Everybody’s desperately looking for some sign the IT industry is on the rebound. Their hearts race as they watch Nortel’s share price climb back from its abyss. The financial success of Research In Motion brings a smile to their faces. Those of us in the trade press, however, use our own barometer:
we size up the PR parties.
There are a lot of ways you could characterize the turmoil of the year 2000, which was most commonly referred to as the dot-com burst. I prefer to think of it as The Year The Music Died. No more invitations to Toronto’s most trendy and exclusive nightclubs. No more free hors d’oeuvres. With the exception of the occasional anniversary blowout, which both Maverick and Apex hosted this year, the agencies’ belts have for several years been as tight as their clients.
This past December, however, marked the first time in a while that PR firms competed with one another to organize the most talked-out event of the year. High Road, which had a reputation for great parties but had held off on parties for several years, was back. H&K, which used to have its own party as well as a Microsoft Canada party, managed a rebound thanks to landing the HP Canada account. After two seasons of feeling like wallflowers, suddenly we were the sought-after debutantes all over again.
PR parties used to seem particularly glamorous to a sheltered hick like me, especially in our days as Plesman Communications. Now that we’re part of the Transcontinental empire it’s like we host PR parties of our own. This year, for example, our company choose a “”fire and ice”” theme. As we gathered for cocktails at the York Event theatre, a woman dressed in white stood in a round table with the middle cut out of it, from which hors d’oeuvres were served. The crystal chandelier she wore on her head indicated she was “”ice.”” On the other side of the room stood a man with a similar table, this time with a red tablecloth. He was naked from the waist up and was decorated with red body paint, his beard shaved to a goatee. This was Fire, we assumed. The whole thing reminded me of Compaq Canada, which used to throw some of the best press parties and which once included a naked man painted in gold who posed as a human statue at the Courthouse nightclub. I’m not sure what kind of added value he brought to that occasion, but I’m glad to see Transcon is capable of competing with the biggest names in the industry.
Our party was held the same night as High Road’s, so we missed that one. Many of us fell ill the following week, when the H&K party was held. I was on vacation by the time the Environics/Computer Associates one went on, and the Media Profile party, in Parkdale, was just too far out of my way. In the end, I only managed to stop in at Lexmark Canada’s party, which Sheryl Steinberg annually promotes by sending out an e-mail with “”endorsements”” from people like Richard Morochove. It was at a downtown pool hall, with a variety of pizzas and pasta dishes. Simple, but fun.
Once I left for the holidays, Environics started putting the heat on about the Computer Associates party at Panorama as they tried to round up guests. Lawrence Cummer, who used to work here, warned a couple of people that they might not hold parties in the future if journalists wouldn’t come. That’s pretty rich, considering CA is the only firm to hold a party that has included a PowerPoint presentation. As it turned out, the party was interrupted by a band playing next door. Panorama was so mortified they sent out $50 gift certificates to everyone who attended — even if they left before the noise started up!
Journalists have no right to expect or demand appreciation events from the companies they cover or their PR agencies. Neither do they have any obligation to attend them. If we miss your party it’s not a professional snub, just as our attendance will not guarantee your client’s name will make it into print. No one would dare call these Christmas parties any more, but in their politicking and coercion they can come to resemble those awkward family get-togethers we are desperate to escape. Like anyone else in the industry, hacks just want to have fun.