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Holiday Parties Thrive—For Now

November 29, 2006

By Vincent Alonzo

By now most of us have emerged from the tryptophan haze that comes from eating too much turkey at Thanksgiving--just in time to gear up for the corporate holiday party circuit that will start in about a week. A recently released survey of human resource executives reveals that 79 percent of companies will be planning holiday parties this year. That is virtually unchanged from a year ago when 80 percent of companies were planning parties, according to the annual holiday party survey recently released by Challenger, Grey & Christmas, Inc., a Chicago-based outplacement consultancy.

What has changed is the percentage of companies willing to spend more to celebrate the holidays. Nearly one in three companies (32 percent) plan to boost party budgets this year, up from 23 percent in 2005. The average increase in this year’s budget is 16 percent. Only six percent of firms are cutting the party budget.

It’s not surprising that companies are willing to spend this year. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), before-tax corporate profits are expected to increase 30 percent this year. In the third quarter alone, the average annual profit growth among companies in the S&P 500 is expected to come in at 14 percent.

However, could this year’s holiday parties be the last hurrah? The CBO is forecasting that corporate profits will begin a trend of slower growth after this year. According to the CBO, corporate profits will fall from 13 percent of gross domestic product in 2006 to about nine percent in 2016. But perhaps that slower growth rate won’t affect holiday parties in the future. After all, these events are not just about celebrating good fortune. They are also a way for companies to show employees how much their hard work is appreciated.

So there is a chance that parties could grow even more elaborate--if organizations recognize the value of the opportunity a holiday party presents for senior executives to socialize with the rank and file employees. And you, the meeting/event planner, are just the person to champion to management the benefits of mingling and having informal interaction via fun events such as holiday parties.

Use Meeting Demographics to Your Advantage

November 27, 2006

By Vincent Alonzo

Though I pride myself on being a cynical journalist, I must admit I’m a bit of a sucker for those fairy-tale news stories about working stiffs winning the lottery. That’s why I still remember a Powerball drawing from about a year ago where a group of co-workers won about $300 million.

But the angle I remember most from the story was how the media made such a big deal about how these winners exemplified America's shifting demographics. Although the winners came from the heart of the country--Lincoln, Nebraska--the winners hailed from a variety of countries and ethnicities.

It’s easy to identify today’s increasingly influential ethnic population groups: Hispanics and Asians. And it would also be fairly easy to identify the food & beverage choices that would make a meeting a more fulfilling experience for these groups.

But in reality, when it comes to demographics, we’re too hung up on ethnicity, race, and especially age. You can barely pick up a magazine or watch a news program without seeing some think piece on how Gen Xers are different from Boomers, who are different from Gen Yers, who have nothing to do with Tweeners, etc...

But throughout the country, there is another group whose growing numbers bring a host of new realities to planning meetings but who, for the most part, are ignored by meeting planners—and marketers and the media too, for that matter.

Today, there are about 100 million adult Americans who are single. To make that enormous number even more important, these Americans head up nearly 53 million households, or nearly half of all American homes. In comparison, Hispanics—whose growing numbers are widely documented—make up a population one-third as large.

So considering the needs of this invisible segment can have an enormous impact on the success of your meeting. 

Here are some numbers: More than half of all singles are women. Nearly two-thirds of singles have never been married. Nearly one-quarter of singles are divorced and 14 percent are widowed. Nearly 30 million Americans live alone. These single person households account for slightly more than one-quarter of all households. Some 12 million Americans are single parents; more than 80 percent of them are women.

The numbers are large, which means the challenges and opportunities are equally significant. Just off the top of my head, here are some of the opportunities: Those single parents would probably be very interested in on-site children programs and pre- and post packages to turn the meeting into a quality-time vacation with their children. Also, many of those who live alone might respond to pillow gifts such as one-cup coffee makers, or items that help them pursue hobbies or leisure activities. And all of them would appreciate more networking activities that have a social component, such as dine-arounds.

Unlike ethnic groups, these shoppers won't come with special accents, languages, or customs. But the opportunities are just as real with this group, for those planners who choose to grab them.

Satisfying Your Golfers, and Teaching Your Non-Golfers, at Meetings

November 21, 2006

By Robert Carey

Yesterday we talked about using "putt-putt" events to get everyone involved in teambuilding through golf during a meeting. But meeting planners can also use the practice range for special events--and use it in a way that entertains veteran golfers while teaching the nongolfers in your group who want to try the game but feel a bit intimidated to be around experienced people.

The practice range is where golfers bring all of their clubs and practice their full swings by hitting balls out into a field where there are several flags at different distances that act as targets. It's also a place where golf teachers stand alongside golfers, watch their swings, and give advice. So here's a perfect way to make everyone in your group happy:

Set up cocktail and hors d'oeuvre stations at opposite ends of the range. One one side, have a few golf teachers on hand to give beginner and intermediate lessons to those who want them. At the other end, have your experienced golfers hitting at a variety of targets out on the range, with those who hit a target receiving a prize. By splitting the activities, the beginners don't feel intimidated, and the veterans don't get bored. Some ranges are even lit up for night use, so a buffet-dinner setup accompanied by round tables can often be accommodated on the practice range as well.

