Christmas in March? Hardly

March 20, 2014
Jerry Higgins Creative Director

“Why are we publishing an article about Christmas Gifts in March?” was the question.

I submit that this rambling isn’t about Christmas at all. It’s not even about how to give creative, clever, well-designed gifts. It’s more about what we do at Core every day. It’s about inheriting a customer, building a relationship, discovering as much as you can about them and then delighting them by presenting ideas and solutions they had never considered.

It’s the core of a client/agency relationship.

It’s also the core of our internal relationships. We connect with each other on a daily basis – with each other’s interests, expertise, personalities and hidden quirks. Basic human behavior makes us work to develop connections with each other, in just the same way we work with and serve our clients.

Our Secret Santa tradition is an annual manifestation of that approach. We pick a name, learn about our target audience and set about creating something for that audience. Gifts are then presented at our annual holiday affair. Pretty standard. For us, it’s a chance for all of us, from accountants and writers to designers and account executives, to develop and express our creativity. We’re laughing, mocking, wowing, telling stories, building connections and having a grand old time serving each other, just the way we serve our clients every day.

This selection of Secret Santa gifts shown here is representative of those given at our annual Core Christmas shindig in early January. Eleven … culled from the many great gifts presented that day.

Try to guess which one actually moved the recipient to tears. And think about your customer in that way. Heck, why not think about reaching everyone that way.

PMS 000

Gift creator: Sara Neumann, Senior Designer
Recipient: Jeff Speech, Vice President Creative Services/Partner

Sara’s inspiration: I made Jeff a customized Pantone style swatch book and branded it JEFFTONE. It was only filled with beige colors and a couple of clear ones. These poked fun at the idea that Jeff eats very basic food, and the only liquor he drinks is vodka. I wrote an intro in the front, mimicking the style of writing found in a Pantone Book, but geared it toward something you would find on an infomercial, “BUT WAIT, There’s More!” I made it by first scanning in a sample Pantone Book. Then I brought the images into InDesign and used them as a guide to recreate the format of all the little swatch colors and their color mixture notations. I had them printed and cut them all out and bound them.

I figured since I was taking such a liberty at ribbing not only my supervisor but a partner of the company, I followed the gift up with a bottle of his vodka of choice, Grey Goose.

Jeff’s reaction: The moment I received my gift I thought, “I didn’t know Pantone made a PMS booklet featuring only variations of beige.” Then I started to read it. After my initial confusion I found it hilarious and so personally tailored to my child-like food preferences. It showed a lot of insight and was done in such a clever way. Really fitting of the thinking and work of someone in our creative department. However, she could have added two additional colors: Cheetos orange and Ketchup red.

Life and Lemons

Life lemons
Gift creator: Kevin Farrington, Account Executive
Recipient: Sarah Richmond, Media Strategist

Kevin’s inspiration: Sarah’s gift was my version of the “When life gives you lemons” poster, plus a few lemons and vodka to make a nice drink after a long day! I originally started with the poster idea but decided I should I ask someone who works closer with Sarah a few key questions that could help me customize it. The Furby was added based on this conversation and from there I simply decided I would keep all the ideas intertwined around the poster (lemons, booze, etc.)

Once I had all the pieces, I played around with layout for several days and tried a new twist on the look of a motivational poster. I slapped all those together, added the furby as the last piece and spent some time trying to make the spacing, font and messaging worthy of something to be given at an agency.

Sarah’s reaction: I don’t have a whole lot of interaction with Kevin since we don’t work on any of the same accounts. I could tell he did good reconnaissance work about what I like. The funny part of the gift was the poster he created which tied in the lemons, my love of cats, a reference to The Walking Dead and my daughter’s recent gift from Santa, A Furby Boom that irritated and befuddled my husband. The gift made me laugh. It was funny, clever and I could tell Kevin put some thought in it.

Viva! Las Vegas

Gift creator: Jeff Speech, Vice President Creative Services/Partner
Recipient: Jerry Higgins, Creative Director

Jeff’s inspiration: I gave Jerry the gift of false memories. I did a little scrap-booking (or “crap-booking” in my case) and presented Jerry with an album of slightly altered photos featuring him with all the stars we met on our recent business trip to Las Vegas. Who wouldn’t want to have proof that you were part of the Blue Man Group, or Criss Angel’s right-hand man for a night? When his grandkids ask, “Did you really hang out with the original Rat Pack?” Jerry can just pull out the photo album and say, “Yep.” The camera doesn’t lie.

I threw in a few well-placed appliqués, some souvenirs from the trip and viola! You have a keepsake I’m sure will be passed on and discussed for generations. You’re welcome, Jerry!

Jerry’s reaction: I had forgotten how I broke up Frank and Sammy with my Bigfoot call. Deano was half in the bag … as usual. Thanks for the memories Jeff!

