UK: THE CARD SAYS IT ALL MESSAGE. - But the corporate Christmas card must be chosen with care.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

But the corporate Christmas card must be chosen with care.

Give it another week or so and the season of goodwill will be well and truly upon us. Every mantel shelf in Britain will have its assortment of Christmas cards and more will arrive by every post. In offices, too, cards will occupy all available flat surfaces and festoon the open plan areas from pillar to pillar. What's it all about, this proliferation of robins and Magi and Westminster Bridges? It's all very well, at Chistmastide, for old friends to salute one another in traditional style, but what of the commercial motives? Who sends all these company cards, and why? And is that purpose satisfied?

Fiona Rogers, director of marketing at the Chartered Institute of Marketing has the obvious - and conventional - answer to the first question: 'Sending Christmas cards is a natural gesture for a company wishing to maintain good relations with its customers, suppliers and other business contacts.' In other words, cards sustain a relationship marketing programme. Product (or service) promotion can be particularly powerful, Rogers suggests, if the company goes to the trouble of designing a card of its own. 'This is usually an impactful way to combine a product/service message with Christmas greetings.'

Alternatively a card may demonstrate the organisation's social responsibility.

'Companies can be seen to support good causes like charities through the cards they select,' says Rogers. Some businesses, like Symonds Facilities Management, have cunningly contrived to combine these different messages.

'Last year we sponsored a card design competition for children at a local school,' says Symonds's associate director Michael Asah. 'The competition provided an excellent means of creating closer ties with our local community while also giving us a card of a unique design. We see cards as an effective way of keeping ourselves in the forefront of clients minds - so the more unusual the better.'

But wherever the card comes from, Rogers warns, be careful lest it sends the wrong message. 'Many companies now operate in an increasingly global marketplace - it's important, when selecting cards, to ensure that they will appeal cross-culturally and not offend any particular religious group.' So forget about the birth of Christ. 'Sending Christmas cards is now the norm in almost all the countries we operate in,' says John Edgar, chief press officer at ICI. 'Cards are even common in countries like Japan which have no Christmas tradition.'

Even in Britain only about 1% of corporate cards depict biblical events.

Scenes of London are the most common, according to The Almanac Gallery, a leading publisher of charity cards. But beware again. London-based senior executives of Equitrac Corporation, a US computer supplier, send out more than 400 cards a year. 'We used to send snowy London scenes but now we are looking for less stuffy, more humorous, cards,' explains operations manager Jane Hatfull. 'More and more, our clients are based outside London.

They get fed up with all the emphasis on London and the City.'

Equitrac's 400 cards are just about average for companies in Britain, though numbers vary widely. The bigger the operation, of course, the greater the likely requirement for cards. Some businesses order as many as 30,000 from The Almanac Gallery's Christmas catalogue, claims managing director Darryl Williams. That's going to represent a significant cost item which could somewhat dilute the seasonal goodwill.

A spokesperson at Asda, for example, admits that Christmas cards can be quite a sensitive issue. Although Asda has no policy about sending cards, 'neither customers nor suppliers want to see unnecessary costs - that's not part of the company ethos'. Yet the cost of Christmas cards, Williams suggests, is one reason for the popularity of charity cards: if you have to appear extravagant, it's best to appear extravagant in a good cause.

Cost is also, no doubt, a reason why only one British company in 12 bothers with corporate cards. On the other hand, a disinclination to do so does not necessarily imply a Scrooge-like attitude to Christmas.

Phaidon Press, the art book publisher, is a card-free zone but company secretary Nathalie Kontarsky insists that, 'It's not a matter of cost.

The company has a very strong design ethos and getting a consensus on an illustration, as either appropriate or acceptable, would be time-consuming.

It would probably take until Easter to agree on something we liked.'

Nevertheless, that one in 12 adds up to a corporate card market estimated at £30 million. And people who are in the trade expect it to double over the next few years.

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