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December 2009

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UST MBC Director’s Memo – 12.09

This time of year, many organizations still send out a holiday card, something from the firm to customers, vendors or even employees and other “friends” of the firm. It’s generally something that doesn’t arrive in a #10 business envelope, look like an invitation to a blow-out holiday sale. The time-honored purpose of the card is to communicate the value the firm places on its relationship with the recipient.
Assuming the communications staff kept to the project calendar, sometime last August the process of purchasing mass produced cards or developing a custom version began, attempting to capture that message to all… in one simple phrase of fewer than 12 words.
Traditionally, most firms bought “Christmas” cards. Never mind the irony of Silicon Valley firms sporting Currier and Ives snow scenes, these greetings tended to be decidedly frosty in venue, if not completely focused on the Christian event of the season.
Over the years the content, form and focus of these communication tactics evolved. First, many firms acknowledged that cards decorated with pines or heavenly-lit stables excluded or even offended some recipients. Next, most firms nixed the “Merry Christmas” message in favor of the more inclusive “Happy Holidays,” which covers everyone… potentially (excepting those who neither celebrate a holiday or nor are particularly happy during the last month of the year).
I’ve seen firms attempt to avoid the clutter of the late December mail slot by opting for a Thanksgiving or mid-January “New Year” greeting. To these folks, I must applaud the dual strategy of avoiding both the sticky cultural issue, while potentially garnering the same level of goodwill in a less competitive inbox. There’s also the idea of sending a calendar – which multiplies the shelf life by at least a dozen times. (Have even seen a few cards that convert to three-dimensional calendars)
Again, the original and perennial purpose of this form of contact was to communicate to important stakeholders that the importance each represents to the company. I’m not averse to this tactic, but shouldn’t this be an underlying message in every contact with customers, vendors, and corporate significant others? How to do that tactically could fill volumes, but it won’t ever happen if the communicators in the organization only see that fitting into an A4 envelope once a year.