Tuesday, December 4, 2018

What Has Happened To Ad Agency Holiday Parties?

Now that it is December, it is that time of year again and I thought it appropriate to comment on current holiday parties.

During the 1960s and 1970s, holiday parties became a big deal.  Prior to that, even the big agencies did not give huge production parties.  Generally, holiday parties were mostly informal and spontaneous.  In the forties and fifties, even the biggest agencies set up bars in conference rooms, some had music, but they were fun and not terribly structured in most places.  People often took a couple of bottles from the conference rooms and then went to their own areas and drank and partied with the friends they worked with.  Sometimes spouses and families attended, sometimes not. Food was generally snack stuff or informal catering.

Sometime in the sixties, holiday parties became a big deal.  Agencies rented space at hotels and other venues and elaborate dinners and buffets became the norm.  Clients, friends and suppliers were invited, significant others were there; often children attended.  Agencies hired bands or, in the days of DJ’s, music was loud and raucous, lights were colorful.  Looking back, it is almost as if agencies were competing with each other to see who could give the biggest and best.  They had to be incredibly expensive. 

Then, starting about ten or twenty years ago, I noticed that the parties started to become smaller in scope and far quieter; the number of suppliers invited was cut down and many of the parties became for employees only.  I think holiday parties had become just too big and too expensive.  And all this at a time when client procurement was squeezing every possible penny out of agency remuneration.

I have never heard this as a fact, but I believe that holding companies forced their agencies to cut back on the parties, despite their being good for morale, comradery and bonding. No question that their size and scope may have gotten out of control. There may be some major parties that are still around, but they are far less elaborate and many exist without spouses, children and suppliers; they tend to be smaller and quieter. At least one big agency I know has gone back to the old days of putting liquor in a conference room or cafeteria.

The smaller agencies still have old-fashioned get togethers, mostly in their own space.  Those were always my favorite parties because they allowed people to have fun within their work environments and there was always a sense of comradery and friendship. And people could come and go as they wanted.

Now, there is much less emphasis on partying and celebrating.  Many agencies that used to be closed between Christmas and New Year’s now remain open (whatever happened to summer Fridays?).  I think many companies forgot how to have fun unless they spend a fortune entertaining their employees.  

In the agency world, I do think that the Grinch stole Christmas.


  1. There were some good ones in the past. Very good Paul, and I'll leave it at that. Here's the flip side...I'm not so sure those super elaborate and expensive parties were all that great for agency morale, especially at some of the smaller and mid-sized shops? Many employees would look at the money being spent and wish for a bigger holiday bonus as opposed to an elaborate celebration.

    1. Good point. I am sure you are right. Nevertheless, parties were once part of the culture; so much so that even when agencies were having a bad year, they gave a big party, which probably did breed some resentment.

  2. Nothing will ever beat the SSC&B:LINTAS 1983 holiday party. Hundreds of people together in a resplendent midtown hotel ballroom, just talking, eating, and drinking (and you could actually smoke back then). NO titles - just good people getting to know each other better. And then, thanks to new Chairman & CEO Bill Weithas, an after-party at a top midtown dance club till 4:00 A.M. What a scene … and thereafter (many new bedfellows, for sure.) Some of us made it to work on time; some of us didn’t. Many NEVER showed up at all. In any case, it was fabulously wonderful and fun for all, and the only agency Christmas party I remember (I think) after 40 years. Kind of like, “If you remember the ‘60s, you weren’t really there”. Those were the days!

  3. We will be throwing a Holiday Party to celebrate our people, each other and a group of like-minded goofballs from an array of areas.

    There is still much to celebrate in this business, most notably the great people in it. It may not look as extravagant as it once was but there is still wonderment to be enjoyed, gosh darn it!

    1. Couldn't agree more. It doesn't have to be fancy. I used to love the intimate parties which celebrated a great year and great people. Good for you for celebrating your people. That is the whole point.


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