It’s not often that I get the opportunity to show off my marketing skills for my friends and family. While I’m sure they appreciate my insightful deconstructions of television commercials and other forms of mass advertising, I sometimes think they don’t really “get” what I do on a day-to-day basis. (As my grandfather is fond of saying, “Baby, you lost me at computer.”)
So I approached my upcoming birthday party with relish. An event! That requires invitations! Once I foisted control away from my well-meaning sister, I was able to plan and execute the proceedings for the pickiest customer in town. Me.
Like any small marketing program I’d run for a client, I’m making a big splash on a small budget. Whether you’re planning your own, ahem, 29th birthday party, or creating a small gathering for friends, colleagues, or prospects, here’s how to do it without making your Amex cry.
1. Pick a name, and register the URL as fast as you can. Why invite people to a birthday party when you can call it something snazzier? Give your event a name. Then zip over to my preferred registrar, NameSecure, and lock in your URL for a mere $9.20 for the year. You’ll want the URL for many reasons. And even if you don’t end up creating a website, firstname.lastname@example.org will look great on your invitations.
2. Know your target audience. Being a Web geek, my original plan was to go totally paperless: create a website, shoot out an email, and be done with it. My clever sister talked me out of this idea. She reminded me that my target audience — aunts, uncles, former 8th grade basketball coaches, etc. — might not be as computer literate as I think they are. So true. I took her advice and opted for a combination of print invitation and website.
3. Keep it simple. I’m not a designer, and neither is my boyfriend, but between the two of us we had a concept, a pirated copy of Adobe Illustrator, and enough embarrassing photos of me for thousands of birthdays. After a lengthy courtship with an over-ornate font I considered purchasing for $24, we got back to basics. Two fonts: Cooper Black for the title, Georgia for the text, both readily available in Word. Add grayscale photo, snappy text, and, voila, instant invite.
4. Staples has everything you need. You could head to a fancy stationer’s for pretty paper. Or you could buy card stock, 6-up mailing labels and mini-brown paper envelopes at Staples and get the job done. If you’ve made it this far, you already have a great idea. Why hide behind Kate’s Paperie? For the price of a few pounds of “real” stationery, I bought everything I needed, plus a cropper. Done and done.
5. Printing from home? Make sure you’ve got the ink. In order to make sure my invitations came out crisp and professional-looking, I grabbed a new cartridge for my laser printer. Don’t skip this step — you’re scrimping on other stuff, and a fresh cartridge can make the difference between DIY and DI…oops. Do yourself a favor and order one online. There are so many makes and models out there, you won’t want to trek from store to store praying they have yours in stock.
6. Google Docs are your friend. First win: convincing your mom to turn her handwritten invitation list into an spreadsheet. Second win: setting up a spreadsheet in Google Docs and inviting her to be a collaborator. The big coup: Google Docs are so user-friendly, your mom doesn’t even ask you what to do — she just updates the spreadsheet and drops you an email to let you know her work is complete.
7. Call in for backup. Yes, it’s your party. But no one, repeat, no one should be forced to conduct a mail merge alone. My kind boyfriend gave me a hand printing, cropping and labeling. I think he may have missed his calling. Is anyone looking for a marketing intern? With his help, I was able to leave my apartment this morning with a bag of invitations lacking only in postage (which turned out to be 80 cents per piece).
8. Don’t forget about the URL! I designed my print piece to direct recipients to the party’s website. I set up a free Tumblr account, performed a quick IP-redirection by checking one box in NameSecure, and within 24 hours my website was up and running. The site will hold all of the details about the event that weren’t on the core invitation, with room to have a little fun, too. Since my party is back home in Louisiana, I’m including a Google map to the location, along with some behind-the-scenes gab and the requisite embarrassing party photos.
9. Know what you want — and don’t be afraid to ask for it. The line at the post office this morning was atrocious, as usual. But I didn’t want to send off my invitations without the proper stamps. I waited in line to ask for party-themed (“You know, something festive!”) ones. When the clerk saw I wasn’t impressed with the Polar Lights collectibles in her drawer, she made a special trip into the back office for the more appropriately jolly Celebrate stamps. They were just the finishing touch I was looking for.
10. Pass the baton. Remember when I mentioned that my party was in Louisiana? Well, that means I’m off the hook for the rest of the party planning. Even when you’re throwing a small corporate event, responsibilities can and should be shared. While I may bring my marketing expertise to the table, my chicken and sausage gumbo will never match Uncle Bud’s. My work is done — but he’ll be starting up his roux in about two weeks. As it should be.
Now that the invitations are in the mail, I admit, I’m a little nervous. They are going out much later that I had anticipated. But the beauty of having an event website is the benefit of extending the celebration beyond the night of the party. Friends who can’t make the trek from Brooklyn can still participate in the fun. They just won’t be able to taste the gumbo. Hey, more for us!