Anatomy of a Successful Launch Party: “TAG” You’re “NEXT”

NEXT's Bites at TAG Events' Launch NEXT's Bites at TAG Events' Launch
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Ever heard of Edmontonian Herbert Marshall McLuhan? The “Canadian philosopher of communication theory?” How about the CBC Heritage Minute with a mustachioed intellectual, gesturing excitedly and explaining concepts like “the medium is the message” and “global village” to the camera? Yes? No? Well, he passed away 33-years ago. Mcluhan’s prescient writings on advertising and media, however, live on. And, thanks to the Estate of Corinne & Marshall McLuhan, you can read them in 140-character portions on Twitter (@marshallmcluhan)!

This past weekend, I discovered such, attending the third annual Social Capital Conference, my winning a ticket in a giveaway on Susan Murphy’s blog, SuzeMuse. One day, someone’s estate will no doubt broadcast Murphy’s sage advice on communications and storytelling. One of her colleagues, the equally insightful Dennis Van Staalduinen (yes, he who got the Dutch Ambassador to teach us how to pronounce Gezellig on YouTube), lead a session called “The medium and the message are dead. Long live the story!” During his presentation, he backtracked a bit on his rhetoric, but explained the medium (that which extends human influence) and message (that which you are trying to communicate) are somewhat immaterial. What is the story being conveyed? What is the context?

So, whether you are a start-up with the shiniest new iWidget, the hottest ticket in town for a plate of tacos (“capital ‘A’-authentic”), or the author of a new coffee table book on travel, when it comes to launch parties, what is the value in throwing one? How does the launch party, as a medium, convey a story?

Most PR-firms will argue about what makes a launch party “successful”:

  • “the perfect location” (“modern and business-oriented”)
  • “good marketing” (gotta promote your launch party, yo!)
  • “the right” guests (investors, clients, “da press”)
  • “good” entertainment (usually, an engaging DJ)
  • swag (everybody loves tatted-up useless junk)
  • “sponsors” (nothing says success like energy drinks).

[Alright, that second last element is a pet peeve of mine. Either the swag is pointless and gets cast away immediately or, to save ink, someone forgets to print a web address or other contact information next to the logo. Swag is one of very few circumstances QR codes may be acceptable.]

Those same PR-professionals will also point to common pitfalls: DJ, caterer, serving staff, and/or host(s) never receiving the event timeline; the event goes uncomfortably long; or your underestimating food and drinks for your guests.

Seems trite, expensive, and potentially outdated in the modern reality that is our living lives on smartphones (or, at least, recounting the minutia)?

It doesn’t have to be.

When I asked Tracey Lafleche-Gainforth about marking the launch of TAG Events with a party, she explained she wanted to celebrate her new venture with people she cared about. Partnering with her daughter Cait, she gathered close friends and family together into one place and made an announcement.

“I think a launch party means different things for everyone with perhaps the common thread of letting people know who you are and what you are doing. Our reason was to celebrate us; it’s not often a mother and daughter can work together so well and we do. I raised a hard worker, which she has proven time and time again. I am thrilled about that,” wrote Lafleche-Gainforth over Facebook.

“I think the elements to a success launch party are to invite the people who mean a lot to you, tell them your story and always, always serve them good food.”

Tag Events Website

Tag Events Website

Tracey Gainforth, Founder and Events Director

Tracey Gainforth, Founder and Events Director

Tracey and Lynne Frappier

Tracey and Lynne Frappier

Cait Lafleche

Cait Lafleche

TAG Events Michelle VandenBoschCaroline Ishii

The launch was held at Cait’s loft apartment, located just outside of Chinatown. The food was catered by Chef Michael Blackie of NEXT and Lynne Frappier of La Twisted Chef. There was no swag. There were no sponsors. Two family friends volunteered to be servers.

NEXT's Seared Striploin with Truffle Mayo and Onion Confit

NEXT’s Seared Striploin with Truffle Mayo and Onion Confit

NEXT's Elk Ranch Fritters with Black Olive Crust

NEXT’s Elk Ranch Fritters with Black Olive Crust

NEXT's Pulled Duck Confit, Dijon Egg Salad on Potato Latke

NEXT’s Pulled Duck Confit, Dijon Egg Salad on Potato Latke

NEXT's Hot Smoked Salmon w/Fried Caper & Fennel Crostini

NEXT’s Hot Smoked Salmon w/Fried Caper & Fennel Crostini

NEXT's Compressed Watermelon and Black Olive DustLa Twister Chef's Pudding and Lemon Meringue Tarts

Similarly, when Blackie launched his venture, NEXT in Stittsville (6400 Hazeldean Road), he also did so without swag or sponsors. NEXT is an 11,000 square foot restaurant and event space. There is a bar, an open kitchen, the dining room, a “three season” room, a “Grand” room (divided into North and South), and a downstairs “Crush” room.

