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The top 7 tips are below. Scroll down if you just want them without the backstory. (But it’s a good backstory, so read it.)
They say that at some point in every guy’s life, he should throw a really, really big party.
But they don’t say that this guy should actually have to pay for it himself.
Five years ago, the summer of 2002.It was a crazy year. Kmart became the largest retailer in US History to file for bankruptcy. Six people were entertained by the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, UT. In August of that year, terrorist Abu Nidal is found dead of gunshot wounds, US Air files for Bankruptcy, and Peter Shankman turns 30 years old.
The world held its breath.
OK, not really. But I did turn 30 years old. And I wanted to do something special. What I didn’t want to do, though, was pay for it.
So I decided to get a little creative. I decided to throw a sponsored birthday party.
As I wrote in “Can We Do That,” I decided to have a little fun.
As always, I started with a brainstorm. What would make the perfect thirtieth birthday? Well, it had to be big. I wanted all my friends to be there, and because I had a lot of friends who lived outside New York, it had to be worthy of their time to attend. (Not that I’m not worthy on my own, mind you, but for a friend of mine to hop a flight from London or Minsk to come to New York and hang out with me for the night, well, it better be more than just me standing there holding a drink.)
It would also have to be fun. If it was going to be big, it was going to take some planning and a lot of time. I didn’t want to work on a project that would bore me or not get me excited.
Ok. So it had to be a major party, an event, as it were. It had to be exciting. And since it was coming up on early June and my birthday was in August, it had to be something that didn’t require six months of planning.
Despite my wanting it to be big and exciting, the goal was really, first and foremost, to keep it simple. Finding the proper balance between excitement, brilliance, and simplicity is an art form. Once you get it, you become known as a miracle worker, i.e., “I can’t believe he pulled this huge and complex event off! He doesn’t even look like he worked up a sweat!”
I thought about hiring people, perhaps entertainers, or maybe a musical act. But they would be expensive! I wasn’t a giant company with an unlimited budget. I was a guy turning 30. And although I might have been a little more well-known than your average guy, it wasn’t like companies were calling me up asking for my permission to give me free stuff.
And then, much to my satisfaction, I had one of my wonderful “Ah-HA!” moments.
I simply asked myself, “Why weren’t they?”
And Peter’s 30th birthday party spectacular was born.
Several hundred phone calls, emails and voice mails later, and my 30th birthday party had over 30 sponsors, including four alcohol brands, Yoo-Hoo Chocolate Drink, The Erotic Networks, Sony Music, Down Time Spa, Good Karmal Chocolates, and a host of others. Some random PR person I met named Heather became instrumental in getting me West Coast sponsors. On the East Coast, Lisa and Mike helped me with final preparations. My apartment looked like a war zone,
with boxes everywhere full of sponsor product. Kristin Krumpe sent over about 500 Yoo-Hoo beach towels, which are still getting used by friends and colleagues around the world. Red Bull kept us all energized that night, and Sin City Video gave us lovely ladies to work the door and escort our guests to the party. The party, by the way, was held at the New York City Fire Museum, a gorgeous space downtown.
The event was covered in the New York Times by Abby Ellin, on VH-1, and in a ton of other markets.
The gift bags were worth a little under $1,000 a piece.
Not bad for some random publicist in New York City who was turning 30.
Now, as I’m four days away from turning 35, I look back on that event fondly, secure in the knowledge that I did an amazing thing – I did something that a ton of people said wasn’t possible – and it was – and it was a blast – and it worked.
People still talk about it to this day – from the VIP Invite Badges that everyone received, to being walked to the elevator by a Penthouse Pet, to the party’s signature drink – a Hoo-Ya (Vodka, Kahlua, Yoo-Hoo Chocolate Drink), to the Erotic Network shot glasses… It was a night to remember.
And I’m glad I did it.
But… And this is probably the best thing – I’m glad I don’t have to do it again. I’m glad I got it out of my system – I did it. It was great. I don’t need to do it again. My 35th on Monday? I’m running the Nike NYC Half-Marathon on Sunday, then having a bagel. That’s about it. And you know what? I’m just as excited about that as I was about my party five years ago.
It’s kinda nice when you hit that point where you realize it no longer needs to be all about you. Now I can focus on doing it for other people – producing amazing events around the world, continuing to amaze, continuing to have fun.
It was a night to remember… One that will live for decades to come – one that cemented me into the event planning world.
I wouldn’t do it again – but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
In honor of turning 35, I offer the top 7 ways to throw your birthday party for free.
1) We covet what we know. What do we know? What do we use on a daily basis? Hair gel? Food? Alcohol? Trojans? Whatever it is, if you use it, chances are you hang out with people who use it, too. That’s your way into your sponsors. Find their director of marketing and send an email – explain exactly what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how them being there (or donating product, or cash) is going to help THEM. Not you, but THEM.
2) Explain how connected your friends are – how they all turn to you to find out what’s cool, and then they take that and let their friends turn to them. It’s the trickle-down-effect of cool – You’re starting it, and it works towards the masses. Explain to your sponsors that they’ll be included in this.
3) Have a sponsor wall. Borrow a projector, and make a powerpoint listing every sponsor. Display it on a wall, on repeat. Nothing makes the sponsor happier than walking in and seeing their logo 20 feet high.
4) Got one sponsor on board? One is a number. Every email after the first sponsor should talk about how you have “a number” of sponsors on board. People hate being left out.
5) Come up with something signature that you can launch at your party. For me, it was the “Hoo-Ya!” drink, made up of our sponsor beverages – Yoo-hoo, Vodka, and Kahlua. Worked wonders. And got everyone tanked, as an added bonus.
6) Go after new brands – New brands need the exposure more than established brands. A new Vodka out? Go after them. A new magazine? Ask for it for the gift bag! A new space just opening their doors? Work out a deal for a cheaper rental if you bring the media.
7) Don’t forget to have fun. Sample the food, have a drink… It’s your party, after all!