FOCUS: CORPORATE HOSPITALITY - Learning to be the host with the most/Nobody does business on the strength of a good lunch anymore, but a day trip to the Grand Prix in Monte Carlo is an entirely different matter. Susan Gray looks at the evolution of corpor

It is a fact of PR life that corporate hospitality is not what it used to be. Inviting business colleagues and a few journalists to partake of some sandwiches and a glass or two of bubbly may no longer achieve the sort of results clients are looking for.

It is a fact of PR life that corporate hospitality is not what it

used to be. Inviting business colleagues and a few journalists to

partake of some sandwiches and a glass or two of bubbly may no longer

achieve the sort of results clients are looking for.

Both clients and agencies are looking for tangible results to justify

the spend and, according to Charles Stewart-Smith - director at

City-based agency Luther Pendragon - good results do not happen by

accident. ’Lunches are hard work,’ he says.

’You need to think beforehand to make them special, rather like a dinner

party. Corporate hospitality falls into two categories. First there’s

the tired, boring events that people expect and that you have to do.

There’s no advantage in doing them, just a disadvantage in not doing


And then, Stewart-Smith adds, there is well thought out


’The useful events are where the guest talks to their partners or

business colleagues afterwards, about who they’ve met. These sort of

events have to be small scale and discreet.’

Familiar events given a new twist can also work, he says. ’We took some

clients model aeroplane shooting, rather than clay pigeon shooting, and

they’re still talking about it.’

With corporate entertaining there can be nothing worse than not being

talked about. Alex Johnston,creative director at consumer agency Freud

Communications, says that he would like to do more corporate


’Freud has a very competitive culture of being results driven rather

than schmooze driven, so hospitality is tagged on to events we’re

already doing,’ he says. ’Consumer events can often have a hidden

corporate hospitality agenda, getting movers and shakers together in one


With two to three film premiers a week, and clients such as Lynx and

Pepsi, Freud has no shortage of events to invite people to. Last week

the agency transformed a Mexican restaurant in Soho into Bar Inca, as a

promotion for Lynx’s newest deodorant fragrance Inca. The band Dodgy

played an acoustic set against a Lynx logo backdrop, and senior

management at Unilever were able to see their brand associated with

young, trendy chart toppers.

Johnston says that these sort of events appeal to the client, impact on

the consumer and generate media coverage. ’Staging events at the premier

of 101 Dalmatians, or the premier of The English Patient at Planet

Hollywood, generate far more media coverage for a client than saying

I’ve got five tickets for rugby. As far as the media are concerned, our

clients attending the cricket or the rugby is not a big deal.’

So how is more mainstream corporate hospitality justified for media

relations agencies? ’Well, you could say it consolidates relationships

with clients, or you could say it justifies the fees. If there’s the

money, why not throw in a serious chunk of corporate hospitality to keep

the relationship bubbling?’ adds Johnston.

Chelsea based media relations agency GTH’s managing director Toby Hall

says that the role of corporate hospitality in public, and especially

media, relations is a vexed one. ’There will always be a role for

activities that bond or enhance relations with customers. But one event

or party is not a one-stop quick fix, and to believe it is, is naive in

the extreme.

Sixty people in one room for one day isn’t going to solve the


For Hall corporate hospitality can be usefully divided into two


’On the one hand when you really know your customer base, you can tailor

events to appeal to a select audience,’ he explains. ’And one-to-one

meetings can add value, but if you’re used to attending events it will

be the people who are important, because nobody wants to spend their

time with people they don’t get on with.’ At the mass end of the

corporate hospitality market, Hall says it is important to pick events

that will make the recipients think well of their hosts, and something

that reflects the guests’ aspirational tastes. ’But if your audience is

lemming like, and you’re looking at things from a straight sales

perspective, you choose events where guests do things they could not

afford to do out of their own pocket,’ he says.

