Invitations, Reminders, and RSVP's


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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 express regrets.

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.

Eliciting Replies

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 away.

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.

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