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E-Cards and relationship capital

Over the past week I've been reading on-line discussions by professional service marketers about the mixed quality and apparent demise of e-cards. Comments include:

  • "With the trend finally dying ... is this a moment to do the Peanuts 'Happy Dance'?"
  • "Too many firms are producing nothing more than egregiously bad ads that use the holidays as an excuse to talk about how great the firm is."
  • "I've deleted two so far without opening them"
  • "(One e-card) was shockingly amateurish, particularly considering the sender was a very well-known and respected national firm."
  • "Too many are nothing more than bad spam that takes too long to load."

I'm an advocate for personalised greeting cards especially in respect to acknowledging high value relationships - the bedrock of many professional service firms.  Because it's quick, easy and cheap to deploy, many practices retained e-cards for 2014 but with an increasing sense of reluctance about the medium and its impact. Given this hesitancy I found three compelling arguments for 'old fashioned' cards in Kim Arlington's report in last weekend's Sydney Morning Herald (14/12/13):

  1. Personalised cards are more highly valued by recipients as a demonstration of effort.  
  2. As a tactile thing they are better remembered.
  3. If you have all messages received electronically then part of the ritual of Greeting cards is lost (eg placing cards on a mantle, on a tree, around the office)

Ideas for professionals who want to build relationships

  1. Order Christmas cards in January. 
  2. At the end of each matter, as part of your file close-out, complete the Christmas card to each of the client contact(s) you worked with and the referrer for that job.
  3. Store cards (a shoe box works well).
  4. Review cards in November*.  Check that details for your contacts are up to date. Edit as required.  
  5. Post in the first week of December.
    {*A very handy reminder of calls to make before the year ends.  Also helps to kick start New Year business conversations.}

A word of caution: Go Slow to Go Fast

Erica Ariel Fox, Author of Winning from Within and Lecturer at Harvard Law School reminds us that the personal touch in greeting cards is great - but only if you (a) actually have a personal connection and (b) have time to 'Go slow' and pay attention to the details. 

"An axiom in consulting is “go slow to go fast.” At this time of year, follow this principle before your well-meaning holiday greeting becomes a press release that you’re out of touch. A few reminders of things you know, but can slip by when you move too quickly:

  • Make sure you spell people’s names correctly
  • Update your database with personal life changes you know about (you don’t want to send good wishes to a client and his wife if they got divorced last year)
  • If you’re recycling old holiday cards, make sure they don’t have last year’s date on them
  • If you’re sending small gifts, don’t send people the exact same gift you sent last year
  • If a client of yours got a new job this year, make sure to send your holiday card to his/her new business address."

Sorry - there's no silver bullet. 

With on-line relationships, especially special interest groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, personalised cards may not be practical.  Professionals building their relationship capital will be well-served by considering the range and types of networks they have and matching the greeting message and medium to these networks.  You'll probably find two or three different forms of greeting in your year-end kit.  For example, a personalised card to valued contacts, a charity e-card (no sales messages thank you) to LinkedIn connections and an update on a pro-bono campaign with a Facebook group.


Sue-Ella is the Principal of Prodonovich Advisory, a business dedicated to helping law and accounting practices sharpen their business development practices, attract and retain clients and become more profitable.

Sue-Ella Prodonovich