First impressions always count because lasting impressions are formed
within seconds. As the first official communication of your event, invitations are the
drawing card to whet your audience's appetite and to entice them to attend. In receiving
an invitation all invitees want to know WIFM..."what's in it for me?" Therefore,
you must first know your audience and the impression you want to make. Determine what
makes this corporation or event special and how you are going to convey that message. Does
the invitation carry out the theme of the event? Does the design attract the eye? Do the
words stimulate the imagination? Even the feel of the paper is important because we form
those initial impressions with all our senses. A well thought out and well designed
invitation is the best way to create a first impression and get a positive response.
The Basics: It's amazing how often invitations leave out pertinent details like
date, time or location. The basic composition of every properly worded invitation, formal
or informal, includes:
Official or Corporate Symbol (if applicable)the Host Line = Who
the Request Line
the Event Line = What
the Date Line = When
the Time Line
the Location Line = Where
the City & State Line
the Reply Request Line
the Special Instruction Line (eg. "Black Tie" or "Dancing")
"To meet..." or "To honor..." a guest could appear
either at the top of the invitation or in the body.
Formal Invitations: If the event is a formal or diplomatic function, this format
is ironclad. The invitation should be engraved on ecru or white letter sheets, or on plain
white cards 5 3/4" x 4 1/2" for official functions. The wording is always in the
third person, ie. "Mr. and Mrs. John Brackenbury request...".
While formal invitations usually "request the pleasure of your company", the
most formal, the most personal and the most expensive "request the pleasure of the
company of" followed by a blank line with the name of the invited guest inserted by
hand, preferably in calligraphy in black ink.
According to Angela Kapp, Managing Director of New York Wise, "If you want to get
the right people at your event, let them know they are important to you by personalizing
the invitation with their name inserted in calligraphy. A secretary will not bother to
show her Fortune 500 CEO an invitation that is not personalized."
Informal Invitations: If the company's image or the nature of the event doesn't
demand formality, intrigue your audience with an innovative design and eye-catching
typeface that reflect the mood of the event. "Either go classic or go fun," adds
Kapp, "There is nothing in between." Just beware the overzealous designer who
gives free rein to creative impulse. According to Margaret Gins, president of ViewPoint
International, too many invitations have become too cutesy with glitter and all sorts of
things falling out of them. "There is no need to outsmart yourself," insists
Gins, " there is nothing like a beautiful formal invitation." Kapp feels that
some of the best invitations her firm has done were black & white and believes it is
unnecessary to waste money on 4-color designs.
Although the basics of an informal invitation are the same as a formal invitation,
there is a great deal more flexibility. Nancy Kahan, president of Nancy Kahan Associates,
feels that people should be given as much information as possible to help them feel
comfortable when they come to an event. In addition to the information given previously in
The Basics, she also includes:
- Type of food to be served
- Is card required for admittance
- Does card admit one or two
- Any necessary travel data
Responding to an Invitation: R.S.V.P. is the French abbreviation for
"répondez s'il vous plaît" which, translated, means "please reply".
Nothing is more frustrating to an event planner than the sloppy attitude people have about
responding to an invitation. Unless a guest is paying, either by buying a ticket or by
attending an auction, everyone should always respond to an R.S.V.P., even if only to
New Yorkers seem to be especially negligent about replying whereas, in Washington, it
is not uncommon to respond favorably to every invitation, then wait until the evening of
the event to decide which to grace with one's presence, much to the frustration of many a
Washington hostess who has counted on the person to honor the acceptance.
An invitation from the White House or royalty takes precedence over all others and is
only refused because of a death in the family, a wedding in the family, an illness or an
unexpected trip abroad. These, as well as official duties and the demands made upon one's
time by the arrival of one's superior in business are also the only acceptable excuses to
cancel any previously accepted invitation. And I do mean cancel - and immediately upon
discovering you cannot attend - rather than simply failing to show up.
Unfortunately there is no secret formula to getting people to R.S.V.P.. For major
non-profit events, Kapp feels that a great deal of effort should go into putting together
the committee and chairpersons who are listed on the invitation because people sell
events...and tickets. A paragraph about the organization on the back of the invitation
never hurts because people have become very savvy and don't want to throw their money
Gins believes very strongly in pulling in chits by personalizing every invitation with
a note from someone in the organization who knows the invitee. Then, two weeks prior, she
has those people follow up with a phone call to the guests haven't replied. Her response
rate is very high. Kahan also calls two to three weeks before an event. As soon as the
date is set, Kapp begins her telephone campaign by calling the CEO's secretary to put the
event on the executive's agenda.
Many corporations now include fill-in reply cards to facilitate responses. Although it
is an excessive accommodation to missed manners, pre-stamped envelopes also help. Reply
cards should match the invitations, and they must be at least 3 1/2 x 5" to be
accepted by the post office. For a standard R.S.V.P., the company's address, zip code and
telephone number should be included in the information. If you request only a telephone
reply, it is a good idea to include the name of the person in the organization to whom the
replies should be made. Kahan adds urgency to her R.S.V.P.'s to get results by stressing
that it is "essential" to R.S.V.P. or that it must be made by a certain date.
"Regrets only" responses should be eliminated from invitation vocabulary.
"Regrets only" sets a negative imprint on an invitation that is supposed to make
a positive impression. Moreover, a person who is not planning to attend is probably the
least likely to make the extra effort to call or write, making it more difficult for you
to obtain an accurate count.
Formal & Informal Replies: Replies to formal invitations should be made
within two days. They should be handwritten in the third person on white or ecru letter
sheets with black ink. Acceptances repeat the event, the date, and the time. Regrets
repeat the event and the date, and give a brief reason for declining.
The wording of an informal reply is dictated by the invitation and the relationship to
the host or hostess. Informal replies can be written on correspondence cards, monogrammed
notes, or calling cards. When declining, a reason must be given.
Regardless of how people reply, it's a good idea to get a telephone number, according
to Kahan, because you never know what will happen at the last moment. She cites an
incident when the guest of honor became seriously ill the day before an event and it was
possible to contact all the guests because she had contact numbers.
Enclosure Cards: A savvy idea that assists the busy executive is an enclosure
card for the secretary, with printed details on where and how to contact the executive in
case of emergency during the function. This is particularly useful for daytime events.
Planning: In order to plan successfully, start with the time an invitation
should arrive. Important conferences or seminars, especially those lasting several days,
requiring travel should be made six to eight months in advance. For an important dinner
that requires out of town travel, allow four to six months. Luncheons require three to
five weeks notice. Evening receptions in conjunction with another event require four weeks
notice. Cocktails require two to four weeks notice, as do large breakfasts. Teas require
two to three week.
Work in reverse from the date the invitation should arrive. Allow sufficient mailing or
hand delivery time time to address, stuff & stamp envelopes, and plenty of extra time
for calligraphy printing, proof-reading & correction time design time.
Mailing Do's & Don'ts: Never use computer or pressure sensitive labels.
Formal invitations must be addressed by hand in black ink. Informal invitations are more
effective when addressed by hand, although individually typed envelopes are acceptable.
Always use stamps rather than a postage meter. If using a mailing house, make sure that
they have a sample of the invitation and any additional inserts, with specific
instructions on how to stuff the envelope. The invitation should always be on top.
As everyone retrenches from the social whirlwind of the 80's, it has become much more
difficult to attract attendance at galas and benefits. Even corporate events have to serve
a useful function for people to invest the time to participate. Not only does the event
have to be presented as special, the invitees should feel special to elicit a favorable
response. Little things do mean a lot. By paying attention to the details of your
invitation, you have taken a major step toward insuring the success of your event.