“Assistant” is a bit of a catch-all term. Sure, they schedule meetings, take notes, and retrieve coffee, but they can also act as a quasi-concierge, sending fruit baskets to top clients and buying gifts for partners. In an effort to unearth the highly specific material needs of powerful people, we sat down with “Ted,” who’s been an executive assistant (EA) and chief of staff to creative executives for over a decade. We spoke with him about the gift baskets, non-cliché Champagne, and Apple products his bosses dole out like comedy-show fliers.
There are levels to corporate gifting, and one of Ted’s responsibilities is making sure that each client gets the right type of gift. If the recipient works at a smaller agency, for instance, they might get a more extravagant present in the hopes that they’ll remember Ted’s company next time they have some money to spend. “It’s always about continuing to build that relationship,” he says. And then for clients that are already bringing in tons of cash, gifting can be seen as a form of maintenance. “It’s like, ‘We had a great year. Here’s to more greatness next year.’”
Ted says one secret to being a great EA is having a mental Rolodex of gifts that work for clients at every level of importance. Diptyque candles work for all tiers, for instance, because you can snag a tealight for $38, a single-wick for $70, a three-wick for $200, or a five-wick indoor-outdoor candle for $355. Ted calls the brand’s Feu De Bois scent his “end-all and be-all,” saying he loves the neutral, unisex scent.
This “gifting in tiers” mentality applies to tech as well. “You never pick the most basic Mini,” Ted says. “But you also don’t get the top-of-the-line model that has a terabyte of memory and a pencil and all of that. Anything below that but above the baseline and you’ll be fine.”
While a laptop might seem like an odd gift to give an executive, who likely already owns one, Ted says it’s actually pretty normal — especially for major clients or “people directly responsible for bringing in business,” usually $150,000 or more. “I have a MacBook,” he says, “but if someone gave me another one, of course I’d be excited.” Plus, it makes for a great re-gift gift: “Even if it seems like a re-gift to the recipient, no one would look a gift Bentley in the mouth.”
The most ubiquitous of corporate gifts: the basket. Ted goes with Harry & David because it breaks its offerings down by price, meaning, “if you want to spend $100, you can get a $100 basket. If you want to spend $300, you can get a $300 basket, and it’s going to reflect that.”
“I barely even count Champagne as a gift anymore,” says Ted — it’s just such a routine occurrence. While he says the most common bottle exchanged is generally Veuve, he prefers Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, which is around the same price but is “a better Champagne,” in his opinion. Ted also says the choice of Perrier-Jouet instead of Veuve suggests that it’s slightly more thoughtful, indicating an executive has done more than just the default.
The ask: high-end designer tableware as a wedding gift for a boss’s friend and client. Ted first picked out some “economic options,” including a Waterford crystal vase, Wedgwood china, and a 12-person suite of dishes from Crate & Barrel or Williams-Sonoma. When these were all rejected, he decided to pick out something he himself would buy. (“I have very expensive personal taste,” says Ted.) His boss ultimately approved the Fornasetti plates Ted picked out at Barney’s (“God rest its soul”).
One of the more personal client gifts Ted has been tasked with picking up is a Moncler puffer jacket … in bright yellow. “I remember when my boss told me what he wanted,” Ted says. “I was like, ‘Well, that’s a specific color.’” Ted said the giftee had done hundreds of thousands of dollars of business with the company, so he didn’t question the price of the coat but was concerned about the specificity of the look. Still, he went ahead and bought it, saying, “Why not? Not my money.”
On the day-to-day side of things, Ted also takes care of “small items that you just always have to have on hand” to keep his bosses fed and well groomed. It’s not all Roberto Cavalli gowns and tires for a German-import luxury vehicle (though those are two real requests Ted has received).
“It’s been a very makeup-wipe-heavy time because of lipstick getting on masks,” says Ted. To find these, he consulted his makeup-artist friends, who told him this is the brand they keep in their kits.
Ted picked up a Theragun for a boss who’d recently undergone knee surgery. “This particular principal was using the Theragun to rehab his knee and had left it in the office,” Ted says. “I needed to bring it to his home uptown, and the office was downtown.” But in the end, his boss told him to just buy another massager, for $600.
One of his principals has an old-timey candy vending machine in his office, so Ted always adds a couple of big bags of peanut M&Ms to his bimonthly Amazon order: one for filling the machine and one as a backup. Another frequent (and surprisingly reasonable) request is dark-chocolate-nuts-and-sea-salt Kind Bars. “If they haven’t eaten lunch or maybe haven’t eaten all day, the Kind Bars or M&Ms are there to make them less hangry,” he says.
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