How to Make Tombstone Awards More Memorable

March 25, 2024 by David Parry
Tombstone Awards: Viking Helmet-Themed Deal Toy

Here are a couple of creative sparks for distinctive tombstone award designs

Tombstone awards tend to have their own built-in cachet and perceived value. Even the most conventional tombstones have tremendous significance for recipients—for the simple reason that they embody all the time and effort devoted to closing a transaction. And if you need independent confirmation of the impact of tombstone awards, you should check out Kevin Roose’s book Young Money.

Roose’s account of the trials of a group of first-year investment banking analysts contains a small but particularly telling personal detail. One banker describes his regular ritual, as he prepares to catch some sleep between grueling stretches of work. At these moments, what he takes pride in—and by his own account, what makes him smile is looking at the row of deal toys arranged on his desk.

That said, there are still ways you can increase the resonance of tombstone awards. And yes, you’re probably aware of the advice inevitably offered up at this point: base the design on your client’s logo.

That’s great advice, but again, you or someone on your deal team, probably already thought of that. And there’s also a good chance your client has already received tombstones with similar designs.

Make no mistake: there are any number of potential designs that play off a logo, brand mascot, etc. We create designs like this all the time, so it would be hypocrtical to say otherwise.

But what if you want a tombstone award that gets closer to the shared experience of the deal itself?

We’ve outlined here a couple of potential creative sparks for non-obvious and distinctive tombstone award designs.

1) Include an (Even Small) Extra Element in the Design

Even a relatively small, relatively subtle touch can tie a tombstone award more closely with the underlying deal.

The Lucite wedge design shown in the gallery below provides a good example.

The wedge shape is a popular alternative to a rectangle, Even so, the wedge style is ordinarily considered a relatively basic or standard shape. Even so, the addition of some simple, custom elements elevates this piece well above a “basic” design.

To begin with, the Lucite piece, which commemorates a joint mining venture, gains a measure of cachet and distinctiveness because of the piece of actual zinc embedded inside.

But there’s an added design element that would also resonate with recipients.

The tombstone also features a northern lights motif—something that directly relates to the location of the mine itself, Canada’s Northern Territories.

Again, there’s nothing showy or ostentatious about this piece. But despite its simple trappings, it incorporates several elements that result in unique value to its recipients.

2) Base Your Tombstone Award on a Code Name

We’ve pushed the idea of code-name-inspired deal toys for a number of years. Code names can run the gamut in terms of the creative options they seemingly provide. Some, like Project Valkyrie, which provided the inspiration for the Viking-themed tombstone shown at the top of this post, are highly evocative.

But there are other code names that don’t seem to offer the same kind of rich creative possibilities. You should keep in mind, though, that even if a code-based design seems a little more commonplace or even cryptic, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Once again, you are after all looking to memorialize—and celebrate—the shared experience of bringing the deal to fruition.  A design that plays off this kind of insider experience and knowledge might actually have great resonance among recipients.

Northern Lights-Themed Deal Tombstone

This Lucite wedge design provides a good example of how even a small, relatively subtle touch can tie a tombstone award more closely with the underlying deal.
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Code Name-Themed Finance Tombstone

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3) What Made the Dealmaking Process Memorable?

Is there anything that comes to mind as a defining aspect of the dealmaking process?

This is a source of ideas that, again, tend to resonate most with the actual deal participants.

In the case of a tombstone we once designed for Blackstone (see below), the salient aspect of the deal was the amount of time it took to finalize. That was reflected in the turtle (the cane and bifocals, on the other hand, are a nod to the underlying subject of the deal: nursing homes).

Here again, it’s the inside nature of this kind of design element that makes this deal toy so effective.


4) What Made the Deal Itself Memorable?

Just as tombstone awards designs can play off distinctive elements of the dealmaking process, they can also spring from the deal itself.

These can be headline aspects of the deal. Over the years, we’ve based designs on deals that were, for instance, barrier, record, or ground-breaking. Or they’ve highlighted a given deal being the first or largest type of transaction.

But the distinctive aspect of the deal doesn’t have to be that dramatic.

The deal toy below, for example, highlights sustainability as the foremost theme of the transaction. And it does this through the very choice of materials.

For this tombstone award, celebrating a capital raise by New Zealand-based CarboneScape, a very conscious decision was made to use wood.

Sunwest Management Custom Lucite Transaction Tombstones

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Sustainable Battery Deal Toy (Side View)

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The selection was especially appropriate since the company has patented a more sustainable alternative to lithium-ion for use in batteries. That process produces bio-graphite—which, in turn, is derived from wood chips.

5) Focus on the Parties

Looking to the parties for tombstone design ideas may not seem especially inspired, or new.

After all, logos are a common source of designs; and logos combining, or intertwining the logos of two or more parties often come to mind as potential ideas as well.

You can base designs on the locations of subject company, or of the parties themselves. Or, for instance, you could call attention to the different time zones separating various parties. You may have seen tombstone designs like these incorporating clocks, but there are a number of creative ways to work in this concept—as with design idea.

Your Tombstone Award & The Corporate Presence

By their very nature, tombstone awards can have pretty profound meaning for recipients.

And this should highlight a significant point about tombstone awards and deal toys. Their significance isn’t necessarily a function of the size of the transaction or the prestige of the parties. Even a relatively small deal can nevertheless have tremendous value to the participants.

But as the tips provided here show, you don’t have to go very far afield to enhance that value. Relatively minor—and sometimes relatively inexpensive—tweaks to a design can have disproportionate effects.

At The Corporate Presence, we’ve been designing these kinds of tombstone awards for over 40 years. We can provide you with design options that not only have impact, but also fit your timetable and budget. Get the design process started. Reach out to us today.

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