’Much is made of the changing trends in corporate hospitality,’
says Alternative Corporate Entertainments (ACE) director, Chris
’But very little is discussed about the most fundamental issue facing
corporations hosting events - how to get their ’first choice’ guest list
So what steps should companies take to make sure that their event is on
their guests’ ’must-attend’ list?
Organisation on the day and appropriateness to image are the most
important factors in an event’s success than either price or the chance
to talk business. This is the conclusion drawn by market research
company Total Research which last month produced the ’UK Corporate
The company surveyed 260 blue chip companies to examine attitudes
towards particular activities and events, current usage, expenditure and
expectations when buying into services.
This produced some interesting results. The report reveals that in 1996,
70 per cent of events hosted by these companies were spectator rather
than guest participation events, with rugby union matches as the most
popular way of entertaining.
Total Research marketing director, David Dower, says: ’Just over a third
of the companies interviewed had spent either slightly or considerably
more on corporate hospitality in the last 12 months compared to the
While this growth is good news for corporate hospitality providers,
Wayne Moss, marketing director of the Corporate Hospitality Association,
warns that it can also create problems, pointing out that anybody can
set up an event agency, and says: ’We still only have the same number of
tickets available and places to entertain.’
This means that clients could find that packages bought from
disreputable dealers might not live up to expectations.
Hill says that when planning an event companies need to set a realistic
attendance target and accept that five to ten per cent of people will
drop out. He also points out that once guests have said ’yes’, there is
usually still plenty of time for them to change their minds. So, to
minimise the drop out - and to secure the’first choice’ guest list -
companies have to somehow lock guests into the event.
This year, Hill’s company ACE, organised a dinner in Liverpool for Royal
and SunAlliance as a thank you to some of its senior brokers. A week
after accepting the invite, ACE called each guest to ask about dietary
requirements and offer a choice of three trains to Liverpool. Hill says
not only did guests feel they were being taken care of, but they also
found it hard to back out later, as they had already received their
Sam Gill, marketing director of Business Pursuits Event Management,
says: ’You have to build up the guilt factor’. Once invites have been
accepted, his company uses ploys such as sending out glossy packs with
tickets and extra information, and arranging to collect guests by
’A big danger for afternoon events is to let people go to their office
in the morning, as their priorities change’, he says. He also warns that
it is vital to ensure that an invite is personal, otherwise it can be
passed on to a junior member of staff.
However, despite the huge amounts of money spent on events, only a
handful of companies analyse the spend. More often, companies rely on
random feedback from guests. ’Corporate hospitality needs to be seen as
part of the marketing mix, not just something to do if a company does
well for six months’ says ACE’s Hill.
’It is the last and least respected of the marketing disciplines. At the
first sign of any trouble, companies drop corporate hospitality like a
hot potato,’ he adds.
So, if you buy into corporate hospitality, what level of service should
you expect? Obviously this depends on the individual agency, but Moss
says: ’The person who’s booked the event needs to enjoy it, rather than
running round like a headless chicken all day’.
His own agency, Jarvis Woodhouse, sends at least one member of staff on
the day to offer advice to the host and to ensure that everything runs
smoothly. His company also provides a photographer and presents each
client with an album of guests enjoying themselves, as a momento of the
But, for guests, it can be difficult not only to justify time out of the
office for such events, but also to find the time at all. Office time is
highly pressurised so evenings and weekends are precious.
Alison Boshoff, the Daily Telegraph media editor, says: ’I try to go to
as many events as possible but I like to have a life as well’. She
attends three or four evening events a week, and this summer, as a guest
of Radio 5 Live, she went to two Cornhill Test Matches and was invited
to Royal Ascot by GMTV. But the two days at Edgbaston and the Oval were
in her own time, and Ascot was knocked out by work commitments.
’In my position, I have to produce news every day, so I only go to
events where I’m sure I’ll get a story,’ she says.
