As cash returns to Christmas celebration coffers, premium party planner Liz Taylor offers her top tips on staging an enviable end-of-year shindig, whatever your budget
It seems a distant memory now, but until relatively recently Christmas parties tended to be lavish affairs. See Google’s 2006 Greek-themed ‘Googlympus’ (wine cork shooting ranges, anyone?), or Bloomberg’s reported £1m ‘seven-deadly-sins’ themed seasonal soirée in 2000, with the London-held bash featuring 10 bars – one of which was truffles-only, naturally – neck-massage stations, casinos, drag queens and a ‘lust room’ with 25ft purple satin-swathed bed.
While such extravagances are now firmly out of fashion, it seems as if a splash of colour is finally returning to companies’ Yuletide knees-ups. According to a 2015 survey by listings site Eventbrite, firms are once again spending on their annual staff shindigs.
Mid-recession, in 2009, just four in 10 businesses held staff parties. Last year, 72 per cent of companies were hosting them – even if a good deal of that were caveated as “end-of-year team-building exercises”.
Despite this revival, anxieties over Brexit may be set to hamper this trend, according to experienced party planner Liz Taylor (star of Channel 4’s The Millionaire Party Planner), who has organised functions for clients from Manchester United to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
“Businesses are definitely ‘wobbly’ after [the vote for] Brexit,” she says. “I’ve had two large parties postponed because of economic uncertainty. Many events are wrapped around larger business initiatives such as product launches and recruitment drives. Because these are on hold, so are the parties.”
But if you are planning to celebrate with the team or clients this year, here are Taylor’s 10 Christmas party tips…
1 See it as a staff reward
Taylor says: “In these tough economic times, businesses are still keen to recognise their staff and clients, so having a great venue, quality food and a free bar – or even tokens for drinks – are still crucial. When businesses can’t offer pay rises or bonuses, the Christmas event is seen as an ideal setting to thank, reward and motivate staff… We are seeing more immersive events, as participation breaks down barriers between staff and management. However, the overall feel is to invest well but not too lavishly.”
2 Carefully consider the venue…
“Do choose the right venue. You could stage the event in a chic hotel with a potentially expensive bar, but stunning venues can be intimidating for some staff. Basing the event in your offices, where staff will feel comfortable and relaxed, can be just as effective. Virtually any business premises can be transformed for a party. Think about what works best for your team. Will they be impressed by the hippest venue in town? Or worried about how they find the place and get home afterwards? Whatever you decide, organise a free bar or drinks tokens, as well as the best entertainment you can afford.”
3…but don’t fear being imaginative
“We’ve created nightclubs in office car parks before. We’ve transformed a temporary marquee into a nightclub with New York DJs, dancers and a crooner, while one hair salon client hired a bright red London bus to take the team ‘on the road’, touring bars and restaurants (we ensured there was a free bar at each venue).”
4 Winter themes work well
“Some of the most compelling Christmas parties have been those which have a winter theme, such as a camp-out with roaring log fires, brandy, hot chocolate and ‘glamping’ under the stars. We’ve also recreated a ski lodge in the heart of Lancashire, complete with faux-fireplace, fur rugs and après-ski fun.”
5 Consider combining events
“One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in recent years is companies combining events to manage their costs better. Instead of three events per year, they’ve scaled down to two, with the Christmas party often doubling up as the annual staff party.”
6 Based in multiple locations? Use the same venue, twice
“One client held a party in Birmingham for their employees based in the north one day, then arranged the same party on a second day for the southern-based workforce. By holding it at one central venue on consecutive days, they got a better deal and could use the same lighting, audiovisuals and décor.”
7 Go micro – it can be just as impressive
“Events are getting smaller. Chief executives are opting for two small cocktail parties each year rather than one large sit-down party. The smaller events can be less formal, meaning there’s a wider choice of venues to negotiate with, and the catering can make the best of simple canapé ingredients.”
8 Don’t forget the entertainment
“Never scrimp on the entertainment. It’s at the heart of a great party and guests will talk about a fabulous DJ or amazing party band for weeks.”
9 Drink sensibly
“Serving a complimentary bar is often an expectation, but you don’t want things getting out of hand. We suggest the company provides wine, beers and soft drinks on their account, with the staff only paying should they choose to drink spirits. Most guests are mindful their bosses are in attendance, so we have very few issues when it’s handled this way.”
10 Act like the boss should
“As a boss myself, I try and make sure my staff aren’t intimidated by my presence. I love celebrating with them, but take my leave early so they can let their hair down! I have witnessed incidents where both employer and employee have flirted with each other, which spells disaster, and where the boss has sat in a corner looking unapproachable and distanced from the crowd. Mix, mingle, don’t drink alcohol, chat to all staff and say goodnight early. They will love the fact you paid them attention and respect the fact you left them to party!”
Liz Taylor is a member of IoD North West
To find out more about the Taylor Lynn Corporation, visit tlc-ltd.co.uk
The IoD offers several Christmas party package. Click here for more information.
Who Liz Taylor
Role Owner of Manchester-based Taylor Lynn Corporation, a corporate events company and party organiser
Previous positions Retail manager, Marks & Spencer; regional retail manager, Stirling Cooper; Liz Taylor Associates
Clients Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Coronation Street, Gary Barlow, Manchester United, Gary Neville, Marina Dalglish charity ball