The Personal Touch

Secrets of the Industry's Gift-Giving Pros: In show business, a gift is never just a gift -- it's a tactical maneuver. Which is why, at the top echelons of the industry, it isn't an assignment left to an assistant. It's tasked to professionals.

For the pros, who typically work by the hour or charge a 25 to 30 percent fee on top of the purchase price, the act of giving melds IQ with EQ. "Gifting is all about relationships and the business of managing them," says gifting consultant Serena Westwell, a former director of talent relations at 20th Century Fox. LaLaLuxe personal shopper Nicole Pollard, who is on the concierge's speed dial at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills hotel, notes that a well-chosen gift is as much about the giver as the recipient. "Especially when I'm gifting for organizations, it's important to think of their brand," she says. "You always want to be on message." That means eco-chic gifts from self-styled green companies or an iPad from a talent agency filled with the latest movies starring its client roster -- which, according to Pollard, for A-list recipients "might be covered in a very expensive Nancy Gonzalez case."

Economic woes have caused the industry's corporate gift-giving landscape to shrink -- one film studio now caps individual purchases at $400, and the Grinchlike chief of a broadcast network has decreed internally that this season no money whatsoever can be expensed for holiday gifting. But for those still playing Santa, tiering corporate gifts based on the recipient's position in the company is popular. Private shopper Simone LeBlanc creates "artisanal taster kits" (Heath Ceramics pottery, pickles from a farm in Big Sur, etc.). They can be scaled up or down -- elaborate presentations for department heads, a more basic version for lower-level employees.

The pros' toughest challenge is finding something for onscreen and behind-the-scenes power players who have everything. Tara Riceberg, who's working primarily with one major film studio, likes to counterprogram by going clever and low-cost. "The greatest gifts are things where people go, 'That's genius,' like a waterproof notebook for people who do their best thinking in the shower, or a Corkcicle -- it's basically an icicle that you put in your wine bottle [to chill it]," she says.

Pollard advises clients to donate to recipients' favored charities (in the case of many actors, their namesake foundations) or otherwise avoid product purchases. "Gifting someone an experience, like learning how to make macarons, is becoming more common," she says. "People wouldn't have thought to do these things for themselves."

-- Gary Baum