Brand values take top spot on Christmas party list

Want to get more bang for your buck this Christmas? Use your most valuable assets to buy into the party spirit.

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When it comes to arranging fun events for both clients and staff, many organisations are now turning their attention towards Christmas while looking to opportunities and talent within their own ranks to create unique experiences that reinforce the company’s brand values.

Brands’ budgets may be fairly tight, but that is not a barrier to putting on events that are both fun and engaging. Absolute Radio uses its industry contacts to create invitation-only events, often music-focused but always aligned to the brand’s three “pillars” of music, comedy and football.

The station’s advertising director Remy Kirk explains: “We aim to produce an experience for our clients where they get to understand Absolute Radio and see what our brand stands for. We could take people out on a golf day, but they can pay to do that on a Saturday.”

Last year, the station hosted Brit Award and Mercury Music Prize-winning band Elbow in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral and Sir Elton John at the Union Chapel in Islington, London which some clients said was the best thing they’d ever been to, claims Kirk.

She adds: “Our events show clients that we have access to money-can’t-buy experiences and generate stories that they’re going to tell their grandchildren. ’I went to see Elton John in a chapel’ certainly trumps ’I went on a corporate golf day’.”

Unusual and exclusive Christmas events cover many bases for Absolute Radio, providing corporate hospitality, on-air and online content, press coverage and an exciting event for listeners, who can win tickets to the gigs. Kirk says: “It also allows our clients to see who our listeners are. And they’re going to be the really big fans, so for the artist they provide an audience that doesn’t feel too corporate.”

Absolute puts on events throughout the year, but the extra special line-ups happen closer to Christmas. Plans for this Christmas remain shrouded in secrecy, but last year’s bash included live sessions from Tori Amos, Doves and Mumford & Sons. Featuring three different artists meant that the station could provide clients with a tailored experience, at a similar cost to one big event.

The station also invites bands to perform at staff Christmas parties. Using the bands as brand partners and generating PR buzz around unusual venues means that the events reach a much wider audience than just the lucky few who attend, Kirk claims.

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“Since the recession, the stuff that we’re doing is just more clever. If you put something on in the House of Commons then it’s naturally elevated to something fantastic as it’s so unusual. But we also use the live sessions that we do at the station’s studios, inviting clients to see bands perform. It’s using what we’ve got and presenting the key message of our businesses, that we are about live music,” she says.

Just as Absolute Radio tries to find better venues each time it holds an event, drinks brand Innocent similarly feels the pressure to up its game each year an objective made more difficult by tighter purse strings and a growing team.

Innocent environment manager Charlie Heavey, who organises the company’s Christmas events, says: “We’ve got lots of very creative people in the building so the expectation is very high.

“At any company event we have our meeting section where we try to engage and energise everybody. It’s about bringing everyone together and engineering as much social interaction as possible.”

Previous events have included a WAG-themed party complete with football paraphernalia and turnstiles to coincide with an England fixture, and a Venetian-style birthday party just after the company moved to its new canalside offices in West London.

Instead of hiring expensive performers and decorators, Innocent looks within its own team for on-brand touches. Staff members punted up the canal as a member of the team serenaded them from a bridge and for a winter wonderland-themed event, staff built an igloo out of the polystyrene boxes that Innocent packs its drinks in. Heavey predicts similar innovation for this year’s safari-themed party at London Zoo.

’I went to see Elton John in a chapel’ certainly trumps ’I went on a corporate golf day’

Remy Kirk, Absolute Radio

She explains: “We do everything internally from the creative graphics to the presentation to the signage and the invitations. We spend the money on the venue, lighting and good audio and video. We’re fortunate that we have an in-house band and DJs.”

Clothing retailer White Stuff similarly prefers to use the talents of its staff to produce its events. Head of marketing Susan Crawford says: “We’re quite protective of our brand, we’re quite specific of what we want and how we want things to be executed. We find that we have better control of it if we’re not using an agency.”

