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Vikram Rajan
 

Cards, Gifts and Parties = Creative Marketing

‘Tis the season for greeting cards, thank you gifts and holiday party invitations. How to use these to market your practice to better client relationships and bring in better referrals.

November 16, 2009
by Vikram Rajan

Unfortunately, the bounty of cards, gifts and parties can be overwhelming and exhausting. Thus, your impact can easily be diluted or lost. Here are a few marketing ideas to help make your cards, gifts and party participation more worthwhile.

Cards

Sending out cards during the last two weeks of December can be a waste. We get so many of them. We wonder which ones to simply throw out. Often, the mass-printed, thinly-veiled marketing propaganda are the first to go.

You have a core clientele and referral sources who should receive more than a stoic card with a scribbled signature. The rest should receive a thoughtful card, during a less busy season:

Thanksgiving Day cards make a memorable first impression, before the onslaught. (It also avoids any religious entanglement.) Thanksgiving Day is a convenient backdrop to appreciate all your relationships, especially those who pay the bills. It can also be a gentle reminder to those who haven’t yet: “We thank you for catching up before the year end.”

Since the gesture is still novel, Thanksgiving cards need not be fancy: A thank you message can be printed on your letterhead. You can also be whimsical (e.g., involve your kids’ school projects).

Thanksgiving Day earmarks the conclusion of another year. Your Thanksgiving cards can nudge year-end review and remind your clients that you are always open to answering questions from their friends and family.

E-mailed cards save time and money; yet it can figuratively and literally become spam. Plus, it subtracts from the personal touch. Sendoutcards.com is a nifty alternative: As Dorian Stern, a Sendoutcards.com representative, says, “Send Out Cards provides online contact management. Clients’ birthdays and holiday greetings can be sent automatically, with custom elements like photographs, fonts, logos and even signed in your handwriting.”

Gifts

Giving gifts can become expensive. Like any business decision, what’s the return on investment? Many practices settle on treating everybody equally with branded pens and other tchotchkes. Unfortunately, for many such gifts end up tossed in the back of drawers. The appreciative personal impact is lost when the gift is impersonal.

Last week I was speaking with Hank Jaroslawski of the New York Islanders. While promoting his corporate packages, he surmised, “Why give a gift, when you can give an experience?”

Your value isn’t only reflected by accurate financial statements and other documents. Your expertise is also translated into memorable client experiences. It’s about your clients, so too should be your gifts.

Common passions, like hockey, golf, boating or travelling, are perfect themes. By giving tickets, you help your clients share their experiences with those they truly love, not (just) you. You are also creating an opportunity for them to edify you, “My CPA just gave me box seats to …”

Even if you don’t share your clients’ interests, gifts reflecting your clients’ passions are more memorable. While it does take more effort than imprinting a thousand pens with your contact information, your clients will realize the time and thoughtfulness that went into your sending the gift and that will go a long way. Getting to know your clients better will not only lead to better gift-giving but also better referrals.

Each business relationship should be treated fairly, not equally. While kickbacks and proportional gifts may be unethical, VIP clients and referral sources should be treated specially. Still remember, everybody enjoys receiving something. Think of giving gifts like planting seeds — it will yield greater returns in seasons to come.

Parties

Like last year, we will be obliged by our clients, colleagues and friends to go to many holiday parties. They are more social than productive. While it’s more comfortable to circulate in familiar cliques, business parties can be a great opportunity to meet new clients. After all, you all share a common bond: It’s like LinkedIn coming to life!

You may not have the budget to throw an elaborate party. Many practices invite their favorite (and most important) clients and colleagues to a dinner gathering. Or, simpler yet for smaller practices, you can make it easier by inviting one client. Taking spouses along ensures the conversations aren’t just about business.

Parties aren’t just about its lavishness. It should focus on the memorable experience. An evening cruise, drinks at your golf clubhouse or dinner after a game are fun twists on a holiday staple. Using themed corporate parties can make for more interesting interaction than a traditional cocktail party.

Steve Wilson of World Golf Network regularly develops networking events that bring out the passion for golf in a productive atmosphere. At his next event, a golf pro will provide personalized golf swing analysis and golfers’ swings will be videotaped for improvement. Such a party would spark more conversation (about you) during the party and for months to come.

Conclusion

While most of the effect of marketing comes through consistency, holiday cards, gifts and parties are moments for your creativity. Your accounting practice must distinguish itself from the crowd. Likewise, your marketing should stand out. Your cards, gifts and parties should reflect your personality, your excellent service and your clients’ interests. As you are more remembered, you will be more recommended.

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Vikram Rajan is a Practice Marketing Advisor™ with CoGrow. Rajan helps CPA practices with their marketing action plans, within professional codes of ethics and compliance.