Advising against a scatter gun, more-the-merrier approach to corporate

hospitality, Hall says: ’In the end, if you compete on attracting people

who always want something for nothing, they are all you get. Corporate

hospitality is an expensive item and one that should be thought


’Unless corporate entertainment has a very clear purpose, it produces

little benefit,’ says Ben Rich of Luther Pendragon. He recently advised

a client he prefers not to name to abandon their corporate entertainment

programme, because they were getting so little return for their


’The client was doing corporate entertainment for the sake of it and it

had built up a momentum of its own,’ he explains. Now the client’s

entertaining is linked to specific events, the guest lists are targeted

and there is a feedback mechanism to follow through leads. ’A social

environment can be good for business but you need to take stock, and

there is no point in throwing good money after bad,’ Rich says.

’Entertaining friends 1980s style is dead: nobody does business on the

strength of a good lunch.’

Corporate hospitality does not have to be lavish to be successful. David

Pincott, head of PR at Westminster Cable, part of British Telecom,

describes his corporate entertainment budget as ’tiny’. He is,however,

able to draw on the resources of the parent company, and has used the BT

Tower to good effect to reach the managing agents of Westminster’s

private apartment blocks, who control cabling access for huge numbers of

potential customers.

’The BT Tower is a venue people want to go to, so I arranged for the

managing agents to come in the afternoon, have a drink and hear about

Westminster Cable, then we moved to the top of the Tower at 4.30pm just

as the lights come on which is very dramatic sight. It was a relatively

cheap event because it was in-house, but it built up relationships which

we desperately needed. With the bridges that have been built I can

appear in apartment blocks’ newsletters and get close to our audience.’

Pincott plans to renew the event every 18 months to keep up with

managing agent turnover.

Euro 96 also provided Pincott with two valuable corporate entertaining

opportunities. He hired a mini bus to take journalists to see France

play Holland at Anfield. The trip included a stop at services on the M1

to take a break with other football fans, a pizza and pint for dinner,

and a burger at 2pm on the way back.

’It gave me the best results I’ve ever had and now I enjoy excellent

links with the cable press,’ Pincott says. Dinner at Burger King and a

visit to the pub, preceded Pincott’s press trip to see England and

Holland at Wembley.

’I got letters after saying the Whopper and fries and the two pints were

the most enjoyable corporate entertainment the journalists had ever

experienced,’ Pincott concludes.

There will always be accounting for budgets, but clearly no accounting

for taste.


The growth of employment in service and financial sectors has made team

building activities the flavour of the month if not the decade.

Philip Roethenbaugh at MotivAction says that an increasing number of

clients for participatory events come from financial and IT firms.

MotivAction’s latest team building offering is a Bond Day, where their

staff are dressed as secret agents, while clients play themselves

learning about strengths and weaknesses, corporate culture and key

messages at the same time.

’In these industries, people are their most valuable asset, in fact they

have no other assets,’ Roethenbaugh says. ’But team building means

different things to different people and it doesn’t have to be Crystal

Maze style game shows. Any event that gets people talking and aids

working together, such as a trip to the theatre, can be termed a team

building event,’

Perhaps it is trips to the theatre that have whetted clients’ appetites

for one of the most popular team building events, the murder mystery or

whodunit. Julie Foulds, managing director of Accidental Productions,

based in Islington, north London, has been producing murder mystery

events since 1990. ’Murder mysteries give people something to talk about

over dinner, ’ she says. ’They keep people’s attention from drinks

through to coffee.’

Would-be sleuths witness a murder over cocktails, staged by actors. Once

seated, clients see a comedy with company references to set the scene,

and then work in teams, usually one team per table, to quiz actors and

solve the crime. Accidental’s murder mystery evening costs from pounds

1400 plus VAT.

Accidental also offer team building games, described by Foulds as ’a

promotional tool and a bit of fun.’ She claims that a quick game is an

ideal method of keeping the momentum at conferences and that everybody

enjoys a competitive edge.

The Sheraton Belgravia hotel stages its own murder mystery dinners

costing pounds 55 per head. Michael Green, food and beverage sales

executive says: ’It’s amazing the changes in people once they’ve had a

few glasses of champagne inside them - the accusations start flying

around.’ Sheraton uses the event to entertain clients and potential

clients, and also markets murder mystery to the corporate sector as a

staff incentive or client entertainment event. The appeal of the event

has transcended the usual sales sectors, with clients from the City,

creative industries, fashion houses and a ladies club who brought their



Last summer corporate hospitality had the boost of Euro 96, but this

summer’s events are reliant on the usual seasonal staples: namely Ascot,

Henley and Wimbledon, leaving PR people racking their brains to come up

with something new.

