Do you want to show your appreciation to business partners with a gift this year? Skip the cheap branded pens and make it count!

A few weeks ago, I offered a few holiday greeting card tips for businesses. While the holiday season is for giving, I argued that greeting cards are nothing more than marketing campaigns disguised in brightly colored envelopes and glitter. Because of this, they should be treated like any other marketing strategy in order to maximize their impact. The same should be said about corporate gifts.

Throughout my career, I have been part of many wild holiday gift exchanges with business partners. I continue to be flabbergasted at how much money and energy is wasted on gifts that go unnoticed, unused, or are simply discarded altogether. If you insist on giving a corporate gift to show you appreciation, here are a few tips to make sure yours gets noticed:

1. Check Corporate Policies

Many years ago, I was a purchasing manager for a large construction company.  Competition for our business was fierce among vendors, and many used the holiday season to jockey for attention by sending lavish gifts, from bottles of fancy wine to construction equipment. Because accepting individual gifts would create a conflict of interest, I did not allow individuals in the department to accept them. If we received a gift, it was given to charity. Shamefully, many bottles of Merlot were never consumed.

2. Spread the Cheer

Predictably, I didn't win any office popularity contests with this policy. We did, however, allow vendors to give gifts that could be used by the entire office (not just the purchasing department). Not only did this raise morale and support vendors who insisted on sending gifts, it eliminated much of the office resentment from junior level employees who were often left out. With a large office, this can be difficult, though you would be surprised how far a fruit basket will go (not so much for a bottle of Merlot).

3. Give Yourself

Giving gifts can get expensive. One way to overcome the cost is to give something you already have--your own products or services. For instance, if you're a golf pro, give a free lesson. At Wild Creations, we are a product company, so our warehouse is always stocked with gifts for the holiday. The cost is marginal and it makes for great advertising.

4. Make It Useful

I love free office supplies--I'm a little geeky this way. I have been using a useful sticky notepad from our partners at Pioneer Plastics all year, and I just received another (yippie). I have seen many gifts in the past, however, go straight to the White Elephant Gift Exchange pile, never receiving the attention the sender intended (fruitcake anyone?).   Avoid cheap and useless items and your gift will be repurposed throughout the year!

5. Put Your Ego In Check

Although I advocate using these gifts to marketing your company, tone it down. While you may be excited to wear a hat or windbreaker with your company logo embroidered so large it can be seen from space, more than likely others will not. One cool idea I saw recently was an NFL team hat with a company's logo embroidered on the back. It was trendy, fashionable and will definitely get plenty of mileage from a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.  (Disclosure: licensing restrictions may apply...and I am not a Steelers fan)

6. Give a Gift, Not Diabetes

I know this sounds humbug and will irk chocolate makers and dentists everywhere, but I am turned off by the ungodly amount of sweets that pass through the office during this time of year. Not only do these gifts fail to make it through the holidays, they create an incredibly unproductive sugar crash in the office around 4:00 p.m. If you must give treats, make it a healthly alternative. Our waistlines will appreciate it.

Giving corporate gifts is fun and a great way to show appreciation to your business partners. Follow these tips and you can maximize the investment you make. If you insist on giving a useless present, such as a bad motivational book or a fruitcake, send it my way. I need a gift for this year's White Elephant Exchange!

What are some of the really wild corporate holiday gifts you have given/received?