Michael Blackie in NEXT's Kitchen

Michael Blackie in NEXT’s Kitchen

A Portion of the Grand Room

A Portion of the Grand Room

NEXT's Bar

Michael Blackie with Mayor Jim Watson

Michael Blackie with Mayor Jim Watson

Our Editor Jenn and Mike Mckenzie

Our Editor Jenn and Mike Mckenzie

Matt Hall

Matt Hall

Chef Ian Milner

Chef Ian Milner

Debbie Trenholm and Paul MeekPaula Roy

For his launch, NEXT’s team used e-mail to invite over 200 guests, representing some of the more influential people in Ottawa food and drink; fellow chefs (like Cesare Santaguida of Vittoria Trattoria, former protegé Clifford Lyness of Perspectives at Brookstreet, and Norm Aitken of Juniper Kitchen), fellow restauranteurs, notable brewers (like Steve Beauchesne of Beau’s and Paul Meek of Kichisippi), vintners (like John Squair of Three Dog Winery), and artisan producers (like Mike Mckenzie of Seed to Sausage). He also invited members of traditional and new media; journalists like Lianne Laing of CTV Ottawa and several food bloggers (ourselves included). At the food stations, he had guest chefs on hand: Halifax’s Chef Ian Milner and Chicago’s Chef Roger Herring.

NEXT's Ribeye Tartare with dijon, chive, and shallot

NEXT’s Ribeye Tartare with dijon, chive, and shallot

NEXT's Ribeye Tartare - Close-up

NEXT’s Ribeye Tartare – Close-up

NEXT's Ribeye Tartare

NEXT's Pulled Ham Hock

NEXT’s Pulled Ham Hock

NEXT's Pulled Ham Hock and Green Pea Soup Shooter

NEXT’s Pulled Ham Hock and Green Pea Soup Shooter

NEXT's Green Pea Soup

NEXT's Deep Fried Cheesecake with Strawberry Basil Sauce

NEXT’s Deep Fried Cheesecake with Strawberry Basil Sauce

NEXT's Deep Fried Cheesecake - Close-up

NEXT’s Deep Fried Cheesecake – Close-up

Getting back to Mcluhan, what was the message (or story)?

For the TAG Events’ launch party, Tracey and Cait are not new to event planning, be they corporate or non-profit galas, family celebrations, or weddings. TAG Events will offer clients tailored events, reflecting their personalities. You can expect a personal touch when you hire TAG Events.

For NEXT’s launch party, Blackie and his team transformed the former Sixty Four Hundred Celebration Centre from wedding hall to something more versatile. Essentially, he issued a challenge to residents living in suburban neighbourhoods west of Ottawa: Stittsville, Kanata, and Barrhaven. You already commute into town for work. You shouldn’t have to leave again to get a decent meal. Likewise, if you have something to celebrate (birthday, wedding, or even a high school prom) or if nearby businesses want someplace off-site to team build, you have an option. Visit NEXT.

Besides, if NEXT’s launch party is any indication, anything you could possibly want at an event, from ethnic dishes to craft beer, is possible. Blackie knows a guy (or gal). They know him.

So…direct marketing, selective guest lists, but neither fancy swag nor splashy sponsors.

I have Tracey and Michael’s business cards in my wallet. This way, I can recommend them at a moment’s notice.


NEXT [Food]
6400 Hazeldean Road

Mild-mannered IT professional by day and food blogger by night, I founded foodiePrints with a single intention, to share my love of all things food. My first post shared a recipe. Many followed. Eventually, I learned Ottawa prepares and serves great food. Thereafter, I started meeting restaurateurs, chefs, cooks, farmers, and other local producers, all good people. Ideas for food-related content swirled in my head. foodiePrints grew into a place to put them. From exploring foreign and domestic cuisines to shopping for exotic ingredients and cobbling together my takes on dishes in my meager kitchen, there are stories to tell. Welcome to foodiePrints. Here, you will find stories about food and drink, cooking, and eating in Canada’s capital. Be it food-related or just food-for-thought, I hope you find something tasty here.