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A gift for the heart: “Pay it forward” with holiday marketing

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My practice celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2012, and I wanted to do something a little different for my clients to celebrate. All of us at the firm agreed that our lives have been very blessed and it was time to share our good fortune with others. We asked some of our industry partners to help brainstorm creative ideas of how to best promote our anniversary while still providing a value to our clients in our celebratory messaging. The result was our now annual “Pay it Forward” campaign. During the holiday season we always sent small gifts to our clients, but for a select few that year the gift came with a twist.

I chose a small, diverse group of my current clients and sent each of them a $100 VISA gift card. The catch was that I asked each of them not to use the money on themselves, but to pass the gift card on to an individual in need. We wanted the experience to be as personal and memorable as possible, so we also suggested that the money be given to a stranger rather than a formal organization. I then asked that they report back to us how they decided to “Pay It Forward.”

There were several reasons we decided to expand upon our usual program. First of all, holiday cards are common practice for many firms and we didn’t want ours to be lost among the season’s greetings from dentist offices, dog groomers, neighborhood pharmacies and the like. We hoped by creating a unique campaign our holiday message would have a much more personal touch.

Second, by asking our clients to take an additional step with their gift (and hopefully one they would enjoy doing), we helped keep our practice at the forefront of our client’s mind for just a bit longer than an ordinary holiday card.

Finally, we hoped that this campaign would show our clients the extra effort we as a firm put into providing them with some extra holiday cheer. The last thing I want is for any communication to my clients to appear too automated our robotic. I hoped putting more work into our holiday program would help us continue to build a personal relationship with each client.

heart card

We already had a good feeling about the campaign from the start, but the program turned out to be so much more than I ever expected.

The clients who received the gift cards sent back amazing stories about the people they shared the gift cards with.  We, in our office, were impacted every day as we opened our email and read the touching responses of spreading holiday joy.

One couple gave to a family who had adopted seven children, all with special needs.  Donations were made to American Veterans groups, as well as to a “Shop with a Firefighter” program that allows low-income children to shop for gifts for their families.  Our clients reached families struggling with overwhelming health issues and rough financial situations. Single parents were frequent and very grateful recipients of the gifts.  They offered people who were struggling a bit of hope. Children who weren’t going to receive Christmas presents had gifts under the tree. Strangers became friends. Many of my clients were inspired to reach out and do more. I have to admit that often I would find myself with a lump in my throat and a smile on my face knowing the far-reaching affect this little gift was creating.

With my clients’ permission, I shared the stories of their giving in a special holiday letter to the rest of our practice. Our clients who received the letter sharing the stories were also inspired to take positive action in the community.  I received thank you notes from those who participated in the program, and those who hadn’t had the opportunity to share the gift cards said they looked forward to possibly receiving one next year.

This campaign did wonders in word-of-mouth marketing and it reinforced our clients’ confidence that we weren’t a firm that only cared about “the bottom line.” We now have a special section of our website dedicated to telling the “Pay it Forward” story (go here to watch the video), and our hope is that it will provide insight into our company culture and values that no cold call or billboard advertisement ever could. We certainly accomplished our goal of standing out in the stack of other holiday greetings!

My firm continued the program this past holiday season and expanded the number of participants, asking a different grouping of clients to participate each year in providing the gift. The stories and inspiration continues.

Our firm’s financial investment was more for this program than in prior years when we provided small gifts to all clients. However, I also believe that each client who read a story or those that provided a “Pay it Forward” gift directly felt more impacted and appreciated the gesture of good will.

As a result of the campaign, our firm has impacted individuals and families in our community and we’ve also strengthened our relationship with our current clients.

As a firm, we believe we are called to serve our clients by providing encouragement, support and compassion. This program enabled us to put our company mission into action. 

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