Corporate America passes on partying
Coke, P&G and Caterpillar skip big blowouts, encourage small gatherings or volunteering instead.
By Carmen Nobel, TheStreet.com
It's the second year in a row that Coke has opted out of paying for a holiday party, an increasingly common choice among corporations in these cash-strapped times. (Coca-Cola is allowing workers to host potluck lunches in their departments.)
In its annual survey of 100 human-resources executives, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reports that 62% of companies are planning holiday parties, down from 77% last year and 90% in 2007. Ten percent of companies that held parties last year are canceling them this year for budgetary reasons.
Cisco did away with holiday parties nearly a decade ago. To celebrate the season and the company's 25th anniversary, Chief Executive Officer John Chambers on Dec. 10 will challenge employees to donate four hours of community service. Bank of America won't be throwing a party, either. "Individual lines of business or staff groups may organize initiatives to benefit local charities," spokeswoman Kelly Sapp says.
Of companies that do plan to party, 29% will spend less than they did last year, according to the Challenger, Gray & Christmas survey. Only 36% plan to hire a caterer, event planner or any other outside services, down from 57% last year and 69% in 2007. (On the other hand, in the spirit of beer-goggling the economy, 57% of those companies plan to serve alcohol this year, a spike from 48% last year and 46% in 2007.)
Procter & Gamble lets departments celebrate amongst themselves, allocating a fixed amount per person. The party budget hasn't changed since last year, according to a company spokesman. Optional department-wide celebrations are also de rigueur at Caterpillar and Boeing.
Party planners tend to be skimping on entertainment. Officials at Gigmasters.com, which books parties for more than 7,000 acts in the U.S. and Canada, report that while the total number of bookings has gone up in the past year, customers are opting for cheaper entertainment -- an acoustic guitar player, for example, rather than a cover band. The average Gigmasters booking fee in 2009 has been $692, lower than 2008's $782.
Individual party entertainers have taken a hit, too. Comedians who got gigs through Gigmasters have made an average of $696 this year, compared with $909 in 2008 and $937 in 2007. DJs are making an average of $457 per gig versus $500 and $545.
Celebrity impersonators, who made an average of $603 per gig in 2007 and $610 in 2008, are down slightly this year, at $543. The average fee for a Cher impersonator has dropped precipitously in the past two years, from $1,500 in 2007 to $325 in 2009.
Fake Elvises, on the other hand, are doing better than ever, making an average of $576 per gig this year, compared with $418 last year and $544 the year before.
"You can take everything else away, but you can't take Elvis," says Kevin Kinyon, co-founder of Gigmasters.com.
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