The Tale of Business Prom
The best ideas start in hotel bars.
At least, that’s where the idea for Business Prom was born.
A few years ago, Mike, Jesse, Erika and I were in Philadelphia meeting with clients for a few days, and spending a fair amount of time in the Loews hotel bar. One night (after a few cocktails, naturally) we started discussing the awkward formality of conversation and business card exchanges at networking events, and posed the question, “What if corporate networking events were like school dances?”
I don’t remember who said it first, or who even brought it up to begin with, but it didn’t take long to come up with a name and tagline for our hypothetical event:
Business Prom. It’s not normal, it’s formal.
And Business Prom stayed just that – a hypothetical event, a silly joke from a business trip – for a while. We laughed about it. We told others about it. We always said, “Someday we’ll do it! We’re not kidding!”
Finally, sometime this past winter, we decided to make it happen.
A prom committee was formed.
A Basecamp project was set up (because, we are creative professionals, after all).
Meetings were had.
BusinessProm.business was bought.
Wishlists were made.
A budget was set.
And coincidently, said wishlists were slashed.
Early in the initial planning, Erika came to us and made one request – she wanted tickets sales from the event to support The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis. They’re a great nonprofit that provides access to postsecondary education for community members without the financial means to fulfill their educational goals. We found the perfect cause, worthy of our event centered around high school nostalgia.
“This is the ultimate case study in us taking a joke too far.”
At times, Business Prom erred closer to a Hollywood premiere than a high school dance. In the initial talks, we discussed red carpets, limos, “arrival photos,” and a logo wall… some of which made it into the final event. All of these planning chats prompted a lot of conversation around our own prom experiences.
Who went to theirs, and who didn’t. Who we went with and what we wore (though, we were all already familiar with Jesse’s blue tuxedo from past Halloweens at the office). Prom photos were shared and horror stories rehashed (sorry, Jazzy).
Because of all these varied experiences, we sometimes struggled in designing the perfect identity for Business Prom. Case in point – Ken went to prom in 2008. The “classic” or “cliche” prom some of us had in mind was out of line.
Ultimately, we settled on a late 1980s/early 1990s vibe – graphics were tinted in fuchsia, classic corporate photography was juxtaposed with nostalgic party shots, and the logo includes a early-model mobile phone. All of this was paired with clever copy that poked fun of the whole thing. (If you haven’t actually read the copy on BusinessProm.business, you’re missing out.)
For the event itself, we knew only one theme was right – Under the C-Suite – playing off the classic “Under the Sea” theme. This inspired decorations throughout the office, like a Post-It Note seahorse, jellyfish made out of money, netting and blue and green tulle. And to counteract the high school-gym vibe, we covered the office in Successories and corporate jargon.
In the days leading up to Business Prom, Atomicdust employees balanced their time working on client projects, attending meetings and constructing a balloon arch.
Taylor spent the week rigging up and testing camera equipment to build our own limo photo booth. Yes, that’s right. We rented a limo just to sit in our back alley, serving as a photo booth. It was worth it.
We worked with vendors to get pens and keychains, music, a blow-up dancing man and, of course, an ice sculpture shaved into the shape of shaking hands. It should be noted that this ice sculpture was also a shot luge… because it was a party, after all.
Under The C-Suite
On Prom night, we danced, we laughed, we took 350+ photos in Taylor’s limo photo booth. Attendees dropped business cards into a fishbowl to enter to win a golden briefcase and the title of CEO of Business Prom. Oh, and did we mention we did all this while dressed in either classic prom or business attire? Sparkly dresses. Shoulder pads. Ill-fitting pants. Jesse wore his blue tuxedo, naturally.
After weeks of planning and one long night of partying, we were excited to be able to present The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis with a giant cat check for $2,000.
The clean up was brutal – imagine listening to people popping balloons while you’re hungover – but it was worth it to see our weird, little bar idea come to life.