PLANNING THE COMPANY’S HOLIDAY BASH IN TWO WEEKS
By Jamie Vollmer
Event planning can be compared to running a marathon – twenty-six steady miles of comparing prices, reviewing guest lists, meeting vendors, touring event spaces, proofing invitations and signing contracts.
Today, you have been asked to run a marathon at a sprinter’s pace – coordinate the company’s holiday party for 200 to 400 guests in two weeks or less. Yes, it sounds overwhelming and probably impossible. However, when the command comes from the powers above, what choice do you have but to smile, nod and reply, “Thanks for the challenge. It will be great.”
Now back in the privacy of your office, the hives and unsteady breathing of a panic attack have come on full force. Your mind is a whirlwind of to-do lists, tasks, calls and details.
Before the Starter Gun Goes Off
Before you pick up the phone, Google a phrase or run out the door to a vendor appointment, there are four key decisions to be made right away – event style, guest list, date and budget.
Start your planning by deciding on the event style. Considering the time limitations, a cocktail party may be the easiest choice to implement. However, a lunch or breakfast could offer more vendor options because they occur during the day. Next, put together the parameters of a guest list. Will the list include employees, top salespeople, clients, suppliers, or employee spouses? This decision will impact later choices surrounding entertainment and gifts.
While pondering these critical elements, you must also consider the date of your event. Stay away from weekends, as individuals who began planning their holiday parties last July have already booked those popular days. Thursday evening is a great choice. It is near enough to the weekend that guests can slip into party mode. Yet it is still a weeknight and more readily available at event sites.
Now begin gathering your team of assistants. Choose dependable, highly motivated individuals who have demonstrated strong organizational skills. Every event is only as strong as its planning team, and with a two-week time crunch, the team you choose will be especially important. One strong player to have on your team is a professional event planner. Remember, with this event, there is no time to compare vendors or price shop. An event planner is knowledgeable about these topics and can help guide your company toward a successful event while minimizing stress.
Another important team member is the graphic designer. Graphics are especially important with a quick-turnaround event. Your graphic designer will need to develop a logo and design theme right away. The graphics must fully capture the look and feel of the occasion, because there is no time to publicize the event or raise awareness through the company rumor mill.
There is also no time to send printed invitations through the postal system. If employees are the only guests, consider distributing printed invitations through an inner-office mail system. However, if you have a wider guest list, an e-mail blast may be the only option.
As you lay the foundation of your event, begin putting together a production schedule. This is a simple table that details every element of the event in a timeline format. Keep this document open over the next two weeks and be ready to enter times, dates, and contact information as details are arranged. Also, make sure you have clear direction on the budget of the event. As you enter items into your production schedule, update your budget with the actual costs.
Where to Place the Finish Line
It’s time to find a location for your festive holiday affair. This is the first element that may stretch the limitations of a two-week planning window. There is only a slim chance your favorite venue will be available for next Thursday.
You and your team will need to think creatively about a location. One of the first places to consider is where you are sitting right now – the company’s office. Take a few minutes to walk around. Look for large open spaces where guests could mingle over tall cocktail tables. Look for a kitchen or lunchroom where a caterer could do his set-up. Look for places where the architecture is beautiful, or where the space is a blank canvas open to holiday decorating.
The company office is clearly the most practical location for your holiday party. However, guests may find it hard to relax in the same space where their boss hands out performance reviews. So the team may need to think more broadly. It is time to look at familiar spaces in a new light. Ponder the lobby of an area office building, the gallery you wandered through last weekend or even the store where you bought your couch!
St. Louis offers a number of non-traditional event space options. Baseline Gallery and Showroom in the downtown Loft district is one example. The walls of this spacious showroom feature captivating art exhibits while the floor serves as a display for contemporary furniture and fixtures.
