10 best corporate hospitality ideas for 2014
Impress your clients with unique corporate hospitality packages from summer festivals to the star-studded Berkeley Square Ball, polo lessons, Michelin star cookery days, comedy masterclasses and more.
Possibly the most ridiculous motion passed by a Government in recent years was the 'Bribery Act'. If there was ever a misguided, anti-competitive, antiquated and uninformed act, this was it. I remember when it was first announced and an entire industry was brushed under the carpet. I even attended seminars run by lawyers on how to define 'corporate hospitality' and prove that it wasn't corporate bribery. Keeping your receipts was one ludicrously simple solution.
In reality, the Bribery Act was designed to curb a fact of life that didn't need curbing - it needed encouraging! What's wrong with nurturing clients or even wooing new ones whilst simultaneously supporting the economy - from sports grounds to caterers, everyone's a winner. What's more, and this is particularly poignant within the sports hospitality world, what's wrong with a little inspiration? The Champions League final, or the Superbowl for that matter, may be several thousand pounds a ticket but the experience shared and the relationships built can be priceless.
If you're a huge organisation and if you can afford it, why not give your guests an engraved Rolex to commemorate the occasion?
It's the same as a tiny organisation buying a prospective client a coffee isn't it? And is that grande latte really a 'bribe'? It's out of context and utterly ridiculous. It's a contentious and out of touch rule that, whatever good intentions it may have been based on, was wildly misjudged and designed to attack bankers (again - give them a break because they fuel the economy) and, in the process, something was lost in translation. In fairness, there are so many simple ways to justify any corporate hospitality activity that its business as usual. In fact, in many cases, its very much business as unusual as there are more unique and exciting experiences available than ever before.
Events are all about creating positive memorable experiences and lasting legacies, which reflect on the host and their brand. A Manchester United super suite (United once tried to flog me one for a quarter of a million pounds. Per season!) and Roy Keane's finest prawn sandwiches are a highly potent formula. In fact, I once hosted a corporate football tournament at the then David Beckham Academy near the O2. There were two remarkable things about this event. Firstly, Spurs and Man United legend, Teddy Sheringham played and secondly, Arsenal legend Ray Parlour, did the catering! In fact, he was a player-caterer on the day. Bet that’s never happened before!
I charged down the keeper and scored the winner (with my bum) in one qualifying game, knocking out a client's team, with a celebration which involved pulling my shirt over my head and, arms outstretched, running the length of the pitch in celebration. This subsequently involved a formal letter of complaint from said client! It was worth it. I also seem to remember that I found myself in a mild dispute with Ray Parlour afterwards as he'd had to pop down to Tesco to top up on wine (and a few frozen canapés) and I didn't agree with the mark-up (let alone the short-fall)! For several weeks afterwards a war of words raged between us by text.
I was half bemused, half in awe of receiving angry messages from a Premier League footballer. About frozen vol-au-vents.
Ray was a very down to earth and decent bloke though. Teddy Sheringham was not. I remember having to 'remind' him on several occasions that he'd promised to have his photo taken with an elderly fan. At the final time of asking he snapped back and reluctantly posed for the photo. It was clearly (almost) too much to ask!
So, if sports hospitality is the ultimate in immersive atmosphere and drama then where's the best place to get it and what's the best sporting occasion to go for? Of course, there are now so many superb options, many of which combine hospitality with team building - the ultimate in delegate engagement. From cooking to clay pigeon shooting there are a multitude of ways to inspire, engage and entertain your clients, potential clients and, of course, your team.
Don't worry about the Bribery Act. It's completely spurious and unenforceable – tell them I told you that!
Tried and tested is tried and tested for a reason - it works. Premiership football, International rugby, Wimbledon, Goodwood, the RyderCup even the Olympics – its all inspirational (and occasionally, once in a lifetime) stuff. Of course (and in the interest of balance), there can be a very slight downside to sports hospitality. Firstly, it tends to be expensive (although its money well spent) and secondly it's often weekend centric, which is a bit restrictive because corporate hospitality is always most appreciated when it’s an alternative to being in the office (or being at home on a week night). Tennis is an obvious exception because tournaments run for at least a week, Grand Slams being two weeks of course, so there are plenty of mid-week options available. Rugby is another because Twickenham oozes a special atmosphere, unrivalled anywhere else in sport (aside from Old Trafford, perhaps – but I’m biased). The two brands I would recommend above all others for big time sports hospitality, with specific emphasis on International Rugby and Tennis, are IMG and Keith Prowse. They’re highly reputable, uber professional and, above all and, this is absolutely crucial in sports hospitality, official. But what else is there?
1. Sports Hospitality on a budget
For Sports Hospitality with all the comforts (and loads of atmosphere) at a fraction of the cost, check out Londonlaunch member, Riley’s Sports Bar. Attend any major sporting occasion from the World Cup to the Wimbledon Final and just about anything else in between. Riley's is brand new and beautifully themed so if you want to sit in stadium style configuration in front of a giant screen, you can. Alternatively you may wish to enjoy a multi-screened pool-hall style configuration with seemingly endless pool tables and table tennis tables to keep you occupied before, after (and even during) the big game. Even better, why not make an afternoon of it during the World Cup? Companies can deliver presentations or host a conference from the main stage followed by American-style finger food and a live screening of the England Group games. If we make it through the group stages it gets even better - attention followed by tension! Check out the londonlaunch events calendar to see every major sporting occasion in the world this year, safe in the knowledge that corporate hospitality is available (and accessible) at every single one of them. In Central London.
