In 2010, we hosted about 100 people in our large executive board room at our biggest holiday bash ever. We did a catered reception, with an open bar. We had live entertainment. We actually provided a complementary CD that culled all our favorite holiday songs. Because we’re a marketing company, we come up with creative ideas like that all the time.
But now, we’re doing something different at our firm, which provides branding, strategic communications and conference planning services for government agencies and commercial companies. Time is a bigger issue for us this year. Because we’ve been concentrating so hard on getting some new contracts, we determined that a December gathering, like last year, wouldn’t work for us. We decided to move it to the first or second week in January, a time that is less frantic for us and our guests.
Our gathering last year was four hours — from 4 to 8 p.m. This year, we’re cutting it down to two hours — from 5 to 7 p.m. — and making it a happy hour. People are so busy these days and you’re competing for their time. With a happy hour, people can meet and greet and they can leave.
Last year, we had vendors, friends and family. But not this year. With the economy the way it is, we’re going to be more intentional about whom we invite. We have a goal for every person who is on the guest list. We’re only going to invite our clients and people we’re trying to build relationships with. We’re inviting prospective clients and other businesses we want to partner with on projects in the future.
We’ve picked up some big clients this year — the Department of Education and the Army National Guard — so we’re in a better position financially than we were in 2010. Still, instead of spending $10,000 on the party like we did last year, we’re capping our budget at $4,000. With the politics in the federal government nowadays, we feel more than ever that we have to be responsible as a small business.
Sixty percent of our business is with the government. What happens on the Hill impacts us. We’re on the verge of a new election year. There could be a change in administration and each administration has its priorities.
We’re transitioning to a different culture in business. Our clients are looking for discounts. Some of them have moved to shorter conference days. Before, they’d schedule a four-day conference, but now they’re going down to 2 ½ days. Before, they would provide three meals a day, but now they’re doing a continental breakfast and lunch. The lunch consists of sandwiches, soups and salad — nothing extravagant anymore. And they’re forgoing dinner, which is one of the most expensive items at a conference.
We’re also seeing clients reduce the amount of material they distribute at conferences. People are opting for more black-and-white handouts, instead of color. They’re also putting agendas online instead of printing them.
All of this has prompted us to rethink the holiday celebration. We began asking ourselves: Are we doing it as an appreciation for clients or employees? Maybe there are other things we could do throughout the year that might be more meaningful for them. For instance, we could throw a pizza or ice cream party for a client and his/her staff for our commercial, not government, clients.
Or we could provide staff with bonuses or invite them to a family picnic during the summer.
These ideas that could not only save money but could relieve some of the holiday pressure.
Towan Isom is founder and chief executive of Isom Global Strategies, a communications company based in Washington that is classified as a minority-owned firm qualified to seek federal set-aside contracts under the Small Business Administration’s 8 (a) program.