Jill Fryzer of Luther Pendragon, who deals exclusively with City

clients, has noticed two corporate hospitality trends over the last few


Firstly partners are now normally included in events and, secondly,

groups have become smaller, with different days earmarked for different

categories of guests such as the media, business introducers -

accountants and lawyers - and customers and suppliers. Segmenting the

corporate hospitality market has meant a move towards smaller events,

according to Fryzer. ’Ascot, Wimbledon and Henley are seen as too

crowded, and not seen as special to your clients or guests,’ she says.

’At a corporate hospitality event you want to get near the person you

want to see, without too much opposition.’

Fryzer is currently considering entertaining at the Chelsea Flower Show

and the Hampton Court Music Festival, which costs pounds 229 or pounds

329 per person per night depending on the opera star. At Christmas opera

lovers could enjoy Jose Carreras at the Albert Hall, where a box for 12

will cost pounds 3,500.

One trend however remains constant in corporate hospitality season after

season.’The managing director or chief executive and their partners have

the casting vote. If they like a particular event, we go to it,’ Fryzer


Gary Whitehall, sales director of Central Events based in Chelsea, says

that the chairmen and managing directors of blue chip companies are his

target upmarket clientele. ’We specialise in problem clients who are so

important they get invited to everything and their only choice is who

they go with,’ he explains. ’We put together packages that give our

hosts the edge.’

So just where do you take the corporate client who has been everywhere

and done everything? On Sunday 11 May he or she could fly out by private

jet to see the Monaco Grand Prix. For pounds 1,300 per head Central

Events’ package includes return travel by private jet, inflight

champagne and smoked salmon for breakfast, followed by lunch at the

corporate restaurant facility in the middle of the Larafcasse hairpin

bend. The restaurant is open on three sides to view the cars zooming

around at 173 miles per hour, slowing down to 45 miles per hour to take

the bend in second gear.

Guests enjoy a hospitality bar, high tea and more drinks on the flight

home. Whitehall explains that Monte Carlo works best as a one day stay:

’By Monday morning all the yachts have left the harbour, and Monte Carlo

becomes a very different place, just full of road sweepers.’

For those who find grand prix passe, Central offers tailor made packages

to horse racing in Dubai or the Hong Kong Seven. Closer to home,

hospitality packages to Ascot come in at a starting price of pounds 250

per head, Wimbledon serves up at pounds 500 per head early on in the

fortnight, while a day at an Oval test match opens the batting at pounds

350. Companies with European contacts to entertain in the autumn, could

consider a weekend in Paris taking in the 40 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe,

costing around pounds 650.

Sports shy guests might prefer a Great Gatsby Ball, at the Sheraton Park

Lane Hotel’s refurbished 1920s ballroom. For pounds 130 per head guests

enjoy a champagne reception, feather boas to accessorise their flapper

outfits, 40 dancing actors and actresses including a very charming and

attentive Gatsby, and a four course dinner from an original 1920s menu.

Caroline Hopkins account executive at Communications Partnership, ITT

Sheraton’s PR agency for Europe says: ’The ball is perfect for the

corporate market and external clients. Guests have to make the effort to

dress up, making it a different and memorable event to host.’

Giving clients something different is a continual challenge for Liz

Taylor, co director of the Taylor Lynn Corporation, based in Manchester.

Her city centre premises offer a corporate hospitality one stop shop,

where prospective clients can browse through actual beach or space sets.

’This is a booming business, and there is a trend towards bigger events

and annual events for companies, which of course must be different from

last year’s,’ she says. ’The detail to which people are now prepared to

go can make things expensive.

’For instance JBA Software, a large Midlands company wanted a space

theme. We hired Granada Studio Tours’ Future Vision set, dressed guests

in space suits, served space cocktails in test tubes and dinner came on

foil trays. Guests had just expected a sales conference.’ Taylor

believes that many PR consultancies now look to professionals to

organise corporate eventsand budgets can run from pounds 5,000 to pounds


’But we don’t like to frighten clients off,’ she says. ’We’ll work

within what we are given and then show the difference extras could

make,’ she says.

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