Whether it's a high-profile celebrity event or a relaxed affair, there's a host of different strategies for a successful launch party
You're new in town and you want everyone to know about you.
Can you really boost your profile by handing out canapés to the Mayor and that bloke from Strictly Come Dancing?
Apparently, yes. Sean O'Brien is masterminding the launch strategy of Ithaca, due to open in Manchester in late summer. "It's a simple PR strategy," he says. "You have the great and the good and their celebrity rubs off on you." But Ithaca won't be inviting the glitterati around immediately. "It's summer. They're all on holiday." Even in midwinter O'Brien would wait three months to let the teams bed in. By then, however, a straight launch is difficult. "A lot of people know about you, so you factor in a celebrity event."
Getting the slebs is next. "A high-profile launch is a fairly risky thing," says O'Brien. "If you don't get the people then you've got the possibility of bad publicity." One way around this is to build on existing links. Lee Hope, Manager of Glasgow's vegan barrestaurant The 78, held off for five weeks, then held a voguishly relaxed launch, attracting the musicians who already hung out at sister venue, Mono. Members of Franz Ferdinand and Belle & Sebastian turned up to claim their slice of vegan pizza. Where guitarists with interesting hair go, press and punters follow.
"Young students see them in here and are quite impressed. It does make a difference because it's kind of cool."
If your sous isn't mates with Jonathan Ross, don't be tempted to do the guest list yourself. Chris Fielding-Martin of ABode Hotels organised a first birthday party to relaunch Michael Caines's restaurant onto the fast-moving Glasgow scene. "You need a PR agency worth its salt, that has a fantastic database of all the movers and shakers. You can't expect to do it from your own list of corporates."
The launch featured a ‘decadent' VIP party in the basement and a more sedate event upstairs.
Instead of handing out info folders likely to get lost or soiled, they put it all on memory sticks slipped into guests' pockets. Fielding-Martin also recommends catering for local dignitaries and journalists. In his experience Hello!-style pictures of the party in the local press are invaluable, but you won't see the celebs for dust when the free Champagne has gone. "These people come to these events but they don't then frequent the venue."
Publicity is important. Alex Rayner, of Captive Minds, has just launched The Cuban's Tunbridge Wells branch.
A mixture of local (Gloria Hunniford) and onbrand (Brendan Cole – it's the Cuban dancing)
celebrities were invited. Rayner is against digital invites because they're often deleted. "Hard invitations are important because they are an advert." In a smallish town it's important, he says, to get your event talked about. An alliance with the local radio station comes in handy here, and don't forget your potential client base of local suits and dignitaries. "It's no different from being in London; if we were launching something in Leicester Square with Jessica Simpson, we'd still invite Ken Livingstone."
Venues looking to attract a moneyed crowd benefit from VIP parties. But what's the outlay? Sean O'Brien reels off an alarming list. He reckons on £50 per head for food and drink, although sponsorship from suppliers can cut this drastically. Everything that passes your guest's lips must represent the offering of the venue, so serve the house Champagne and miniaturise dishes into canapés. "Then you've got staffing: three to four grand; security: another £1,500; we'd have to employ a photographer: that's £400.
On top we need to send journalists from London: travel and overnight will be £1,500. If you don't have the contacts you're going to have to get a celeb booker and a PR, that's £4,000." One expense that is absolutely worth it, says O'Brien, is chauffeured cars. "It'll be £1,000 but it's fabulous for them. Most importantly, you know who's coming and where they are."