MANAGEMENT Great Gifts Or gifts that grate

Corporate gift giving isn’t new. Around 6000 years ago, according to the first book in the Bible, Cain and Abel delivered their respective offerings to the chief executive of Universe Unlimited, God himself.

The ancient account in Genesis 5 states: “Now Abel was keeper of sheep, but Cain was tiller of the ground. And in the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground. And Abel brought of the firstborn of his flock and of the fat portions. And the Lord had respect and regard for Abel and for his offering. But for Cain and his offering He had no respect or regard. So Cain was exceedingly angry and indignant, and he looked sad and depressed.”

Clearly in this instance, dishing up the choicest veges just didn’t cut the mustard – but the Lord was definitely partial to lamb chops. As result, Cain’s gift giving backfired, but Abel’s impressed the Almighty.

And thus, within this ancient tale lies very modern lesson:

Anyone offering corporate gift or hosting promotional event definitely needs to know the personality, preferences and partiality of the persons on the receiving end – whether they be chief executives, business associates, clients or employees.

At one time there was little chance of offending the vast majority of clients or workforce by simply distributing Christmas hams. However, these days it’s unlikely to win over numerous multi-racial customers or business people who are repelled by any form of pork products – including devout Jewish or Muslim executives or business owners.

For that matter, not eating meat has become quite trendy, so even putting pates in presentation hamper is bit risky. And perish the thought that expensive bottle of Dom Perignon or Glenlivet malt whisky should land on the desk of devout teetotaller.

In parts of the United States, it’s hard to find card that extends “Merry Xmas” to recipients. Most end-of-the-year greeting cards simply wish “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings”. That’s because not everyone celebrates Christmas – many may instead be marking the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, which also falls in December.

“The bottom line is that you have to do your homework when it comes to corporate gifts and presentation items,” says Charles Crotty, president of the Australasian Promotional Products Association.

“The same principle applies to organising an awards event or entertainment for invited guests.”

It’s matter of being sensitive and aware so that nobody is embarrassed or offended – for example by risque behaviour or “colourful” language on the part of hired events entertainer.

When it comes to determining acceptable cultural etiquette, Crotty recommends touching base with Trade New Zealand or the Trade Development Board and undertaking personal research via the internet.

“In some ways with globalisation, it has become easier as people are now more aware and amenable to differences in cultures.”

This approach doesn’t apply only to the global marketplace, New Zealand itself is fast developing multi-cultural society and this has to be taken into account.

Giving corporate gifts to Asian clients, for instance, offers few cultural pitfalls.

It’s worth knowing that the colour white denotes death to the Chinese – so no gift should ever be wrapped in white paper. Similarly bouquet of white lilies would be definite no-no.

An embossed, high quality leather wallet, purse or briefcase may seem the ideal corporate gift. But this would horrify Hindu client who regards cows as sacred. On the other hand it would be highly suitable for the Kiwi clients of an animal health products company.

A compass would seem strange gift to give most foreign businessmen. But it would be much appreciated by an executive from an Arabic country who needs to know the direction of Mecca for his daily prayers.

“The thing I would stress more than anything else is the appropriateness of the gift or presentation item,” says Diane Reid, director of Promolink.

“It’s vitally important to know everything you can about the executive or group of people any gift or promotional product is targeted at.

“When people come to us for advice about appropriate gifts, we spend lot of time asking lot of questions.”

While Xmas or year-end is the traditional time for gift-giving in New Zealand, other nation-
alities have other times when corporate gift-giving is expected. In Japan, for instance, gifts are traditionally exchanged at the start of each year (January 1) and also at mid-year (July 15).

Customs are also important when receiving gift from foreign client or associate of another race. In most Asian countries, the recipients don’t unwrap the gifts in front of the person giving it. This is considered uncouth and “greedy”.

Rather than risk offence, it is always better to spend time on studying the likes and dislikes of another nationality – or consult experts in specific cultural etiquettes.

Among friends and family the truism will generally apply: “It’s not the gift – it’s the thought that counts.” But this may not win over business person from different cultural back- ground.

Rather, the choice of an appropriate gift given, and accepted, at the right time or at properly organised event, indicates the host has devoted careful thought and consideration to the task.
This could be an important factor in differentiating the executives of one company from less culturally sensitive competitor.
It’s also important to know the policy of the company an executive works for when considering gift. Some companies and organisations require their employees to decline gifts that are considered expensive or unsuitable because of possible “conflicts of interest”.

The American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics states doctors should only accept gifts of minimum value, which must entail benefit to patients, or be related to their work.

Jeff Trewhitt, spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, says this now renders as “inappropriate” all entertainment gifts such as tickets to football games.

“But, if you can find medical dictionary or stethoscope for less than $100, that would be considered suitable gift.”

Another cardinal rule is to steer clear of gifts that would be considered “too personal” such as perfume, aftershave or lingerie.

Discerning company’s policy on gifts, and particularly those of government departments and agencies, can avoid the embarrassment of having client turn down gift because it violates managerial policy.

Graeme Thomson, managing director of Premium Group Marketing – Incentive, Loyalty, Marketing Reward of Auckland’s Newmarket, stresses the importance of choice when it comes to incentive rewards and promotional programmes.

An incentive programme based on the number of points accumulated by members of sales team almost always has an element of choice in it.

“They can decide whether to claim air points or travel, or select from number of products, which could range from golf clubs to home theatres and stereos.”

Michael Shah, account director at Carlson Marketing Group, concurs on the importance of choice for recipients of promotional or incentive programmes.

A sightseeing trip in helicopter might be thrill for most of the salesforce, but what if someone suffers from fear of flying or vertigo?

“The trend today is to give choice of five or more different types of rewards. They may choose the coffee machine or the juicer or opt for the fishing trip to Great Barrier Island.”

The importance of pitching events and promotional products to the target market is illustrated by two companies representing very different products.

Kathy Cunningham of Empire Events hosted six events in six days for Cartier last February. Very suitably for top-class international jewellery company, Cunningham negotiated sponsorship of the Millennium Cup Super Yacht Race held in conjunction with the America’s Cup.

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