CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/CHRISTMAS PARTIES - Agencies are still throwing parties despite recession, Francesca Newland writes

Christmas should be a time of cheer but, coming at the end of a year that saw widespread redundancies, many agencies have had to think hard before parting with the cash for a Christmas party.

But this is adland, and Campaign has struggled to find a single agency that has cancelled its festivities. Instead, many have thought of inventive ways of cutting back on the cost. As Sven Olsen, Banks Hoggins O'Shea/FCB's managing director, says: "Lack of budgets is the mother of all invention in both advertising and planning a party."

BHO has cancelled departmental Christmas lunches and instead diverted the cash into a single party. The agency is also benefiting from the fact that an oil company is using the venue the next night and paying £35,000 for decorations.

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO saved money by combining its 25th anniversary party with its Christmas party. AMV held a black-tie dinner for staff under the dinosaur in the Natural History Museum. Having congregated at the agency bar, the staff were ferried off to South Kensington in a fleet of stretch limos full of Champagne.

Agency management is unanimous that cancelling a Christmas party would be a mistake. Tom Knox, the deputy chief executive of Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners, says: "In the grand scheme of things, the cost of a Christmas party is not enormous. But you have to be sensitive if you've made redundancies; huge excess would be inappropriate. However, it would be petty to scale back enormously because it's not a huge cost and people enjoy it."

Olsen agrees: "Times are hard and we thought about not having one but decided to have one - and a good one - because everyone has worked very hard this year."

"It's been a tough year, but people deserve a good old knees-up at our expense," is the sentiment of Grant Duncan, Publicis' joint chief executive.

The agency held a Moulin Rouge-themed party on the Embankment.

Several agencies, including Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R and Bartle Bogle Hegarty, guarded the details of their Christmas parties because they were planning a big surprise for staff. But Campaign's ring round uncovered that there's less to distinguish adland's finest than many had thought before. Both BMP DDB and TBWA/London planned a panto based on Aladdin. TBWA's will be a management-acted version called A Lad In Advertising, and has been written by the chairman, Trevor Beattie.

Some agencies use the Christmas party to raise money for charity. At BMP, staff had to pay £6 to watch the panto, which will then go to charity.

BHO's donation was a little more imaginative, however.

Staff have been paying to vote which member of its management team it would like to see perform the David Brent dance on the night of the Christmas party. Olsen is sure staff will pick him, but is trying to steer the vote by offering to donate an extra £1 for every vote directed at Paul Houlding, the agency's new-business director.

So it transpires agency management across the advertising world has not used the recession as an excuse to cancel the Christmas party and avoid every chief executive's annual nightmare: the alcohol-fuelled bravado of staff telling them what's wrong with the agency, using a finger-stabbing gesture and the line "and another thing ...".


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