Christmas Event Venues: Party Time

Where will it be, what is the theme and who is coming? It's not too early to plan a Christmas party. Simon Ellery reports.

Christmas may not be upon us for another four months, but if you're not quick off the mark, the list of the choicest venues to hold client, staff or media parties will soon start thinning out.

Throwing the Christmas party to beat all others is an art. Whether your client is in construction or is a high-end consumer brand, tactics required for success centre on a number of points.

Choice of venue is a deciding factor in whether your party is going to pull in the crowd you crave, especially as in-demand journalists and opinion formers will start being booked from September. But where to choose?

The starting point is understanding what your target audience wants.

City editors are unlikely to want to swap anecdotes with Jordan in a booming nightclub, while lads' mag hacks may shy away from cocktails with Boris Johnson in an intimate bar.

Location, location, location

Party organisers also need to keep track of new and upcoming venues, as journalists and celebrities will always be interested in the next hottest restaurant or hotel. Alternatively, there are a range of stately homes and classic locations, such as private palace Spencer House or the Corinthian-columned Kensington Orangery.

More unusual venues include London Zoo, where revellers can view nocturnal creatures. Obscure locations include NCP car parks.

Choosing a theme that will make the best of your venue is imperative.

But selecting the Christmas party theme may depend on rules laid down by the venue. Locations such as Spencer House, for example, restrict the amount of dressing up you can do due to works of art.

And while choosing venues that offer a blank canvas to work with, such as a warehouse or disused train station, can be a godsend for large parties, a creative team on board and a sizeable budget may be required. On the other hand, these blank-canvas venues can work well for staff Christmas parties.

Last year, Carphone Warehouse adopted a Club Tropicana theme with 5,000 staff bused to Black Island Film Studios in West London, which was decked out with palm trees and pink flamingos. An all-night party featured performances by Atomic Kitten and Jocelyn Brown, with breakfast served in the morning and buses home laid on.

Elsewhere, Golly Slater organised a Christmas party for brewer SA Brain & Co, held at its Cardiff brewery, with local media invited to take part in quizzes and a party.

Grayling's event division Face to Face CEO Amanda Stephenson argues, however, that an empty warehouse could cost a small fortune to decorate for a one-off event. She once organised a Christmas party for an engineering firm at an East London warehouse. The bill, for 1,000 guests, came to £250,000.

Picking a theme

This is perhaps why pre-themed venues are becoming more prevalent. An example is event management company Fortesqueue's 'Christmas in the Country' party at Victorian mansion The Elvetham, set in 35 acres of Hampshire countryside. Themed venues could also prove more popular if a client is catering for more than one group, when costs can be spread across several nights.

Options encompass murder mystery dinners and winter wonderland themes competing head-to-head with more unusual ideas, such as Venetian masked balls.

Elsewhere, event production company MASK managing director Arthur Somerset expects to host around 80 burlesque and cabaret-themed Christmas parties this year. It uses four venues, including Vinopolis wine museum and the Royal Courts of Justice, but also provides bespoke services at locations such as the Natural History Museum.

On the other hand, high-end FMCG clients naturally look for a venue with a focus on exclusivity. Here, the guest list is just as important as the venue. Last year, Aurelia PR threw a party for premier champagne producer Krug at Marco Pierre White's Criterion in London's Piccadilly. With key arts figures Sir Trevor Nunn and Imogen Stubbs hosting, the event attracted an eclectic mix of 250 guests and scooped plenty of media coverage, including features in Harpers & Queen and a Hello! spread.

Ensuring the right people come to your or your client's Christmas event is crucial. Purple PR's events division Lilac runs events for fashion clients, such as Diesel. Events manager Ivana Giachino says the firm relies on its own database to optimise party successes, drawing from a pool of socialites, fashion editors, stylists and various key media. 'It is the people who make the party,' says Giachino. 'But we also try to use a different venue for each party each year, as people are more inclined to try something new.'

Fashion and event PR specialist Woodhead and Cleaver says that the major attraction for the media and key guests - apart from the choice of venue - includes the client's name, the DJ, the chef or the goody bag. It also makes a point of tipping off those invited about any freebies.