Each Christmas, the brand chooses a theme, which is used through the stores, shop windows, consumer communications and the festive party, making the event particularly on-brand.

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This year the theme is nostalgia and Crawford says: “We want people to think about what it was they loved about Christmas in the Seventies or Eighties. We’re thinking bad Christmas jumpers and Deeley boppers a retro Christmas.”

Like Innocent, White Stuff has also moved offices this year and will hold its party at the new premises’ bar, saving money on venue hire and cementing staff’s appreciation of the new building. The bar is open year-round on the last Friday of every month and is stocked by the social committee. All of the money raised from the sale of drinks goes to charity.

Encouraging staff to get involved in charity fundraising in fun ways at Christmas has the benefit of bringing people together without demanding the budget of an ostentatious party. Rather than throwing a lavish party this year, Vodafone will focus on involving staff in its fundraising scheme JustTextGiving.

Vodafone UK director of corporate communications Aileen Thompson says: “Christmas is a time when you think about other people, so we will be encouraging our employees and members of the public to get behind JustTextGiving.”

Meanwhile, White Stuff has also launched an internal fundraising scheme, where staff members are split into groups and asked to raise money together as a team-building exercise. Staff are assigned to the groups or houses when they join the company and acquire points for it as they complete targets, rather like Harry Potter, says Crawford. Although the company holds events like pub quizzes throughout the year, fundraising activity is ramped up over the Christmas period.

Crawford says: “We have a very clear vision here at White Stuff, and it isn’t just about selling clothes. We feel very strongly that by being different and making a difference we can make the world a little happier. That’s really integral in everything we do even our Christmas parties.”
brand in the spotlight

Brands in the spotlight

Q&A

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Charlie Heavey

Environment manager

Innocent

Charlie Heavey (CH): As well as the party, we have our Golden Bottle staff awards. There are nine categories, including best male, best female, best international male/female, best new starter, best direction, lifetime achievement, and the green bottle, which awards people that have really incorporated sustainability into their role. There’s also the crystal ball award. At the beginning of every year we ask everyone to estimate how many units of our product they think we’ll sell. The person that gets closest gets a crystal ball award. It’s a great way of celebrating the work that goes on.

MW: How do you add Innocent touches to your Christmas parties?

CH: We like to add little details that are really relevant and on-brand, but when budgets are tight it’s challenging. We’ll always make a list of the things we’d ideally like to do, but sometimes it’s little comments in leaflets on the chairs when people arrive that really hit the mark rather than anything ostentatious or overly generous.

MW: How do you gauge whether your event has been a success?

CH: We find it useful to get people to give feedback after every event, through a survey. We can find out what worked, what they thought of the venue and what people got out of it. There’s two parts to the questionnaire, one that deals with the information section and the other with the party itself. It needn’t be boring though we add in fun questions like: what’s the weirdest thing you heard on your table?
Melissa Shackleton

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Head of marketing

Hotel Chocolat

Marketing Week (MW): What was the strategy behind deciding to offer corporate hospitality tastings?

Melissa Shackleton (MS): We have what’s called the School of Chocolate, where staff gain in-depth knowledge of chocolate. We wanted to pass some of that on to our corporate customers, so they can learn the processes and have a bit of fun. It’s something different to add to our brand.

MW: What kinds of things do you do to entertain clients?

MS: We run Taste Adventures once a month, with more at Christmas, when those taking part get the opportunity to taste different grades of chocolate from different countries. They’re taught to compare products from different countries and different types of cocoa bean, as well as learning about the process for tasting chocolate and identifying different flavours.

MW: How does it strengthen the brand?

MS: It’s amazing how knowledgeable people become. A growing number of people now recognise that we’re one of the only chocolate brands to grow our own cocoa, so it makes us distinctive in the market.

They learn so much about the brand by going on these courses and become brand ambassadors for us when they share the knowledge they have acquired with their friends and family.

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