Let Them Eat Cake

Originally appeared in Potentials magazine, January/February 2007

Welcoming a new neighbor, cheering someone up or marking a momentous occasion are all examples of how the tradition of eating cake is a meaningful part of community and social relationships. Be it cheese, carrot or birthday, cake is more than just a sweet treat that puts the mind at ease and keeps everyone from squirmy preschoolers to antsy executives patiently seated until they get their piece. Cake plays an instrumental role in the way groups celebrate large and small moments. If we look at cake as a medium, its message is togetherness; it is inherently team-oriented. No wonder, then, that cake is a perennial favorite for office birthdays, anniversaries and baby showers—not to mention promotional events and holiday gifts.

Are you making the most of these group-galvanizing centerpieces? Potentials looks at exceptional cakes and customization features from cake companies that will assist you in making a meaningful and effective connection with clients, colleagues, customers or employees in any part of the country.

The Best Damn Pound Cake On Earth

When it comes to describing their product, the folks at Nonnie Waller's Traditional Southern do not mince words. They proudly hail their original pound cake as "The Best Damn Pound Cake On Earth." Working out of a historic three-story building on a 7,000-square foot property in the tiny town of Spring Valley, Ohio, Nonnie Waller's Traditional Southern produces mouthwatering pound cakes adorned with fresh-flower nosegays and shipped in pretty packaging such as fancy hat boxes covered in rich fabrics. "We like to think that we're in the business of making memories for people," says Lisa Caldwell, one of the three owners of the highly acclaimed company. "In a world of high technology, where everything is so fast-paced, people are desperate for something real."

Bose Corporation is a frequent client of Nonnie Waller. For its holiday promotion to press contacts, the electronics company sent out hundreds of pound cakes packed in a color scheme of tangerine and fuchsia. The packaging was topped off with what Caldwell describes as "a very modern snowflake," reflecting the Bose company's status on the leading edge.

Nonnie Waller's client list also includes celebrities, who sometimes have the pound cakes drop-shipped to one location, such as a movie set at the end of filming or for a party. The cakes, adds Caldwell, can also be delivered to individual homes, which is just what Maria Shriver did when she sent a Nonnie Waller's Traditional Southern pound cake to her close friend Oprah. Winfrey liked the buttery cakes so much, she featured them on her show and gave them out to audience members.

Caldwell says the company has also worked with a number of financial planning firms and real estate agencies. Nonnie Waller's cakes can work especially well for financial planners, explains Caldwell, because of the rules and regulations those businesses have regarding how much they can spend. Says Caldwell, "There are creative ways we can work with them to go out and still have the same impact. When people work with us, what they're looking for is an emotional impact when [the recipients] receive the gift, and the personalization that we do is part of that."

That emotional impact starts with small batches of cake mix for which each egg is still hand-cracked. Caldwell believes that everything that the bakers do and touch is felt on the other end by recipients of the cakes. For this reason, the company doesn't use any artificial preservatives, and almost everything in their catalog is handmade—from hand-rolled truffles, to hand-sewn beadwork, to handwritten note cards. "I think that the Southern tradition part is the graciousness of it," remarks Caldwell. "The idea is to have a journey through what you've received."

Currently, Nonnie Waller's tradition comes in two flavors: original and chocolate espresso.

A Cupcake Campaign

If your promotional plan of attack is the simultaneous drop off of hundreds of cupcakes to different locations across the country, Cakes Across America is your go-to cake networking system. The nationally acclaimed bakery service takes orders from all over the world, and places them in the capable hands of bakers in the United States and Canada. What started out as a birthday cake business soon turned to corporate sales, thanks to a call from The Chicago Tribune for a special order.

"They wanted to know if we could deliver seventy cakes all over the country with their logo on it," Explains Fran Greene, president of Cakes Across America, which is based in Flagler Beach, Fla. With just a week's notice, Greene says, the company delivered all the cakes on the same day at the same time across all U.S. time zones. The order was so successful that calls came in from all over the country for more orders. Says Greene, "That was the turning point. After that, we began to really devote our time and resources to the corporate market. We still take care of the birthday market, but our primary focus is corporations."

Today, clients of Cakes Across America include HBO, Cinemax, The Weather Channel, Lifetime and CNET. Greene believes that networks are attracted to these cakes for two main reasons. One is the visuals that the company can offer. Using "FrostingArt"—digital images printed in frosting—cakes can be imprinted with a four-color reproduction of any design, and business logos can be duplicated with precision, so that it will appear the same way on every cake delivered.

