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Life of the Party

Whether it’s a product launch or a client appreciation shindig, promotional products should take center stage at a corporate party. Here’s how to use them to make your next event memorable.

Every year at the Oscars, one thing can be counted on: The luxury freebie bags celebrities get are as buzzworthy as the award winners. And there’s a good reason for that: As great as a party may be, it’s the goodie bags that really get noticed. So whether you’re planning a new product launch or a powwow for your best clients, don’t think for a minute that parting gifts don’t matter. “Giveaways are an effective way to keep the name and memory of your event top of mind long after the event is over,” says Gail Lowney Alofsin, director of corporate partnerships for Newport Harbor Corporation, a hospitality company based in Newport, RI. Read on for some creative ways that companies have used giveaways to boost the fun of their big bash.

Updating a Favorite Drink
Some alcoholic drinks have been around forever and remain popular with a certain audience (think Dad’s favorite Scotch). But even they must be reinvented from time to time to keep up with the market. Take, for example, the 260-year-old recipe for Drambuie, an elixir concocted in 1745 for Prince Charles Edward Stuart of Scotland. Drambuie, now owned by Bacardi, recently sought out New York public relations firm Maloney & Fox to create a campaign that would put the beverage on the radar of the young, hip, over-25 crowd.

“Drambuie needed to be re-launched because at the current moment it’s seen as an older man’s drink,” says Jenny Cardenes, associate brand manager.

Enter the “Drambuie Den,” an invite-only masculine lounge set up for six nights in New York City in October, with the purpose of introducing Drambuie to a new generation of drinkers: ambitious career men in their twenties and thirties who are trying to define themselves in the world.

The Den ran with the theme “Taste the Secret” and worked with the idea that Drambuie is a secret recipe. Held in an old speakeasy in New York’s West Village, the location of the event reinforced secretive style. “You had to know where it was to find it,” says Duval Hopkins, account director of Maloney & Fox. The Den ran on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings for two consecutive weeks, October 17 to October 26. An estimated 1,200 people visited over the six nights.

“It was designed to be an after-work drop-in,” Hopkins says. But many men enjoyed the atmosphere so much that they would stay for the entire night, he says. Hors d’oeuvres and cocktails were served and a spa staff from Butterfly Studio of New York provided complimentary hand massages, manicures, pedicures and hot towel treatments. But what really made the event, Hopkins says, was the gift bag attendees walked away with. After cashing in gambling chips that were handed out upon check-in, the men received bags filled with grooming products from Malin & Goetz, a one-week pass to Equinox gym, a leather jotter, a bottle of Drambuie, soda water, swizzle sticks, a lime and a set of coasters.

“We tried to spend wisely on quality as opposed to quantity,” says Hopkins. VIP gift bags included a 375 ML bottle of the liquor while regular gift bags had minis the size of airline bottles. The bottles obviously carried the Drambuie name, while the leather jotters had more subtle and classy branding with a Drambuie imprint. It was practical but high quality enough that recipients would want to show others their gift, Hopkins says. “Guys like to have something that’s useful and not a throwaway.”

The products in the gift bag certainly served that purpose. And the brand awareness continued long after the men left the Den because they had everything they needed to mix a Drambuie cocktail at home.

“It allowed the consumer to remember the experience that they had at the Den,” says Cardenes. “If we make an impression on our target consumer, then we’re going a long way, a place that Drambuie hasn’t been in a long time.”

Taxi Theme Revs up Big Apple Celebration
The first rule of thumb for creating buzzworthy goodie bags is to tie the theme of the party to the giveaway. That’s just what New York City AM radio station 1010 Wins did at its 40th anniversary party held in October.

The event celebrated both the city and the newsmakers over the past 40 years. 1010 WINS held the party in Gotham Hall, a grand Midtown building that once housed Greenwich Savings Bank. With more than 600 guests in attendance, the gala boasted big names like Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Regis and Joy Philbin, actor and comedian Mario Cantone, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Senator Charles Schumer.

” From the location selected to the food served to the invited guests and entertainment … it was a quintessential New York theme,” says Hilary Apple, executive assistant to the general manager at 1010 WINS.

Once the radio station decided on a “Best of New York” theme, it enlisted the help of Stephanie Jo Klein, president of Klein Creative Communications in New York. Klein’s creativity took over, with the help of Allison Boman, owner of Ali B. Creations in Toronto, Ontario. Together, Klein and Boman put together a gift bag that represented the diverse New York landscape. The bags were yellow and stuffed with black and white checkered tissue that evoked the image of classic New York cabs. Inside the bags were Bergino souvenir baseballs printed with a map of Manhattan, bags of chocolate-covered popcorn from the Hampton Popcorn Factory and giant chocolate-covered apples. “A part of New York is getting out of the city to the Hamptons,” says Klein, “and what’s more New York than ?The Big Apple’?” All these items represent New York in a classy, subtle way, without being tchotchke-like, Boman says.

The gift bags were great for both men and women, and Boman and Klein both say they received immensely positive feedback immediately when guests got their bags. “For a party like that, the gift bag really is part of the excitement,” says Boman. “The guests walk away with the theme in their hands.”

