Wednesday, December 16, 2009

All Tomorrow's Parties

by Juleana Enright
photos from recent l'etoile events by Digital Crush

As the holiday season approaches and a new year lies just around the corner, one may be left to wonder what the future holds for the Twin Cities' event scene. From Christmas parties and winter-themed fashion shows to New Year's Eve bashes, it seems everyone's way of beating Seasonal Affective Disorder is by jaunting off to some warm affair, cocktails and mukluks in tow. But what gives an event that certain je ne sais quoi? How does one plan a singular fete that makes guests not only want to attend but left wowed at the finale? Is it the décor, the guest list, a great PR, is it fate? Or is it something more groomed? Is there an art to event planning?

From grassroots shindigs to highbrow hobnobbing, I talked with a few of the Twin Cities' finest event planners to get an insider's perspective, advice and banter on “the art of event planning.”

First Things First...

First off, when planning an event, define goals and brainstorm themes so that everyone involved is on the same page. Cohesiveness will shine through in your audience's perspective.

“There are 2 first steps – defining the client's goals, ideas and theme and then viewing the venue/location to get inspiration from there. Integrating the venue is key when drafting good design.” - Laura Mullen, president & Lead Event Designer of Laura Mullen Event Design.

“We typically brainstorm with a number of staff members to come up with what we want the overall look and feel of the event to be. In addition to our event department, we like to get input from sales, edit and our associate publishers to make sure each event falls within the METRO mission. Once venues are nailed down, we determine what we will need to get to enhance the look of the venue – lighting, audio visual and décor.” - Amanda Peterson, events and promotions manager of Tiger Oak Publications, Metro Magazine.

“The beginning stages of planning are usually spent putting together a team of people with whom you'd like to collaborate with, piecing it together so that the people you're pulling into the planning process are bringing with them their own strengths/ networks that may be in an area that's not necessarily your forte.” - Matt Perkins, Perkins Production, marketing coordinator at MPR, former booking manager/ promotions for Nomad World Pub.

Wallflowers Not Included...

Keeping guests comfortable, engaged and stimulated is über important. After all, your guests are the ones who will be blogging, tweeting and Facebooking about your event both pre and post. Their opinion is paramount. The best way to get those shy, wallflowers away from dark corners is by making the light irresistible. Some of the most delightful events seem to almost cater to the ADD crowd. Photobooths, dancing, craft activities, even just a cash bar are lively ways to keep people moving and socializing.

“I love creating little vignettes guests come across as they make their way through the party...Once the event is pretty thoroughly thought out, I do this exercise where I visualize every step a guest will be making that day, from the parking lot to the end of the evening, to make sure we're keeping them both entertained, informed and at ease.” - Laura Mullen.

“I really appreciate and admire events that make me feel like I'm experiencing something new. Whether it be taking over an off the beaten path warehouse and recording studio, showcasing up and coming artists, or collaborating with a bunch of artistic mediums and presenting them all together in one space...all of these elements I hope lend themselves to creating something fresh and new that you can't experience on a daily basis around town.” - Matt Perkins.

“I was trained as an architect so I've spent a lot of time thinking about where people come together. What I'm more interested in lately is why people come together...When you give people good reasons to leave the house, you're giving them an opportunity to build community. Often times this involves dancing and drinking, but it can also involve making something (art, food, etc.), or sharing something (a skill, a passion, an idea).” - Colin Kloecker, co-founder Solutions Twin Cities, promoter West Bank Social Center.

To Swag or Not to Swag...

You know the saying, “to give is better that to receive.” This especially applies when it comes to throwing an event. Gift bags, party favors, souvenirs, swag – all of these perks, if done right, can be more than just party fads, but smart marketing tools that will leave your party (and company) fresh in the minds of all who attended. Just don't be stingy!

“I see a lot of groups skimping on the party elements to save cost or raise more for their group and it ends up seeming low-budget or feeling boring – that's a real fast way to not have guests or sponsors in a few years. I typically dislike giveaways unless they are really creative and bring home the theme. Otherwise we just see a lot of waste at the end of the night. I was the first eco-friendly event designer in Minnesota and I tend to do everything I can to avoid useless waste at my events.” - Laura Mullen.

“I'm not huge in the gift bag trend and don't see much benefit in them unless they contain a couple high-end items that are of some value. Little swag items and knick knacks often get left behind and are hardly memorable. Photobooths are classic and are an easy souvenir to take away from the event.” - Matt Perkins.

Au Fait Ambiance...

Party décor is a drug best used in moderation. Go overboard and you'll find yourself on a one-way course down tacky lane. Skimp and you just may have a blasé look and a group of disenchanted guests on your hands. Remember to keep it simple, use your space wisely, and always add creativity and a little flair of imagination.

“Décor not based on the surrounding – like an overly modern purple design in a subtle, natural-looking venue – seems like a waste or that the planners didn't research long enough to find the perfect fit. The venue elements should be an integrated part of the décor – it's cheaper that way too!” - Laura Mullen.

When it comes to atmosphere, silence isn't golden; it's a total party faux pas. Thankfully, due to the invention of that marvelous personal tunes device – the iPod – creating mood music is as easy as hooking up your pod to a speaker system and pushing play. Compiling a cute shuffle mix the night before is a great way to keep lo-fi beats flowing coherently all night and set ambiance.

“I think sound is key to a party – even just background music piped in. I hate walking into an event and trying to interact with new people and there is dead silence in-between conversations – uncomfortable! Music is so easy with the iPod and even a cheap A/V system to rent, so all parties should have some sound going the whole time!” - Laura Mullen.

For high-end events like runway shows and restaurant openings, hiring a DJ is your best bet. Whatever angle you choose, just get some music going!

Shamelessly Plug...

When it comes to events, promoting is key. Feel free to post and re-post at will and encourage your social savvy friends to do the same. If you're offering incentives or discounts make sure peeps are aware. We're still in a recession and everyone loves a good party perk.

“Incentives and other add on value items become a huge influence on how people perceive your event and what they get in return. A $20 cover is definitely more appealing if you know that all of the drinks at the event are free or hugely discounted. It becomes a game in how you price your event and all the perks you get when you attend, especially in the down economy where people don't want to pay for anything.” - Matt Perkins.

As l'étoile editor and chief, Kate Iverson, can tell you, there's nothing more frustrating then trying to write about an event with only a poorly laid out, scanty press release or Facebook invite to go off. To create an event that's buzz-worthy you must first make it buzz-capable. Make sure invites and releases go out at least two weeks in advance – not day of for god's sake! - and fill them with general info, a snappy description and an image creditable enough to be re-posted. Yes, aesthetics – even in event invites – are something people notice. A witty, eye-catching invite can be just the ticket to sway a party-goer otherwise on the fence.

Event planners, party throwers and social savants, if you follow these guidelines we guarantee your party with be the talk of the town for all the right reasons and the future of TC events will continue to be fresh, innovative and filled with pleasant surprises. Happy holidays and make sure to party like it's 2010!

1 comment:

samantha said...

I enjoyed how you covered almost all aspects of party planning. If people follow this advice, they are sure to throw a memorable bash. Although you discuss how to keep party-goers entertained, you do not comment on how to use the attending guests to liven the party with the use of interactive tools. Things like photo booths, dancing, and craft activities are great ideas, but with all of these a person can still remain in his own comfort zone by only interacting with the people at the event they already know.