In addition to frosting art, the gift of a cake has a special appeal to companies who want to send a "thank you" not to just one individual, but to an entire group, such as a call center or production staff. "There is no party without a cake," says Greene. "It's one of those things that feeds a lot of people. So it's a great gift or promotional item that's for the multitude. I think that's why a lot of the TV channels like us, because when the cake arrives, it's something for the whole cast and crew."

Another creative program was launched for USA Today to promote a new Sports Weekly insert into the paper. Thousands of cupcakes with the Sports Weekly logo were delivered to the building of its New York office and handed out to passers-by on the street and people entering the building. Logoed cupcakes were also used in a recent promotional campaign by the Las Vegas Convention Center; the treats were handed out to people as they left the center.

To describe how Cakes Across America works, Greene likens the company to the national floral delivery service, FTD. "We don't do any baking at all," explains Greene. "We have thousands of bakers all over the country. If you want to place an order to a hundred different locations, we call a hundred bakers." Frosting art for cakes is produced at the Cakes Across America facilities. Says Greene, "We have quality control of the color and of your logo. We have control of it here, and then we send it out to bakers. They lay edible paper [decorated with a logo design] onto the frosting, and it melts into the frosting and leaves the color."

Other regular clients include Disney, which every year sends a team "thank you" to the AAA for their continued relationship. For this order, printed cakes are delivered along with other thank-you gifts and surprises. Pepsi also has utilized Cakes Across America's services to send 350 cakes to Pepsi bottling plants all over the country on the same day, at the same time. "It was to say 'Thank you' to their workers, and also to celebrate the anniversary of the IPO," Greens says, adding, "Once we have a customer, we have them for years, and they come back on an annual, sometimes monthly, basis."

Forward-Thinking Coffee Cakes and Curse-Breaking Cookies

Open up a corporate gift brochure from Dancing Deer, and you immediately get the feeling that you're in for a special treat. Adorable stick-figure drawings and images of home-baked goods like coffee cake and cookies reveal an enthusiasm for the pure and simple. Cookie flavors include tempting Cherry Almond Ginger Chew and Sugar Cane Lime. Coffee cake variations include Blueberry Pecan Streusel and Maple Cranberry Pumpkin.

Started in 1994 by CEO and Founder, Patricia Karter, Dancing Deer, while deliciously simple in appearance, has based its business on a strong commitment to environmentalism and corporate citizenship, as well as a dedication to high-quality, all-natural, baked goods. The 12-year-old company's mission statement lays claims to "a love for fun" and the intention to create "works of culinary ingenuity and forward thinking."

Progressive as it is in its beliefs, Dancing Deer is also ahead of the pack when it comes to its corporate gift focus. It offers a wide range of services for incentive and recognition programs, customer rewards and promotional products as well as for unique co-marketing and branding solutions. In-house design capabilities and shipping programs available offer corporate clients a one-stop-shopping solution that simplifies marketing and gifting needs.

Ed Gaskin, senior vice president of sales and marketing, describes a creative solution that Dancing Deer produced for beer maker Samuel Adams: "They have a new beer that came out this winter, and they wanted to send out a cookie with a flavor that complemented the taste of the beer. So we came up with a custom-formulated cookie that complemented the beer; we put stickers on it, and created the Sam Adams cookie."

After sending out the original order to Samuel Adams customers during the holiday season, Dancing Deer sold leftover inventory to its own customers as a limited-edition Sam Adams cookie. The promotion went well, according to Gaskin, and the cookie quickly sold out. "I think we're a little bit different from other companies. In that case, we did a branded, co-marketed opportunity."

A little bit different from other companies? Dancing Deer's magical culinary powers may have been responsible for helping the Boston Red Sox dance away with the 2004 World Series title. The secret weapon was a 3-inch molasses clove creation called the "Break the Curse Cookie." For this adorably sweet and clever campaign, New Englanders were asked to break a cookie and share it with a friend. This deviously wholesome plan was devised to counteract the mighty curse of spurned player Babe Ruth through acts of kindness and generosity—even toward rival New Yorkers. Each freshly baked cookie was individually wrapped and had a large "Break the Curse Cookie" sticker on its front. For every cookie sold, Dancing Deer donated five cents to the company's Sweet Home Project's Kids Can Dream Fund, a program that helps homeless families.