Finally, if you want to use golf in a way that brings everyone together and still has no pressure attached to it, try night golf. The first and last holes of a golf course are generally right next to the clubhouse, so have the pro shop set up strings of lights in the trees along the fairways of those two holes, and get glow-in-the-dark balls, and have bartenders on the tee and at the green of those two holes. You can send people out in groups of 8 rather than the traditional 4 per group, and nobody worries about how badly they swing a club because it's more silly fun than real competition--and it's only for two holes. Each person spends about 40 minutes on the course, and before and after their time on the course, attendees can watch their colleagues swinging at the glow-in-the-dark balls. It gets lots of laughs, and it just might pique the interest of your nongolfers to take up the game.

Golf is for Everyone--Even People who Don't Play

November 20, 2006

By Robert Carey

As golf is one of my favorite pastimes, it is easy for me to get jazzed about showing meeting planners how it can be used at corporate and association meetings for purposes of teambuilding or simply relaxation.

But I can hear some planners now, saying: "Look, golf is a sport that is time-consuming, labor intensive (you have to practice A LOT to get good), expensive, and basically a 'good ol' boys' sport where women are not made to feel comfortable.

Well, some of those sentiments were never true, and some of them used to be true. But if you still think that way about golf, then you're looking at it far too narrowly. In short: Outside of organized, high-level competition, golf is a game rather than a sport. This is evidenced by the fact that so many resorts emphasize golf as an activity for everyone, and have devised more than a few ways to incorporate golf into meetings such that guests who have never before picked up a golf club can enjoy it.

For instance, who can't play miniature (or "putt-putt") golf? Nobody. So why not use it as the central activity around which a meeting's evening reception takes place? Almost every resort has a practice putting green, and most of them are located within steps of the guest rooms and meeting space at the resort. As a result, the resort's golf shop can easily set up the practice green for a simple and fun group event.

Here's how: Staffers can place obstacles on the practice green to frame paths that players must navigate to get to each hole--an instant miniature golf course. And this game is so low-impact that players can have a drink or an appetizer in their hand as they are playing. And for the hard-core golfers in your crowd, the ability to compete with one another for a few bucks in a side bet makes the event that much more enjoyable. Either way, your entire group is doing something that's pressure-free, and probably laughing their way around the circuit of holes, and doing exactly what you intended--bonding through a common experience that does not feel like work.

Tomorrow, I'll give another example of how to use golf at meetings--and this one involves actually swinging a real club instead of just pushing the ball with a putter. But it, too, can involve every meeting attendee--even those who have never played before.

Which gifts are hot amongst corporate groups these days, in a few different price ranges

November 14, 2006

By Simone Esposito

Now a days people are bored to death of receiving the usual pens, paper weights and silver plated picture frames. Either for small give aways or for the top high end gifts, we want "something different….something new"!

This is what my clients tell me as soon as we meet up. Story of my life! That is why it seems everybody is kind of surprised (in a nice way, of course!) that a luxury company such as Loro Piana has started a Corporate Gifting Division.

I personally believe there is a gap to fill. Very few luxury companies in fact operates also in this niche market. So, question is: how do we diversify and how do we create something "hot" and "new"?

First step is to follow the philosophy of the brand without going too far from it. Respecting the roots and the image of the company. Clients will appreciate that. Especially if they are already clients of that particular brand.

I believe that a range of items entirely dedicated to traveling is definitely a great starting point. Everybody likes traveling, especially business men who spend most of their time in airports or private jets.

So why not creating a range of items and make their business trips more pleasant?!

I am talking leather travel sets, cashmere blankets, travel pillows, fun and tasteful key-rings in leather.

Point is….let's make it really exclusive by using the best materials (cashmere, anti-scratch leather, suede…) and by customizing everything in a fun but discreet way (see my previous article).

Sometime then the "same old" key-ring, for example, can be re-vitalized by using new materials, innovative design or by making it original (i.e. reproducing the logo of the company in leather and using the corporate colors of the company).

But in the end I believe there is nothing better than a gift that you can really use.

It can be something small such as a leather address book or a journal. It can be a beautiful wind-braker jacket for the sport events (golf retreats rule!). It can be a wonderful and soft cashmere blanket to wrap yourself in a cold night in front of the fire. Or something really innovative like a luxurious Travel Game (chess and backgammon)….everybody would love that!

How to logo items tastefully so that people actually keep and use the gifts

November 13, 2006

By Simone Esposito

Our first corporate client placed a large order of one of the best sport jackets we have in our collection. "Great choice!", we immediately said. There was a big BUT…."How are we going to personalize it?!?". The jacket was meant for a sport event organized by this big Financial Institution and in particular for their top Directors and Managers. I remember that this issue has been object of detailed discussions and an incredible amount of emails between us and the client. Personalizing the items is the basis in order to meet our client's taste.

There are so many details involved in this process, such as corporate colors, size of the logo, positioning… It all can be done by using different techniques such as distinctive signature labels or flawless embroidery (in this last case I always suggest the ton sur ton option, by using the same color of the garment. The final result would be absolutely tasteful, "custom made" but not too intrusive). Alternatively each item can be tagged with a special label indicating important dates, names, places or initials.

