What to Do About Holiday Cards This Season

Before you prepare to send out another batch of holiday cards this year, take a moment to consider why you’re doing it. For some, it’s part of how they express their holiday spirit. If that’s the case for you, have at it! Seasons greetings!

But for many, it’s a business development strategy – an excuse to touch base with their second tier of relationships. It’s a way of saying “Hey, I’ve barely spoken to you all year, but I wanted you to know that I haven’t forgotten you. You still mean something to me.” To accomplish this, we send out a bunch of generic hallmark cards with our name scrawled at the bottom (or even worse, a blast of eCards). Maybe it’s just me, but I find the gesture ineffective.

In most cases, when I receive a generic holiday card, I don’t think to myself, “Aw gee, they cared enough to send me this.” Instead I think, “I’m on their second tier list.”

And if you quizzed me on any given Tuesday as to who sent me a holiday card on Monday, I’d probably draw a blank. This all seems incongruent with the original intention: to celebrate the occasion, and to maintain, or perhaps even deepen, our relationships.

So, this holiday season, I encourage you not to engage in the typical holiday card campaign. Don’t send 500 generic holiday greetings. Send 10 personalized ones. Go deep instead of broad. Let the recipient know that you’re the kind of person who is willing to take 60 seconds out of your day to write a thoughtful, personal sentence or two. You’ll save a few trees, spare a few inboxes, and strengthen a few relationships. And the 490 people who didn’t get a card from you this year probably won’t even notice.

Authored by David Ackert

15 responses to “What to Do About Holiday Cards This Season

  1. David, as a long time reader of your blog this a favorite topic among your many good ideas. I have completely changed my approach thanks to your advice. I no longer send a mass mailing and the dozen or so who are on my list receive a personalized note. The new process takes about the same amount of time as it did before, costs less in postage, and is a much more genuine.

  2. David,

    I always enjoy your thoughtful blogs. Unlike a lot of people, I actually feel special receiving holiday greeting cards! However, the email holiday cards feel very impersonal and cold. I will add more personal comments this year. I typically only send to clients and prospects – not a zillion.

  3. Thanks Barbara. I agree – the e-cards may be efficient for the sender but they are a missed opportunity where the relationship is concerned.

  4. I don’t disagree about the e-cards, but now I really wonder why they make card-likers, as well as card-dislikers, go “meh.” Did manufactured greeting cards get this kind of reception when they were new and sold as a replacement for personal letters? Is it that you can’t touch your e-cards or put them all on your mantel or wall to cheer up your peripheral vision as you do other things? Or is it that they can take too long to open, get stuck in the middle of loading, or make sounds that get you busted at work?

  5. Great questions, Liz. Personally I think our attempt to become ever-more-efficient often costs us in quality and meaning. The e-card is a good example – you can blast it to as many people as you want but it leaves a low-quality impression compared to something more personalized. It’s better than nothing I suppose, but if you really want to stand out from the crowd and deepen key connections this holiday season you may want to consider something less efficient… like a personal letter.

  6. At this point, I get very few holiday cards. So I do remember who sent them to me, IF they are either (a) funny/witty and not just a generic message and/or (b) the sender writes a few personal lines to me. If they are just a signature or stamp, or, god-forbid, BLANK inside? yeah, thanks but no.
    I am feeling inspired by this post, though. Thinking that maybe I’ll crank out a few personal notes to people every day during “the season” rather than engage in this fruitless & thoughtless endeavor.

  7. I beg to differ, David, re sending physical cards. We’ve mailed 2,000 pre-printed cards each year for more than 10 years. (A different card each year.) The full names of me and my co-worker and our website are printed inside, after the sentiment. I have given a lot of speeches, worked with many clients and their other advisers, and collected a lot of names over the years. We use a local mailing service. The cards go out the week after Thanksgiving, to avoid the late-season deluge. We get a lot of calls and projects at the end of the year, which is our busy season. It’s good to keep those relationships, and good to keep the list up to date in case it gets slow and we do other mailings. Probably because of our regular mailings, we also get a lot of physical cards from others. We stick them up on the office walls and it makes the season feel special. It’s fun to take a minute when it’s busy and look at the cards and remember the senders. I don’t open e-cards and I don’t think much of emailed seasons greetings. My pet peeve is physical cards that don’t name the business (even on the envelope) but have signatures of the first names of all of the employees. Maybe if they are your personal accounting firm you could figure it out. To me, it is a colossal waste of their time and money because I don’t know who sent it. When the name of the biz shown, I do not give any additional points for ink signatures. Also, a card from a big law or accounting firm is meaningless. It has to be from a person. I sent my own cards for the last 8 years (ending in 2003) I was at big firms. I do remember the people who send food or wine. I send thank-you letters, but I don’t reciprocate. It’s possible for both parties to get into an awkward loop of “They sent us a basket last year, so we have to send them one this year.” In the late 1990s I sent wreaths to people who referred biz to me during the year. But then they figured out why they got a wreath in one year and not in another year. It got kind of weird, so I stopped. I think a word processed but individual letter thanking the 10 biggest clients as a New Years’ note is a very good idea. Not handwritten, because I would like them to be able to read it. Handwritten notes seem to me like love notes, which are unwelcome and awkward from other professionals. PS I’ve also decided to raise my rates for existing clients by sending a letter in December that the rates will change effective 12/26 (the start of a billing period). In the past I waited till it was slower in January, but I think the letter gets more attention then.

  8. Thank you for sharing your perspective, Bill. Your approach seems to be working for you, in part because you have learned from past mistakes and developed your own thoughtful approach to the holiday card opportunity.

  9. I disagree (a little) too, David. Like you, I “touch” my clients through a weekly blog and a monthly newsblast (via email). The cards are one way of a physical “touch” at least once a year. I do still and written thank you notes after my cases settle, but for those who don’t read my eblast, I like to have something attractive, hand-signed but preprinted that they can put on their desk. And as a recipient, I am always tickled when I make it onto a new lawyer/client’s Christmas list, it makes me feel like I am special to them–and I hope they feel that way when they receive a card from me.

  10. I like your perspective, Jan. I think the bottom line here is that as long as we are approaching our holiday communications thoughtfully and genuinely, we are taking advantage of the opportunity.

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