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EVENT REPORT

Holiday Party Update: Party On

December 11, 2002, 12:00 AM EST

It's corporate holiday party time, and event planners are performing a tough balancing act: giving employees a rewarding and motivating party while not looking excessive in light of layoffs and budget concerns. That challenge forced some companies to avoid the situation completely, like media giant AOL, which cancelled its company-wide holiday party along with parties at its Time Inc. magazine division. But not everyone backed out on their parties. Although many waited until the last minute to plan their events, New York companies are going forward with holiday events in a variety of forms.

Putting on a Show

Some larger companies are still offering big draws. Revlon had a private screening of the latest James Bond film, Die Another Day, and dinner at House of Blues for employees. Citibank is taking employees and their families to see The Nutcracker at the New York State Theater, with a buffet dinner afterwards and hands-on entertainment for employees' kids: a decorate-your-own cookie station set up by Thomas Preti Caterers. Thieme Medical Publishers is also taking employees to the theater to see Oklahoma.

The New Jersey-based Swatch Group US is converting Loft Eleven into a custom-decorated space for employees. “Instead of going to a larger restaurant or event space, we're taking a cool loft space and filling it with decor, food and gifts all coordinated in-house. It's a funky way to have a cool party in the city,” says Cyndie Burkhardt, Swatch's senior PR manager.

Armani Exchange's party at Suede is incorporating memorable elements, including invitations that came with suede cuff bracelets. Although the party is smaller than years past, the event will include fun elements such as A/X-branded M&M's and a graffiti artist customizing T-shirts.

Charity-Minded

Another popular option for this year's parties are charity-driven events. Sean John Boys—part of Sean P. Diddy Combs' clothing line—is having a celeb-filled charity skating party again this year at Rockefeller Center with a performance by the Boys Choir of Harlem and a donation going to Toys for Tots.

Bloomberg LP set up a tent across from the Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center to host parties for charities the company supports, including Partnership for the Homeless, in lieu of a corporate bash. And Disney Publishing Worldwide, which publishes ESPN the Magazine and Discover, will have a volunteer program for employees followed by a roller skating social.

Cost Cutters

Some firms are keeping costs down by staying in-house. Victoria's Secret is having Olivier Cheng Catering and Events cater a party in its Midtown headquarters, and Lincoln Center is toasting its staff in the center's Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, with catering by The Catering Company.

“To cut costs, some holiday parties have scaled back on entertainment, but not on seasonal decor,” says Richard Blau, president of Chez-zam Entertainment. The company was enlisted by Morgan Stanley and Penguin Putnam to create winter wonderland themes, which are conveniently coinciding with the city's snowfall. “There's a lot of white on white on white—white fabric, white feathers—and a lot of ice sculptures,” says Blau.

Scaling Back

Some in the publishing world are following the low-key precedent set last year. Simon & Schuster is dining at the Supper Club. M. Shanken, the publisher of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator, which has thrown big bashes at the Marriott Marquis in years past, is having lunch at Blue Smoke. New York magazine is gathering at its editor-in-chief Caroline Miller's house again this year. Nature Publishing Group, which publishes Nature magazine, is dining at Water's Edge, and the CPA Journal is going to Charley O's.

A few publishers are using swanky venues to add some polish to their events: Harris Publications, the parent of magazines Slam, XXL, Revolver and Guitar World, is at Eugene for a four-hour dinner with an open bar and DJ, and Vogue went to Jean-Georges Vongerichten's new restaurant, 66.

Some are opting out of giving a company-wide party and letting divisions coordinate their own. Family Circle's editorial staff is having lunch at the Metropolitan Cafe, while parent publisher Gruner & Jahr won't have a party. Miller Sports Group, the publisher of Tennis magazine, also has no plans for a corporate party, but some divisions are gathering for dinner and drinks.

Some companies are eschewing boozy bashes for events that focus on teambuilding. “We are not really having a corporate holiday party, it's more of a corporate meeting,” says Elisa Shevitz, American Express Publishing's vice president of corporate communications. Its 350 employees will get a morning of presentations and morale-boosting sessions followed by a casual lunch near its Midtown headquarters.

Still Creative—Or Wacky

Financial and real-estate firms are going against the norm with some off-the-wall venues and entertainment. Real estate firm SL Green will have dinner and karaoke at Pietros, while iStar Financial is going to Gotham Comedy Club, where drag queens from Screaming Queens will perform. Bear Stearns Asset Management is going to Tequillaville.

Lehman Brothers is offering family-friendly entertainment in the form of Asian ornament cutters. Chez-zam booked the entertainers who snip custom-printed paper with Lehman's colors and logos into ornaments.

Jill Musguire

Posted 12.11.02

Read our report on last year's holiday bashes...

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