By Alice Devince Wilson, CPM., RPA
Journal of Property Manegement Jan/Feb 2003, pp. 54-66)
An overabundance of office space on the market has resulted in commercial owners upping the ante to get their buildings leased. To score a tenant, owners are showering brokers with big incentives, everything from shiny new convertibles to flight time in private jets to Hawaii vacations.
Early last year, the owners of Chelsea Market in New York City offered a new Lexus convertible to the broker who found a new tenant for the building's 4 percent remaining space by mid-June.
Cushman & Wakefield routinely offers door prizes to brokers, who also receive between $10 and $50 just for showing up at an open house.
The Shidler Group offered the use of its Lear jet to any office broker who leased the top two floors of its 1301 Fannin building in downtown Houston. The broker who leased the space received use of the jet for six people for a flight to any location within four hours of Houston. In addition, the broker received $2,000 spending money and three free hotel rooms for two nights.
Given the current economic environment, property owners are very focused on retaining existing tenants and attracting new, financially strong tenants. As a result, they are focusing on creative ways to attract the interest of top brokers. Since Lear jets and flashy convertibles aren't in every owner's budget, many owners are hosting special events to attract brokers to their properties.
In order to create real results, broker events must be planned carefully. First and foremost, it is important to consider the event's purpose. Once you've crystallized a goal, you can design an event targeted to that end. Joanne Ireland of San Francisco-based Ireland Presentations, identified value as the key to a successful event. "The event must be of value both to the client, who spent the money for the event and value to the participant, who took the time to attend."
"Events today tend to be more subdued, smaller in scale and with a very specific target audience," Ireland said. "Many of the larger events have moved from more expensive cities such as Chicago, New York City and San Francisco to locations such as Anaheim, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Orlando, San Diego and Austin where convention facilities, lodging and other related costs are lower and more negotiable."
A well-targeted audience often means a smaller, but higher quality event. Ireland said. “An industry gathering is a great opportunity because all the key players converge. Quality of the audience, combined with presentations offering high information value, instead of just entertainment, contributes to well attended, productive and memorable events."
Size versus quality may mean serving an excellent cabernet and chardonnay versus stocking a full bar with mediocre wines. It's a customized invitation rather than a mass mailing.
Good event planners create a buzz with a stellar guest list. Hot restaurants, celebrity guests, interesting speakers, a museum opening, club-house tour of the new ballpark, an exclusive golf course; they all attract. There are inexpensive ways to create energy too. Try 60-inch or smaller round tables (versus rectangular) at a dinner to generate stimulating conversation. Make guests feel special with a host who greets them by name.
It's also important to consider your audience when selecting event times. A Friday evening without spouses/dates can prove disastrous as potential guests race to weekend plans. Similarly, Mondays are filled with meetings. Thursday lunch and dinner are often good choices. Guests are a little more relaxed as the week winds on, and the event doesn't interfere much with personal time. Restaurants and caterers are often less expensive and more flexible on weekdays.
Be merciless in creating guest lists. You should have a specific reason for each invitee. Know your "A" (most desired) party list and do everything possible to create an event that will elicit positive attendance.
David Eiland, president and co-owner of San Francisco's Just for Fun, said successful hosts make the invitation speak to the event. "Give it something unique and different so the invitation doesn't get placed in a 'to do' pile," Eiland said. One company hosted a cigar social by coiling an invitation around a cigar in a mailable plastic tube. Customized invitations are always addressed (not labeled), stamped (not metered) and properly stuffed (so that the invitation is face up when one opens the envelope). Pay extra attention to names: when Bill Smith receives an envelope addressed to W.R. Smithe, he assumes the sender doesn't know him well and is more likely to decline.
Eiland supports the disappearance of mass invitation mailings. Today, companies are more discerning, with targeted lists and limited funds. Eiland described a groundbreaking invitation for a party hosted by a developer that featured a child's paneled card with construction elements (hardhat, shovel) displayed around the border. The top of the invitation was held together with a nut and bolt rather than a ribbon.
Invitations should contain an RSVP telephone number and, preferably, an individual's name. Stating "Regrets Only" generates poor response. Make responding easy. The individual handling responses should know event details, have voice mail, and ask for attendees to leave their name and telephone number to follow up on any questions. E-mail addresses are acceptable for large events. It's acceptable to ask for responses by a particular date.
If you haven't received responses, call invitees to make sure they received an invitation.
For formal functions, turnout rates of 60-65 percent of invitees are excellent. For more casual events, expect a 35 percent to 50 percent positive response. You should anticipate no-shows (8-10 percent) and plan accordingly. For example, have an alternative seating plan to accommodate no-shows so other guests have dining companions.
Seek a balance between a varied menu and so many choices the restaurant is incapable of serving in a timely and professional manner. Ingredient selection will drive your food costs, so pick a special food and fill in with more basic accompaniments. One approach is to offer the same starters, salad course for all, dessert and two or three choices of entrée. For entrées, you'll want a meat dish and a meat alternative. Place a customized printed menu at each place setting. Many restaurants and caterers will print a menu on paper stock that coordinates with the invitation. If you print these one-page menus yourself, wait until the day of the event because chefs often change ingredients based on daily selection.
Budget-conscious entertainers can purchase wine separately and ask if the restaurant will provide corkage. Negotiate wine prices, since restaurants are quoting on a per bottle basis, and you are purchasing quantity. Keep the cocktail hour to sixty minutes for a well-paced event.
When you sign the food contract, verify adequate staffing. One effective party tool is to have a server greet guests with a tray of filled water and wine glasses. First impressions count, and it sure beats a long line at the bar.
Logistics threaten to cripple events. Consider parking, transportation, a sound system, the number of necessary bar and catering staff-weak links that might throw a damper on your event. Why spend huge restaurant dollars while guests circle the block when you can hire an inexpensive parking valet? If you plan a speech, pay attention to acoustics. Effective hosts consider menus and seating arrangements, allowing planning details to disappear and the event fun to shine. Know your guest list. Assign employees to host specific tables.
Always preview the entertainment. You should hear the stand-up comic or musician in advance. An offensive comic (one who heckles crowd members or tells inappropriate jokes) can bring your party to a screeching halt.
No matter how old, we never outgrow the party goodie bag. Sandra Carroll O'Neil, president of Orinda, CA-based Innovative Marketing, said the challenge is to match promotional products to the recipient. For busy commercial brokers, a travel mug may be more relevant than a desk clock. Carroll O'Neil said savvy hosts look to upcoming trends in the retail marketplace for fresh gifts. She said four weeks ordering lead-time is ideal; while products can be conceived and produced in less, time restraints can necessitate compromise.
Promotional gifts (with discreetly embossed company names and logos) are part of a well-designed marketing package. They continue to advertise your company and serve as a reminder of a successful event, long after the 18th tee. Gifts that look like awards-such as engraved picture frames-prove popular. Less costly, useful gifts include post-it notes and cubes, pens and a well-produced calendar (professional photos of high rises lend themselves well).
When the actual event starts, relax and focus on your guests. Have fun, but not too much fun-remember, you're the host. Be true to your invitation. If you invited guests to a ball game, don't try to close the deal during the second inning. The venerable Emily Post said, "Good manners are, after all, nothing but courteous consideration of other people's interests and feelings." Remember this, and your guests will enjoy themselves.