Unwrap the layers of value from festivities

Investing in a spectacular staff Christmas party is back on the business agenda – but the modern festive bash is expected to accomplish much more than employee good cheer. 

Above: Pernod Ricard ties in its Christmas parties with its annual report theme – last year’s was a modern twist on the 1920s

The extravagance of Christmas parties has been tamed somewhat over the past couple of years as budgets have been slashed and expenses cut back. However, as the economy begins to recover, festive cheer looks set to return with one party specialist, Best Ever Parties, noting a 20 per cent rise in bookings compared to last year.

But simply throwing money at a staff party will not necessarily make it a success warns Olivier Cavil, communications vicepresident at Pernod Ricard.

“It’s very easy to organise an event, to have lights, music and a good dinner, that’s just a question of money. But to go one step further, especially regarding internal communications, it’s really about engaging all employees within the brand eco-system.”

Having a strong and relevant theme is of utmost importance to the drinks giant, which each year commissions a photo campaign to illustrate its annual report, the concept of which feeds into the holding company’s Christmas party. 

Last year Pernod Ricard worked with Spanish photographer Eugenio Recuenco to produce the campaign, which featured an employee from each of its top 18 brands, bringing to life its motto ‘creators of conviviality’.

“It’s a revisiting of the 1920s, but with a modern twist,” says Cavil. “When it came to the party we worked with a production company and hired authentic costumes and a professional make-up artist so all employees could dress up. We held the event at Maxim’s [restaurant] in Paris, which was popular in the 1920s, plus we had an electro jazz band and organised dancing.”

The focus this year is on co-creation, which will again flow through into the holding company’s Christmas event, the details of which are yet to be finalised. This year artist Olaf Breuning has been commissioned to direct the project which will again involve employees from the business putting the concept of co-creation and collaboration into action.

The success of an event is two-fold: it has to be linked to a theme that resonates with the brand strategy to create context, and must be intereactive

Considering the sheer scale of the company, which has around 19,000 employees worldwide, and its decentralised nature, the brand and market companies hold separate events, but senior managers from the entire group come together once a year for its annual convention at Les Embiez (see box below).

Events also play a key role in the marketing strategy at fashion accessories retailer Claire’s, particularly as it looks to solidify its image as “cool, edgy and fun”.

Over the past few months, the brand has joined forces with boy band Union J to unveil a new range, hosted a party at Space in Ibiza in conjunction with Company magazine, and enlisted singer-songwriter Conor Maynard to perform at the launch of its ecommerce site – each of which has been built on the core elements of “music, fashion, fun and social media”, according to head of European press and marketing Hind Hadj.

She says: “Events are very important at Claire’s. It’s a different way of communicating. It’s far more engaging than above-the-line advertising or PR, and is a key strategy for Claire’s. We work with a lot of magazines and bloggers, but events bring the fun aspect to whatever we do.”

Claire’s always holds big Christmas parties for all its employees, which Hadj says is particularly important. “The main aim of our president Beatrice Lafon is to really boost moral. It’s the time of year to thank everyone for all their hard work and have a good time.”

This year’s event will be held at the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham near the company’s head office. The theme is Winter Wonderland, and Hadj says employees can expect a gala dinner, live band, singing waiters, a comedian, magicians, a DJ and other special acts.

Each employee will be asked to donate £1 to attend the event. The money will go to children’s charity Unicef, whichClaire’s will be supporting for the long-term (see box below).

Claire’s also hosts a Christmas party for its employees’ children, where each child receives a gift from Santa, as well as being able to dress up.

Holding an annual party for staff is a tax efficient way to reward them, however research by Christmas event specialist Best Parties Ever finds that 68 per cent of companies are not aware of the associated tax relief. The tax exemption applies to annual parties available to all staff and is set at £150 per head, plus Christmas parties do not incur national insurance contributions.

Accessories chain Claire’s is holding a Winter Wonderland party this year, the theme of which ties into an event it held to launch a partnership with children’s charity Unicef

Christmas is a key time of year for all retailers, and none more so than Harrods. In addition to hosting a staff Christmas party, the luxury store holds a series of consumer events throughout the festive season. Although the store opened its Christmas shop in July to attract tourists visiting the capital in the summer, it is the Christmas Parade that kicks off its festive activity proper, celebrating the opening of its grotto and themed windows.

Harrods will be offering a live video stream of the parade via its Facebook and YouTube channels again this year; last year ithad 25,000 views from around the world. 

Mark Briggs, store image director at Harrods, says: “Social media has become an integral part of our marketing strategy and a channel that creates a community reaching our global customer base giving them a platform to communicate with us as much as we talk to them.”