“Our 4,500-square-foot space offers the feel of a residential setting,” says Evan Bronstein, partner at Baseline. “We are a small business; there is no bureaucracy when making arrangements to use the showroom. We have a simple one-page contract and work with our clients to transform the space to suit their needs.”
Other shops and galleries worth considering in St. Louis are Notaa, The Sheldon Galleries and The Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis.
A lesser known venue option is a commercial building for rent. Owners and developers often rent these spaces for one-time events. Just make sure the site has easily accessible restrooms and can provide your caterer with water and electricity.
Nourishment for the Race
The next two steps of this planning process need to be done simultaneously – hiring a caterer and booking entertainment. Entertainment for a corporate party begins by looking at the guest list compiled earlier. If guests are bringing dates, look for entertainment options that will lead to a party on the dance floor – bands, disc jockeys, or even a good iPod music selection.
When guests are coming solo, the planning team has the opportunity to mix it up and try unique entertainment options. Performers – human statues, jugglers, comedians, guerrilla theatre, caricature artists, and hypnotists – are all crowd-pleasing additions. Holiday parties are also a great place for carolers. Hire carolers dressed in traditional Victorian garb or have groups within the office – interns, company leaders, administrative assistants, the accounting department – dress up to stroll the crowd.
While your team is hiring performers and practicing their holiday carols, put a call in to the company’s favorite caterer. Fortunately, the two-week planning window shouldn’t be an issue with this event element.
“Last minute is the name of the game since 9/11, even though many corporate clients try to plan in advance,” says Bryan Young, president of Catering Plus in St. Louis. However, when faced with a two-week planning window, Young warns that companies should be prepared to “pay more for staff and be ready to decide on a menu quickly.”
With the short time frame, be prepared for the overall cost of catering to be higher. Caterers won’t have time to shop around for the best wholesale food prices. Also, they will likely be taking on this party in addition to other events that evening. This can cause staffing conflicts and an increase in staffing costs for last-minute parties.
Finding the Right Running Gear
Rentals are next on the to-do list. This is an especially important step considering the creative route you needed to take with the venue. The list should include the typical items – tall cocktail tables, bars, staging, easels for signage, glassware, dinnerware, trash cans and linens. Also consider decorative rentals and lounge furniture.
The major elements of the event are finally in place. It has been a hectic couple days of planning, but the end is near – hopefully a little over a week away!
The next planning element will require making use of your whole team. It is time to tackle the details. This is the lengthy list of little tasks that kept coming up in planning meetings and were set aside for “after you found a venue” or “once a caterer was hired.” Pull out the list and make sure it includes:
• Gifts • Awards • Photography
• Décor • Lighting • Audio/visual
• Valet • Coat check • Speakers
• Signage • Name tags
• Employee staffing • Registration
As your team works vigorously to finalize these important details, pull out the production schedule you started days ago. Be sure that every delivery, pick-up, vendor arrival and contact name is in this document. Use it to help find any gaps in your planning process. On the day of the event, make sure each member of your planning team has a copy to use as a guide.
Finishing the Race
You and your team have completed the marathon at a sprinter’s pace. The impossible became not only possible, but unforgettable in the hands of your amazing team. Now is the time to grab a cocktail from the bar, nibble on delicious passed hors d’oeuvres and enjoy the endorphin rush of a job well done. The race is finally finished.
Tips for Quick Event Planning:
• You will need a head count right away. If you don’t know the count, make a guesstimate and stick with it.
• There is no time to shop around for the best price. If you see something you like that fits with the plan, go for it.
• With the event date less than two weeks away, be prepared to pay in full right away. It is too late for deposits with vendors.
• A professional event planner is familiar with vendors, pricing and availability. He or She can help guide your team to the best quality and the best deal quickly.
(Jamie Vollmer, president of Jamie Vollmer Consulting/PR, is a contributing writer from St. Louis, Mo. She can be reached at 314-276-3655 or [email protected])
Baseline Gallery and Showroom
The Sheldon Galleries
The Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis