The image of corporate entertainment has been damaged in the last couple of years. Reports of Government subsidised banks having expensive events entertaining clients, sticks in the throat for many people who have lost their jobs, or who are struggling to pay their mortgage. Hospitality tents at Wimbledon; half empty, but paid for in full, also annoy many people.
Yet in all cases, the banks booked and paid for the events before the financial crisis AND corporate entertainment is part of the process of developing relationships in business. Many businesses: particularly City companies are concerned about visibly entertaining clients given the current economic situation. They cannot be seen to be having ‘jollies’ even if they are entertaining existing and prospective clients. Of course, this has had an impact on the Events, Conference, Hospitality and Entertainment sector.
Simon Speller from Hillier Hopkins LLP Accountants said that the Event sector is a very good indicator of economic stability. Clients of his in this sector began to be hit at the beginning of 2008: before other sectors were affected, but, he optimistically said that his clients are now seeing increased activity in the latest quarter: suggesting that there is economic growth – or optimism.
Before the Credit Crunch, large or even limitless budgets were available for corporate entertainment, and lavish affairs were organised with no expense spared. Prices were high, and it was not unheard of for Event Companies to have huge mark ups on their suppliers prices, which they passed on to their clients. Now, however, the trend is for limited budgets and for fees to be negotiated and some entertaining to be cut.
One of our clients mentioned that they were no longer organising their regular hospitality events for all of their clients; instead of taking 100 clients for a corporate day at Twickenham, including watching an International; they were now taking 10 high earning clients to see the match and a curry: cutting the cost from £700 per person to £70. They were also going through their database; inviting people to fewer events and saving the best invitations to their highest earners only.
Another client, who works for a major supermarket that made record profits last year, said that all of the Christmas Office parties were cancelled last year as a cost cutting exercise. Normally her department of 20 would have had a budget of £40,000, yet the company were reluctant to even organise an in house drinks party. Of course cancelling office parties impacts on staff morale and is not always the most effective cost saving measure!
So why do organisations entertain? Is it for fun, or to make them look good? Is it to show off or to reward their staff? There is a little of all these factors when organisations entertain, but it is generally for business purposes. Providing employees with a fantastic away day experience or Office Party is a good reward for loyalty and hard work – hence the demoralisation when these are cancelled. However, first and foremost it is to establish and maintain relationships with clients.
If you arrange to meet a high earning client in McDonalds for a coffee, it says little about how you value the client and their business to you, but if you take care with the venue you choose to meet for coffee: that it is private and quiet to have the opportunity to discuss business in a professional way – it says so much about how you value the business relationship. Likewise, a restaurant where the service and ambience is not good (even if it is expensive) will do little for the business relationship that a lovely family owned restaurant where the chef and front of house really care about their customers.
It is no longer necessary to lavishly entertain clients with high budget events. If you have a limited budget, it is fine to have an in house drinks party, but ensure you have arranged the finer details – such as a cloakroom for coats; clean glasses (yes: that isn’t always the case with hired glasses!) and a few canapés: and organising who is going to serve the drinks and canapés.
We have offered clients who are organising in house events a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) entertainer. The fee comes from their CSR fund, and the entertainer is a ‘busker’ who plays background music, and guests put money into his hat, raising money for a charity. The benefits are that there is a fundraising element to the event and the entertainment is paid from the CSR fund rather than from the budget, and the quality of the event is enhanced by live music.
If you are arranging entertainment at another venue, see what the venue events team offer with the package; for example, is entertainment included in the package; are they able to offer discounted accommodation? Is there an option for a cash bar? What is the difference in price between a buffet and served meal?
When adding the ‘entertainment’ element to an evening, here are my top tips for the perfect icing on the cake.
• We would always recommend going to a respected agency: someone you can talk to, rather than an internet based company. Friends of friends are not always reliable!
• A musician playing background music during the drinks reception and/or meal lifts the quality level of an event. A CSR funded musician adds value to the event, although this isn’t always necessary. A harpist, string quartet, saxophonist, guitarist or pianist work very well in this situation.
• After a dinner, it is always good to have entertainment, to finish off the evening and enabling guests to leave happy. We have found Singing Waiters; Surprise Singing Guests and our Flamenco Guitarists and dancers particularly popular.
• After dinner speakers are a successful choice, although we recommend you are very specific in the contract as to what you would like them to speak about, and give them enough information about the expected guests, to ensure they tailor the speech for the audience.
• Stand up comedians are fun; however, many have material that might not be suitable for mixed audiences or specific groups. Personally I would avoid this option unless you are very confident of the comedian and know your audience well. Some events have been ruined by the choice of comedian.
• A singing act, such as our Romantic Tenor who sings Operatic Arias and Andrea Boccelli songs is very popular. As a rule, Tribute soloists and bands do not impress valued clients, so search for a good quality singer who will add value to your event. Make sure he or she has not set the sound levels too high, and if necessary, manage the sound checks to set the volume lower and request adjustments in the evening. A great evening has been spoilt by the entertainment being too loud – so manage the artiste!
• Get as much advice and help from the venue as possible. They are experts at their venue and might have some great ideas.
Corporate entertainment is an invaluable way of developing business relationships. At this time when people are cutting back, it is an ideal time to increase client hospitality to stand out from the crowd. Good entertainment is not about spending huge amounts of money, but taking care with the details, so that your clients have a positive experience and you, as a company, present yourself well. Good luck