Mixing Beauty & Baileys
Some might argue that beauty and drinks don’t go together. The marketers from Baileys, the number-one-selling liqueur in the world, would beg to differ. The Baileys Beauty Shop program debuted on October 27 at Divinity Salon and Day Spa in Philadelphia. The program, which is scheduled to appear soon in other big cities like New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta, was developed to raise awareness of Baileys among African-American females over the age of 25, says Louise McKerrow, Baileys brand manager in the U.S. And in this instance, the program reached African-American females where they feel comfortable and connected – their salon. Baileys worked with Divinity’s owner, Sandra Mitchell, to revamp the salon’s interior design with high-tech elements like video monitors and salon basics like new mirrors and workstations.

To share the beauty, Baileys hosted private, by-invitation-only after-work events from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Thursdays from October 27 through November 10. Approximately 150 customers visited the salon each of those nights, says McKerrow. Salon guests enjoyed complimentary haircuts, manicures and massages, along with live entertainment and Baileys cocktails. They were actually lined up outside the salon doors waiting for their royal treatment.

“There was such a great vibe,” says McKerrow, “That’s a great moment where the girls are hanging out and talking together.”

The royal treatment continued even after the guests went home because customers took gift bags along with them. The bags included an issue of Essence magazine, Bailey-scented moisturizer, a votive and candle, a recipe card for Baileys cocktails, a pair of Baileys logoed flip flops, a coupon for $2 off a bottle of Baileys and, of course, a miniature bottle of the liqueur.

“We wanted items that felt like Baileys things,” says McKerrow, “that felt like things they could enjoy but still had the salon theme.”

And besides the great gift bags, women who frequent the salon will continue to experience Baileys Beauty Shop moments since their salon was redone in Baileys colors, says McKerrow. Again, the key to the event was the fact that it was held in a place that already had a connection with Baileys’ target audience, McKerrow adds. “We took a really important connection moment for this consumer and put Bailey’s in that moment,” she says.

Partying Goes Hi-Tech
Moxie Interactive, a digital marketing agency located in Atlanta, GA, was scheduled to hold a grand opening event last month at its new headquarters in Atlanta’s Northyards, a former Roarin’ Twenties railway depot. The area is trendy and contemporary, a place where you might find a nightclub. “The idea for the theme of the event was really like an opening night at the Moxie (as a night club),” says Shelly Bertsch, chief marketing officer.

As with any big bash, several big names were involved. Bertsch says that the open house was meant to double as a networking event, a way for people to get together and discuss the industry. Approximately 250 people were expected to attend, among them Moxie’s clients, prospects, industry partners like AOL and, and the board of the Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association.

Along with partners like AOL and, Moxie works in many different areas and offers many options in digital marketing. That’s where the company’s “What’s your poison?” theme originated for the event. As a digital marketing agency, Moxie provides clients services for online advertising campaigns, e-mail marketing, Web site design and development, CD-ROMs, kiosks, digital signage and search engine marketing – “any type of communication that allows you to reach a customer or prospective customer in a digital or interactive manner,” says Bertsch.

But Moxie’s party scene strayed way beyond the techno-nerdy gathering one might expect from the industry. The new location at the old railway station has large open windows and garage-style doors to let in lots of natural light. And Moxie’s corporate colors, orange and green, created a warm, rich and lively feel. Even more lively, however, were the brightly colored orange and green Poison Dart Frogs that were planned as part of the party’s d├ęcor. And lounging around were Moxie’s signature canines, who have spent time in the office ever since CEO Kris Zagoria founded the company in 2000.

“It’s those personal things that really bring a fun factor around the event,” says Bertsch. “It feels very tech-oriented, but there’s still a fun factor around it.”

The fun was planned at several different levels, since there were many different party rooms. One room even was scheduled to have a DJ so guests truly felt as if they were at a lounge or nightclub.

Also, AOL and each had planned separate rooms completely devoted to the respective companies while the party was going on. The theme for those rooms matched the promotional items the companies had on tap for attendees. For instance, the branded room went with a wine theme and executives gave out silver corkscrews with a brushed nickel finish and an etched “A” logo from promotional products supplier, asi/66887. The corkscrews came in sleek black boxes along with the Wine Spectator’s pocket guide to wine and a trial subscription offer to Wine Spectator magazine.

“We’ve given this to clients before and it’s gone over very well,” says Kathleen Morris, manager of corporate events. “It ties in with the whole theme of a nightclub, opening night at the Moxie.” The gift was fairly high-end, and something that people would be able to take home and use repeatedly.

AOL Media Networks hosted a martini-themed room at the event where visitors to the room received mini-martini shakers with the AOL logo. The giveaway worked because it was trendy, high-end and useful – three traits that help to ensure a successful giveaway.

Hot Tip – No Disposables
When trying to decide what sort of giveaway to use at a party or event, the first requirement of the item is a no-brainer: You want something that won’t be thrown away.

“I’m a big believer in items that a person will use,” says Gail Lowney Alofsin, director of corporate partnerships for Newport Harbor Corporation. Even on a small budget, purse mirrors and picture frames or small photo albums are great (best delivered with pictures of the event inside). For larger budgets, think about a custom tie and scarf, creative totebag, cooler or a jacket with a tasteful logo (small and discreet) and the client’s initials on the sleeve.

If the party will include children, look for apparel, such as a T-shirt (perhaps one they can decorate themselves with the event theme in mind) or toy commemorating the event. The more fun the item is, the less likely the child will leave it behind.

Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2007

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