The art of the gift: Murphys aim to make lasting impression in East Asia

From signed Bon Jovi guitar to prints of Jersey Shore, administration works to put just the right ribbon on its pitch for state

SEOUL, South Korea — There was an autographed Jon Bon Jovi guitar for the foreign minister of Korea — because he has a love of Karaoke.

A poster of Larry Doby at Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson for the prime minister of Japan, because he loves baseball.

And signed lyrics by Don McLean for Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol — who received national attention when he broke out into song during a meeting at the White House.

By nature, international economic missions are filled with quick meetings and conversations aimed at making a lasting impression. On the 2023 New Jersey East Asia Economic Mission, Gov. Phil Murphy is using more than just his data points about the state and his personality to get the job done.

He brought gifts, too.

After interactions with business leaders and government officials, Murphy presents a gift that represents New Jersey.

For most, that meant an image of the Jersey Shore — or a New Jersey-themed coaster.

Gail Kelly, a noted New Jersey landscape artist, produced three different scenes of the Shore — in three different sizes, everything from a postcard to an 8×10, each of which has been mounted in a frame.

The key, first lady Tammy Murphy said, was finding a gift that would create an impression of the governor’s visit.

“You want to give people something that’s going to resonate with them — that shows that we are respectful of them and that we’ve done our homework — and to encourage their interest in our incredible state,” she said.

Having the gift have a Jersey connection was essential, too, Murphy said.

“Phil and I view ourselves as the chief salespeople for the state of New Jersey,” she said. “So, every time we are trying to do anything, both within the state, and certainly outside the state, we’re going to support and promote New Jersey products and New Jersey artisans.”

That’s where Kelly’s work came in. She produced images of Sandy Hook and Island Beach State Park. The team also found New Jersey-themed coasters.

“Gift giving is a big deal, particularly here in Asia,” Murphy said. “You don’t show up without a gift.”

Of course, this being politics, the politics of giving certainly came into play, too.

The most senior people received the specialized gifts noted at the top. Some others received the originals of the artwork. Most got prints of the artwork.

The challenges didn’t stop there. Because of customs, the gifts had to arrive unwrapped — which was another part of the process.

“Even more important than the gift itself, is the way it’s wrapped,” Murphy said. “So, we thought very carefully about the color of the wrapping paper, and to make sure ‘New Jersey’ was printed on the ribbons.

“We’ve tried to think through every piece of this.”

Of course, this isn’t the Murphys’ first rodeo. His time as ambassador to Germany certainly involved gifts. But nothing compares to how they operate at home, the first lady said.

“We’re constantly trying to improve upon ourselves,” she said. “Every holiday season, when we give gifts out to friends and family, we’re always trying to think, ‘How do we do something that’s going to be impactful to them and to the world.

“Last year for Christmas, we made donations to Ukraine relief fund.”

The process, Murphy said, is a 24/7 operation. Capturing a moment — as they did when they were at the White House when Yoon broke out into song — is key.

“We’re always trying to think and outdo what we’ve done before,” she said.

Or, on this trip, leave the right impression.

“It’s all part of trying to extend our relationships and really encourage people to think that we are good interlocutors,” she said.