A Brief History of Corporate Gifting at Events

From ancient traders to e-gifting, the practice has been around longer than you think

The history of employee gifting finds its roots in the Middle Ages, within guilds – associations of skilled craftspeople. Upon completing their apprenticeships, young tradespeople might receive gifts like tool sets or special work attire. Fast forward to the 20th century, and gold watches became a popular way to acknowledge long and dedicated service from retiring employees.

B2B Gifting: A Timeless Tradition

The history of gifting in the business-to-business (B2B) world goes even further back. In fact, it played a role in what we might consider the ancient version of meetings and events. Let’s take a quick trip through time:

Ancient Societies (3000 BC onwards): Imagine traders from Egypt, Greece, and Rome exchanging gifts to build goodwill and solidify business ties. These gifts ranged from practical items to luxurious displays of wealth like jewelry or precious metals.

The Silk Road (2nd Century BC – 18th Century AD): Merchants traveling this vast trade network often brought gifts for their counterparts at different stops. These gifts fostered trust and paved the way for future business opportunities.

Middle Ages and Renaissance (5th – 16th Centuries AD): The practice continued to evolve. Guilds, those associations of skilled workers, might exchange gifts to strengthen alliances and support each other’s businesses.

20th Century: Fast forward to the 20th century, and corporate gifting gained momentum. Companies used gifts to build and maintain relationships with clients and customers. These gifts often became more personalized over time. The rise of commercial jet travel in the latter half of the 20th century fueled a boom in the hospitality industry, with conferences and incentive trips multiplying as a consequence. By the 1980s, in-room gifts had become a familiar touch for many attendees, a small but memorable addition to the conference experience.

21st Century – The Digital Shift: While B2B gifting remains important, the landscape has changed. The rise of digital communication has made physical gifts more strategic, and online platforms have streamlined the process. Today, B2B gifting is about showing appreciation, strengthening relationships, and promoting brands in a more targeted way.

So, the next time you plan an incentive or meeting remember that receiving a gift at a corporate event, i’s a tradition that stretches back centuries, rooted in the idea of building strong bonds and fostering successful partnerships.

Any thoughts, opinions, or news? Please share them with me at vince@meetingsevents.com.

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

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