Drag queens, parrots and hog roasts: How UK agencies are proper partying this summer

grey london party

It’s summer in the U.K. — yes, it even happens here once a year, at least for a week — and agencies aren’t about to waste a good excuse for some boozy fun in the sun.

Like the real festival circuit, there are big-budget stalwarts in the calendar that have attracted a cult-like following — DigitasLBi’s rave is legendary —  but smaller agencies are also pulling out all the stops, no expense spared.

After the rosé overload of Cannes, it’s time to break out the beers and forget for a moment clients squeezing margins, wholesale ad avoidance, ad blockers and the commoditization of creativity in the pursuit of narrow quarterly financial blips. It’s time to party.

Grey London’s ’90s bash

Grey London
Revelers at Grey London’s ’90s bash, featuring inflatable boomboxes.

Grey London has regular parties — it has an in-house bar after all — but its Christmas and summer bashes are the biggest. For its party this month, the agency took over bar Number 90, a canal-side industrial space in Hackney Wick in East London.

The theme was a 1990s-era block party. So, lots of snapbacks, gold chains and eye-wateringly bright sportswear were on offer.

“As these things go, it was a great theme – pretty easy to do on the cheap, and with enough flexibility for people to either go as all-out as they could, or dress pretty subtly. Regardless, with that amount of nylon, the place must have been a terrible fire hazard,” said Ollie Dearn, Grey London’s senior PR manager.

Besides the customary face painting and photo booth, the night’s entertainment included a DJ set from Scratch Perverts and a lip sync battle between CMO Sarah Jenkins and CEO Leo Rayman.

Drag queen Jonny Woo also hosted a “drag off” that saw employees get dolled up in wigs, heels and glitter. The party’s planners, Jiant Events, were on hand with makeup wipes afterwards. “I’m still finding glitter in unexpected places now, three weeks later,” he added.

Roast’s foodie barge

Roast team
The Roast team (not dressed in house colours).

Digital agency Roast launched last February. Since then, the company has grown from a staff of five working out of CEO Ollie Bishop’s house in Maida Vale to a 40-strong team based in Angel, North London.

To celebrate its growth, the agency is hiring a party barge that will travel along Regents Canal from Bishop’s home to their new office tonight.

Much like Harry Potter, Roast sorts its employees into houses upon their arrival. But rather than Gryffindor and Slytherin, its teams are named after ingredients integral to a roast dinner: Gravy, Stuffing, Mash and Horseradish.

Guests will arrive dressed in their house colors and compete in competitions including creating the most adventurous cocktail. Drinks in its hall of fame include The Lord Porksmoor, named after the company’s yellow pig mascot, alongside The Flying Pig and The Whole Hog. For food, there will be a spit roast.

At his previous firm, Steak, founded in 2005, Bishop would take staff on weekends away to Euro Disney and Las Vegas. He says the summer party is a taste of things to come. “The reason for our success is our people. No question. I’m always a big believer in treating your staff well,” said Bishop.

DigitasLBi’s pirate soiree 

devotion LBI
Scenes from Devotion, DigitasLBi’s rave which took place earlier this year.

DigitasLBi’s London office is putting on a rum-tastic party next Friday themed around pirates. Inspired by the current heatwave, the soiree is taking place on its second-floor roof terrace.

The agency is transforming the entrance into the bow of a boat and the area will be decked out with inflatable parrots and a barbecue. The dress code is, surprise surprise, pirate attire: So, wooden legs, eye patches and cutlasses.

“Anyone attempting mutiny will be forced to walk the plank into the ball pit of doom,” said Will Temple, a producer at DigitasLBi.

The agency will also be running a treasure hunt, where prizes can be exchanged for a rum punch named after CEO (“Captain”) Michael Islip. Downstairs, music will be accompanied by projection-mapped visuals of the sea and a sunset in real-time.

Gravity Road’s awkward outfits

gRAVITY
The awkward outfits in all their glory.

Content agency Gravity Road celebrated its fifth birthday this month.

At the office’s Soho roof terrace, employees got together for a “beers and banter” session. However, to shake things up from its regular gatherings, the team took outfit inspiration from founder Mark Boyd.

This meant getting kitted out in clothes that they a) never should have bought and b) have never worn. Hello garish tops and ill-fitting ponchos.

The terrace was decorated in a Miami theme — with tunes from the agency’s resident DJ to match — while the drinks menu included gin and rum-based cocktails.

“For our birthday, we needed to elevate the vibe from crisps and beer. It could only take place on our beloved roof terrace because of the memories it holds of a thousand awesome nights,” said managing director Katie Lee.

Jellyfish’s festival

Jellyfest
The team getting wobbly at Jellyfest.

Digital agency Jellyfish has grown its annual summer party into a full-blown festival, Jellyfest. The party also takes place at its office in the U.S. and South Africa.

In addition to typically British games like rounders, there were also high-tech options including a golf simulator, arcade racing games and an Oculus Rift experience.

Staffers could listen to live bands and DJs during the day, and boogie away in a silent disco after nightfall.

After enjoying free drinks at the bar, attendees could also choose from a selection of locally sourced food, including grub from Indian chef Hari Ghotra.

“Jellyfest is about rewarding the team with a day to remember, or possibly one they want to forget depending on how involved they get in the free bar!” said CEO Rob Pierre.

Hunterlodge is on a boat

Hunterlodge Summer Party Image

Agency Hunterlodge is a water baby. Managing director Rob Hunter — a certified yacht mate — is a big boat lover and has even named his children (well, their middle names) after the sea: Lana Coral and Elise Ocean.

So its summer shindig, according to account planner and party organizer Sabina Lee, isn’t complete without a boat.

This year, that meant taking a three-hour cruise down Regents canal in a summer-themed barge named Freda. The boat was loaded with drinks and snacks for the team and a Spotify playlist, of course.

The party continued the following day with a canal-side walk (which invites the question: what is it with agencies and canals?) barbecue burgers and sun-soaked drinks at the pub. Later, the team took over Gilgamesh in Camden for cocktails and dancing until 3 a.m.

“We cannot wait to see what awaits us for the Hunterlodge big 30th birthday next year. It will involve a boat, water and some drinks for sure,” Lee added.

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