In the United States, the holiday season is rapidly approaching. Soon it will be Halloween, followed not long thereafter by Thanksgiving, which will be followed in quick time by Hanukah, Christmas, and New Year’s. Of course, there are any number of other holidays in the season, depending on your religion and cultural background. Are you prepared for the holiday season? By “prepared” I mean do you have a game plan for gifting clients? In years gone by, I had carefully crafted holiday plans.
All year-round I tracked holidays and even made some up. Why? Because holidays are a good time to both thank clients (and those you want to become clients) for thinking of you and providing work for you (or considering you for work), and to remind clients that you are interested in more work from them. One issue is timing.
One colleague believes that it is better to wait until after the New Year holiday to send her clients holiday gifts. Her reasons are (a) no one else will be sending gifts at that time so this will be a welcome surprise and (b) this way she doesn’t insult someone inadvertently by sending, for example, a Christmas gift to a Jewish recipient. I disagree with her — both with her reasons and her timing. I think that the message she sends is that the gifts are an afterthought, that it would be better for her not to send anything. The flipside is that the timing is shrewd but that to pull it off, the gift needs to be more unique and expensive than it would need to be if sent at the time of the holiday.
Over my many years of marketing my editorial services, I have found that the “best” time to send clients holiday-related gifts is so that they arrive about two weeks before the office closes for the holiday (or the client plans to take off for the holiday). This particular timing applies to the standard holidays; for my self-created holidays, any time is the right time as long as the gift arrives close to but before my “holiday.” Timing is important because it sends a message and fulfills expectations.
Equally important is the gift itself. I usually send a couple of gifts, one of which is a 2+-lb bar of custom-made chocolate that is molded to display greetings from me. Colleagues have told me that they would not send chocolate because one never knows if the client is allergic or simply doesn’t like it or is on a diet or … the reasons go on.
When I am presented with that argument, I used to ask (now I just ignore it) how they know that the client likes handmade scarves, or apple-pear soap (and what message are you sending when you send soap?), or yet another coffee mug, or whatever? Unless you have a close relationship with a client, it is not possible to know.
There are some things to avoid, of course, such as sending a gift that includes bacon in it. But when it comes to items that are generally universally liked, such as chocolate, I think you are on safe grounds even if the recipient is that rare person who hates chocolate or is allergic to it. They will give it away but still be appreciative of the thought.
Which brings me to another point. You must not forget the primary reason for sending a gift, which is to promote you. Consequently, whatever you send should be something that can be (is likely to be) shared among office colleagues or shown around. In my early years, I sent a tin of popcorn to a client whenever we finished project, especially a difficult and/or lengthy project. The note would say something like “Celebrate the end of the Smith project. I look forward to working with you again.” Invariably I was told how the client and his office colleagues enjoyed the popcorn and, by the way, here’s another project — sometimes from the client, often from a colleague of the client.
In the days when I was more generous with the gifts (in my semiretirement, I’m not marketing like I once did), I would occasionally receive calls or e-mails from client colleagues asking if they could be put on my gift list. I always responded that the easiest way to be on the list was to send me some work.
Gifting requires planning. You need to plan the when, what, and why: when to send the gift; what to send as a gift; and why you are sending this particular gift at this particular time to this particular client (i.e., what you hope to accomplish). Yes, it is enough to send a gift just to say thank you, but if that is your sole reason, then do so consciously so that you are not disappointed if the client doesn’t send you work for months or years. It is better, I think, to send a purposeful gift; that is, a gift that has multiple purposes, including to say thank you for past work and to ask for future work.
Colleagues have also told me that they do not like to send items that have their name or logo as holiday gifts. Why not? Because it seems tacky. Again, I disagree. I have always sent gifts that incorporate my logo. I have no trouble remembering that my relationship with my clients is a business relationship. My clients are not bothered by gifts bearing my logo; it is expected. Holiday gifts are an ideal way to market yourself.
As I mentioned earlier, I also made up holidays. There was “In-house Staff Day” and “Copyeditor’s Day” and “Goof-off Day” and whatever else I could come up with. I tried to have a holiday at least once a month. For “Goof-off Day” I might send a yo-yo with my logo imprinted in it or a balsam wood airplane. For “Copyeditor’s Day” I have sent Post-it Notes imprinted with my logo. Remember what the purpose was: To remind clients that I am available and to send me work! Consequently, that these items were little tchotchkes was not important. Clients like being continuously recognized and these little things accomplish that.
Where editors fail when it comes to marketing is in not thinking of it as an important arm of running their business. Marketing requires planning and investment. Returns aren’t overnight (although they can be); you must think and act long-term. Colleagues who have done marketing have complained that they sent out, for example, their resume with pens but got no response and so didn’t plan to do it again. Short-term thinking and marketing will never succeed. You need to plan carefully and be in marketing for the long-term. Sometimes it took me five years before I got a response, but once I got a response, it more than made up for all the time of no response.
With the holiday season coming up, it is time to start planning to market yourself. I know I am prepared. Are you?
Richard Adin, An American Editor