Colin Gottlieb, managing partner of advertising and media specialists
Manning Gottlieb Media, says that his two priorities when accepting
invites are the scale and the wit of the event. He says: ’To me, an
invite to Wimbledon says a company hasn’t got the imagination to think
of anything fun.’
A few years ago, the Daily Mail took him by private jet on a no expenses
spared skiing trip to St Mauritz. He feels this created a stylish and
smart image for the Mail, and that the cost was justified by the
potential advertising spend of the guests. He says: ’Yes, it was good
fun, but as only the real heavy hitters got invited, it was also
He was also impressed by a series of trips organised by French outdoor
advertising company J C Decaux when it was trying to break into the UK
market. Gottlieb says the company flew four or five people at one go to
Paris by private jet, laid on a luxury hotel and dinner at the top of
the Eiffel Tower. He says this showed the company had style and was also
serious in their intentions.
However, he thinks that such events not only reflect on the company
organising them but also on his own. He says: ’I take it as a real
compliment to our business to be invited to such events. It’s companies
endorsing how we like to think of ourselves, so I’ll be damned if I
GQ associate editor John Morgan, who covers high quality consumer goods
for the magazine, says that he gets invited to everything from the
Dunhill Polo to jewellery and fashion launches. He says: ’I accept
invites where I feel the magazine has a special relationship with a
He also thinks that it is ’good manners’ to be available to people that
spend a lot on advertising with the publication. He says: ’I want to
show that GQ is pleased to be associated with them.’
Russell Millard, Virgin Radio’s head of press, says: ’You know you have
to attend an event when everyone else in the industry phones you up and
asks ’Are you going?’’
This is true across the board. Events are the perfect forum for meeting
people and being seen. No matter how prestigious the venue, guests will
only attend if their peers do, too. As Millard says: ’When you reach a
certain career level it’s all down to networking.’
FESTIVE FOLLIES: PARTIES TO MAKE CHRISTMAS A CRACKER
The trouble with Christmas is that it comes around each year. So, if
last year’s corporate festivities were fantastic, this year’s have to be
even better. While companies can organise events themselves, it is far
easier and probably no more expensive to put themselves in the hands of
Among the various event companies offering themed parties this December
is Elegant Days, with three London venues. New this year at Earls Court
2 is ’Christmas Through The Looking Glass’ which involves an indoor fun
fair, a maze and giant chessboard dance floor. The Royal Victoria Docks
is housing the ’City Christmas Fun Fair’ and an Indiana Jones-style
party is on offer at the Commonwealth Galleries in Kensington.
The Christmas Company offers similar themed parties, but in luxury
This year, in London’s Battersea Park, guests can experience ’Plunder
The Pyramids’ which promises an Egyptian bazaar, Egyptian style dancing
and acrobatics, while they eat. Other venues include an ’Alpine
Wonderland’ in Nottingham and in Bracknell ’The Night It Snowed In
However, Capital Productions’ offer to organise ’murdering one of your
very own directors’ may sound more appealing. As well as an array of
themed parties the company offers smaller exclusive events, such as
murder nights and company quiz nights.
Those who prefer something more intimate and traditional could try the
Dickensian Christmas Party at Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire. Set in 500
acres of parkland and gardens landscaped by Capability Brown, the hotel
offers private dining rooms and an atmosphere that ’recreates the
richness and romance of bygone days’.
For a truly historic setting, look no further than the Royal
One can book catering in the Banqueting House in Whitehall and the Tower
of London. At Hampton Court Palace the festivities can start with a
lantern-lit tour of Henry VIII’s vast kitchens and apartments and the
Haunted Gallery, where the ghost of Catherine Howard is said to run
screaming along the corridor.
But, whatever companies decide to do this Christmas, make sure that any
blushes the following day are down to bad behaviour, rather than bad
CASE STUDY: TURNING GUESTS ON TO LWT PROGRAMMES
At the end of last year, London Weekend Television wanted to find an
exciting London venue, large enough to house an event to showcase
programme highlights for 1997. Sue Strange, marketing and communications
manager for LWT, says: ’We have a very cynical audience that needs to be
So, each time we organise an event, we have to produce something
By the nature of its business, LWT wanted a visually stimulating venue,
something cutting edge and futuristic to reflect that this was a
In addition, the company wanted to create an event to show that as a
weekend TV provider, it was a bit different and had a different
relationship with viewers.