Hosting the perfect Christmas party and attracting your target audience is an amalgamation of suitable venue, sassy guest list and creativity.

And ensuring clear understanding about the purpose of the party - whether for staff, a client or the media - is crucial. Only then can an event be budgeted, planned and key guests and media invited.

But don't be fooled into thinking that just because it's only the end of summer that the right venue for your party will still be available.

Get booking now.

MURDER MYSTERY DINNERS

A host of companies offer fun, and sometimes nail-biting, murder mystery dinners at a variety of locations, from stately countryside homes to theatre venues and hotels across the UK.

This type of theme fits well around eating a sit-down meal, involving teams of detectives working to solve a murder through clues and interviewing suspects.

Prices range from £55 per person for the most basic Murder Mystery Dinner by West End Events in a variety of London venues. Contact: 020 7404 4232 for further information.

Moneypenny Productions runs murder mystery events at various hotels, including the Ramada Jarvis International in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, as well as at branches of the hotel chain in Brighton, catering for up to 200. Contact: 0870 90 40 007.

Murder Mystery UK holds murder mystery parties all over the country at all sorts of venue, including Rookey Hall, near Nantwich in Cheshire, from £58.75 per person and £70 for accommodation. Contact: 01727 821 888.

ABBA NIGHTS AND 70s DISCO

Several event organisers run themed Abba and 70s nights across London for customers keen to step back into flares and perform some serious disco moves alla Saturday Night Fever.

Awesome Events runs the Abba Fab Christmas at the Novotel in NW1, catering for up to 750 guests, and the Disco Inferno for up to 550 people at the Ambassadors Hotel in WC1. Contact: 020 7976 4333.

West End Events also runs a 70s Abba party at the New Connaught Rooms in central London. The venue can cater for 700 guests for a reception or 500 people for a dinner. Contact: 020 7404 4232.

Theme Traders provides props for these types of parties and organises bespoke events, including at the ICC in Birmingham. Contact: 020 8452 8518.

CABARET THEMES

Cabaret theme nights can encompass entertaining elements such as trapeze artists, along with stunning pyrotechnics in sophisticated and unusually decorated venues.

The colourful and ostentatious Rouge and Decadence themes at Vinopolis, which seats 450 guests for dinner in Vinopolis Halls on the Southbank or 290 people at the venue's Mezzanine. Cocktail reception capacities are 1,000 and 600 people respectively. Contact: 020 7377 8001 for more information.

ARE YOU PREPARED FOR THE CHRISTMAS PARTY SEASON?

1. ARE YOU AND YOUR CLIENT CLEAR ON THE PARTY OBJECTIVES?

A: Completely, it's all been agreed

B: We're currently in talks to decide

C: What objectives?

2. HAVE YOU BOOKED THE VENUE?

A: Signed and sealed the deal two months ago

B: We've shortlisted it to three venues; we'll decide next week

C: Booked the venue? There are months left to do that

3. HAVE YOU COMPILED A LIST OF THE JOURNALISTS/OPINION FORMERS TO BE

INVITED?

A: The list was finalised yesterday

B: There may be a couple of changes, but we're nearly there

C: I don't have time to sit down to work those details out - I'll leave

it to a junior member of staff

4. HAVE YOU IDENTIFIED HOW MUCH THEMING YOU CAN DO TO THE VENUE AND ITS

RESTRICTIONS?

A: We had the meeting with the venue management a month ago

B: We're still in talks

C: No, but it'll be alright on the night

5. HAVE YOU IDENTIFIED THE PARTY THEME AND BOOKED THE NIGHT'S

ENTERTAINMENT?

A: All completed following research into the hottest new themes

B: The party theme's sorted; still trying to negotiate fees with the

band

C: That can be done at the last minute - maybe Chas 'n' Dave will be

available?

YOUR SCORE

Mostly A's: You are a party organiser extraordinaire and should attract

the cream of the journalist crop to your party

Mostly B's: You're off to the right start, but need to step up the pace

of the planning

Mostly C's: Do you want anybody to come to your party? Best hurry or

you'll be inviting journalists for cheap wine at the office.

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