Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

The holidays are fast approaching, and for many companies that represents a prime time to thank customers and clients.

For the past couple of years, the economy has put a crimp in some companies' gifting plans as they faced tighter budgets.

According to this year's annual gift-giving survey by the Advertising Specialty Institute, average spending on clients or prospects is down slightly, from an average of $29.91 in 2011 to $26.48 in 2012.

"Lots of concerns over the economy remain," said Timothy M. Andrews, president of ASI, a Trevose, Pa.-based media, marketing and education organization serving the promotional products industry.

Storm's impact

It's also not clear locally how much impact superstorm Sandy will have on corporate gift-giving plans.

"I don't think you could make those projections at this point," said Lisa Chalker, president of Family Affair Distributing in Massapequa, which specializes in gourmet gift baskets and imprinted promotional products.

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Before Sandy, she would have anticipated spending to be about flat, but said now the extent of the devastation has her approaching clients more cautiously. "I'm treading gingerly around them," said Chalker. "I want to know if they're doing OK before we even start to propose to go forward."

Alice Bredin, a Cambridge, Mass.-based small-business adviser for American Express OPEN, said while the storm may impact some plans, overall, "I don't think we're going to see a lot of change in planned gift-giving based on the storm."

In fact, according to American Express OPEN's annual small business holiday monitor, 51 percent of small business owners were planning to give clients and customers gifts this holiday season, up from 43 percent last year. The average budget for client/customer holiday gifts is $958, up from $827 last year, according to the survey, conducted in October.

For many companies, gift giving is a strategic undertaking planned in advance, she said. "Businesses understand the importance and will be as generous as they possibly can be and even push themselves to the outer limit of what they can afford to give," said Bredin.

The urge to give back


The urge to give back because of Sandy may even spur more donations as gifts. Steve Haweeli, president of WordHampton Public Relations in East Hampton, generally likes to give donations on behalf of clients during the holiday season. This year, he'll donate about $1,000 to three organizations, including the Family Service League, said Haweeli, who has found clients to appreciate the gesture.

Food-related gifts are always appreciated, said Andrew Janosick, a partner at Proforma Executive Business Services, a St. James graphic communications provider that also sells promotional products. It's something that can be shared around the office, he said, noting many clients opt to include a branded item in their gift baskets.

One such client, Forchelli, Curto, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo & Terrana Llp, a law firm in Uniondale, will give clients this year logo-decorated mugs with coffee and biscotti and a cookie gift box, said Marketing director Nina McCann.

They will spend about the same as previous years, said McCann, sending about 200 holiday gifts to clients.

Janosick said despite the storm, he expects a strong corporate gifting season, noting it's always wise to go with functional/useful items, particularly those that can end up on a client's desk.

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Popular gifts

Other popular gifts include high-tech items like iPad cases utilizing smart-cover technology, which puts the iPad in "sleep mode" when the case is closed; USB flash drives; and eco-friendly water bottles with carbon filters, said Andrews.

Calendars never go out of style either, he said, noting that this year you may consider hand delivering gifts to clients to add that personal touch.

"It helps build trust and relationships," said Andrews.