Company Parties in the Modern Era
Jan 22, 2019 12:36PM
By Lisa Lukecart
In the fictional world of AMC’s hit television show Mad Men, the parties are a politically incorrect spectacle.
“We have gifts, girls, and games,” office manager Joan Holloway says. Liquor flows until the employees can hardly stand, and the secretary sometimes goes home with someone who is not her husband.
Real companies don’t hold parties like they do on TV—at least not in the 21st century.
“We serve alcohol, but people are not coming to company parties anymore to tie one on,” explains Amee Zetzman, All Makes Office Equipment CFO. All Makes hosted its 100th anniversary party in September.
Even in places where two-martini lunches once took place, corporate events have tamed. Out-of-town revelers have likened the Omaha Press Club to a Mad Men set. This is due to the rich décor rather than any rowdy antics. The club has been around since 1971 and is located on the 22nd floor of the First National Bank building at 1620 Dodge St. When Rice University held a celebratory party after the school won its first and only NCAA baseball championship in 2003, the carpet was littered with cigars at the end of the night.
Club manager Christine Jones says the club doesn’t do “sorority-style parties” these days. Companies are more aware of the liabilities and tend to tamper down events.
The club’s interior is a lush treat. A redesign in 2008 brought in a warm, inviting charcoal-gray carpet that has mocha-brown swirls. The cream and black furniture complements the immense circular fireplace. The fireplace, topped with a cooper hood, invites people to gather and socialize, and often holds canapés during events. Party-goers snack on beef sliders and chicken or brie wrapped in puff pastry. The bar regularly serves classic Manhattans and Old-Fashioneds. The Blackstone cheesecake is reported to be the original recipe from the hotel.
Yet the menu and enhanced décor all depend on who is throwing the shindig.
“As long as it is legal to be obtained and done in the state of Nebraska, I will jump through the hoops,” Jones says.
The Omaha Press Club has kept some of the same clients for 10, even 20, years. Jones calls herself the event planner, dishwasher, bartender…you name it. It’s all-hands-on-deck to run the ship smoothly. In her 19 years as manager, she has seen it all.
News crews or politicians might unexpectedly appear. A Democrat and a Republican could sit at the same table and cause fireworks to ensue. It is Jones’ job to keep it running smoothly.
A six-tier cake, stacked like a skyscraper, once collapsed on Jones as she cut into it.
“It’s falling, falling,” people shouted.
White and black buttercream frosting came crashing down on her.
All Makes Office Equipment had a similar issue this past year when most of their frosted chocolate chip cookies were smashed during a car ride to the company’s centennial party.
Mishaps do happen, but throwing a corporate party is all about building memories. And if guests are smiling at the end of the night, the event is considered a success.
The Making of a 100-Year-Old Birthday Party
All Makes has occupied the same brick building on the same corner of Farnam and 25th streets for its entire 100-year history—although All Makes Typewriter Co. founder Harry A. Ferer probably never conceived his business would one day sell products for video conferencing.
Last fall, All Makes celebrated its centennial anniversary with a soirée celebrating clients, family, and friends. And the furniture and office-design company knew the perfect spot in which to celebrate.
“People who haven’t been to the building are blown away by the interior,” CEO Jeff Kavich says.
The party lasted for two hours after the offices closed on Thursday, Sept. 20 (from 5 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.). It was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning, including marketing the event to potential attendees such as clients and vendors. A small team of Kavich, Zetzman, and director of marketing Kaitlin Breitag planned the entire event, but many others in the office assisted when asked.
“It worked out best that way,” Breitag says of keeping the planning committee small. “We didn’t want to distract people from their day-to-day jobs.”
The event included roughly 200 guests. Third-generation owner Larry Kavich (now retired) spoke about the company. Acoustic guitarist Rob Hockney and flower bouquets added to the ambience. A variety of hors d’oeuvres—including a miniature “cheese Runza” with red pepper aioli, wild mushroom and parmesan crostini with a hint of truffle flavor, and an Asian five-spiced pork taco with wasabi aioli and cucumber apple pico—were passed to guests so they could easily mingle. Spinach and artichoke dip, grilled beef tenderloin, and marinated vegetables sat at stations. The event also included an open bar, but the happy-hour timeframe minimized the potential for overindulgence.
It was a unique event for All Makes’ unique milestone. On other occasions, if the company entertains, they typically put together smaller parties or lunch events to update clients on the latest office furniture.
“The biggest reason why we threw this party is we wanted to celebrate 100 years of business,” Breitag says. “We also wanted to use it as a way to thank the people who have helped All Makes get to where we are today, especially vendors, manufacturing partners, and our clients.”
Community leaders also attended the event and sung the praises of the 100-year-old company.
“We were pleasantly surprised when Mayor Jean Stothert and Greater Omaha Chamber President David Brown accepted our invitation,” Breitag says. “We were happy they could come. They had nice words about the company; it was exactly what we hoped for.”
And while the celebratory atmosphere encouraged new connections, the planning committee remained mindful that this was a work function.
“In this world, today’s vendor could be tomorrow’s client,” Brietag says. “Today’s client could be tomorrow’s vendor. Bringing that audience together in one area for one event was a way to celebrate a milestone, but it also ended up being a great marketing opportunity. We didn’t want to let that opportunity slip by.”
The company also held smaller events in conjunction with their 100-year anniversary, such as a “100 Years, $100,000” campaign. In this giveaway, one nonprofit in each of the four cities with All Makes locations—Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney, and Des Moines—won a prize package worth $25,000. In Omaha, The Autism Center of Nebraska won $25,000 worth of All Makes office furniture, along with a Kyocera CopyStar copier, and a Meeting Owl conferencing solution.
This column was printed in the February/March 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.