In the spirit of giving ... the right gifts

In the spirit of giving ... the right gifts

TECHNOLOGY journalists don’t actually hang stockings over the fireplace at Christmas — at least not the ones we know — but it’s not unusual for a flood of seasonal gifts to land in pigeon holes during December.

While you’ll almost certainly treat your business partners and customers differently to reporters and editors, similar rules apply whenever you hand out tokens of appreciation.

Corporate yuletide presents offered to the media in the past can be loosely divided into three categories.

Sitting right at the top of the Xmas tree in financial terms is highly generous but ethically worrying largess.

As a rule of thumb any gift giver spending more than the price of a decent lunch, say $70 or thereabouts per journalist, is teetering on the brink of moral acceptability. Likewise anything that can be sold profitably on Trade Me is almost certainly over the top.

Although New Zealand’s journalists are not paid much by international standards, by local standards most are adequately compensated for their efforts. In other words, they’re not dependent on tips and handouts. And most definitely do not, or should not, expect to be rewarded by the companies they write about. Independence is important.

So, for the most part, appropriate gifts should be amusing trinkets rather than something forming a substantial component of annual remuneration. And even the faintest hint of offering a back-hander will almost certainly do you far more harm than good.

On these criteria bottles of wine are definitely OK — even decent wine, cases or half cases of quaffable plonk are fine. A dozen bottles of the finest vintage would probably be enough to trigger warning bells. If you don’t want Rodney Hide taking an interest in your gift programme, keep it under control.

There are, however, two notable exceptions to the $70 decency barrier. First, it’s perfectly OK for technology companies to hand out more expensive, but still relatively low-cost samples of their own wares, particularly if the gadgets are also handed out to customers or other people.

Second, you can substantially discount the value of any gift covered in company logos. The more explicit the branding, the lower the value.

So a polo shirt with a postage stamp-sized software logo might be worth half as much as an unbranded one. While a leather jacket with a hardware manufacturer’s gang patch plastered all over the back might only be worth 20% of the value of its plain black counterpart.

The overwhelming majority of industry Christmas presents fall into the acceptable middle ground, with normal retail prices going anywhere from $15 a pop up to around $50. As you might expect given most people’s preconceptions about journalists, booze is extremely popular with both givers and receivers.

One really nice thing about sending alcohol is that it can be shared amongst editorial teams. There’s a lot of wine supped out of plastic beakers during December.

Lollies, cakes and other edibles often go down well for much the same reason. A quick straw poll of journalists found that chocolate is particularly welcome — though it needs to be treated carefully once the temperature rises. Apparently jelly beans are fine, but packets bulked-out with the horrible black liquorice ones are considered slightly offensive.

Still vaguely stomach-related, but more imaginative, lines of gift-giving are things like coffee beans, plungers and other caffeine-related paraphernalia. You can get away with sending out a tastefully company-branded mug in a morning coffee gift pack; send just the mug and you maybe sending the wrong message.

Packs of gourmet biscuits — say Italian biscotti, amoretti or something equally exotic — often hit the spot. Modest hampers and gift baskets can work well, but keep a close eye on the spending limit.

Years ago one enterprising vendor gave Australian journalists a selection pack of chilli sauces — indicating the hotness of their products. Tying a message to a gift this way can be very effective.

A perennially popular gift hugging the fringes of the gastronomic world is a barbeque toolset. Acer recently gave journalists these at a press function and the back-at-office envy factor was noticeable.

In fact, all manner of outdoorsy things are welcome once the temperature rises. Hammocks, beach towels and garden toys all fall into this category. For the more adventurous there are compasses, tool kits and Swiss army knives. Right now some of the hottest giveaways in tech circles are LED torches.

In recent years a number of vendors have handed out low-cost solid-state MP3 players, FM radios and USB memory keys. We’ve also seen promotional Furbys. Think-style tools and gizmos such as Rubik’s Cube and Newton’s Cradle are also widely regarded as very acceptable.

Yo-yos, especially ones that light up in the dark, can be a hit — remember many journalists have children; those that don’t are often childlike. Reporters with young children might appreciate soft toys — at least the first dozen or so that turn up.

Not all the items at the bottom-end of the gift-giving spectrum are naff, but there’s definitely an air of uncoolness about certain presents. Beer can coolers, mouse pads and any kind of rubbery squishy things might have been OK in their day but are now all a long way past their sell-by date. This will probably be the last Christmas you’ll be able to get away with handing out water bottles — the world really doesn’t need any more of these.

Anything to do with cleaning is strictly verboten. Doubly so when it comes to personal hygiene. You might think journalists are smelly and dirty, but denting their fragile self-image is hardly the way to win friends and influence people.

Desk diaries and calendars might be welcome, but there are simply too many companies handing them out. After the first half-dozen or so, recipients might not be quite so impressed by one-page-per-day views or monthly photos of New Zealand scenery. A Pirelli calendar is, of course, quite different.

Presents influenced by the protestant work ethic aren’t generally greeted with unbridled joy. For example, business card holders and Amway-influenced self-improvement books may not work in your favour. Books on IT are a bit of a bore, but are positively fascinating compared with biographies of chief executives or, worse still, their vision for the future.

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