Play as You Earn: Is Your Diary over Christmas Packed with Lacklustre Corporate Schmooze-Fests and Uninspiring Client Lunches? If So, Louisa Roberts Finds out What Your Company Could Be Doing to Give Key Customers an Unforgettable Experience
Roberts, Louisa, Financial Management (UK)
I blame New Zealand. Its breathtaking scenery seems to instil its inhabitants with a mysterious need for near-death experiences (or life-enhancing adrenaline rushes, as they are sometimes called). It doesn't take much to make them go bungee-jumping, and they're no longer alone. Executives around the world are queuing up to join the "fun" How else do you explain the apparent inability of modern salespeople, marketers and accountants to close a deal unless they are being parachuted out of an aeroplane? Even my dad has flown a Tiger Moth in work time--and he's a civil servant.
The "'no fear" culture is clearly catching. As a result, corporate hospitality, which encompasses anything from team-building away-days to balloon-rides over Moscow, is a thriving industry. Hundreds of firms are willing to help you find something to out-shine your rivals at competitive prices. A recent study from College discovered that "turgid business meetings" cost UK businesses 8 billion [pounds sterling] a year. It's no wonder that firms wishing to make an impact with key clients are looking out for something a bit more imaginative.
"The packages available on the web through providers such as Virgin mean that we can all take part in all sorts of activities. This means that, with more experience and more money, our clients now expect more bang for their buck," says Bevan Thompson, a director at UK Travel Solutions. "'They expect us to move heaven and earth for them and the phrase 'we want something different' is usually the first thing they say to us these days."
Can you blame them? After all, the thought of entertaining clients over a glass of warm champagne at Ascot for the fifth year in a row isn't that inspiring. Jenny Crandley, managing director of Time, is averse to anything ordinary when it comes to arranging events for her clients, which include Microsoft and Credit Suisse. Crandley, who has a passion for "extravaganza and theatre", organises the Royal Windsor Show and annual charity polo matches with the Prince of Wales. Last year she tried to find elephants for themed Indian parties, but the animals were already booked. Her reason for laying on such lavish hospitality is that anything less is wasted money, because a guest should always remember who took them to an event. A bonus of using a specialist events firm, she adds, is that it can handle the imitations, so avoiding any social embarrassment. It can also advise on the legal and tax implications of hosting major events.
"If my client is spending lots of money on an event and he specifically invites a finance director to sit next to him to discuss a certain deal, he isn't going to be pleased when the FD's PA turns up instead. We make it clear when inviting people that they cannot pass the invitation on to a colleague, and we don't run the risk of offending," Crandley explains.
Providers are pulling out all the stops in their bid to offer unmissable treats. When The Ultimate Experience created a 48-team City football tournament for a global brokerage firm, it erected two 20m by 60m clear-span structures on either side of a marquee to provide four five-a-side pitches, as well as space for food and drinks, on the grounds of the Royal Artillery Company. The subsequent party featured dancing girls and circus acts.
According to the National Corporate Hospitality Survey, the average business expenditure on entertainment per head in the UK last year was 490 [pounds sterling]. While chief executives influence the spending decision in 29 per cent of cases, finance directors control the hospitality budget 19 per cent of the time--and this figure has risen from 11 per cent in 2000. It clearly pays to know your options and to have a clear idea of the value that an impressive bash could bring to the company's bottom line.
So what can you expect to gain from spending big money on hospitality? According to Paul Macildowie, chief executive of financial recruitment firm Macildowie Associates, it's mainly to do with personal contact. …