CHARLESTON -- No marketing budget is complete without a line item dedicated to the expense of trinkets stamped with a company logo.

From key chains to leather portfolios, monogrammed merchandise has become the thank-you note of choice for law firms. Aside from wine and dining, gift-giving has become immensely popular as lawyers look for creative ways to show gratitude.

This is wonderful news for advertising specialty distributor Chip Urling of Image by Design.

"Marketing through promotional products is a means for organizations to gain new clients as well as recognizing existing clients," Urling said. "Most firms have a specific target market and the promotional products that they invest in most always reflect that market. It is important to have a goal and to periodically evaluate the return on investment in this particular effort."

Urling has been the managing member of his company for 11 years, and he admits that new business almost always stems from the promotional efforts of his existing clientele.

"Merchandise marketing is excellent for name recognition as well as the pride that the person takes in wearing firm-branded apparel. It's very good for morale in and outside of the firm," Urling said.

Consultants believe that firms should thank clients spontaneously rather than waiting for holiday seasons or the end of the fiscal year. However, as practitioners like Wendy Werner point out, gifting can get givers into a bit of trouble if careful thought isn't put into each gesture.

Werner wrote in an article for Law Practice Today that a one-size-fits-all product is not always a good choice when selecting items bearing a firm logo.

Although there is nothing wrong with recognizing clients in the same way, it isn't wise to order mass amounts of certain things. Is everyone a golf-lover? Is it wasteful to send unisex apparel in a general size of extra-large to an entire company? Are the gifts too masculine or too feminine?

If no other consideration is given to the uniqueness of the gift or the client, Werner reminds lawyers to at least check into personnel policies to see if such exchanges are even permitted.

Another area of concern involves the quality of the gift.

"Why buy a twenty-cent pen that doesn't write well and falls apart when you can get a fifty-cent pen that will last?" Urling asked.

Should lawyers diversify gifts according to the amount of business the firm receives from different clients? When should a client receive etched crystal instead of a travel alarm clock? Is the client who sent a law firm one matter really worthy of a windproof umbrella?

Gifts can reflect signs of the times, meaning that products have greater purpose and functionality. After the World Trade Center attack, more companies invested in items such as first-aid kits and tool boxes. When people seemed to travel less and seek entertainment and vacations closer to home, client gifts moved away from backpacks and other pieces of luggage to more comforting items like stadium blankets and barbecue sets.

On a brighter note, technology has increased the opportunity to brand logos on trendy items such as cases for MP3 players and cellular phones.

One of the main reasons for giving anyone anything is to make an impression. Apparel is a popular way of accomplishing this, as emblems and slogans capture attention and spark conversation.

These "referral builders" not only endorse a firm when worn in public, but they also end the dilemma of defining a workplace casual wardrobe. Public relations directors believe in marketing a firm from the inside-out, which begins with the appearance and presence of staff members.

Not only is it important for business leaders and other respected community members to be seen wearing a firm's brand, but it is equally critical for insiders to be seen representing the firm with professionalism at all times.

Although firm-branded apparel can be viewed as billboarding, a wider opinion is that wearing a firm's logo on anything displays one's support for and confidence in lawyers' talent. In many ways, firm logos are status symbols, stating a person's affiliation or brand preference.

In this advertising age, a company can put its name on anything. When personalized items are shared with others though, Urling and Werner agree that a lack of attention can be a costly mistake.

Clients might be turned off by products not manufactured in West Virginia or the USA. International clientele may have strong feelings about gift exchanges in general, especially if the gifts are wrapped ornately.

"A high-quality, tasteful gift is always appropriate," Urling said. "A law firm will be remembered for a long time because of it," he said.

After all, it is the thought that counts.

Katy Brown is the managing member of The Write Word, LLC. She can be reached by calling (304) 344-5355 or through e-mail at thewriteword@charter.net.

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