2. Shooting at West Wycombe Park
Shooting's cool at the UK's leading shooting school! The ultimate ‘posh’ sport is actually not as posh as you may think. It feels exclusive but it certainly doesn't have to be 'exclusive'. In fact it's highly inclusive. And very exciting. With prices starting as low as £38 per head(!) and rising to as much as £500 (should you wish to stage the finest Stately Home Experience available with a Michelin Star luncheon in the House and the finest Krug Champagne to boot) there’s something for everyone (and every budget!). Either way, the shooting is equally exhilarating and dynamic and you’ll be at the butt of the very best personal training available anywhere in the Country (Rob Fenwick is the former European side by side champion, one of The Field’s top 75 Game shots and was captain of the BUSA winning team for 4 years).
You don’t need skills, you don’t need plus-fours. Hell, you don’t even need trousers if you don’t want them! Sir Edward Dashwood puts it perfectly – “It doesn’t matter what you are! Fat, thin, pretty, ugly, pretty ugly, fit, unfit, you name it – whatever you are, we’ll teach you to shoot!” Half day and full day options are available and you can pick n’ mix sporting activities including Segway racing, off-roading or even plate spinning (whaaat?) and sushi classes! West Wycombe Park is a magical estate, a mere 30 miles from central London, offering the best, safest shooting experience anywhere in the country on their integral and world-class E.J Churchill shooting ground. A quintessentially British day in the Country – everything but the feathers! Smashing plastic is certainly the (safe) way forward…
3. Michelin star quality cooking with Aveqia
I attended the launch of this high class and unique corporate cookery school last year. And made use of their first-aid kit right out of the blocks. I used something called a 'Mandolin', which I presumed was some kind of musical instrument but, as it turns out, it was actually a weapon of mass destruction. Corporate groups are split into teams in one of four state-of-the-art Swedish kitchens, conveniently located in the City. Each team is allocated a professional chef and a specific course to prepare. Only the finest ingredients are provided (including delicacies such as Reindeer – surprisingly delish) and the consumption of fine wines is encouraged, nay compulsory, to lubricate the ‘creative’ process. The clever thing about Aveqia is that it successfully combines hospitality with team-building. And in the right order. After your hard, but highly enjoyable team-building activity, you get to enjoy a stunning four-course meal, created by your (newly culinary capable) colleagues. Each course is served and presented by the team who cooked it and the votes are collected throughout the evening, crowning the winners with a prestigious Aveqia trophy of excellence. It's amazing how it really is all about the teamwork, in a similar way to how a top chef does not necessarily result in a top restaurant because it's equally about the atmosphere and, therefore, the front of house team.
4. The Big Feastival
Jamie Oliver and Alex James Present The Big ‘Feastival’ in the Cotswolds, right next door to the JCB family estate (and the even more famous Daylesford Organic farm shop). There's a great spoof about a new festival doing the rounds on Facebook and I suspect it’s at least partially derived from refined and, dare I say it, sophisticated affairs such as this! It’s called 'The Magic Fox Vintage Smoothie Boutique Urban Forest Pop Up Chill Retreat'. It’s brilliant because it's close to the bone and, from a corporate perspective, that's not a bad thing! It's not just about the music or even the edgy culture that so often comes with it. In fact it's not about anything specific other than the vibe, the (fabulous) food, the friendly family atmosphere and, above all, having a great time. Feastival (geddit?) is, simply, ‘Good clean fun’ in the glorious English countryside. As a result, it lends itself perfectly to the corporate market, especially those looking for something completely different and memorable from a hospitality perspective. The perfect team-bonding (as opposed team-building – chill your boots) experience. Only the coolest companies need apply though, of course ;-)
5. The Lord’s Taverners Events
Buy into a world-class star-studded event for a fraction of the price of putting it on yourself. This is one of the greatest charities on the scene these days for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they go big or they go home. These events are nothing short of sensational with more celebrity action than the Oscars (ok, slight exaggeration but you get the (Instagram) picture!). Secondly, they spend proper money to do things right and therefore make proper money for great causes such as ensuring disabled children can get around and play adapted versions of their favourite sports. I'm biased because I love sport but I genuinely believe that sport is the answer to everything and should be supported unequivocably. Sport is great for body, mind and soul. It makes one feel great (for want of sounding like Prince Charles!). Imagine if we could sort shit out via a penalty shoot out, or at least a set of tennis between Kim Jong Un and Barack Obama. The world would be a better place! And I'm sure Keith Prowse's or IMG would have exclusive access to tickets.
