The art of the perfect business gift

Gift-giving is an art. Faced with choosing a personal gift for a friend who is also a business contact, how, when and what’s appropriate are gray areas. The questions are complicated by corporate gift guidelines at some companies.

On the upside, what could be bad about recognizing a promotion, celebrating a new baby or observing a birthday?

“It’s always great relative to an event, a wedding, (or) to celebrate a promotion,” said Michael Sarafa, president of the Associated Food Dealers of Michigan in Farmington Hills.

Not surprisingly, he like to give baskets of nuts, chocolates, figs, dates or wine, but only if he knows the giftee enjoys it. Fresh lobster or seafood is good as long as you tip off the recipient in advance of the delivery, he says.

“You can never, ever, go wrong with food – for babies, for parents, even for funerals. … You won’t offend anyone and it will be used up,” Sarafa said.

Knowing a gift will be welcome is part of the decision to send a personal gift, as well as a sign that the relationship is really personal, not just business.

We only present personal gifts to special long-term clients who have supported us through good times and bad,” said Anna Giammarco, chief administrator of Cubellis Marco, a Northville retail architecture studio. “We’re not extravagant. We’re down-to-earth here. Still, we like to acknowledge store openings, or a first grandchild.”

Most clients of Cubellis Marco own food markets, so food baskets are out. Instead, Giammarco gives a basket of baby food to mark a birth or frames the original color rendering of a store design for a grand opening.

In financial services, even personal gift-giving is regulated.

“The boundaries of gift-giving etiquette are gray,” said Michael Cole, vice president, technology industry group at the Bank of Ann Arbor. Personal gift-giving “depends on the level of the relationship, and on regulatory standards for financial services. We need to be aware of those. Large gifts aren’t allowed.”

That goes for gifts he receives from clients who are friends, as well as gifts he gives, Cole said.

The same limits apply to public companies, said Christine Morrisroe, a spokeswoman for Ford Motor Co. She’s observed huge changes in personal gift-giving over her public-relations career.

“In the old days, we would just deliver things to people’s homes, or go to a ball game or concert, then out to dinner with husbands and wives. Now everybody pays for their own ticket and splits the bill,” Morrisroe said.

“It’s not easy to do at all today because of rules, especially in public companies. It ends up being a nice lunch and a card. Smaller companies can do more. Owners can decide what’s right for themselves.”

A personal gift for new parents may be as simple as a baby bib or as elaborate as a blue box from Tiffany’s, depending on how the giver values the relationship, said Gayla Houser, director of business development at the Detroit law firm of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone plc.

“Something casual can still be personal, thoughtful, an acknowledgement of a life-changing event without being decadent,” she said.

R. Sue Dodea, director of development and communications for Novi-based Paralyzed Veterans of Michigan, agrees that casual gifts are good, especially something the recipient can use that doesn’t create an obligation.

Gift-giving is rare in the nonprofit sector, she notes.

“What to give depends on the occasion. I may enjoy meeting (someone), and know she collects cow-themed objects. Later, on an out-of-town trip, I see a cow sculpture. I’ll spend the $8.98, as long as I stumbled across it somewhere where she would never see it. Let’s build a bridge,” Dodea said. “I wouldn’t buy her a nightgown in a cow print.”

Fixed Income FX

The cute designs, whimsical ’50s-diner names, and absurdly low prices promise cheap stompbox thrills, but do Danelectro‘s new Mini Effects manage to deliver big sounds for little money? Absolutely. Are some of them cool enough to convert lo-fi fiends who can afford costlier alternatives? Yes again. All ten of these Chinese-made pedals list for less than $50. They have an irrepressibly fun vibe, even though the plastic housings (which measure approximately 4″x 3″x 1″) and tiny, pot-metal knobs, and switches don’t exactly instill long-term confidence. All models run on 9-volt batteries or AC adapters (not included). The battery compartment is secured with a recessed, non-detachable screw that’s a cinch to open with a coin or screwdriver, but difficult to grasp with bare fingers.

I tested the Mini Effects using a ’63 Fender Strat, a G&L ASAT, and a Hamer 25th Anniversary. Amps included an old Fender Deluxe and a Yamaha DG100, and direct-recording tones were auditioned with a SansAmp PSA-1.

BLT Slap Echo

The BLT ($39) shines at short, rockabilly-style delay. The effect has the funky ambiance of an older solid-state echo–a bit metallic and tanky, though not in a bad way. The only controls are Mix and Repeat, and the maximum delay time is a mere fraction of a second. Cranking the Repeat knob generates a deliciously spooky quasi-reverb ambience–think early-’70s Italian horror movie. If you delight in cheap, edgy attitude, this pedal is a one-of-a-kind bargain.

Corned Beef Reverb

The Corned Beef ($49) bears no sonic resemblance to other digital reverb pedals. With its loud, early reflections and bouncing-marbles regenerations, it sounds more like a cross between a best spring reverb and a short delay with the repeats turned up. The only controls are Mix and Hi-Cut, so you can’t adjust the predelay or reverb decay time. The Corned Beef is a great choice for players seeking surf-approved splash without draining their wallets.

