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Holiday Parties: A Year-'Round Celebration with Promotional Products

What can you do to make your holiday party a celebration to remember? Plan an event that is as far from traditional as possible.

QUESTION: Why have a holiday party?

ANSWER: To help reward and retain employees, encourage donations for fundraisers, entertain clients and prospects, or just to say thank you for a job well done.

But a holiday party doesn't have to be the typical humdrum Christmas event held at the same local banquet hall or hotel every year. In fact, it doesn't have to be Christmastime at all. What many of us tend to forget is that there are holidays throughout the year we can celebrate with just as much fanfare and fun.

Some Reasons To Celebrate
Going beyond what's expected is the surest way to create a memorable occasion. With this in mind, consider all the holidays that can be celebrated by your firm. There are the usual suspects such as Christmas, New Year's Eve and July Fourth. But there are are also those less common to business: Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick's Day and April Fool's Day. Companies can even make up their own holiday celebrations, highlighting an annual event or milestone. Many firms have celebrated the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards with parties or receptions, for example.

Chances are you've probably thrown (or been a guest at) a Super Bowl party. Maybe you've gotten friends together for Monday Night Football. To expand on this idea, make it a corporate affair and give out promotional products that tie into a football theme. For years, an East Coast tavern has hosted a "holiday party" every Monday night during football season. To show appreciation for its patrons, the tavern held drawings for NFL team hats and pennants, as well as distributing helmet-shaped snack bowls in the home team's colors (and bearing the tavern's logo, of course).

What's important is to ask yourself what kind of events and products will leave a lasting impression with attendees. How about a corporate event for a holiday that's held six months prior to the actual holiday? The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in central Ohio did just this.

In order to raise money for the foundation – as well as show everyone a good time – it holds an annual "Halfway to St. Patrick's Day" celebration every year on September 15 at a nearby venue. Open to anyone in the community, the foundation offers a raffle, food, live entertainment and prizes such as airline tickets, dining certificates and various entertainment packages. And all attendees also receive appropriately-logoed T-shirts.

Planning Key
When planning any party, it's critical to create an event that stays in the minds of your guests. One surefire way to make an event memorable is to use promotional products. They should represent a positive image of the company as well as have broad appeal. Don't get locked in to one thing too early. Choose a few ideas and items and ask employees what they'd like via a companywide survey.

As you develop the survey, keep the following in mind:
  • Time. During work hours, after hours or a weekend? What time of day is best – day or evening?
  • Guest list. Should spouses and/or children be invited?
  • Location. On or off premises?
  • Food. Buffet style or sit-down? (a buffet forces everyone to mingle.)
  • Alcohol. Should it be served or not?
  • Gifts. Should there be a gift exchange (if apropos to the occasion)?
  • Bonuses (for those firms that give them). Should they be awarded at the party or privately? (Obviously, not a survey question unless everyone is getting one.)
New Traditions
Once you've determined what employees and/or clients are looking for, do your best to create an event with real staying power. One firm chose to put more money and time into celebrating St. Patrick's Day rather than Christmas due to the low response rate from its clients in the past. On March 1, the company enclosed a St. Patty's greeting card with a peel-off shamrock in all invoices to clients. On the day itself, clients received an "Irish mug of beer"– a beer mug filled with green paper clips.

As a result of the positive response from clients, the firm decided to continue the tradition the following years, adding shamrock-shaped paperweights and potato peelers. The peelers were accompanied by a real potato imprinted with the company's logo. Additionally, shamrock stationery and pens topped with shamrocks have been used all year-round by the firm.

Beyond Basics
Even if you're planning a traditional holiday party, you can add some spice to the mix. For example, at a Christmas party, hand out imprinted Santa hats to employees. One company took its employees bowling and gave them imprinted Christmas-themed bowling shirts. Not only did it give workers a chance to interact in a social environment, but they remembered the event because it was unique (to say nothing of the staying power of the personalized bowling shirts).

Another example: A Kroger store planned a golf outing on April Fool's Day to help raise money for a local school's track team. To maintain the holiday theme, Kroger used items that were out of the ordinary – lunch coolers to hold the Kroger lunch; towels for use as placemats or napkins; coupon holders; mousepads (Kroger donates computers to schools) and water pistols for fun. All items were imprinted with the Kroger logo and the school's name.

"The event was a fabulous success," says counselor Marsha Londe, adding that not only was enough money raised for a new track, but the goodwill generated within the community was immeasurable.

