By Julia M. Johnson
Corporate purse strings are taut and getting tighter, but that doesn’t mean the company holiday party has to fall prey to shaky economic times.
A well-thought-out holiday bash can deliver a lot more than just kudos to employees, clients and business partners, planners say. If done right, it can actually result in cost savings and increased return on your organization’s expenditures.
Everyone knows it costs less to keep a good customer than to cultivate a new one, and the same philosophy can be applied to retaining good employees. So why not look among the red ribbons and gold tinsel for party ideas that can make your company some green?
THE PARTY IS ON
“Many companies are cutting back on holiday parties, but the ones who are holding them realize they still have value,” says Teresa Bryant, director of sales and marketing for Destination St. Louis, a destination management and convention services provider. “Anytime you can do something positive for your employees or suppliers, they will feel more valued, especially in a down economy. That leads to greater productivity and retention.”
“When economies tighten, things like holiday parties are often the first to go,” agrees Sherrie Wehner, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the St. Louis-based Creative Producers Group, a corporate communications and event production firm. “But these events are actually something you should hold onto. The need to drive loyalty is greater now than ever before.”
Holiday parties are an important way to tie employees and business partners more tightly to your organization by offering them a fun experience that keeps on giving, Wehner says. “The trick to these events is to make them truly memorable,” she says. “While you have these people with you, try to get them emotionally engaged with your business.” If you can accomplish that, your returns will materialize in the form of higher employee retention, increased staff morale and better client relations.
FIRST, MAKE IT LAST
According to Wehner, there are a number of ways to make sure your holiday party is a success as a continuing investment. “For your employees, tie the holiday event to the accomplishments they’ve made throughout the year, whether it’s increased sales volume or landing new clients,” she advises. “You’re sending a message that will motivate them to go out and accomplish it again.”
Employee success can become the theme of an event when you center your décor and visuals on positive concepts such as winning or growth. “And if you had a great year where you brought in new clients, have those clients attend your employee party,” Wehner says. You can dedicate specific tables to particular clients and have their representatives attend so they can socialize with your employees. Or you might choose to theme each table to a specific achievement such as your 10 percent reduction in expenses over the past year, or your 20 percent increase in sales.
Next, give some critical thought to the activities you’ll offer at your event, Wehner advises. “You can always put on a slide show, but think about other creative ways to recognize special things that have happened at the company,” she says. Give prizes to your top sales staff, for example, or recognize your most improved new associates with memorable awards or gifts.
“The pessimist might say, ‘We’ve already accomplished these goals and benefited from the results. Why spend money rehashing them?’ But looking back is just as important as looking ahead,” Wehner says. “You want to give employees something to look forward to.”
KEEP THE GOOD TIMES ROLLING
Another way to add value to a holiday party is to make it a celebration of positive company news. “If you’re launching a product or opening offices in a new market, use the party to get associates excited,” Wehner says. “Tie your event to the big news, and people will remember that’s where they first heard about it.”
Kimberly Rueter, planner and program manager for downtown St. Louis-based MAC Meetings and Events, says many companies are building value into their holiday parties by combining them with training and teambuilding programs.
“They may hold training or team activities in the morning, followed by a lunch and a holiday social event in the afternoon,” Rueter says. “That way, they can allocate at least part of it to the training budget, versus accounting all of it toward holiday spending.” It’s a creative way for a holiday event to produce lasting educational and fiscal impact, according to Rueter.
“I really like seeing this trend toward training and team-building at holiday events,” she notes. “It’s a good use of corporate dollars, and it still keeps the holiday spirit out there. It’s especially useful for companies that have to fly employees in for training anyway – they may as well do it in December, turn it into a holiday event and kill two birds with one stone.”
Auctions and raffles are another way to boost ROI at a holiday event. “These are good ideas as long as they have lasting value,” Wehner says. “Give your attendees prizes and take-home mementos that commemorate what the company has accomplished throughout the year. That might be a video about its successes, or a commemorative desk photo of your team. Try to make the reminder last.”
FOR THE GOOD OF THE COMMUNITY
Finally, according to Bryant and Wehner, one of the most meaningful ways to make your holiday party produce returns is to connect it with a charitable cause. “That goes a long way toward making the event memorable,” Wehner says. “Thirty years ago, companies just gave gifts to their top customers and employees. But times have changed, and so have spending practices.”
Today, making charitable contributions to recognize an employee or client establishes your company as a caring corporate citizen, Wehner says. Find out what’s important to the person, then donate to a corresponding organization, she advises. Consider a research donation in the name of a client who lost a loved one to cancer, or a contribution to a homeless shelter where an employee volunteers. You might even decide to scale down your holiday party budget a bit, and donate the difference to a community organization.
Some employers take the charitable spirit just a step further. Wehner cites the example of a company that held its employee holiday party at a food bank. Attendees brought canned donations, and the meal was catered, including food the agency could distribute to the needy. During the party, employees cheerfully pitched in to stock pantry shelves, and each received a plaque to commemorate the event.
“Charitable activity tied to a holiday party tells people what you stand for in the community, and it gives your employees or clients an emotional boost,” Wehner says. “It’s something good being done in their name, and that has long-term PR and relationship value. It makes people feel good about associating with you. And the high doesn’t stay behind when they leave the parking lot after your party.” MM&E
(Julia M. Johnson is the Assistant Editor from St. Louis, Mo.)