This time of the year is when many companies wrestle with how to acknowledge the season and how to show their appreciation for both their employees and their customers or clients. The issue of HOW to behave will be addressed in numerous articles, tv stories, blogs, and the like; but WHETHER to hold a party or not; and WHO to invite to the party; and WHAT kind of party to hold continues to perplex executives confronting the issue.
Importance of Actions, Not Words
One company walking that line between showing sincere appreciation for employees and customers during this holiday party season without overdoing it is Cohen and Wolf PC. Unlike some other companies that have recently had to reconsider their approach to parties given the economy or other factors; they have always had a low-key approach to internal parties during the holidays. Dan Nagel, a Principal in the firm’s Real Estate and Common Interest Group, and a member of the firm’s Marketing Committee shares that; “the firm has always held three holiday parties. One has always been a staff only party (no spouses) held at a local restaurant where a grab bag of nominal value gifts is exchanged. A second is a black tie party for attorneys, senior staff and their spouses. Third, a potluck and hor d’voures tasting get together for attorneys and staff in our office “. Nagel differentiates their approach from some other companies by pointing out that, there is no lavish 400 person ball and there are no 3rd parties included.” On a smaller scale, Southport Veterinary Hospital chooses to keep things very informal. Dr. Patricia Hart noted that, “we don’t do any big party for clients or ourselves. We just do a small restaurant thing for staff.”
Fairfield county restaurants contacted for this article added that while they are booking holiday parties at a level comparable to previous years, there is a greater emphasis on controlling menu options available for party-goers, ancillary expenses, and going alcohol-free for the parties. Some companies are controlling costs by switching to employees only, timing it for lunches vs. dinners, and weekdays vs. weekends.
Avoiding Client Backlash
Cohen and Wolf is very attuned to the appearance of holding lavish parties inappropriately while clients or others in the community may be struggling in the current economy or political environment. Dan Nagel commented that; “the firm’s 50th anniversary happened to coincide with the tragedy of 9/11 and was delayed and held as a much more sedate occasion than an over-the-top party. The firm’s 60th anniversary is scheduled for next year and we are very conscious of planning an event will not be appropriate for the economic climate and not be excessive.”
Like many companies, the company does thank clients with various gifts of appreciation throughout the year to acknowledge their gratitude for the business, but very keenly avoids trying to solicit business through gift-giving. Nagel recounted that the emphasis on offering meaningful gifts that are chosen specifically based on that client and relationship, “We have season tickets to many of the local teams, but as often as not, those tickets go unused because there is no attempt to force attorneys to use tickets with clients that would have no interest. Rather, a meal at a vegan or kosher restaurant for a client with dietary restrictions is much more appreciated. Toward the end of the year to express our appreciation, we provide significant clients with memory/USB devices, water bottles, wine sets with corkscrews, and other gifts that are both functional and able to serve as thank-yous to our clients.”
The holiday party dilemma is one that requires a level of finesse, insight, and aplomb to pull off well and not risk alienating customers or employees. As such, the decisions made should be consistent with the current times and economy – but also allow the company to express their appreciation for those that have contributed to their business performance throughout the year.