Creating hanging booklets to commemorate an occasion or describe the special features of the product is also another interesting but most of all tasteful way to personalize the gifts. I believe it is extremely important to offer a variety of possibilities but do not forget that same rules cannot be applied to different typologies of items. It all depends by the nature of the gift itself. Our first client opted then for a big logo embroided on the left chest of the jacket. It was a big success BUT…after the event everybody tried to find a way to cover the embroidery in order to wear that beautiful jacket.

The same client is now asking exclusively for personalized labels and hanging booklets.

How to Match Gifts to the Personality of the Group

November 11, 2006

By Simone Esposito

Every client, every corporation, every single division (in the same company) has a different story, a different point of view and different needs for their corporate gifts. It is very interesting  to notice that  within the same company, there are  various, and  sometime conflicting,  ideas about what corporate gifts should be given to which clients each  time.

Finding the  appropriate  corporate gift has become a complicated task for event planners. One needs to move away from the common gifts, such as pens, paper-weights, desk set s, company-embossed golf accessories, etc. It has become important to present clients with gifts that show imagination, and appreciation of their business. Clients want to be excited and stimulated by not only an original idea, but also an  unusual ,   and well-thought of idea.

It is extremely important to create a synergy with the supplier and to have a  creative point of view. Finding the " perfectly matching gift " is the result of  t eam work  between the  client  and the supplier. Occasionally,  suppliers do not include in their offer " that particular item " the client is looking for " that particular event ".

Let's create it! Together!

Another cardinal point around which everything  revolves is  timing. Planning in advance  is crucial to finding the perfect gift ,  rather than trying to  source  something  at  the last minute.  Providing the supplier with  a  briefing in terms of  a  calendar of corporate events during the year,  the  occasion for each event, a budget,  and number of participants are also important.  These are all elements that will allow the supplier to match gifts to the personality of the group .

When Training Your Team, Choose a Style

November 10, 2006

By Brian Kathenes

What’s the difference between a facilitator and trainer? A simple question, but one with strong ramifications for the attendees involved in a meeting session.

The facilitator will ask you a question, while the trainer will tell you the answer. The facilitator uses a Socratic approach to learning, while the trainer typically disseminates information. To be sure, both are very effective, and each has its place in a learning organization.

Facilitation can take a longer time to get to an answer, since it involves the collective response of a group. On the other hand, a trainer might well choose to state the answer and then explain the reasoning behind it. So when it's time to decide how you want your people to interact and learn via training and teambuilding sessions--do attendees have the answers within them, or does an outside expert have the answers for them?--the choice between trainer and facilitator is what you need to consider.

Tips for Team Success

November 09, 2006

By Brian Kathenes

Here’s the “Reader’s Digest” version of 11 critical elements of developing a high-performance work team in your organization.    Drop me a comment on this blog and we’ll expand on each element.   Best, Brian Kathenes

• Define the objective   
• Agree on the objective
• Generate a plan   
• Establish a system for meeting objectives and priorities
• Assign and agree on roles and responsibilities
• Determine how you can support the team and the project
• Consider the Big Picture   
• Create a time table and monitor your progress
• Expect the best --- prepare for the worst
• Deliver on time with high quality and outstanding service
• Hold a post-project meeting to discuss what went right and what can be improved next time.  Focus on systems, team work, and the process -- then move to logistics and specific elements of the project. 

True Teams Must Be Built the Right Way

November 08, 2006

By Brian Kathenes

You can't pick up a business magazine today without reading an article about team building. But most of these articles oversimplify the team approach and the effort required to build successful business teams. So keep the following in mind:

Manage Expectations: A team concept generally takes about two years to implement and have it stick. Changing the corporate culture does not happen overnight. You and those you report to must be willing to look long-range. There are no "quick fix" teambuilding programs that will produce instant, documented results.

Develop a Complete Plan: There's no point in tacking up the first "Go Team" poster on the bulletin board until you have a complete plan. Changing the course of your teambuilding ship is very difficult and potentally expensive--so make sure you truly know where you want to go before you leave the dock.

Insist on integrity and mutual respect in all your meetings and interactions: One critical key to successful teams is developing trust and respect in the workplace. As the "coach," you must set the example. Write less CYA (cover your tail) memos. Make more commitments verbally, and make sure you keep them. Empower your subordinates to make more decisions.

Share Your Vision: Let the team know where you want the organization to be five years from now. Let them be a part of the change. Most importantly, let them take an active role in the process. You will find that most of the answers to your problems and questions are in the heads of your employees. All you need to do is ask--and listen. That is one of the cornerstones when building a team.

By actively setting the example, you accomplish two things. 1) You let the rest of the crew know what the new "appropriate" behavior is. 2) You begin the process of change subtly, but solidly.

All successful teambuilding programs start with senior management commitment. Your staff will look to you from the outset to see if this "new concept" is a passing fad or the new way of doing business. Let them see from you the power of the team, so they can decide to commit themselves.

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