Once upon a time, a marketing director tried to remain budget-conscious by purchasing lesser-quality items and trinkets to give away as client gifts.
Much to her horror, she learned months later that a bag full of the company-monogrammed items had been delivered to a charitable thrift shop, priced as high as $5, and as low as 25 cents. The unpopular items were donated for two reasons –- the shirts had shrunk and the key chains were flimsy. Clearly, the marketing director was embarrassed and vowed to choose more wisely next time.
Generous gift giving has become both trendy (as in Oprah's Favorite Things) and strategic. Business consultants remind client relations managers that gifts aren't worth giving if they aren't useful as well as impressive. In addition, gifts are sometimes better received if the tokens of appreciation aren't branded with a logo or name of any kind, which sends a message of selflessness.
However, if a company or law firm is determined to send gifts to its finest clients, then these 10 status-obvious gifts may be the perfect ideas:
* The Open-Top Tote by Lands' End has become a necessary piece of luggage, used for vacation getaways or a container for beach towels and other summer items. The canvas carryall voted "best value" by the Wall Street Journal, can be ordered in a range of sizes and colors, and monogramming is complimentary.
* L.L. Bean's Direct to Business Web site offers a wide variety of client gifts, but one noteworthy item is the Weekend Blanket, which is water resistant, but still extremely soft. The L.L. Bean signature plaid design makes this blanket a wise choice for men or women.
* For classic, old-school personalities who romanticize the art of handwriting and note taking, a collection of sophisticated fountain pens can be found at Levenger, a store that sells "tools for serious readers." Catalog and Web pages are filled with matching leather-bound journals, agendas, and folios.
* Nothing may say "good taste" more so than Neiman Marcus and the famous store's corporate gift department. Inside, shoppers can purchase a tin of the legendary chocolate chip cookies, which are often backordered due to high demand.
* If they can't be delivered before the holidays, then a good ole' fruitcake is always a safe bet –- especially if it's made by the pastry chefs at The Greenbrier. Now that non-registered guests can browse through the hotel's many distinctive boutiques and gourmet shops, taking home some of the Jolly G's signature selections is quite simple.
* Epicures might also be excited to receive an autographed cookbook by famous caterer and East Hampton celebrity, Ina Garten, of the Food Network's popular show, "Barefoot Contessa." Garten's products can be found at Capitol Market, but a personalized cookbook has to be ordered through her own Web site.
* If a traditional box of chocolates simply doesn't do this year, then upgrading to a sterling collection of truffles may solve problems. Dylan's Candy Bar of New York City is the rave among children and adults alike, including buyers at Saks Fifth Avenue who now carry an exclusive line of the young connoisseur's products and baskets. Dylan Lauren is the daughter of famous fashion designer, Ralph Lauren, and she has made her own trademark of fame through retro candies and sweet indulgences.
* Avoiding food and drinks altogether is easy if a well-seasoned shopper knows about Red Envelope. The store refers to itself as "the place for unique holiday gifts" and lives up to its slogan with a line of business necessities that are wrapped elegantly. For clients in the financial world, Red Envelope suggests an Asian money tree in a sculptural pot. Some believers claim that good luck follows each unfurling leaf.
* Ladies recognize a Vera Bradley purse from a mile away, but many people aren't familiar with the style maker's executive line of gifts labeled "Baekgaard Ltd." Colorful leather goods meet technical accessories in an array of MP3 cases that conceal unsightly cords. The company's check lining is both conservative and professional looking.
* If the thought that counts has to be out of the box, then the robin's egg blue one is the only way to go. Tiffany and Company's "Color of Dreams" holiday campaign is certain to drum up a series of oohs and ahs. The Tiffany for Business Web site suggests Swiss Movements (a.k.a. "clock") for the distinguished client. After all, the appropriately memorable gift commemorates a valuable working relationship.
Oh, and what happened to the poor marketing director who learned that her company's apparel and key chains had ended up in a charitable thrift store? Well, I searched through every rounder and bin and bought it all back!
Brown is the managing member of The Write Word LLC, a professional writing and editing agency based in Charleston.