Zoom Happy Hours Are Taking Over Advertising

The author getting pranked on Zoom by Leaf Group’s Scott Messer.

Forget client dinners, Thirsty Thursdays and team drinks. The advertising world is going all in on the Zoom happy hour.

“I wasn’t too sure about Zoom Happy Hours at first. Did I really want another meeting on my calendar? But I soon learned how fun and relaxing they can be,” said Sara Badler, SVP of programmatic revenue and strategy at Dotdash and a virtual drinks convert.

Her frequent client dinners are being replaced by thrice weekly Zoom happy hours – which she prefers to hold either at 5:30pm or after her kids go to bed. The best part? “No wait at the bar!” she said.

“So many of our daily interactions now are transactional,” said Disqus President and GM Steven Stein, another convert who’s been Zoom happy hour-ing once a week. And where else can he talk about Joe Exotic and home workout tips?

But how to hold a successful Zoom happy hour? Here’s what the Zoom happy hour veterans have learned in recent weeks.

Curate the guest list

“The smaller the group chat, the better,” said Abby Hamilton, LiveIntent’s SVP of people development. In larger hangouts, bonding suffers because “everyone becomes obsessed with the fact that the screen looks like the opening credits to ‘The Brady Bunch.’”

Since only one person can talk at a time, DotDash’s Badler prefers no more than four or five people when she hosts a Zoom happy hour.

After large meetings, the digital consultancy Gather does “Connection Roulette,” randomly assigning a group of 50 into rooms with three people, which expire after a couple of minutes. “It gives the serendipitous feeling of being at a cocktail party and randomly taking part in intimate conversations, while still maintaining a larger group setting,” said David Gaspar, managing director of Gather.

Throw a theme party

For larger groups, games and roundtable questions help include everyone and create a structure and flow so people don’t all talk at once.

At a recent Leaf Group “Thirsty Thursday” with 25 participants, everyone wore hats (including the CEO and EVP of legal). And the team played a virtual-friendly version of the blind guessing game “Heads Up” to allow everyone to shout out.

Themes can also help meetings cohere.

“Build a theme. Like any event, uniqueness and fun drive attendance,” said Joel Kaplan, executive creative director at advertising agency Muhtayzik Hoffer. “Don’t just have a happy hour, make it a “Magnum, P.I.”-themed happy hour. No theme is too random. Insane Clown Posse baby shower – I’m in.”

Leaf Group’s hat-themed Thirsty Thursday. Find the CEO.

Alternatively, have a trivia nerd run a pub quiz or a wine enthusiast teach people how to taste wine, Kaplan said. “This is a chance for agency folks to go beyond what they are known for.”

Own the Zoom background

After a trip to Europe in early March, Leaf Group SVP of media Scott Messer quarantined himself – giving him a solid head start to explore Zoom’s rich features that are perfect for casual meetings and happy hours.

His favorite icebreaker is to start with a prank: a Zoom background that’s a video loop of him, while he stays off camera. Then he’ll dive in and photobomb himself.

Zoom backgrounds have made Freestar’s director of yield Andrew Beehler a legend at the company. Some of his memorable background choices include stills from “Tiger King,” a rap video and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

Advanced-level Zoom practitioners can switch the background as the tone of a meeting changes. Messer uses a cartoon character screaming “Do not panic” when the right moment strikes.

Freestar’s director of yield on Zoom.

Happy hours overall are much better with crazy backgrounds, Kaplan said. “Even the most mundane event is boosted when the participants are sitting in a jet cockpit, on the set of Seinfeld, or in the middle of a 1980s WWF ring.”

Bring in pets and kids

The real-life backgrounds in Zoom happy hours can also serve as conversation starters – or welcome distractions.

Meeting pets and kids of co-workers and clients allows everyone to get to know each other in new ways, said Sarah Petit, associate director of client development and digital marketing firm Nina Hale – and can liven up a video call.

“During one call, someone’s pet hamster was in the background running on its wheel for the majority of the meeting. An adorably unexpected distraction,” Petit recalled.

And sometimes these pets and kids will embarrass you – so just embrace it.

“If you have roommates, partners or kids, they will be seen. They will walk through the background in underwear (happened). They will trip over the computer cord (happened). That’s OK. It’s part of the game,” Kaplan said. “Might as well introduce them.”

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