Building blocks of entertaining

In pursuit of hosting an event that has the ‘wow’ factor, it is easy to overlook the basic rules of corporate entertaining – and forget that your guests simply want to have fun.

Sometimes, as with many of life’s questions, the answer comes from the mouths of babes. Working on this principle, I decided to ask my four-year-old son about the secrets of good entertainment. This is what I found out:Me: What do grown-ups like best at a party? Him: Bubble beer. And even reading newspapers. Me: What kind of games do grown ups like to play? Him: Work. Me: What will interest them in a goody bag? Him: A CD player.

So there we have it – the three basic rules of good corporate hospitality: bubble beer, work and a free gift.

Now it was time to put these rules to the test – did the simple things in life really make all the difference? First off, it was the demon drink. Carly Mitchell, marketing director of Tapenade, talks timing: “The issue of alcohol depends on the nature of the event. If you are hosting a day at the Derby, you should anticipate that champagne will flow freely. Remember, your aim is for your guests to have a good time, but think about timing. Few people really want to drink first thing in the morning and, if necessary, hide the corkscrews until after the real business is complete.”

Low numbers
The lure of free wine and food may attract more guests, but at what expense? Not all guests are as welcome as others. Jonathan Haskell, chief executive of corporate event hosts Michael C Fina Worldwide, cuts loose: “It’s better to restrict the number of guests and deliver a memorable experience than to invite the world and his wife, and give them all a distinctly average time.”

The next consideration is the games – to which the answer was “work”. Yet an event need not be work-centred the whole time in order to get key business messages across. Making the event too much like work could be a mistake says Haskell: “I would say you gain far more business in the long run by not mentioning business. There is a strong likelihood that most of your clients will have received similar invitations before, so to ensure they want to attend your function, the event needs to be fun as well as memorable.”

And as for the goody bags, Pamela Berners-Price, head of logistics at Jack Morton Worldwide, says: “Giveaways can be a waste of money, so it’s important to incorporate the gift into the event.” Jack Morton Worldwide came up with something that is literally out of this world: “During one awards event, named ‘Stars’, each delegate was given a certificate of ownership of an actual star. Such giveaways have relevant meaning.” If the aim is to keep things simple, then the iconic branded pen is a safe bet. Andrew Hill, managing director of Senator Pens, explains its appeal: “The pen’s ability to deliver a high perceived value makes it both effective and cost efficient.”

Responsibility for corporate event guests does not end the moment they step out the door, and it is a good idea to end on a good note by helping them on their way. Another way to go the extra mile is to ensure guests are able to attend in the first place. For example, more working parents may be enticed to attend events if there are facilities there for children.

Melissa Talago of Peekaboo Communications, sees an incentive for change: “The UK workaholic lifestyle means many people don’t get to spend much time with their families, so it’s harder to convince them to attend corporate events after hours or at weekends. If families are invited along too, the event stands out from the crowd and will likely get a higher turn out.”

Simply complex
For events it seems the devil really is in the detail. Tapenade’s Mitchell agrees that hard work is at the core of a successful event: “Some would say that corporate entertaining only works if everything is kept simple. That is demonstrably nonsense. It requires considerable advance planning and genuine catering expertise.”

A four-year-old may grasp the basics of what makes a good party. But creating an event is definitely not child’s play.

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