Better To Give Then to Receive—Gift Buying Tips

December 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

Better To Give Then to Receive—Gift Buying Tips

December 1st, 2011 § Leave a Comment

Buying gifts for yourself or others is fun, easy and oh so rewarding.

Buying gifts from someone (your employer) to give to someone else (a stranger to you) can be one of the most challenging things assistants have to do.

And because it is your job, often you won’t get any help from the gift giver. But you, oh professional one and assistant extraordinaire, have tools in your arsenal.

Let me start by acknowledging there are multiple gift that we are responsible for all year long:

1) The Monthly Birthday List—This includes your employer’s family, friends, employees and business associates. You are responsible for keeping it current and circulated 1-2 months in advance. Most of these gifts are more of an acknowledgement (generic gift) than a statement (impressive gift) so you may have a rule that those on the list get standard gifts like a flower arrangement or an expensive bottle of wine, but those who do get a statement gift will be specific hand-picked gifts. At the very least, during the first presentation of the list to your employer, ask for an idea of budget next to each person’s name. This list is your barometer to the level of importance this person is in your employer’s life. Glean what you can from this list so the following year you can make appropriate suggestions. Eventually you will know who comes on and off the list annually, who gets the flowers or the trip to Hawaii.

2) Special event gifts—These gifts are not anticipated in advance, however, they can also have a general rule that applies to them so you can keep these gifts on hand. I used to have a closet of the softest handmade baby blankets for a new arrival, pre-wrapped. When award seasons comes around, I have a good, dependable, well stocked liquor store (Wally’s in LA is great) who will send champagne to Academy Award winners or Grammy winners, Espy awards (insert your award show here) your employer may know. Marmalade Café’s (west coast) makes the best food baskets complete with casseroles and homemade soups for a get well gift or to a new mom who can’t find the time to cook. They key is to have these people on tap so when you get the call to send something to so-and-so and you’re on another coast scouting a residence for the next movie your employer is going on, you make a call and you know it gets done. (Blog about love for my “golden vendors” to come).

3) The production list (if you’re working in the movie industry for a producer or director or talent) includes start of production gifts and end of production gifts. These are usually special gift baskets put together relating to the movie’s theme to start, and a more personal gift for the principles at the end. The cast and crew always gets a “wrap” gift which is from the producers/director. The wrap gift has the logo of the film and relates to the film’s theme. Key crew members always get jackets and at  least a baseball hat. (I still have the softest leather jackets given out from the Indiana Jones movies as well as a picnic blanket from another film aptly themed. Yeah, I’ve used the blanket much more!) The execution of these gifts are handled by the production staff but you may be coordinating and coming up with the ideas if your employer is the producer. The personal gifts to the talent at the movie’s end is usually done by the assistants. But by the end of the film, you or your employer know the players involved well enough to effortlessly pick appropriate gifts.

4) Holiday gift lists—this is the granddaddy of gift giving. This usually incorporates everyone your employer thought enough of to get a gift for in the lists mentioned above. These may include corporate gifts (if your employer owns a company) as well as personal gifts. By years end, or if the last assistant kept good records, you should have an idea of what type of gifts certain people get. But if not, here are some hints to get more info on the person:

  • Ask your employer. If they are able to give you some direction, that’s easiest. If not, at the very least, get an idea of what they’d like your budget to be. Sometimes you get an idea if they say, “Get me the late 20th century fine art catalog for Southby’s auction next month,” you know the budget is in the tens of thousands. Or  “Call Cindy at Hermes and see what’s new” you know the gift range is in the thousands. “Call Mark at Bloomingdales” your in the high hundreds. And if they say, “Call Target”, they don’t care what you get! (Personally, Target and Home Depot are my favorite stores so I’m not hating on Target!)
  • Call their assistant and ask specific questions. “Does – have any special interests? Hobbies? Collect anything? Maybe they have a favorite wine or love a particular type of flower?  A favorite author who you can get a first edition book? A favorite artist? If your employer has suggested something, the assistant is a good person to run ideas past of what you were thinking of getting and they will also know what they do not need more of.  Though not the most expensive, the most interesting and saddest thing I ever bid on (and won) at an auction was the personal Christmas card from President John F. and Jackie Kennedy the year he was assassinated. The cards were done and personally signed in advanced but obviously never sent out.
  • If they are an actor or actress, call their agent or manager to ask these same questions.
  • If it’s a family member, and you have a good relationship with the family, call them. Ask them what their child may want from your Uncle Bob, your boss. I had great relationships with all the families I worked for and often I never had to call. Somehow they would find a way to get their list to me well in advance of any holidays. ;)
  • Vendor gifts are usually for teachers, doctors, mailman, arrowhead delivery man, handyman, coaches, tutors etc. These are the service people you use all year-long and deserved to be acknowledged. Visa gift cards or cash work for individuals.  For doctors offices and staff, some sort of holiday gift basket that everyone can enjoy is nice. I call in advance to find out how many people are in the offices and when they close for the holidays and have sent baskets of muffins, teas, cakes, chocolates, Starbucks coffee assortments, etc. Yes, they get overrun with them but they also can take them home to family or re-gift! I have yet to find anything but food gifts that multiple people can share in an office, so ideas are welcome! It bears repeating to just make sure any perishables you send are coordinated in time for them to enjoy them before they close for the holidays so your gift does not go to waste.
  • Corporate gifts are the easiest because they are not personally assigned gifts. Everyone gets the same thing or a variation of it. Most department stores from Tiffany’s to Macy’s have gift departments who will wrap, tag, and ship your gifts for you. I prefer to call a professional shopper for these gifts (See below.)
  • Call a professional shopper. These people have their finger on the pulse of the latest and the greatest. They go to the gift shows. The good ones are discerning in what they suggest you give and know that they must make you look good. Their gifts are creative, have a beautiful artistic presentation, and they have relationships with most stores and shoppers. They get wholesale prices, ship and work from your lists. They can do a gift presentation of suggestions for you in advance. They use quality products in their baskets or gifts. They don’t plaster their logo on everything and make your gift look like an advertisement for themselves. One of the companies I have used for over 20 years is LA Gifts. They always come through.

One way to never go wrong when giving a gift from your employer is don’t go cheap. You never want to make them appear that they don’t care, even when they don’t. If it is an inexpensive gift, still wrap it with presentation in mind: use real satin ribbons and heavy weight wrapping paper, it will class it up.

The bottom line is that the key gifts your employer gives will take some homework on your part. And yes, you must please the gift giver and the gift receiver with your selection (no pressure right)? But as long as you realize the best gift is NOT the one you want to give but the one the person would want to receive, then it makes the hunt more an enjoyable challenge.


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