Recently, we were interviewing for a project and upon entering the room, I was perplexed to see a table full of treats that would rival a school bake sale. Turns out, our competition thought the client was diabetic and brought them the fuel to get through the day. We didn’t bring anything; should we have followed up with tea, perhaps? The experience heightened my awareness of the give-em-treats approach. It has been interesting to observe our clients’ reactions. Let me share a few stories that come to mind.

  1. A team came into an interview and gave a solid presentation. Everyone in the room felt positive about the possible fit between the firm and client. Upon their departure, the firm’s Principal handed out a custom branded box with the potential client’s logo along with theirs. Inside the box were branded items and snacks that totaled approximately $25. The client took the items, unaware of its contents. After the firm left, the conversation was not about how the firm interviewed and their experience, but instead, it was focused on whether the gift was appropriate and should be kept. This is not what you want your selection committee talking about when you depart. Consider bringing food–at least eat the evidence.
  2. At an interview to select a general contractor, the client was very pleased. All of the teams seemed suited for the job. The last contractor closed by saying that we had a few hours of debate ahead of us, and thought they would provide us with a pick-me-up. They pulled out a cooler and presented ice cream sundaes. The problem was, they purchased the ice cream about three hours earlier (pick-up treats + arrive at the interview + interview). As you could imagine, the ice cream was more like warm cream. The client appreciated the gesture, and I believe ate the sundaes, but again, the conversation amongst the selection committee was not what a proposing firm would desire.  The committee discussed that their gesture wasn’t very well thought out and began questioning their planning skill. This was not the final straw in the decision to not award them the project, but I can’t say it didn’t have an influence.
  3. One time a design team brought in cookies, but they didn’t anticipate the large selection group. They were short.
  4. Allergies. You may not have them, but others do, including a member of one of our client’s selection committee–the Board Chair had a very serious peanut allergy. When the interviewing team presented their treats, handmade peanut butter cups, it became awkward. The Board Chair had to respectfully decline, given that she wanted to live to see tomorrow.
  5. In this flop story, the general contractor distributed branded cookies as a leave-behind. Upon attempting to bite into the beyond-stale cookies, the selection committee decided we had been tricked into tasting these cellophane-sealed treats. It was concluded they were about eight years old and tasted like it. As you could imagine, they went in the trash.

These are just some of the things that we have seen have gone wrong. Certainly, we have seen the use of treats go quite well, but honestly, I don’t think it has never made a difference in the selection process.  Is it worth it?  I will let you decide. Pick your treat wisely as the gesture is a reflection of your brand and personality. And, avoid nuts and all things frozen.

~ Paul Wember, Owner’s Representative