FOCUS: CORPORATE HOSPITALITY - Party tricks for wooing the jaded/To ensure that the corporate entertainment budget is not ’wasted’ on ’B list’ guests, events must offer something different to entice first choice guests. Mar

’Much is made of the changing trends in corporate hospitality,’ says Alternative Corporate Entertainments (ACE) director, Chris Hill.

’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

to attend.’

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

Hospitality Report’.

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

previous year’.

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

train tickets.

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

chauffeur-driven car.

’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

won’t go.’

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.’



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

the professionals.

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



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

Murray Walker.


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

Hempel Hotel.

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.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in