Boone’s farm for a year!

Gift creator: Doug Birling, Senior Designer
Recipient: Stacy Sandee, Digital Project Manager

Doug’s inspiration: Stacy is still fairly new at Core, and I don’t work with her much. In one conversation we had, she mentioned drinking and having a good time, so I thought, “Alcohol!” Also knowing her project management role, I figured she could use a drink at the end of the day. And, really, what’s better than Boone’s Farm? I was going for bulk. Not just a bottle of wine, a box, and not just one box … a whole year of wine.

As for the design, since Boone’s is known for its high quality, I figured the ingredients should match. I looked into weeds, and the names of real weeds became the basis for the 12 blends of wine she would receive throughout the year.

Stacy’s reaction: I’d only been at Core for two months so I was a bit nervous about opening my gift. Upon opening it, I thought Doug did a great job. He picked up enough about me to come up with a really funny and creative gift that worked well for my love of alcohol!

Swan. Joel Swan.

Joel spy
Gift creator: Rich Vetrano, Vice President Print and Digital Services/Partner
Recipient: Joel Swan, Senior Web Developer

Rich’s inspiration: I gave Joel a spy kit – with several spy-related gadgets. Included are a USB voice recorder, a micro video camera, a decoy video surveillance camera, a bug detector to find listening devices, phone taps, etc., and a motion-detecting imitation parakeet with lifelike chirping and head movements.

With Joel’s technical proficiencies and his tendency to work late hours on “secret” stuff (or stuff I don’t fully understand, anyway), I generally assume he is a cyborg spy using Core Creative as his base of operations to carry out top-secret activities. You’d probably draw the same assumption.

I needed a case to hold all the various items and preferably to display them all at once rather than having them individually wrapped. I designed and printed the graphics for the inside and on the outside, retouched photos featuring Joel in various James Bond-type poses. For the inside, I included a detailed account of how I cleverly pieced together the truth of his secret agent identity.

Joel’s reaction: I was amazed by the level of effort Rich put into the gift; it was imaginative, detailed and funny! I have a good sense of humor and love imagination and creativity, so I truly appreciated the thought and effort that went into the whole narrative and the construction of the gift itself.

Pink Nightmare

Pink Nightmare
Gift creator: Dana Carpenter, PR and Marketing Strategist
Recipient: Doug Birling, Senior Designer

Dana’s inspiration: Last year, I gave Kevin Farrington a similar pair of adult footy PJs and they were pretty much a hit. Doug and Kevin work closely together. Why not make them twinsies? I pretty much had the idea in my head when I headed to the store. What I didn’t expect is finding the most wonderful pair of glistening pink nightmare PJs. Add a custom card with Doug’s face retouched into the classic scene from A Christmas Story and it’s a nice cohesive package.

Doug’s reaction: With so many people having joined Core in the last year, it’s almost like a shock when you finally get up in front of everyone and open your gift. Plus, you put all your extra time and energy into the gift you’re giving, you don’t even think about the fact that you’re going to receive something equally ridiculous. It was a funny gift for sure. I think Dana has a thing for furries!

In my younger days, I was known to be the clown, so it’s always nice to loosen up and put on the funny costume and have a good laugh.

Dance With Me, Man!

Gift creator: Jerry Higgins, Creative Director
Recipient: Charles Collins, Digital Services Director

Jerry’s inspiration: While most gift givers focus on who the recipient is and what they would like, I, on the other hand, try to integrate myself into the gift as much as possible. I was aware that Charles liked to “cut a rug” so I decided to create a dance step kit called “Dance with me, man!” In my JAZZpak version of the dance primer I teach Charles my new exciting steps … such as the Lambada, the Waltz, and the Robot.

The kit included a metronome, the step-by-step booklet of dances, floor footsteps and a bonus container of moonwalk dust. I created the package using a Macbook Air box … and improved upon the original design, if I do say.

Charles’s reaction: I was pretty excited … Jerry always does something super cool. Honestly, I initially thought to myself, “Huh, Jerry must be super busy, because he ‘just’ bought something this year.” It actually took a minute before I realized that it was Jerry’s face all over the packaging. Then I realized how awesome the gift was and how much time and attention must have gone into it.

I love to dance. I’m a fan of music in general, so this is a great reflection of that for me.

The Women of Frumpus Fashions

Gift creator: Beth Crivello-Wagner, Vice President Client Services
Recipient: Ward Alles, President, Brand Strategist

Beth’s inspiration: I gave Ward a Frumpus Calendar featuring the women of Client Service. About six months prior, I was laughing at Ward and Jerry’s Frumpus bit (the apparel brand they came up that serves women who have given up) and decided I needed to do something with it. When I selected Ward’s name, the beauty all came together.

