Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

It’s that time of year when businesses start spreading holiday cheer to their customers and employees.

But companies are reporting they’re more likely to give gifts to their workers this season than to clients or prospects, according to an annual survey from the Advertising Specialty Institute.

And overall, more companies are still undecided on their gifting plans this year, which could be the result of wanting to wait to see how the fourth quarter develops.

“Companies are becoming more and more selective as to who they give gifts to,” explains Nate Kucsma, director of market research for the ad institute, a Trevose, Pennsylvania-based organization serving the $22 billion promotional products industry.

Forty-four percent of companies said they’re planning to give gifts to employees this season, the same percentage as last holiday season, while 32 percent reported plans for gifts to customers and prospects, down from 37 percent last year, according to institute data. Those still undecided on giving to customers and prospects were 32 percent in this year’s survey, compared to 30 percent last year.

Companies said they planned to spend a median of $45 per employee,a dollar more than last year. Planned spending on gifts for customers and prospects was a median of $25, down from $34 last year, the survey shows.

Even with the lower dollar amount, Kucsma notes, companies will be stretching their marketing dollars further by gifting to an average of 184 clients and prospects this holiday season, up from 154 last year.

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Lisa Chalker, president of Family Affair Distributing in Massapequa, which specializes in imprinted promotional gifts, says she’s seeing a bit more companies undecided at this point than she did in the past.

“They’re taking a little longer to make a decision,” she notes. “I think the economy is a big factor.”

She’s finding that so far spending is about the same as last year.

Bret Bonnet, president of Quality Logo Products Inc., an Aurora, Illinois, promotional products company, says he thinks spending is down, in part as a result of pricing pressures in his industry due to the high volume of players.

This year the company created for the first time a dedicated holiday gifts microsite, company.holiday, that focuses on lower quantities. Feeding part of that trend is a new target market emerging: employees buying branded company gifts for their bosses.

He says technology gifts are still hot, including power banks for recharging electronics, and even drones.

“It’s kind of a fun gift,” says Bonnet. These can range from $20 to $100 per drone depending on the quantity.

Don Hochler, a Woodbury-based commercial litigation and collection attorney, says he gives high-end items to key clients.

For example, for his bigger clients, he traditionally sends a gift certificate to a custom clothier and/or restaurant gift cards.

And he’ll be taking care of his employees with Christmas bonuses.

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While he will be spending more this year than last, he says gifting is not necessarily a matter of money spent, but about creativity. You can offset costs by being creative and when possible, personalizing gifts, Hochler says.

John Robertson, president of the Sexy Salad Catering Co. in Hauppauge, likes to add some fun to employee gifts.

He purchases about 25 gifts priced $50 and under for a grab bag. Employees can swap gifts if they don’t like what they get, and he purchases extra gifts so there’s a wider selection.

“It’s a lot of fun,” says Robertson.