Grilled Cheese Distortion

Think of the smoothest, creamiest, most tube-like distortion you’ve ever heard. Now imagine the exact opposite–that’s the sizzle of the Grilled Cheese ($49), a potent squawk-box that hearkens back to some of the nastier fuzz pedals of the ’60s. Actually, it’s a combination distortion/filter effect with no gain control–just Level and Resonance. The latter adjusts the pitch of the pedal’s jagged filter peak. Lower settings elicit hollow, boxy-in-a-cool-way fuzz, and higher numbers can unleash white-noise squalls of eardrum-lacerating violence. Cool. The closest equivalents to this bold effect might be a notched wah pedal feeding an aggressive fuzz, or certain extinct filter-fuzzes such as the Systech Harmonic Energizer. Few players are likely to use this noise bomb as their principal overdrive, but it’s a great weapon to have in your armory.

Hash Browns Flanger

Though its tones veer more toward lo-fi funkiness than analog-tape warmth or digital precision, the Hash Browns Flanger ($39) gets high marks for personality. There’s lots of texture here, and it’s easy to get lost in the deep, shifting modulation. The high-regeneration settings are strong and colorful, even if they don’t match the swoop of, say, an old ADA unit. High-speed settings have a drunken wobble that reminds me of an old Morley “oil can” Rotating Wah. You could get a contact high from the Hash Browns’ woozy, circa-’71 sweeps.

Milkshake Chorus

To my ear, the Milkshake ($49) is the runt of the litter. All the Dano modulation pedals incline toward clangy and metallic sounds. But while the others manage to create coolness within their lo-fi specs, the Milkshake nails neither the richness of a quality chorus, nor the funkiness of a primitive one. The effect sounds clumpy, and the detuning strikes me as sour–regardless of the Rate and Depth settings.

Pastrami Overdrive

The Pastrami ($29) is noisy, trashy, and limited –but, man, what an attitude! It’s the epitome of cheap, solid-state distortion. Anyone who has discovered, say, the joys of recording through a battery-operated micro-amp will be in heaven here. These snotty, aggressive sounds have a strong, ’60s-punk flavor (think early Kinks). The tones don’t have much low-end muscle, but they’re, superb for old-school trash and raging psycho-blues. The Pastrami is also surprisingly responsive to performance dynamics. When I backed off the volume knob on my Strat, the pedal picked up tons of detail–not to mention an exceptionally clear AM radio broadcast of Billy Joel singing “Just the Way You Are.” Excellent!

Pepperoni Phaser

There’s nothing subtle about the Pepperoni ($49), which sounds like a low-rent, solid-state unit from the early ’70s. You can’t set the effect depth, mix, or regeneration–a Speed knob is the only control. The phasing effect is chewy and tactile, with a little pitch-bend seasickness thrown in at no extra charge. I love the Pepperoni’s crunchy bite (it actually distorts slightly when you play aggressively), and faster settings have a deliciously sleazy home-organ vibe. High marks for texture and personality.

Surf & Turf Compressor

The Surf & Turf ($49) is a lo-fi limiter in the down-and-dirty tradition of the MXR Dyna Comp and Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer. The beauty of such units lies in the less-than-subtle way they squash your signal. For example, the tubby attack of a cheap compressor can increase the cluck factor of chicken-pickin’, or smooth out slide-guitar dynamics without total loss of transient attack. That’s why many guitarists who can afford quality compressors pledge their allegiance to cheapies, and the Surf & Turf is sure to win its share of such adherents. The controls are minimal–just Output and Sensitivity. It retains its punch even when maxed out, and it excels at the “gulping” attack players usually seek from low-cost squeeze boxes.

T-Bone Distortion

The T-Bone ($49) matches the aggression and slice of the Pastrami Overdrive, but with more low-end mass. Still, its flavor is closer to ’60s fuzz than modern metal. Like the Pastrami, it boasts ridiculous amounts of gain, yet it’s surprisingly adept at lightly toasted sounds. Maxed-out, the T-Bone delivers a fat distortion with a pleasing, square-wave-type hollowness. With my guitar’s tone control rolled back, I could get lard-assed fuzz evocative of early Cream tracks or the super-saturated solo from the Doors’ “When the Music’s Over.” Yet for all the smooth compression, the tones retain their transient edge. Nice.

Tuna Melt Tremolo

The Tuna Melt ($49) is one of the prides of the Mini pack. This retro-flavored trem holds its own against rivals costing two or three times as much. Besides the obligatory Speed and Depth controls, a toggle lets you switch between smooth triangle-wave modulation and a choppier square-wave effect. The results aren’t quite as creamy and 3-dimensional as on, say, an old Fender amp, but they’re more than serviceable for stage and studio. The effect is pretty, bordering on the mild–don’t expect violent, helicopter-style chop. Unlike most of the other Mini Effects, there’s nothing cheesy about the Tuna Melt. It’s a classy, classic effect

Snapshot

Cute, compact, and incredibly inexpensive, Danelectro’s ten Mini Effects (priced from $29 to $49) will appeal to noisemakers of all ages. Editors’ Pick Awards go to the BLT Slap Echo, Grilled Cheese Distortion, Pastrami Overdrive, T-Bone Distortion, and Tuna Melt Tremolo.