Dreaming of a creative Christmas

Listen to this article

Have James Bond and Winter Wonderland themed Christmas parties had their day? Are tried and tested party themes a sign of lazy event organising or is budget taking priority over creativity? Stand Out asks are we set for a creative Christmas…

You’re organising a Christmas party and you are entertaining hundreds but does appealing to the masses mean that you have play it safe and use a tried and tested party theme? @StandOutmag asked this question on Twitter and received a significant response.

“Only if you are the Argos of party entertainment themes,” quipped @calmerkarma, a corporate entertainment consultancy.

But it got me thinking… what do corporates want? Is the safe party theme the best option or are organisers prepared to buy into something more creative?

The events industry is a hot-bed of creativity so why is it still pumping out, for example, James Bond themed Christmas events – are there any new ideas and themes left to explore or has the creative pot of ideas run dry?

According to Tim Stevens, managing director of Best Parties Ever, value for money is key with more cost effective options being sought this year, but it does not have to be at the expense of the creativity of the event.

“Traditional themes such as ‘Winter Wonderland’ are now considered by many to be an easy, ‘safe’ option that has been overdone. This no longer meets the expectations of the client and does not provide the ‘wow’ factor.

“It’s also true that the Bond theme is a bit predictable, but some people like it – indeed it’s often the guests themselves that will interpret a formal event in this way. This year, we have a choice of 10 different themes from Wild in Africa and Party at the Pyramids, to Red Hot in Rio and Moonlit in Marrakech. These themes mean we can provide great entertainment and live acts to blend with the events. It’s not just the set and scenery that creates a theme, it’s the total package.”

Load of old baubles

Companies that are offering the same packaged themes year in and year out are keeping their over-heads lower, minimising risk and therefore offering the client better value for money, suggests event organiser Emma Boardman, who argues that the masses are generally pleased by a well-organised jolly, comprising plenty of food, drink and music.

“I have pioneered for many years to knock the mediocrity out of Christmas party themes. The reason for this is to challenge my clients, and also to make my job more stimulating, as I would lose the will to live if I had to produce the same themed party night after night.

“Financially, it does pay to be mediocre. It’s expensive to be bespoke; and this makes it harder to compete with the generic/repetitive offerings from the middle-of-the-road agencies; however I have seen more and more clients asking for that elusive something different.

“I usually get calls from some of the more obvious agencies asking me to put a spin on an otherwise ‘safe’ event. My job would not exist if everyone could pull effective and unique creative concepts out of the bag at the drop of a hat; and for this I am grateful. I know it’s important to offer a range of choices for all our clients, just as long as I continue to get the mad, bad expensive bespoke requests and can leave the Fire & Ice themes to the agencies who thrive on a bit of safe and obvious.”

Meeting expectations

In 2009, Office Christmas noticed that in a challenging year, organisations needed to make the most of a reduced budget without compromising on client satisfaction. As a result, says Vicky Hogg, product manager at Office Christmas, many companies returned to traditional, tried and tested themes such as Winter Wonderland and Dickensian.

For 2010 it is already noticing a keen interest in fantasy themes including Adventures in Wonderland and Chocolate Factory, as well as glamorous versions of a traditional Christmas.

“As some companies are starting to see a better horizon than that which was faced last year, perhaps we’ll see a braver season for party themes and a more challenging year to events companies to keep their offering fresh and innovative,” she suggests.

The recession has certainly changed industry’s perception and expectations. Jonathan Morris, commercial director at No.11 Cavendish Square, believes that the Christmas season has changed and possibly forever, as themes are dictated by client budgets. Despite tax allowances for entertaining, the days of selling 25 nights at £120 per head have gone.

Morris’ Georgian events space lends itself to a Narnia theme, which is this year’s Christmas package. Aviva Stadium, Dublin, is appealing to the party market with an indoor fun fair complete with Dodgems and coconut shies, whilst The Old Library, part of Birmingham’s Custard Factory, is offering organisers ice skating.

Nick Ruffles, events director for the Old Library, comments: “In the past two years we have seen budgets slashed enormously. Events, which are held for 150 people and with a budget of £20,000, are now expected to be completed on a £3,000 budget with the same results.

“You will always get people wanting a very basic party whatever options you give them, but ultimately it’s the clients money and it is our job to meet if not surpass their needs and wants on the budget that is given. The latest addition to our event packages is to have an ice rink set up inside the venue. This is truly a unique offering, especially in the Midlands, and we can’t wait for a client to say they want it for their event.”

Adds Atif Matik, events and operations manager at London venue Troxy: “Appealing to the masses with themes such as James Bond are tried and tested and successful, yet dated. Creative and innovative themes cost money and money is pretty much the only thing the industry doesn’t have that much of.  These themes can cost around £10,000 yet the creative themes could cost £20,000. The people are here, the ideas are here but until the world economies work together to pull us all out of this very large black hole it looks increasingly likely that we’ll see these themes recycled for this Christmas and maybe the next one as well.”

Creative Christmas

An event buyer can ultimately only choose from the options they are given and it is insulting to them if industry believes that they would only buy into bland and unimaginative themes, explains Simon Lockwood, event design and marketing manager at The Brewery.

“Tried and tested for me is just another way of saying lazy and unimaginative, there are a number of companies in the industry who are still very much stuck with an ‘old school’ attitude of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, which leads to the regurgitation of themes seen hundreds of times. Fortunately for the industry these types of event companies are in the decline and it is only the companies who look to consistently innovate and inspire that remain competitive in not only the Christmas market but in the events market as a whole.

“As event designers I firmly believe that it is our job to inspire corporate clients with our creativity from conception to creation.
“The Christmas parties at the Brewery take over 17 months to create from the initial meeting where ideas are discussed through to the first event night. When planning the nights we base everything around the notion that if we find a concept dull and unimaginative then why would our clients think otherwise. Once the design has been decided upon we build an identity for the theme and form a brand within a brand to not only help us sell the idea to the market but to also gain buy in from our clients by involving them in the theme at all stages of the event cycle.
“This year we have adopted once again to go for a very much leftfield approach to the party theme with ‘An Extraordinary Evening in Peculiar Wood’. The concept behind this theme is that as guests you have been whisked away by Terry ‘the cockney’ fox to an amazing otherworldly party that is being held deep in ‘Peculiar Wood’. We will once again be using cutting edge AV effects, some of which are so new we are currently investing in research and development in America, and innovative design techniques to bring it all to life. We are able to produce this all within our clients budgets by spreading the production costs over a series of dates rather than going to the expense of setting up a one off event. This gives clients the chance to experience an event that they may not normally have the budget for and also makes light of the excuse of using a tried and tested theme because of budgetary constraints.”