Exchanging goodwill, corporate style

The symptoms appear around mid-October. By November and December, the fever rages and suddenly, everyone seems to be carrying a gift. And when a `person with a parcel' (PWP) enters your block, your eyes automatically follow him. As you wait expectantly (subtly, of course), the PWP walks past you and rings your neighbour's bell. Your disappointment is apparent.

All PWPs seem to make a beeline to certain addresses in town. You may even feel envy sneaking in. But don't worry. You are absolutely normal. What you are going through is called the ``festival gifts exchange syndrome.'' It occurs during the Navarathri-to-New Year period.

Welcome to the world of corporate gifts phenomenon, an expression of goodwill in business circles. Exchanging sweets during festival time to reinforce relationships is nothing new. But, both the contents and packaging have undergone change. Like the cities in Northern India, Chennai too has picked up the art of exchanging gifts in style.

Says G. Saravana Mahesh, grandson of the Grand Sweets founder C. Natarajan, ``We used to get bulk orders during the festival season for distribution. But we started gift packages only about three years ago. Chennaiites have always cared about quality. Now they care about appearance too".

Today, corporate gifts tell you the nature of the persons receiving and giving the gifts, the status, strength and warmth of the relationship, the mood of the season, the company's ranking in the industry, the purpose behind the gesture and of course, the goodwill.

Unlike in Mumbai or Delhi, where anything can form a gift item, Chennaiites by and large, prefer dry fruits boxes and sweet/chocolate boxes. The reasons are many. One, food items have a way of impressing a customer. Two, they suit all tastes and budgets. You have sweet/savouries packages ranging from Rs.100 to Rs.300 per 500 grams. Three, they are seen as traditional gifts. On the list of food items, fruits and even seasonal/ exotic vegetables go into a gift hamper. If festivals like Deepavali are apt `gift seasons', the arrival of the mango during summer renders itself as an excuse for `gift giving'. Next to food items, diaries and pens are common gifts.

However, the corporate hierarchy is intact in distribution of gifts. The cream of the clientele gets exclusive gifts; it could be anything from Swarovski and Bohemian crystals to handcrafted artefacts.

What makes a client special? Says Gitesh Agarwal, deputy sales manager, the Taj. "In the hospitality industry like ours we send gifts to those who patronise us. It could be anything — a hamper with chocolates and wine or a curio or a set of special glass. I personally feel that the gift should reflect the atmosphere of the place or your business."

A lot goes into the actual delivery of the gifts. Gifts in the South are given with more warmth and personal touch, feels Gitesh.

Exchanging goodwill, corporate style

"Gifting is an art'' says V.V. Prabhu, of Accolade, a PR agency. "It should be done with a lot of �lan and class."

Prabhu makes it a point to make a visit to his clients before the gift season. For bulk gifts during festivals, the occasion determines the choice. ``If it is Deepavali, we give sweet packets, if it is Christmas or New Year, we give wine and so on,'' says P. Krishnakumar, an automobile dealer.

New ideas are catching up in corporate gifting. In Chennai, most youngsters go in for cassettes, books etc. Casual wears also make good gifts. Chinese goods, which have flooded the market, too are attractive.

But how many actually enjoy the gifts they receive, leave alone remember the person who gave it? That is a million-rupee question. "If it is a `cold' gift given merely as a ritual, chances are that it might get passed on to someone else,'' says Gitesh.

Besides festivals, press meets and conventions are some of the other excuses to build good relations through gifts. While executive bags and stationary items are standard gifts on these occasions, some companies go in for rare curios like crystal candle stands, a Wedgwood Jasper ware or a porcelain figurine.

Exchanging goodwill, corporate style

One of the reasons why cultivating a relationship through gifts has gained momentum is the changing business paradigm where competition is tough. The growing necessity to stay ahead makes the corporate world lookout for innovative ideas for keeping business relations alive.

In Chennai it confines mostly the to higher echelons in the official hierarchy. Almost all the sources this correspondent spoke to, agreed that the gifts are meant mostly for the top officials. Often this creates some delicate situations in the office, when the boss has to accept a gift in front of the staff. However, some of them distribute the gifts they receive to their subordinates.


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