In another instance, a family planned a Flag Day ceremony in its own backyard. For promotional consultant Tickie Yeager, the inspiration began with a flagpole in the yard that was to be dedicated. From this, she developed an "All-American Dream" theme to coincide with the flag. The 100 guests who attended received buttons, as well as several red, white and blue items — mugs, flashlights displaying the theme, keytags and pom-poms. At the base of the flagpole, Yeager embedded an engraved plaque with the dates and name of the dedication ceremony. To bring the theme home even more, "All American" food was served – hot dogs, apple pie, potato salad and baked beans. Granted, this was a family affair, so to speak; but the possibilities for a similar company-sponsored event are obvious.

When people receive an imprinted item – something they can take home with them – it's almost assured to leave a lasting impression, especially if it's something they can place on their desk or in plain view at home. Picture frames with photos of the events come to mind immediately, but thousands of other products can fit the bill, too.

Also, think unusual. Things like imprinted bandannas and cowboy hats for a western theme, imprinted pumpkin flashlights and candy-filled baskets for a Halloween theme, or imprinted T-shirts with catchy slogans for any event can make recipients feel appreciated.

Point In The Right Direction
When thinking about your party's location, think big, think extraordinary, think creative. But know your budget. If you can afford to go to the extreme, do it. For instance, if you're planning a tropical theme party, why not have it at a local aquarium, or take a dinner cruise? The cruises typically offer dinner, entertainment and a spectacular view, all for approximately $60 a person, depending on day of the week and time of day. Not too bad when you cost it out.

But if you're looking to minimize spending, there are many reasonable solutions. The bowling alley mentioned above, for example. It may not be traditional or elegant, but it gives employees a chance to relax and have fun, and that's what's really important.

How about an old warehouse or old barn? A nice touch for a Halloween party. Decorate it with some cobwebs and plastic spiders, get some appropriate music or sound effects and you're all set. Other places you might want to look into are museums, zoos, theme restaurants, ranches or arcades. Recently, restaurant/entertainment complexes such as Dave and Busters and Jillians have become popular hang-outs for the workplace crowd as well as teens. Venues like these usually offer party rooms, video game rooms, pool tables and dining. Some even offer dancing and bowling.

Developing A Theme
Remember, themes can enhance the atmosphere at any party. It can be as simple as decorating the office and asking employees to dress accordingly. And it doesn't have to be Halloween to dress in costume. Think Mardi Gras – masks and beads, confetti and balloons might be just enough to turn the office into Bourbon Street.

In many cases, the holiday itself contributes to its own theme. A Memorial Day or Fourth of July party calls for a patriotic theme, for instance. It's hard to imagine anything else but red, white & blue, color-wise.

If you're planning a Christmas party, try a Winter Wonderland theme – all white and silver rather than the traditional red and green. Try decorating the office (or other location) with fake snow and icicles. Or, if it's in the budget and the party's in a more woodsy location, why not rent a snow-making machine? Dress some people right out of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

There's also Cinco de Mayo. A Mexican fiesta theme can be intriguing. Gather everyone together for a dance contest and provide piñatas filled with imprinted gifts. Logoed sombreros, blankets or margarita glasses can be given to party-goers as they leave.

No matter the holiday, you need to focus on showing employees or clients a good time. The right venue, theme and products can build your company's reputation.

Consider some of the following holiday celebrations:
A rehabilitation facility for head-injury victims wanted to provide its clients and potential referral sources (hospitals, doctors and insurance firms) with a suitable holiday (Christmas) gift. Since the common denominator for those in the target audience was that all were touched by illness or injury daily, the 300 recipients received a 4-inch square white box with a teddy bear sticker on side. A card on top read, "You're probably wondering how we fit a nine-inch Teddy Bear into this box ..." Inside, the recipient found a three-inch teddy bear with a note around its neck explaining the center's services, along with the news that the center gave a similar nine-inch bear to a child at a hospital. Along with thanks for support, the message concluded, "We hope that the coming year brings peace, good health and the beary, beary best."

A company wanted to award staff and employees with $100, $50 and $20 bills for Christmas. To make the gift memorable, the company had the bills rolled up, covered in food-grade cellophane and then covered in chocolate. When recipients bit into the candy, they got a very unexpected surprise.

Looking for something really offbeat? An accounting firm needed a small gift for its annual dance – the Woodhacker's Ball. It gave out real wood neckties (they attached with Velcro®) imprinted with the company's logo to all attendees.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.

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