The digital age has upended many of life's traditions, from the household landline phone to printed newspapers, but one special event essential seems to be holding firm—the physical event invitation.
According to the latest online survey from Special Events, not one respondent uses digital invitations exclusively. Instead, 27 percent say they prefer to use physical invitations, while 73 percent use both physical and digital invitations depending on the nature of the event.
Raymond Ramsay, head of Raymond Ramsay and Associates of Orlando, Fla., expresses the opinion of all invitations specialists interviewed by Special Events when he says, "I like to do both; however, it depends on the event." Ramsay and event partner Jennifer Goldberg won the Gala Award for Best Invitation on Jan. 10 at The Special Event 2014 for their high-style fashion magazine that served as the invitation for a girl's bat mitzvah.
LET'S GET PHYSICAL
Lindsey Luxa, head of Dragonfly Custom Design of Orlando, Fla., likes the statement that a physical invitation makes. Another Gala Award nominee for Best Invitation, Luxa says, "For personal use, I most definitely use physical invitations 100 percent. Physical mail can be very special and gives me an opportunity to be creative and stretch boundaries."
Luxa's clients agree.
"Some 98 percent of my clients still prefer traditional invitations," she says. "Now and then, a situation arises that necessitates a digital invitation; more often than not, we use digital invitations for save-the-dates for corporate parties and send out a 'traditional' invitation at a later time. The digital invite is to just make sure that the guests don’t make plans."
And just what makes physical invitation so special? "It is my belief that a physical invitation shows care and attention to detail, regardless of the budget," Luxa says. "People love to get mail that isn’t a bill, and that is rather rare these days. It’s a great opportunity to stand out from the hundreds of emails--and e-vites--that flood inboxes!"
Cheryl Fish, vice president of design services for Someone's in the Kitchen of Tarzana, Calif., and Gala Award winner for invitations, reminds event planners not to forge the tactile punch that physical invitations provide.
"I prefer physical invitations because of the textures and special feel of the paper stock and personally touching the presentation and the beauty of the piece that opens the door to what lies ahead at the event," Fish explains.
INVITE THEM RIGHT
Certain events demand physical invitations, our interviewees say. For landmark events such as weddings and high-end parties such as exclusive dinners, physical invitations are a must, Ramsay says, as are events requiring RSVPs. "I still believe most guests like a physical invitation that they can keep as a souvenir of the event," he notes.
Gala Award winning invitation designer Andrea Liss, head of Hannah Handmade in Evanston, Ill., adds that along with weddings, certain high-end public events also require the impact of a physical invitation.
"When planning world-class events such as galas for major arts organizations, universities, or corporations, a physical invitation
is the only appropriate choice to command the dignity of the occasion and set a tone of leadership and excellence," Liss says. "And of course, life-cycle events such as weddings, mitzvahs, birthdays and anniversaries are best commemorated with a real invitation that will become a cherished keepsake after the event."
Andrea Liss and team at Hannah Handmade recently designed the invitation for the National Portrait Gallery’s unveiling of Nelson Shanks’ portrait "The Four Justices," a tribute to the four female justices who have served on the U.S. Supreme Court [at left]. "The invitation was simple and elegant--a heavy white stock printed with navy ink and edging," Liss explains. "What was especially wonderful were the keepsake menus we created for the dinner reception following the unveiling. On one side was the menu, and on the reverse was a reproduction of the portrait itself. They were displayed on the tables at the event in alternating fashion and made for a glorious presentation and commemorative keepsake of this historic event."
WHEN DIGITAL RULES
On the other hand, "green" events call for digital invitations, Ramsay notes. And, digital invitations can be a life-saver when the time frame or budget for the event is tight. Even so, "I prefer to custom-design the e-vite so that it matches the event," Luxa notes. "This ensures that there is brand recognition and continuity of design."
Despite the tight deadlines that rule events today, don't rule out a physical invitation, Liss cautions.
"The more time there is, the more options there are for printing techniques as well as materials and level of complexity, but there is always a solution to be found," Liss says. "Today’s digital presses allow for high quality results produced in shorter time frames than traditional engraving or letterpress and can be a good option for quick-turn print jobs. Because we have our own workroom, with all handwork and production done in-house, we also have the flexibility to make things happen for our clients with quick turnarounds as need be."
That said, Fish reminds invitation professionals—like all special event pros--to price their time properly.
"The way we handle custom invites that are required quickly is that we create the inspiration and if there are many changes to the proof, the client incurs a rush charge of 25 percent, which covers the hiring of additional staff to complete the project. Yes, 'stress' is the key word to these sorts of orders but we realize how times have changed. Oftentimes completing invitations takes an all-night production staff to get all of the pieces ready for mailing."
Fish also reminds event planners to pay big attention to the little details.
"It is essential to weigh the completed invitation to get the correct postage amount due. Square envelopes require more postage," Fish says, adding, "Creating invitations is one of the most difficult businesses in the world of events. There are no dress rehearsals once the invitations are mailed. Should there be an error on the invitation, it is best caught prior to mailing. However, if the error was not realized prior to mailing, it can become a huge problem. Therefore, it is absolutely essential for the client to sign-off and approve the final proof prior to printing so there is no miscommunication in the final product."
ARE YOU COMING OR NOT?
The age of the audience also plays a role in the physical vs. digital invitation debate. In order to get RSVPs, bear in mind that "the younger professionals respond much better to digital than physical invites," Ramsay says.
Luxa agrees. "It’s so odd, but in this digital age where communication is so easy, RSVP etiquette seems to have been sacrificed. For the most part, traditional mail-back RSVPs are still the norm, but only the client knows their target guest audience. I have had clients who have set up a Facebook page for RSVPs, who have used an online RSVP service and have taken phone responses. For formal weddings and events, I still firmly believe that a mail-back RSVP is best, but social and corporate events are definitely appropriate occasions for digital and nontraditional responses."
Liss encourages event planners to offer many RSVP options.
"With the multitude of communication channels today, there is no longer a 'one size fits all' way of doing things," Liss says. "People have different primary modes of communicating-- email, text, phone and so on. For corporate and informal social invitations, we often give multiple ways to RSVP, i.e., with an email address and phone number. We also allow extra time after the 'reply by' date to contact guests and confirm if they will be attending."
Luxa urges event planners not to forget that the creative possibilities for physical invitations are almost limitless.
"A lot of people don’t know that the post office will accept objects not in an envelope or box! I have mailed baby bottles, balls, sock monkeys, burlap sacks … so many things! Seriously, mail can be fun, and a lot is possible--as long as nothing is flammable, illegal or alive! I want to encourage people to be creative with their mailings, and to challenge the expected!"