6. The Berkeley Square Ball
Again, a legendary and world-class affair, the Berkeley Square Ball is an institution and a benchmark, nestled in the beating heart of the London events season. With all the hallmarks of a globally important and trend setting event, this Ball really is a taste of the high life for all the well-to-do attendees it attracts. It makes business sense too, especially as networking events are officially the second best mechanism for doing business - second only to websites (the likes of which you're on right now!). With Chairmen, CEOs (and even lowly company Directors) on the VIP guest list along with headline sponsors including aspirational brands such as Sunseeker on board (excuse the pun) this is an iconic, yet accessible (anyone can buy a ticket) event at which anything can happen. From celebrity singers to international acts (Shaolin monks stylee), this event has it all and you can buy by table or even individual tickets. If there's one big London event that's worth going to, it's probably this one!
7. The James Bond Experience at Blenheim Palace
This is the ultimate corporate team building and hospitality experience rolled into one. For a once in a lifetime high-rolling experience, why not fly from London to Oxford airport with the UK’s leading executive jet company, Air Partner - fifteen minutes flight time and a five minute drive to the Palace. Or, if that's too much of a trek(!) compared to your District Line commute, why not fly from Battersea Heliport with PremiAir (who look after Abramovic's Eurocopter) and land in the grounds? Either way, you can roll up the magnificent driveway, flanked by majestic Capability Brown parkland in an Aston Martin. Standard activities include simulated bomb disposal and safe cracking whilst added extras can include lunch or dinner in the Duke of Marlborough's private dining room accompanied by the finest Winston Churchill look and sound-alike (cigar and all - this place transcends silly things like smoking bans!) and if that's not exhilarating enough, you can surprise and delight your already astounded guests with an Omega watch in the goody bag! Steady…
8. Chocolate and Champagne tasting with Alexeeva and Jones
There’s only one thing more desirable than a cold, crisp flute of champagne and that’s a cold, crisp flute of Champagne with a schmaltzy (I don’t even know what that means but it’s suitably onomatopoeic) hand-made truffle chocolate. In fact, just as you’d match a fine wine with a food type for maximum effect, not many people know you should do the exact same thing with chocolate. Get the combination wrong and the Champagne is wasted. Or the chocolate, whichever way you look at it. A & J are world-leading experts in the art of hand-made chocolate and an evening in their chocolate shop is an experience to behold. A wonderfully different and delectable corporate experience all round. Chocs away and bottoms up…!
9. Learn to play polo at Ascot Park Polo Club
If you've never played polo before (or never even ridden a pony before for that matter), this is one of those unlikely experiences that you never imagined you could do in a day, but you can! A bit like the stag weekend I once went on where we went stock car racing - literally smashing into each other and rolling cars into the full-stop which was the Essex track Armco (where the pre-race safety talk included the words "hit that wall to hard and you WILL break your neck, these neck braces will not save you!), Polo is a high-speed, highly skilled sport, and seemingly out of reach to the unskilled layman . Until now! Starting with a familiarisation session with a polo stick (technical term) standing on a milk crate, you quickly graduate to an actual animal. More specifically, you're placed on an unsuspecting, yet surprisingly obliging retired polo pony (gives them something fun to do too I’m told) and within no time, you're playing chukkas at walking pace and its a great fun, certainly memorable day out of the office! What’s more, unlike that outrageous stag weekend, the bonnet on my pony didn't pop up on the way round...!
10. Comedy masterclass with Funny Women
And then you perform! This is great and, yes, I've done it myself. It's incredible because, if you think about it, it ticks every box. Team building, adventure, training, hospitality, fun, creativity, public speaking and feigning bravery! The really clever part of this is in the training. There are certain techniques that comedians draw upon, the most crucial being something called 'listening'. There's a great exercise that demonstrates this point. The sessions begin with a story-telling exercise whereby the first 'delegate' embarks upon a improvised story which is continued by each subsequent participant. The facilitator then stops the story at a random point, asking random people in the circle to recall a previous delegate's section of the story. Almost nobody can do it, because we're all too busy thinking of our own bit, in an attempt to be funny. The secret to comedy is not timing. It's listening.
I was recently at an event at the Hospital Club where Milton Jones was testing new material. At the end, he said 'Chuck something at me! A profession.' 'Zoologist' shouted a drunk, slightly smart-ass spectator. Without missing a beat, Milton looked first and him, and then at us before muttering - "Well, he's a keeper!" Genius. He listened intently and was completely focused on that word. And it came to him. At a wedding once, Sean Lock was unfortunate enough to be sitting at the same table as me (I went to Uni with his wife’s sister – tenuous, I know). After a good few minutes of my attempts at 'funny' I turned to goading him (he's a Chelsea fan) about the fact that Chelsea, recently acquired by Abramovic, had 'bought the title'. After quietly (and perceptively) enduring my crap, he sprang to life with the rhetorical "So, I suppose you won Rooney in a f**king raffle, did you?" Touché! Anyway, armed with your new skills and sense of discipline, you too can do this. In front of a live audience. You think you'll be terrified (and perhaps you will be) but the sense of achievement you'll gain is immeasurable. And you'll be able to put it on YouTube to prove it. Check mine out here!
Will Broome, CEO