The retailer focuses on its British heritage across all Christmas events and Briggs says it will be particularly present in this year’s theme, which will be announced soon.

Partnerships are also a key part of the department store’s strategy at Christmas. It is working with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hyde Park to offer families a Christmas package on the weekend of the parade. 

While some brands thrive on Christmas, others actively avoid doing anything overtly Christmas-themed, such as frozen yogurt brand Lick, which instead chooses to hold relevant events as and when the time is right.

Social media is an integral part of our marketing strategy and a channel that creates a community for our global customers

Thomas Lavis, who heads up marketing for the Brighton-based firm, says: “We won’t do something especially for Christmas – or the Olympics, the World Cup, Easter, the Royal Baby, or Gary Lineker’s birthday, because it’s just boring. Everyone does it, it’s not original. To do it would bore us, so we wouldn’t put any passion into it, and as a result it wouldn’t come across as genuine. We’d rather do something new to keep people on their toes and have fun.”

Lavis together with Lick’s founders Owain Williams and Ky Wright have strong links with music and have held regular music sessions at their flagship store, which were recorded and shared on their website.

“After Charlotte Church played, our orders in Wales quadrupled, and after [the band] Frightened Rabbit played we were offered distribution in the US,” says Lavis.

The brand is set to close its store at the end of September to focus on its wholesale business, but next year will be expanding Lick Music by putting on bigger gigs, co-promoting events with magazine Brighton Source and starting Lick Records, with the first release to be by Brighton band Milk & Biscuits.

“The Lick brand will then be in record stores, on iTunes and Spotify…We do it because of the exposure and because it’s fun.”

Lick also launched Ultimate Vibes earlier this month, an initiative it hopes will help it “buddy up” with like-minded brands. Innocent Drinks, Peppersmith and The Guardian all attended the first event, a frisbee tournament with coaching from the UK Ultimate Frisbee team and lunch provided by a professional forager.

“We don’t just want to be known as a brand that makes frozen yogurt,” says Lavis, who is keen to be involved in a variety of initiatives and host music events throughout the year that will help the brand connect with a wider audience. “We know how much value that can add to a company and how much of an impact it has on sales,” he adds.

Whether your brand decides to go for the festive season in a major way or boycott it, it’s only 14 weeks until the big day so its time to start planning.

Claire’s and Unicef

Events are an important part of the marketing strategy at accessories retailer Claire’s, which launchedits partnership with children’s charity Unicef at a Winter Wonderland-themed party last November.

The fund-raising initiative was attended by celebrities and their children, including singer Eliza Doolittle, who acted as DJ and modelled items from the retailer’s specially created range, with £1 from each sale going to Unicef.

In addition to cocktails and music, the party had a separate children’s room with a candy bar, graffiti wall and jewellery stand, as well as beauticians on hand to do hair and make-up.

The objective of the partnership with Unicef and the party was to “raise awareness and help mums and kids around the world that need support, particularly those in Africa and Asia,” says Hind Hadj, head of European press and marketing at Claire’s.

Claire’s now aims to launch two campaigns each season as part of the partnership, one for Christmas and another for back to school.

“Donation at point of purchase is what works best at Claire’s,” says Hadj, who adds that Poland donated the most money in Europe during 2012, helping the retailer raise more than £400,000 (€480,000) since the partnership began.


Olivier Cavil, communications vice-president, Pernod Ricard

Marketing Week (MW): How important is it to have a consistent theme at a Christmas party?

Olivier Cavil (OC): We always try to create a bridge between what is happening on the ground with our brands and the holding company, which is by definition in charge of all the functional supports such as finance.

At Pernod Ricard, our first ambassadors are our employees, but if we want them to be ambassadors they have to understand the brands. For the past 30 years Pernod Ricard has created a photo campaign to illustrate our annual report, which the party is always related to. It’s very important to have a consistent approach. 

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

OC: The success of an event in terms of engagement is really two-fold. First, it has to be linked to a theme or topic that resonates with the brand strategy to create a concrete story and context. Second, it must be interactive, there has to be active participation. People must be part of the event.

MW: How else do you look to strengthen the overall company message, considering its decentralised format?

OC: At Les Embiez [an island in the Mediterranean owned by the Pernod Ricard family] we gather more than 1,000 top management from across the world every year, which we have done for the past 20 years.

We review all brand activity over the past year, as well as what’s coming up in the following year. After that there are more than 1,500 bilateral meetings between the markets and the brands where they will discuss activity and plans based on the market. There are also three gala dinners, which are a live expression of what a brand event could be, and on top of that there are six bars that act as a live showroom for each brand.



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