While some employees may grumble about having to attend the annual holiday party or company picnic, it turns out that the overwhelming majority would be upset if their company did not throw one.
In fact, 75% of respondents said corporate parties resulted in better friendship, 71% said they helped improve office culture, and 67% said such parties improved team building, according to a survey, “The State of Corporate Holiday Parties,” conducted by event planning media company, Bizbash (www.bizbash.com) and Seamless (www.seamless.com), an online food ordering company. Indeed, 94% of respondents said they would be disappointed if all office holiday festivities were cancelled.
While some companies only throw one party during the holidays, there are a number of other celebrations companies large and small might consider hosting to boost morale, productivity and contribute to employees’ overall feeling of satisfaction and appreciation in the workplace. Our experts offer tips and advice to help your clients plan the ultimate employee celebration.
WHAT’S THE POINT?
“When a client says they want to have a party, the first questions I ask are: What do you mean by party? What does the event look like? And what is its objective?” says Michael Giachetti, vice president and general manager, promotional marketing division at Standard Register (asi/333768).
Increasingly, company parties have an objective, or an expectation. “They’re no longer just a get-together,” he explains. Whether a company is throwing a holiday party, celebrating an anniversary or thanking its summer interns, there are ample opportunities for promotional product sales reps to help clients create a memorable event for their employees.
“It’s important to focus on the relationship between the guests and the party’s host,” says Giachetti. “The party is just one event to connect these two groups, and the sales rep should focus on how he or she can further enhance the relationship between the two. Also, be mindful of the client’s brand and be appropriate.”
In addition to the basics of date, time and location, find out who is attending. Will the event be held for executives, the sales force or the entire company? Are there both men and women attending? And what ages are the attendees?
Budget and number of guests are also important pieces of the puzzle. “Answers to all of these questions will help begin narrowing down the possibilities for what products would best fit the occasion,” says AIA/Corporate Specialties Inc. (asi/109480) Owner Valerie Hayman Sklar.
“Keep in mind there are two kinds of event attendees: those who love company parties and those who don’t,” says Sklar. “Rarely is there someone in the middle. Promotional products can be important to not only support the theme on the day of the event, but can also build excitement prior to the party, and serve as a reminder once the event is over.”
They can even help reluctant partygoers get excited about the event. First off, be creative with the invitation. “While email invites are convenient, they are rarely memorable on their own,” says Sklar. “A tangible invitation is a great way to start.” She has printed invitations on coasters as well as mini-flyers and mailed them to all invited guests. These products serve two purposes – they are the invitation and also a commemorative reminder afterward.
She has also imprinted note-holder clips with a paper invitation, so after the event, the note holder can be used in the corporate or home office. “It’s a functional item with continued use after the event to reinforce the brand,” she says.
When one client was holding an event at a Chinese restaurant, Sklar ordered takeout boxes to hold the invitation as well as fortune cookies. “It was a way to incorporate the theme into the invitation by using packaging that really stands out and gets noticed,” she says.
For company picnics, popular items include logoed sunscreen and T-shirts to commemorate the event. “We’ve also used flying disks, as they serve double duty as plate holders during the picnic, and then as a fun toy to use with the family and other coworkers as the afternoon progresses,” she notes.
Standard Register’s Giachetti says “teaser products” add fun motivation in advance of the event. For some clients, he’ll recommend inexpensive items like logoed sunglasses to highlight the theme of the upcoming party. For others, such as corporate performance clubs, which are tied to how well an employee performs, teaser products can be used to help motivate the employee to want to stay focused on the goal and achieve the results that will allow them to attend the celebration.
Post-party touchpoints are also important. For example, if employees received a photo frame at the party, pictures from the event can elevate the frame to a nice office or home piece, and be a nice “refresher” of the event, he explains.
“The latest trends I’ve seen with my clients are more of the Vegas-type, VIP parties, cooking events and interactive team-building events,” says Laurie Amigo, HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000) brand merchandising specialist.
Earlier this year, she helped a well-known international hotel brand plan an event at its national sales meeting, attended by the firm’s top marketing and sales directors. She created an ice cream competition based on Picnic Time’s (asi/78065) “The Parlor” ice cream kit. Ten teams of two competed, with each team receiving points based on creating the best-tasting ice cream flavor, with the best name and the most exotic ingredients.
The competition began with an ingredients table ranging from standards like chocolate and strawberries to more exotic flavors, like yams and chili powder. The more exotic the topping, the more points awarded. “And of course, a good-tasting ice cream screams for a good name, so each team competed on creating clever Ben & Jerry-like names,” says Amigo. Each participant received their own “Parlor” kit – which included a bamboo tray containing three topping bowls, two metal paddles and a marble stone, which can be frozen to create customized ice cream flavors.
Feedback on the event was as sweet as the ice cream. “The client loved the participation factor, the pressure factor and the fun it generated for participants, spectators and judges,” she says.
