Christmas in July

As most people’s thoughts turn to Independence Day, mine turns to the winter holidays.  This is because, in my experience, selecting and agreeing on a holiday greeting, be it a card, video or e-mail, requires substantial planning in architecture firms where attention to and opinions about graphic design can run as hot as July weather.

At first figuring out holiday greetings was enough to turn me into a grinch. Nowadays I’ve arrived at a few strategies to help make this process, manageable, if not pleasant.  Here goes nothing:

1) The appropriate greeting is something along the lines of “happy holidays”.   It may seem fussy to some of you not to be able to say, Merry Christmas, but I prefer to err on the side of inclusiveness.  As someone who has lived in parts of the world where Christianity is not the dominant religion, I can tell you that those who do not share the dominant faith are typically both accepting and accommodating of that faith’s traditions.  It seems only polite to respect and acknowledge them back.

2) Who designs the card and approves the design?   This is one of the two parts of the process that has the greatest potential to turn unwieldy. Yes, there are lots of talented graphic designers among architects; but I prefer to let them focus on architecture.  In my experience designing holiday greetings by consensus generates  more heat than light.  No matter how equitable and inclusive you try to be, someone is not going to like the design.  Getting to a decision is usually a protracted and painful process for the marketing person who has to coordinate input and field the many frustrations voiced.  My recommendation is, if you have a respected graphic designer on staff, use that person to design the card.  If you don’t, outsource it to a capable graphic designer and limit the number of people necessary to approve the design.  

3) Do we or don’t we sign the cards by hand?  This question provides clusterbomb potential number two.  Recognize that, if you decide that hand-signed greeting cards are the way to go and your firm is larger than, say, 50 people, there’s a substantial logistical workflow accompanying this decision that must be managed by your marketing or admin staff.  There is also a substantial time commitment among practice staff to do the signing.  If you are the one managing this workflow, make sure you provide plenty of opportunities over at least a two-week period for folks to have access to and sign cards and make sure management is aware of the amount of time it will take for practice staff to do this.  I remember a principal being shocked when someone on his staff billed 18 hours to marketing for the time they spent signing holiday cards.  You want to set limits in advance and firm leadership has to back both the deadline and time commitment.

If you’re one of those doing the signing, understand that most firms don’t have the staff necessary to sort out the scores of cards you need to sign, bring them to your desk, provide multiple reminders to complete the task, and give you as much time as you need to sign them before they have to go into the mail.  It’s simply not realistic. Your firm will devise a way to allow you to personalize cards that is as minimally taxing to as many people as it can be and still get the cards out in a timely fashion.  Please work with that process and remember if it’s frustrating for you, it’s exponentially more frustrating for those trying to get all the cards signed.

4) Mailing list reviews  If your firm has a viable CRM system that is the recognized, “single source of truth” for contact information and people use it rigorously, then this is not likely to be a burdensome process. If you don’t, chances are that sometime around September those of you who lead teams or practice groups will be asked to review the  list to ensure that marketing has the most current postal or e-mail addresses for those who will be receiving holiday greetings.  They’ll also need a way to make sure the same client doesn’t get six or seven copies of the same greeting card, all signed by different employees/partners (or make the decision that this is an acceptable outcome).  Most firms don’t need to do this annually, but  I’d recommend that if 25% of your greetings are coming back undeliverable, it’s time for a thorough review.  It’s nobody’s favorite task, but good data hygiene is essential.

We all want the holiday season to be mirth-filled and peaceful even when we know it comes with its inherent stresses.  My holiday wish for you is that your firm finds a way to thoughtfully impart your good wishes to your clients and project partners in a way that is gentle on your marketing staff.

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