How to throw a corporate party that crushes
"45 years in Reno, best party I've experienced. Best food at a party. Best music at a party. Best friends at a party."
How do you throw a corporate event that people talk about for weeks after? An event that people linger at until the lights come up and the bar shuts down? After throwing a 30th-anniversary party for ourselves this year, we now have a pretty good primer on doing just that. Kickass events don't just happen, they require lots of thoughtful planning and a clear vision.
Why host a corporate event?
The first step is to decide on your “why.” Why are you having this event? Why are you putting your effort, money and energy into it? This is dependent on the company itself and the goals you want to achieve with your event, and there are so many things a successful event can accomplish, including: fundraising, celebrating a milestone, networking, employee recognition or launching a new product.
If your team is considering throwing a large corporate event, agreeing on why you’re having the event and coming back to that goal every time you're trying to make a decision is important. When you have competing priorities, you end up flailing with decision-making and it leads to a really disjointed event. So figure out your goal and make choices that align with it.
In our case, we wanted to celebrate our 30th year in business and highlight our agency’s evolution over the years. So every decision for this party was made according to those goals.
What are the steps to planning a successful event?
So you figured out your “why,” now what?
- Determine your budget
Save yourself a lot of headaches down the road by determining your budget early. If your idea of a good party is conflicting with your budget, you're going to have issues the whole time.
- Pick your venue and guest list
When it comes to this step, there are some different schools of thought in event logistics and planning. Ultimately, determining your guest list and your location are going to happen at the same time because they impact each other. Imagine planning a wedding and getting excited about celebrating with all your friends and family, only to find out that your dream venue can’t accommodate everyone. Picking your venue and guest list have to be done in tandem.
When determining your guest list, start with your non-negotiable guests to help determine the minimum capacity you need from your venue. Also, give your guests lots of time to consider the invitation and invite more than you think will come. One thing I learned through this experience is that people are not as keen to go to a corporate party as I thought. Even with free food and an open bar, we had to really sell the idea to some guests.
Some other things to consider when picking your venue are weather, flexibility of the space, parking and accessibility. For our Anniversary party, we chose the Nevada Museum of Art because they could accommodate a large group and had flexible indoor/outdoor space (knowing how unpredictable Reno weather can be, this was a huge plus). Another deciding factor was the package deal the museum offered with linens, tables, chairs and food all included – which takes us to step 3.
- Pick your vendors
When picking your venue, something to consider is what’s actually included. Are you just paying for the space, or are you getting any amenities? If so, which ones are included with your venue, and how does this affect your budget? (Good thing you determined your budget early because that will definitely help inform this step of the planning process).
It can get really tricky to manage multiple vendors – including your caterer, entertainment, florist, and photographer – while navigating the rental of your linens, tables and chairs. Choosing a venue that’s all-inclusive can mean choosing ease over frugality. You may or may not have the budget for that, so if you’re trying to save some pennies (or allocate them elsewhere), you might want to hire individual vendors and rent your linens and tables separately.
The Nevada Museum of Art offered all of the above, plus an in-house caterer, so we didn’t have to manage an excess of vendors. This gave us the flexibility to more easily coordinate our external vendors including our balloon artists, photographer, photo booth and the band.
- Do everything else
Now that you have your big stuff done, you can get to the fun part: details!
To tackle the details, think about the flow and vibe you want. What type of experience do you want people to have and how can you curate that? What do you want your guests to take away from the experience? What do you want them to remember and talk about? Your guests aren’t going to notice the things you didn’t do, but they will notice the little things you did do. So the things you can control – food, music, decorations – control them well. It helps to work with a team when it comes to decision-making, but you have to find that delicate balance between too many cooks in the kitchen and having enough input that you’re not functioning in a silo.
That being said, taste is subjective and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by so many good ideas (especially with Pinterest at your fingertips). Consider each detail one at a time and ask, “Does this align with the look and feel we want? Is this consistent with other materials we’ve put out?” All the details should work together to create a cohesive experience that aligns with your “why.” For example, if you’re deciding on music, a band is going to bring a different vibe than a DJ, and both are going to create a different experience than having no live music at all. That doesn’t necessarily mean that one is superior to another – they’re just different.
How long does it take to plan a successful event?
There’s a sweet spot between having too much time and not having enough time to plan. For most large corporate events, I would say that sweet spot happens between 8–10 months. For our anniversary party, we started initial research about a year in advance so we were able to hit the ground running in January for an August event.
If you have the time to start planning early, do it. Making those big “these people need to put us on their calendar“ decisions early on is going to help you later. This includes determining your budget, and venue, identifying and booking your vendors, creating your guest list and sending out invitations. Making those decisions early gives you more opportunities to book the best vendors, plus the capacity to pivot if one of your vendors falls through.
Another thing that helped us coordinate our party was a “day-of” timeline, which we created a month before the event. That gave us a sense of what the layout would be and who would be responsible for setting up each component. This can help streamline the actual set-up of your event and ensure you’ve checked all the boxes – or at least give you enough time to fix whichever ones you might have missed.
No matter your timeline, it’s really important to stay organized. During our party planning, I kept a detailed spreadsheet of all the things that needed to get done and when they needed to get done, which made it easy to add other ideas when they came up and incorporate them into the timeline. If you don’t want to kick it old school with a spreadsheet, you can keep a dedicated event notebook (or find another way that works for you). At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what method or tool you use, as long as it helps you stay organized and on time.
We can plan your corporate event.
There’s a ton that goes into throwing a successful corporate event, but the payoff is great when you’re able to hone in on your goal and curate an experience that achieves that goal. That being said, if you’re considering throwing a corporate event and are a bit overwhelmed at the prospect, consider getting help (psst, that's us). We can help plan and promote your event so you can actually enjoy it.