The promotion, says Gaskin, was a lot fun for the company to put together and received a lot of attention from the local press. The publicity generated helped put Dancing Deer on the map. As for the curse, the six-letter exclamation that now appears across the now discontinued Break the Curse Cookie's image online says it all: "BROKEN!"

Not even the Babe himself could continue to hold a grudge against a town and baking company with that much heart.

For Butter Cream Budgets

Of course, we can't discuss cakes without touching upon the extravagant end of the spectrum. While most corporations may not be looking to spend over a hundred dollars on a cake that looks like it has been pulled straight off the birthday table of Louis XIV or Paris Hilton, for those that are, there's Dean & Deluca.

"It's really for someone who wants an outstanding cake," says Michael R. Eiring, national sales director of corporate sales for Dean & Deluca.

Exclusive cakes from Dean & Deluca include their Happy Birthday Cake—a dark chocolate confection with chocolate mousse filling that is designed to look like a light blue gift box with a chocolate-colored bow—or a Sweet Couture cake that looks like a designer purse on the outside but reveals a rich layered cake on the inside.

Says Eiring, "We've given out a lot of cakes during the holiday time, when people want to send a very nice gift to their clients or to their vendors. We get onsey-twosy orders for secretary's day or [occasions] where they need a special cake to serve everybody." Some of those clients include celebrities who Eiring says will send the company a list of between 40 and 75 intended cake recipients, mostly during the holiday season.

But as Eiring explains, you don't have to be a star to give or receive these extraordinary cakes. "If I run into clients and they want to do something very special for somebody who's a foodie, [a cake from Dean & Deluca] is the perfect gift."

Bright Lights, Big City, Beautiful Cakes

For a sweet gift with city sophistication, sales reps at Black Hound New York are always happy to help with corporate requests. Says Debbi Miller, manager of Black Hound New York in downtown Manhattan, "We do a fair amount of work with corporate gifts. Clients see something on our Web site that they want to send as is, or we can do customization." While theoretically anything found on the company Web site is available for corporate sales, Miller notes that in cases where out-of-state shipping is necessary, items that don't ship well will not be made available.

"Cakes are very popular," says Miller. "We see companies using cakes in various ways. As an anniversary gift, they'll send out a cake to employees who are commemorating a significant milestone with the company. It's definitely more personal than a clock."

Customization offerings at Black Hound New York vary. Personal inscriptions can be put on the cake, depending on its size, and companies can include a note to the recipient.

Two of Black Hound's most popular cakes are the Busy Bee and the Checkerboard cake. While many businesses are attracted to the symbolism of the "busy as a bee" theme, Miller says that others prefer the chocolate-and-vanilla flavor combination of the checkerboard.

As with the other cake services listed, Black Hound New York, now starting its 20th year in business, ships throughout the country. Unlike other online bakeries, however, there is no special packaging available. Miller says this is because when it comes to packaging, the key priority is making sure that the cake arrives to its destination in excellent condition.

Even without decorative packaging, customer feedback, along with press reviews for Black Hound New York are very positive. Says Miller, "People marvel at the flavor. A lot of people are not accustomed to high-high-quality cakes. Even though they might get something from what calls itself a gourmet bakery, it's not of the quality that we bake. So a lot of the comments that we get are, 'It's the best cake we ever had.'"

Out of the Kitchen and onto the Internet

From heavenly bundts to lavish layers, moist and delicious cakes can be bought online and delivered in perfect condition and freshness anywhere in the U.S. Formidable baking companies like Nonnie Waller's Traditional Southern, Dancing Deer, Dean & Deluca and Black Hound New York—store-based brands that have already won over the hearts and stomachs of fastidious foodies in their local area, together with innovative cake services offered by Cakes Across America are finding a strong audience in online corporate sales.

As with the items they bake, these companies strive for impeccable levels of quality when it comes to customer service and satisfaction. They are prime examples of a rapidly growing gourmet and specialty food industry that thrives on good competition. Thanks to them, sending a bakery-fresh thanks to others, anywhere in the country is easy and convenient—a piece of cake, in other words, and a very tasty one at that.

Hitting the road again soon? Click here to read about travel wallets and passport holders that keep all of your documents safe, secure, and easy to find.

For more ideas, tips, and tools for better meetings and events, get Successful Meetings' weekly e-newsletter to your inbox