Jan 14

Functional and decorative: In praise of beautiful, useful corporate gifts

“Just look around your house…and whatever you see that a burglar wouldn’t steal is probably tchotchke.” Urban Dictionary

“A gift with your business name on it isn’t a gift – it’s advertising.” Jeff Koeze, Koeze Co.

A corporate gift trivet from Haworth

One of Mary Ann’s favorite corporate gifts: a trivet from Haworth that’s lovely enough to use every day.

On Saturday afternoon, I sat down with my father-in-law for a task the family had been dreading: Sorting through more than six decades worth of professional and community accolades from his storied career.

As he and my mother-in-law downsize, it quickly became clear the walls of plaques, shelves of awards and drawers filled with congratulatory letters would need to be winnowed in order to fit into their new space. So I gamely sat down with Alan and two empty banker boxes to begin the sorting process.

Two hours and dozens of stories later, we settled on five boxes of memories to keep – and shipped about twice that many bags to the curb. We went through a breathtaking array of items: hats, shirts, jackets, mugs, glasses, pens, memorial coins, logos sunk into lucite cubes, glass figurines, laser-etched wooden plaques, engraved metal plaques, etched glass plaques, bronze plaques, plaques with space for multiple entries, framed certificates, medallions, proclamations, scrolls, a baseball bat, a gavel – and the list goes on.

A new approach to corporate gifts

Having partnered with clients to develop meaningful leave-behinds, I know first-hand how much work goes into the design, development and execution of even the most basic item. I became dizzy tallying up the hours upon sheer hours of work eventually destined for the trash.

So here’s my plea: Stop and think before you reach for that catalogue of tchotchkes and see where your organization’s logo will look good.

Instead, ask yourself: What am I trying to accomplish with this gift-award-trinket? Do I want to signal to my donor-client-partner how much I value them? Do I want my donor-client-partner to actually value and appreciate the gift and incorporate it into daily business-personal life? Or is my logo-encrusted tchotchke destined for a shelf/drawer/wall to gather dust – and eventually be boxed up by someone’s well-intentioned but tired daughter-in-law?

In other words, is the recognition-memento-acknowledgement about me and my organization – or about the recipient?

If your answer is the latter, do you really want something, no matter how reasonably priced, from the trinkets-and-trash side of corporate gifts?

Good examples

The goal should be to come up with something cool and memorable, decorative yet functional. It should remind the recipient of the giver with every thoughtful use yet not scream ADVERTISMENT.

Haworth Corporate Gift Trivet Backside

The flipside of the trivet reminds the user where she received the corporate gift — without being too blatant of a promotion.

Our Haworth trivet comes to mind beautifully here. The office furniture maker took wood scraps and repurposed them into truly stunning wood trivets. Its commitment to sustainability shines through loud and clear in the explanation on the flip side – but there’s no logo to mar the loveliness of the wood or the design where people can see it.

I use this trivet often when I’m serving family style. It protects my table from straight-from-the-oven casserole dishes and still looks beautiful on my table. It’s something I would have bought to use. How many times can you say that about a corporate tchotchke?

Perhaps best of all for the giver, it’s a conversation starter. When a guest points it out, as they invariably do, I can tell the back story that came with the trivet, noting it’s a company my husband’s firm represents – and, indeed, has since its launch in 1948.

The geniuses behind this oh-so-perfect gift? The team at Green Giftz in Grand Rapids (who also sourced our SPR coffee mugs). Brian and I had the chance to tour their showroom last fall and found many items to covet. Company founder Karen Scarpino and her team are masters at marrying an organization’s culture and mission to just the right deliverable – from corporate logo wear you actually WANT to wear to notebooks, travel mugs, messenger bags, sunglasses and the lists goes on. The company tries to source from other Michigan companies, so you can feel extra good about partnering with them to create your own corporate conversation starter.

Those five boxes from my father-in-law are headed to our basement where they will be lovingly stored. When my time comes to downsize, I’m confident I’ll have no trouble leaving behind all of the items that now grace my office shelves and drawers – but the Haworth trivet WILL be going with me.


4 thoughts on “Functional and decorative: In praise of beautiful, useful corporate gifts”

  1. Robin Keith says:

    Well said. I have seen, purchased and given countless numbers of worthless logo trinkets in my time. None come to mind as being anything I would cherish like your trivet. I’m sure your in-laws are more than grateful for all your hard work.

    1. Mary Ann says:

      Thanks, Robin — one of my friends and colleagues responded similarly, noting “Having been the unwilling recipient of much more than my share of handsomely tooled lampshades and glass what-evers that are more lethal weapon than decoration, I hope your fun story struck a note with lots of your readers out there!”

  2. Meegan Holland says:

    A really great column, Mary Ann. I’d never really thought of this, but you are so right. A lot of this stuff is headed for the landfill, but I love the useful, clever gifts.

    1. Mary Ann says:

      Meegan, the team at Green Giftz does a great job at partnering with organizations to identify just the right treatment or item — they’re worth a look next time you swing through GR.

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