Just as parents can't bear to see their little ones do without gifts on Christmas, some company executives can't imagine gift-less holidays for their clients and vendors.
And no matter how lean corporate Santas have become this recession year, most of them will continue their gift-giving traditions, say gift consultants and some Baltimore area businesses.
But that doesn't mean the holiday gift budget will stay at pre-recession levels. Company executives who used to think nothing of sending every client a signed art print will be either sending prints to a few important customers, or considering the merits of customized key rings.
Sales and Marketing Management Magazine, a trade publication, reports that one in three sales executives who responded to a survey are spending less this year on holiday gifts to clients and vendors. A larger group of the magazine's survey respondents says the recession will affect the variety and number of gifts they give.
J. Gordon Mueller of the Towson real estate firm bearing his name says the company won't be giving gifts this holiday. Mr. Mueller doesn't think his business associates will mind, knowing how lean the year has been for commercial real estate.
In the past, he and associates in his firm had sometimes taken clients to special holiday lunches or had given them bottles of VTC liquor. He said the treats were not a tradition, but would not be done this year.
Frank Hajek, a Bel Air accountant, says he doesn't give gifts to clients for the holidays as a rule.
"Once you start, it's a nicety, but you're kind of locked in and the absence could be a negative," he said. But Mr. Hajek sends his clients holiday greeting cards.
In spite of the sluggish economy, other companies won't change their gift programs.
"When we convey thanks, it's done in the form of fruit or flowers, a long-standing practice," said Mac Barrett, spokesman for McCormick & Co. in Hunt Valley. "That's not something the current economic climate will affect."
At Adams Sandler Advertising and Public Relations, Vice President Chuck Fitzgibbon says the company has for years made donations in its clients' names to area charities, instead of giving holiday gifts. Mr. Fitzgibbon said the agency sends each client a card noting the donation on their behalf and thanking them for their business during the prior year.
"Our clients seem to appreciate it more than getting gifts from us," he said.
At Baltimore law firm Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman, individual attorneys will decide whether they want to give gifts to clients and associates. They will also set the cost of each gift.
Ray Weiss, director of marketing and communications, said some attorneys use professional gift companies to help them choose the appropriate holiday thank you.
Just what is an appropriate business gift is sometimes hard to guess. And the list of socially incorrect gifts seems to keep growing. Consultants say outlandish and obviously expensive gifts are out this year, as are presents that are too personal, like fragrances and cosmetics. Everyone has too many calendars. And some people don't like to receive liquor.
Gift-giving can also backfire if a company is dealing with associates and industries that have strict policies against accepting gifts. The American Medical Association, for instance, has stipulated that doctors who receive gifts from medical and pharmaceutical companies must use them for their patients' benefit. The gifts should have little monetary value, according to the AMA, and they should never be cash.
But food is reassuringly safe for almost any company. This year it is a big corporate gift item, according to Sales and Marketing Management and gift consultants. Catered lunches, cakes, fruit and goodie baskets are high on the list of great gifts to give and receive, they said.
"You can never go wrong with a wonderful gift basket of food items," said Laurie Rogers, co-owner of Paulson & Warren Gifts of Baltimore.
Paulson & Warren prepares baskets and other containers filled with everything from jams to nuts. The company also handles packaging and shipping to recipients.
Ms. Rogers says one of the most popular Paulson & Warren gifts is its Chocolate Cheer collection for "dedicated chocoholics." Nestled in a wicker basket are chocolate lace candies, deep fudge sauce, chocolate truffle bars, a plantation pie, chocolate/raspberry-dipped biscuit sticks, chocolate-covered raisins, chocolate chocolate-chip cookies, and chocolate-covered potato chips.
The large basket for clients with a large love of chocolate is $59. A smaller version is available for about $36.
Nanny Warren, Paulson & Warren co-owner, said companies don't have to spend a fortune to say thank you to special customers. Even a $10 tin of cookies can make points.