Another HALO client recently brought in a songwriting team as part of a team-building activity, and Amigo provided a custom full-wrap guitar, which the client raffled off to support its theme.
She hired B. B. King to perform for another client’s sales meeting event, and she provided tambourines, which King signed in advance of the event. Some of these were used as VIP gifts and some were thrown out to the crowd to warm them up. “To this day I still get emails and Facebook messages about the sentimental value of those tambourines,” says Amigo.
PRESENT A CHOICE
Not only do clients appreciate interactive events, interactive gifting is also becoming popular. “I have been getting more involved in assisting clients with incentive meetings, using interactive gift programs, such as those offered by Maui Jim and Bulova,” says Nicole McNamee, business development director at Boundless Network (asi/143717). “It’s fun and exciting to see the recipient choose and receive their own gift.” In these programs, brand representatives attend the event, set up a table and provide a display of products for attendees to select and receive on the spot.
McNamee set up a “Bulova Gift in Time” program for one of her hospitality clients at its annual conference held at corporate headquarters. It was attended by the company’s owners and general managers. It was so well received that the client recorded a video testimonial, which appears on McNamee’s website.
At check in, guests received a tote bag containing a Bluetooth speaker and a port charger from Prime Line (asi/79530). Then, when they came to happy hour, attendees visited a Bulova-branded table and selected their own watch. About 200 watches were distributed at the meeting.
The client had specifically been seeking an interactive gifting experience and was particularly pleased with its personal nature. “If they had just been handed a watch, it would not have been the same as choosing their watch, getting it sized by a Bulova jeweler and getting a Bulova bag,” the client states in the video. The client told McNamee the event exceeded their expectations.
Usually these programs are at the higher end of the party spectrum, according to McNamee. However, she says she’s created interactive programs for parties with lower budgets.
An example? “I’ve put speaker cords in the hotel room with a note saying, ‘If you want your Bluetooth, come down and get it.’ It forces the employee to interact,” she says. Typically there is a window of time for the recipient to claim their prize, perhaps during happy hour, so when they claim their welcome gift, they can also have a glass of wine and network with other attendees.
McNamee is seeing an increase in destination-oriented parties and events, so in-room drops are a great promotional product opportunity. Often, she will select promotional items that celebrate the location. For example, if a corporate event is being held in Memphis, she might supply logoed ribbons on a local Memphis candy company’s box of chocolates.
For one client she supplied bamboo cutting boards in the shape of the state the event was being held in. Lesson learned? “Make sure the recipients know the gift is for them,” says McNamee. “I should have included a note telling the recipient to take the cutting board. The boards were so nice, apparently some people thought they were serving platters owned by the hotel.”
When it comes to thinking about holiday parties, early is best. “We broach the topic in August,” says Jennifer Maceyak, senior account manager at Icebox (asi/229395). “We send newsletters, email blasts and ask our clients if they will be hosting a holiday party.” Some companies throw their corporate holiday parties as early as right after Thanksgiving to get ahead of the hectic holiday season. She has provided clients with items such as custom leather covers for chairs and bar stools, etched wine bottles and leather coasters.
Last year, Standard Register worked with a nonprofit in the Dayton, OH, area to support their heritage events. “We supported two events where we provided signage, bowler hats, cups and holiday ornaments for their summer picnic and Christmas celebrations,” says Giachetti.
Dayton’s own Wright Brothers were honored in both events, depicting their era and ways in which they celebrated. About 200 employees attended the company Christmas party, and about 15,000 attended the summer picnic.
When it comes to holiday parties, “most people do expect some kind of party favor, and small boxes of chocolate are popular,” Sklar says. Depending on the budget, etched water or wine glasses for use during the event are good choices, and they can be taken home as a party favor.
Each table could have colored logo charms to help distinguish between the glasses, and if the party is an annual event, glassware that coordinates with that given at the previous year’s party could be selected so recipients can build a set, Sklar suggests.
KEEP IN TOUCH
To succeed in this particular market niche, it pays to make friends and be in touch year-round. “Don’t be stiff. Converse and get to know the client’s likes and dislikes, and stay in touch any way you can,” says Jon Borowka, account relationship manager at Motivators Promotional Products (asi/277780).
This year, he supplied planters with herbs for an event held by a large sporting goods chain, and Borowka took it upon himself to take one home and grow it himself to make sure it worked. “I would then follow up with the client and tell her how well my plants were growing and it kept us in touch in a way that favorably reminded the client of the product and of my services,” he says.
Another client of his has the same last name as a 1990s rock band and every time the client calls, Borowka sings or recites a line from one of the band’s songs. “She loves it, and it sets me apart,” he says. “Customer service is key. I bring her ideas, pricing and my turnaround is good. But it also helps that we relate well to each other.”