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Special Events


“SPECIAL EVENTS!” the woman exclaimed when I told her where I worked. “Why, my daughter wants to go into special events! What advice would you give her?”

I often hear this question, and I usually say the same three things:

Number 1: “Tell her to get ready to work hard.” I know of few other businesses that require such long hours of preparation, followed by high-gear, round-the-clock dedication come event time. I've done food prep for two friends who have catering businesses. When I'm asked what how much work it is to raise twins (mine are four years old now), I say, “Have you ever worked in catering? It's that much work.” Anyone who wants a 9-to-5 job should look outside events.

I add, “If you're not organized and a stickler for detail, forget it.” So many people are drawn to the glamour and creativity of special events, and that's not hard to understand. But getting the room to look pretty is only part of the job. Every detail — even the non-glamorous ones — must be right.

I also usually say, “The planner has to suit the client's taste.” So even if the client wants a color scheme or menu theme that you think is hackneyed, too bad. As the saying goes, the customer is always right.

But a story I just read in the Wall Street Journal changed my mind.

The front-page story detailed a federal investigation into improper gratuities from Wall Street trading firms eager to pick up business from securities traders. Under scrutiny are entertainment expenses including travel, tickets to sporting events and — you guessed it — parties.

Guidelines from the National Association of Securities Dealers allow “ordinary and usual business entertainment” so long as it is “neither so frequent nor so extensive as to raise any question of propriety.” And certainly some of the attractions at one of the bashes now being investigated — drugs and call girls — go well beyond the standard definition of party favors.

Big hosts with big budgets and big egos sometimes believe that the rules don't apply to them, and that if they want something, they should have it. But it's your job as the event professional to keep the entire event in perspective. Business affairs are meant to serve a business purpose, not the fantasies of overgrown adolescents bedecked in bespoke suits. If this needs to be said to your host, then say it.

When creating a business party for your host, “stylish” is good. A little “edgy” is good. “Vulgar,” “wretchedly excessive,” and “flat-out illegal” are not. You can't always count on your hosts to know how to keep the “business” in business entertaining. But it's your job to remind them.

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