Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Art of The Invitation

This blog topic came courtesy of Sarah Wilson who I shared several cups of rosebud & lemongrass tea with this week. (I'm a huge fan of Sarah's column in Sunday Life and reading her weekly hints on how to make life sweeter always does make my life sweeter, without fail.) So you think an invitation is just a piece of paper delivered to you in an envelope? Think again - like everything in PR world it can be ridiculously labour intensive, often fraught with glitches and can send us not just to the Post Office but screaming for the hills. Here's some tips I've learnt over the years, and why I would never send an invite to a celebrity via their agent.

The WOW Invite
Let's face it, a spectacular invite really does set a certain tone. It's literally the first experience your guests will have with your event, so if your budget allows, a snazzy invite will usually ensure a buzz and a healthy RSVP response. I've seen some spectacular invitations over the years and have even produced some if I do say so myself! One that comes to mind is when I helped Cav Con on an event for ABSOLUT to celebrate their involvement in Sculptures by The Sea in 2005. My sister is a graphic designer who has produced all my invites throughout my career, and this was a stellar one. The ABSOLUT sculpture was a huge bottle made entirely out of thongs, all of which had been found on beaches by the artist. To bring this concept to life, Fleur designed a flat perspex bottle invite, to be slipped inside a clear plastic envelope and filled with sand and shells. My mother provided 1,000 small shells from her years of collecting and sent them down from Coffs Harbour, and we sourced the sand from Bondi Beach. I swear I didn't realise that it's *ahem* illegal to take sand from the beach (who knew?) and I did rope a couple of interns into coming to Bondi with me, with buckets. I wonder if they actually ended up in PR? The things we do in this job...but the invitation received accolades so it was all worth it.

Tip: don't fill your enevelope with confetti, glitter, or anything else that can spray out of it. The media hate it. I got away with the sand because the envelope was clear, hence you could see it, and open it without spilling a grain!

Post vs Email
To me the only kind of invite is the posted type - and a quick canvas of our top social journos yielded a unanimous vote in agreeance. Comments ranged from "it's more special", to "I keep a folder of them all to refer to" and "it's hard to find email invites in amongst work ones". And of course there's nothing more lovely than seeing a crisp gold envelope peeking out from between bills, bills and more bills. Extra points for calligraphy! I'm not a fan of the emailed invite unless it's for a straightforward event that doesn't call for the expense of paper, printing and postage. However, more tech-savvy media have told me they also love emailed invitations as they can right click and immediately have the date logged into their MAC or Outlook. To ensure it gets to everybody, I recommend posting invitations and emailing as well. Several commented that they loved the reminder email the day before the party.

Tip: Across the board, everyone seems to loathe the emailed PDF invite - best to have the info in the body of the email.

Save the Date?
Sarah is not a fan! She explained that when she's sent a Save the Date first, then the invitation follows down the track, she can't remember whether she's RSVP'd to it or not and it can get confusing. To me, the only time we ever sent a Save the Date at Breakfast PR was when the printed invitation was delayed to a point where we were worried it would go out too late, so it was purely to offset that. The party journos said they love them as they can put it in their diary, then receive the hard copy invite closer to the date.

Tip: Seems the choice is yours here!

With a guest or not?
If everyone is invited with a guest, it should be printed as such - at least it saves the inevitable barrage of emails asking "can I possibly bring a guest?". If numbers are tight it's standard to invite the individual only, however it should be kept in mind that while media are used to going to events solo, some social guests are not and may decline if unable to bring a guest. The safest bet is to address it to the person only, and respond to their request for a guest on a case-by-case basis.

Dress Code
This is a whole blog topic unto itself! Coming soon.

Sheltered Workshops
Unless you've sent 1,000 invitations yourself, noone can possibly understand the pain often experienced in sending them out. Choosing and ordering stock & envelopes, designing the invite and the back-and-forth nature of the approval process with the client & sponsors, printing and the inevitable delay in delivery, packing envelopes and the joys of multiple paper cuts, the relentless moistening of non peel & seal envelopes, the stamping/franking, and the lugging of boxes to the post office - usually always at 4:55pm. I've engaged in many a sheltered workshop over the years, generally with lots of coffee, interns and Foxtel!

Tip 1: if you choose an envelope colour other than white, franking is not possible. I've learnt this the hard way and have spent 4 hours at the Post Office hand stamping 1,000 envelopes. On at least two occasions, because I failed to learn the lesson the first time. Oh, the glamour of PR.

Tip 2: Check the proof, then check it again. Then get someone else to check it. Once when I was doing an event for Cartier I got a digit on my phone number wrong. It was heart-breaking and it involved a second print run. Probably not as bad as the invite I received last year that didn't have a date on it, because I caught my mistake before they were sent. The invite stated what time to turn up...but on which night? I admit I did giggle but then immediately felt bad for the poor PR whose job it was to check it. I felt her pain.

When to Send?
I stick to this rule:
Normal event or launch: 2 weeks prior
Special event: 3 weeks prior
Wedding: 3 months prior, with a Save the Date up to 1 year prior for overseas guests

Celebrity Invitations
Most PRs send a bunch of celebrities invitations to everything, more often than not to their agents. STOP doing it. I don't care whether any agents reading this disagree with me because I've simply heard it too many times from the mouths of these celebs: they rarely, if ever, have invitations passed on to them. I shudder to think of how many forests are destroyed to make these invitations that never reach their desired recipient - I would imagine at least 20% of all invites sent. Several times over the years I've had celebrities approach me at parties wondering why I never invite them to my parties anymore. Shocked, I would reply - I send you an invite to everything! They would then give me their home address knowing full well that the invitations sent to their agent rarely make it to them. Personally, I think most end up in the bin. Generally speaking unless an agent is making their 20% they have little interest in getting their talent on the red carpet. Am sure every PR has called an agent to follow up an RSVP and heard the standard response: "if they want to attend they'll let you know themselves". A celeb's PR however will generally always pass on invites because they're not working on commission, and understand the value of red carpet appearances.

Tip: Get their home address or don't bother sending it, unless you have a close relationship with their agent and trust it will be forwarded.
I guess I can expect some irate calls from agents now...don't worry there are always exceptions to the rule and I know who the great ones are ;)

xxx Tiff

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