I enlisted the co-founder of Frumpus to help (Jerry). I also recruited the women of Client Service to be my models. I directed the ladies to bring in the ugliest clothes they could find that truly said “I invest no time in how I look and probably smell like fresh glue and old bananas.” We conducted two photo shoots and Jerry and I selected our favorite shots. Jerry retouched the photos and I wrote the copy. I produced the calendar online. The rest is history … glorious, inappropriate history. Oh, and the butt on the front cover is mine. Jerry shot it. He’s a courageous hero and should be commended for staring danger in the face (literally).

Ward’s reaction: It was great to see all of our dreams (Jerry’s and mine) for serving the underserved – i.e. the dowdy and frumpy among us – come to fruition in one glorious, keepsake calendar. (Plus, it helps me remember what day it is.)

Our Core women showed what a little style and panache can do for one’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem. And now, I have an image of Beth’s blue-jeaned butt permanently engrained in my mind. Double bonus. Nix that. Double-WIDE bonus.

Gift creator: Charles Collins, Digital Services Director
Recipient: Christine Ruth, Billing Specialist

Charles’s inspiration: I knew I wanted to do something with sailing, as that’s one of the few things I knew about Christine. Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about sailing. I spent a few hours messing around on Amazon and finding the right pieces that could be crammed into a story of some kind. Christine is not the most emotive or expressive person at Core, so I knew I wanted to provide her with a tool to get people’s attention. My solution: a terrible poem which Christine had to read as she opened each individually wrapped gift … it’s basically a song that anyone can sing and no one can entirely ignore. I registered a domain for a web-based video game I would develop and I used BitStrips to build a toon of Christine, plus some open font that looked pirate-y. A little photoshop on the game sprites and boom!

Video game. (

(Editor’s Note: Yes, Charles really did design a video game for Christine.)

Christine’s reaction: I knew it was going to be awesome and hilarious when I saw that each piece came with its own part of a funny poem to read. I was thinking about how much time and thought must have been behind the gift. It was the perfect gift for me because I love unique antique items (And rum! Who doesn’t love rum?) and all pieces of the gift related to my most favorite hobby in a hilarious way.

Heavy Metal Puppies

Metal calendar
Gift creator: Dave Hanson, Associate Creative Director
Recipient: Angela Fioretti, Art Director

Dave’s inspiration: I was super excited when I drew Angela’s name. She and I are both metal heads, so I felt like I could give her a really cool and unique gift. Knowing that Angela was a dog lover, the idea of adding puppies to the mix seemed like a natural step. My wife, Kate, came up with the concept of doing it in calendar form, which really helped bring the whole idea together … a custom-made “Heavy Metal Puppies” 12-Month Calendar.

I started by looking for metal bands whose names sounded like they could be combined with the name of a month. For example, combining April with Morbid Angel for “Morbid April” or December with DIO for “DIOcember”.

I hunted down photos of these bands and Photoshopped adorable puppies into each pic and with the dogs in place, the final task was labeling each month with the custom names.

Angela’s reaction: Two things I adore, puppies and metal, put into one thing I can use every day and hang up in my office. It’s perfect for me. When the party was over I was so excited I took photos of the pages and bragged about the adorable bad-ass calendar to all of my metal friends.

Dr. Wilfred Who

Gift creator: Angela Fioretti, Art Director
Recipient: Sara Neumann, Senior Designer

Angela’s inspiration: My gift to Sara was a painting of her dog Wilfred dressed up as the Doctor (Dr. Who). I know that Wilfred is Sara’s world, and I thought it would be fun to combine two things I knew she loved. If you walk over to Sara’s desk it’s possible that the two first things you notice are puppies and Dr. Who. I love to paint, and Wilfred is so regal looking … I just thought a portrait would be perfect.

I started by stalking Sara on Facebook, finding a good shot of Wilfred and then thinking it would be fun to dress him up. I looked for a photo of the Doctor that would be a good merge. The two photos ended up fitting perfectly. I photoshopped them together, printed it out and headed home to paint it. I finished it off by painting an old canvas frame gold and added a little antique effect with some paint.

Sara’s reaction: I had no idea what to expect when Angela told me that the two things she knew about me is that I love my dog and Doctor Who. When I tore the wrapping paper off and got a glimpse of what was painted, I can’t even tell you what was going through my mind. I had to take a moment because it made me tear up with excitement. (Editor’s Note: To say Sara “teared up” is an understatement. Overwhelmed with emotion would be nearer the mark.”)

I was just so blown away that she took the time to even come up with the idea, much less paint it!
With more than 25 years of advertising agency experience, creative director Jerry Higgins brings a wealth of knowledge to Core Creative and our clients. His work not only visually conveys messages that help elevate brands, it also serves as a benchmark for the agency’s creative standards and attention to detail.


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