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Hudson Webb reveal 2019’s corporate Christmas party trends

As the rest of the UK dust off their deck chairs and empty their piggy banks for a 99 Flake, corporate event agencies, such as Hudson Webb, are headway into Christmas party planning.

While it might seem ludicrously early on in the year to start thinking about Christmas crackers and turkey, for those in the meetings and events industry, who know a successful event doesn’t happen overnight, it’s the perfect time to be cracking on with corporate plans.

M&IT spoke to Julia Hudson and Charlotte Webb from Hudson Webb, a full-service events agency based in London, about what corporate Christmas party trends they have seen emerging this year.

What are the most popular requests Hudson Webb has had from clients this year?

Everyone seems to love a theme at Christmas. This is where we see our clients being most adventurous and playful with the format of an event – partially due to it being the festive period but, in the case of our clients who are largely in the professional services sector, I think it also marks the end of the calendar year and people want to give back to their staff for working so hard.

These events are a real celebration – high impact, high energy and, in most cases, high spend.

What are the top food choices at Christmas events?

Obviously, we’ve reached an age now where we have seen trends come and go and new ideas are being re-badged as retro!

Many venues offer exciting new options that challenge Christmas party expectations – sharing platters, guest-created courses and cocktails, and street food stations being amongst the most popular.

However, traditional Christmas based menus still carry significant weight when clients are making decisions and whilst some are happy to try something new, the majority want a hook back to something that evokes a sense of festive fare.

I think guests are much more focused on the fun element of a party at Christmas, more so than at other times of the year. So, while menu selection is obviously always important, they should be considered in line with the holistic experience and the fabric of the event you are building rather than being chosen in the abstract.

This is particularly true when the budget is a primary consideration as the standard festive packages often offer fantastic value.  We did have one client who really embraced their chosen ski-lodge theme and offered guests a full festive fondue experience, complete with accompanying schnapps.

What are clients requesting for entertainment?

After-dinner dancing still remains a popular fixture so finding a good band or DJ that can deliver eclectic hits to get the dancefloor jumping remains important. We are also seeing trends for more experiential entertaining – perhaps as a result of the popularity of event theming and how this lends itself to a more immersive experience.

Magic and mystery acts lend themselves to the festive period and remain popular. Spectacular visual acts such as fire and acrobatics are also popular for engaging the crowds during the drinks reception.  Of course, these choices are always subject to venue selection and may not always be appropriate.

What are the most popular days for Christmas parties?

Thursdays and Fridays in the run-up to Christmas are always popular, particularly in the City.

City centre venues or out-of-town locations?

City firms still favour central venues for staff and client entertaining but our regional clients obviously have more flex.

The major consideration for Christmas fixtures still remains how firms will ensure they entertain their clients and staff safe in the busy festive period, and ensuring people can get home easily is a contributing factor in venue selection.

City firms are happy to “shuttle” guests but usually enforce a 20-30 minute travel window which, if you are looking at central London in December, doesn’t allow you to cover much distance!

Clients based outside Central London or in the UK’s other cities tend to follow suit on this rule of thumb.  However, we recently booked a private hire event for a client wishing to host a “Christmas country house party” for employees and their partners so it very much depends on the brief that we receive at the outset, and where the conversation goes once we start putting ideas forward to the client.

Are Hudson Webb clients concerned about the environmental impact of their event?

Absolutely, yes. This is a trend which has been slowly gathering pace for some years now but 2019 has really seen a gear shift and it is front of mind for the majority of our clients.

What are they doing to counteract the impact?

I think venues have been anticipating this response for some time and so, on the whole, we find them to be on the front foot with this.

Their carbon policies are clearly outlined during the request for proposal process, they offer a range of solutions for offering an environmentally friendly event and are happy to work in partnership with us and our clients to ensure any internal policies and thresholds are met.

Clients are increasingly savvy when evaluating their choices and venues who are able to clearly demonstrate their commitment to making a difference win out time after time.

How have Christmas party trends changed in recent years?

I think we are talking about incremental change here as the event format for Christmas parties is tried and tested and clients are fully aware that there are a number of things in terms of guest expectation that must be adhered to.

The subject of swapping Christmas for a Summer fixture, so as to take advantage of the long evenings and (hopefully) good weather is one that recurs but, on the whole, this idea struggles to get traction in the hearts and minds of the masses.

One trend we have noticed gathering force is the client’s intention to add a charitable or CSR element to their party (and, more widely, their event programme).  This can be as simple as asking guests to bring a gift to be donated to a homeless shelter ahead of the big day – truly an act of Christmas spirit in a modern age.