency that sent the gift was Quixote Group.

The name, which many people might need help in spelling, comes from the story of Don Quixote de la Mancha, said Kim Doran, the firm's president and CEO.

This year, the firm plans to give its clients tickets to Man of La Mancha, a musical about Don Quixote and his quest for "the impossible dream."

Quixote Group is a major sponsor of the show, which will be playing mid-December at the War Memorial Auditorium.

"We're very excited about bringing this story to life," Doran said. She said the theme of the play -- believing in others and the way life could be -- is especially appropriate for Greensboro and the Triad area.

"Our community is at a crossroads," she said. "What it will take to get us to a new vision is sheer belief."

Quixote Group printed about 50 special invitations to the play and an opening night reception, Doran said.

True to the firm's tradition of creativity, the invitations are being wrapped in a fabric pouch, beautifully embroidered with the intricate Quixote logo.

Doran said Quixote Group collaborated with one of its clients, Image Logistics of Greensboro, to embroider the pouches.

"It's very artful," she said of the final product.

Of course, being creative and artful is the job of all public relations firms and advertising agencies. This time of year provides them with an opportunity to demonstrate, through their gifts and packaging, how innovative they can be.

Natalie Perkins, president of Trone Advertising, said at holiday time her firm's creativity is expressed through the greeting cards it sends.

"As an agency, we're going to design our own," she said. "They're not store bought."

Perkins said the agency has a competition each year to see who, among the 35 members of the firm's creative department, can design the best holiday card.

The winning card, which department members voted for, is now in production.

"We send (the cards) to clients, new business prospects and families," Perkins said. "It's a fun thing."

Keeping up the tradition

Perkins also said the agency has a tradition of purchasing handmade ornaments for its clients. The ornaments, called "friendship balls," are purchased through Morning Star Gallery of Greensboro.

The agency has been giving out the ornaments for about 10 years, with the balls slightly different from year to year. Long-term clients have a whole tree of them, Perkins said.

What about clients who may not have a tree or celebrate Christmas? "We ran it by some of our Jewish clients," Perkins said. "They thought (the ornaments) were beautifully done."

"They're not as much 'Christmassy' as holiday," she said, adding that the balls look just as pretty displayed in a glass bowl.

Beauty is also the watchword at Sealy Inc.

Ron Jones, chairman and CEO of the Archdale-based bedding corporation, said he and his wife, Linda received a Christopher Radko ornament a few years ago.

"People who get one usually start a collection," Jones said of the high-end glass ornaments.

The couple liked their Radkos so much, they decided they'd be perfect gifts for Sealy's clients.

He said that since most of the company's clients are men, the ornaments are a nice way to give a gift that spouses could also appreciate.

Jones said that Sealy will give a mini-collection of four small Radkos to 50 clients this year.

"We wanted to give gifts that would be unusual and appreciated and treasured vs. tossed away," Jones said.

Government rules

For some companies, giving an expensive holiday gift is not an option.

General Dynamics Advanced Technology Systems (ATS) conducts about a third of its business with the government, which means the company has to follow government rules.

"There are a lot of regulations that prohibit government employees from accepting gifts," said Debbie Whited, general counsel for the Greensboro-based company. "We abide by those regulations and don't give gifts to government customers."

On the commercial side of the business, though, it's a different story. To nongovernment customers, the company may send out baskets of cheese or smoked salmon.

The company doesn't send out a lot of baskets, though, since most of the company's significant business is with a small number of customers.

Konica, a Whitsett-based manufacturer of photographic paper, has pretty much the same philosophy.

Angela Burgess, executive assistant to the president, said the company gives out just a handful of "goodie baskets" to clients each year.

However, the company does send out a lot of holiday cards -- about 1,000 in all.

At Bouvier Kelly Inc., a Greensboro-based advertising and public relations firm, staffers are getting this year's gift ready.

Last year, the company sent out a monogrammed leather portfolio, said Lou Bouvier, president.

He described this year's gift in detail, calling it a functional item that people could use personally or for their company.

Ten minutes later, though, public relations director Kristen Krebs called to ask that this story not reveal exactly what the gift will be. Krebs thought that the story might be published before the agency was able to send out the gifts and that the surprise might be ruined.

But no need to worry -- Bouvier Kelly's corporate gift is one piece of holiday news that Triad Business News is happy to keep under wraps.