LOS ANGELES The invitation is your first chance to impress your guests—sometimes weeks ahead of the event date. If it sends the wrong message, you can kiss those “yes” R.S.V.P.s goodbye. Here are nine pitfalls to avoid.
1. Messy add-ons
Wouldn't it be clever to include a handful of white sand with a beach party invite? Maybe, but it's a mess—and infuriating, too. “Things that fall out of invitations, like glitter or sand, are a huge turnoff in terms of building that must-attend feeling,” says Marc Friedland, the invitation veteran who also creates the official Oscar winners' envelopes. “It gets in the carpet, it gets in the dog—it doesn't feel inviting. You wind up cursing the host. It's a deterrent instead of inviting.”
2. Cheesy fonts
Maybe you're not surprised: When we posted a question about invitation turnoffs on social media, we got a whole handful of responses that fingered comic sans as a major no-no. Cheesy design—whether in the form of goofy fonts or other invitation elements—signifies the host doesn't know much about what constitutes great style. And that doesn't bode well for the stylishness of the event to come.
3. A confusing hodgepodge of sponsors
If guests don't know immediately who's hosting the event and why, it's unlikely they'll be moved to attend. “Sometimes we see an overcrowding of sponsor logos all over an invite to a point where Its hard to tell who is hosting, who are the presenting sponsors, and who are contributing sponsors,” says Cara Kleinhaut of Caravents, who identifies the problem by the shorthand “sponsor soup.”
“An invite should always feature the main host in both look aesthetic and logo presence so it's clear to all guests whose event it is,” she says. “Then, there's a pretty established pecking order of presenting sponsors listed prominently and down the line from there. Most lifestyle events have sponsors that need to be acknowledged and the first communication to guests, the invite, is a fantastic way to give them this credit.” She says her team looks to create a design that clearly identifies the host and the event's own brand identity, “something we create especially for this event they will see again on all printed materials, signage, graphics to give the event a cohesive identity, and from there give them a clean, cohesive size and linear look, to make it less sponsor-soup-like. [We look for] the most elegant way to visually present all these different logos all on one single invite.”
4. Typos and errors
Mistakes in either spelling or important content (say, a date that doesn't match the day of the week) not only cause confusion, but also communicate a lack of precision that will make guests wonder whether the event is worth their time. “We are very sensitive to typos and bad printing, as they sometimes can signal a lack of attention to detail that carries over to the actual event,” says Andrew Brown of MacKenzie Brown Design.
Speaking of accuracy, your guests' names should all be spelled right. “If somebody's recently widowed or divorced, don't put their husband's name on it,” Friedland says. “Do your research.”
Further, a digital invitation with “insert first name” where the name should be signals instantly that's an invitation that's O.K. to delete.
5. The appearance of haste
Similarly, no one wants to go to an event that feels sloppily thrown together, and potential guests might make that assumption if your invitation looks like you threw it together at the last minute. “If someone doesn't take the time to create a nice visual invitation, they probably aren't putting a lot of thought into the event overall,” says TIL Lifestyle Marketing & Events founder Heather Hope-Allison.
6. Off-message partners
Be careful of the company you keep—an off-message celebrity host or brand partner can kill the event for a potential guest as soon as he or she opens the invitation. “I'm fine with not knowing a brand and being introduced to it, but if there's a brand involved that I think is low-quality, I probably won't respond,” Hope-Allison says. “With so many competing events and so many invitations that people receive these days, the type of event and invite is the first deciding factor, then date, time, and location.”
7. Too-frequent email invitations
These days, an electronic invitation is not a no-no off the bat by any means. But be smart and sparing with electronic mailings. “If it's an e-vite, I pay attention to the graphics and the amount of times I actually receive an email related to the event,” says Carrie Wick, owner of an eponymous PR firm. “If I'm receiving multiple e-vites to the same event, it signals desperation for guests to attend.”
8. Perplexing dress codes
“Upscale arty.” “L.A. chic.” Those themes sound intriguing, but they don't actually tell the guest what to wear. “You try to be cute and funny, but [vague attire instructions] only lead to more confusion and anxiety. Sometimes it's so obtuse—like 'celebratory sensational.' What would that even mean?” Friedland says. “An invitation should not provide more anxiety for your guests.”
9. Inviting guests through Facebook
Friedland suggests it's a cluttered space and an overall no-no. Facebook is full of messaging from other brands, personal friends, and ads. It can be hard for guests to even clearly see they've been invited. And potential guests may not even log in to the social network as frequently as you expect. If you do choose to use it, keep the guest list private. And, Friedland says, treat all guests as equals by inviting them in the same format at the same time, whether it's digital, print, or social media.