Called ’The Best Days of The Week 97’, the event was set for 18 November
at Segaworld, a new venue for corporate hospitality. 2,000 invites -
produced by design company Silver - were sent to clients, advertising
agencies, media buyers and journalists.
To cater for the numbers attending, LWT hired an audio visual crew and
equipment to set up video walls for two simultaneous presentations on
different floors. In terms of catering, LWT decided that the in-house
McDonald’s suited the style of the event and alcoholic drink was brought
On the night, 800 guests zoomed up the Rocket Escalator and were given a
Segaworld-style map of the venue, explaining the layout. With a plethora
of electronic equipment around it was especially important to indicate
the designated drinking and smoking areas.
Guests were shown a video of David Liddiment, the-then managing
director, outlining the company’s strategy for 1997 and a 20-minute
showreel of forthcoming programmes. They were then let loose on six
themed zones, each on different floors housing over 400 interactive
games, all on free play. Each zone also featured a virtual ride, so on
’Flight Deck’ guests were able to go on a Space Mission fighting off
aliens or in ’Sports Arena’ shoot each other from armoured dodgem cars
on Mad Bazooka.
LWT was keen to highlight drama, entertainment and sport so guests
mingled with Gladiator Saracen and stars of London’s Burning and the
Bill. A major addition to ITV’s 1997 sports coverage was Formula One
motor racing, so guests could also meet commentators Jim Rosenthal and
SUMMER BREEZE: A ROUND-UP OF WARM WEATHER WINNERS
With the summer hospitality season over, attendees of summer events have
fond memories of their favourites.
Marie-Claire deputy editor, Elsa McAlonan, says the best event she
attended this summer was the Formula Krug Party organised by Aurelia PR
at the end of May. She thinks the mix of people was right and there was
a good sprinkling of celebrities, including ’It’ girls - Tara
Palmer-Tomkinson and friends. A racing track indicated that it was all
good fun, and naturally the drink was up to scratch. The baseball cap
she received on the way out gave the finishing touch.
Several film launch parties over the summer proved popular with guests,
including the Scream party at The Works photographic studios and the
Conspiracy Theory party at The Banqueting House in Whitehall.
Top of the list was the Batman and Robin UK premiere party at Battersea
Power Station in June. Freud Communications spent a month transforming
the derelict building into a village of marquees with a huge dance floor
in the middle and a themed laser display. Those lucky enough to make it
into the VIP area met stars of the film George Clooney and Arnold
Torrential rain turned the event into something of a mud bath, but this
just added to the fun.
At the start of September, Alexandra Palace played host to a party for
the London Investment Financial Futures and Options Exchange
More than 2,500 traders from companies such as Merrill Lynch and Goldman
Sachs were greeted by footmen for a champagne reception with circus
The bash , which was organised by event management company Motivforce,
featured a fun fair in the Great Hall, while jazz bands and a Blues
Brothers tribute band kept everyone happy. Food on the hop was provided
for serious party animals and a three-course sit-down meal for the more
At the other end of the scale, on 10 September watch manufacturer Tag
Heuer held an exclusive party for 220 guests to launch its new Kirium
sports watch. Guests mingled with athletes such as Linford Christie.
Colin Jackson and Sally Gunnell in the stylish I-Thai restaurant at the
The focus of the evening was an exhibition of specially commissioned
Herb Ritts photographs. International sports stars, including retired
tennis star Boris Becker and racing driver David Coultard, were shown in
artistic naked poses in black and white.
Lisa Mason, British Youth Olympic bronze medallist, performed a one
minute gymnastics display and guests received a much sought after
monograph of the photographs on their way out.