It was freshman year of college and I'd found myself in a fratboy's bedroom, as we all did at some point. Suddenly, I spied a copy of the facebook of incoming freshmen—they used to be made of paper, did you know?—and before the room's occupant could snatch it from my hands, I was flipping through what turned out to be a complicatedly coded document. Some photos of girls were circled in yellow highlighter, some in blue. Some were both yellow and blue. Some girls' photos had big Xs through them! "What's this about?" I asked Mr. Psi Upsilon. "Oh, uh... that's how we decide who to invite to parties. Heh," he admitted. I was thinking about this the other day when an invite list for a fancy party somehow fell into my inbox, and each name had coded entries like: "[Starry McTvstarlet] UNDER30/CUTE/ONAIR/300/[Starlet] BFriend" and [Modelly McExwife] 300/600/LI/MODEL/FASHION/LITERARY. Whoa! Was this standard industry practice? And what did the codes mean?
To find out, I first talked to one boutique publicist who was shocked, SHOCKED that guests were being pigeonholed in print so crassly. "I've worked at a few agencies and we'd NEVER do this. Even when we were partnered with big companies for projects and parties we wouldn't do it. You have to have people at the doors who know people!"
I wasn't convinced. After all, it just seems so... practical! So I asked a publicist who works at a marketing PR firm that specializes in fashion and retail what she made of the codes.
"Well, there's a lot of ins and outs involved in lists."
"Most companies that do events have lists of people to invite to events, yes. They range from social(ites), to models, celebrities, to everyday people. Most databases, usually you use Filemaker or Microsoft access or something like that so that you can code people (i.e. put them in different categories). Different categories would be something like - Gay, Fashion, Art, Finance, Real Estate, etc. So that you know what group they are friends with, what events they are interested in, what they are appropriate for, etc."
"You can also put notes in that help you when you are culling a list - obviously there are a certain key members of NY society that you want at events, because they get press or because they are very important. Under their notes, it could be married to xxx, lives on UES, these charity interests, wears a size 2 (because you also use this to gift certain 'influencers' things). These are your go-to people who get invited to almost all appropriate events, but you also have TONS of fillers, who could be like some cute/fashionable girl who works at Marc Jacobs, who would make the room pretty, plus everyone talks about what events they go to. So maybe her note could be cute, because I mean unless they are important, we want pretty unimportant people over ugly unimportant people."
"I would have to see this list to try to figure out what the codes mean, because I could guess due to what names they are next too. 300, 400, 500 could mean that the one person is in the Top 300 people to invite to a party, and the others are in the Top 400 or 600. Remember if you want 250 people at an event you tend to have to invite 1000."
"Also our clients sometimes ask for specific types of people to come to their events, so it could be we want rich hedge fund guys who live in Soho, so you do a search by finance or hedge funds, then sort by zip code and boo-yah you have that list, but then you also have to invite pretty girls to fill the room and make the hedge fund guys happy and also you want to make it fashionable, so you may through in some gays and fashion people. Doing lists take a delicate balance and it really is harder than it seems, because you have to be careful of your mix if you want people to have a great time, and let me tell you the first things people say is either 'Man there are hot chicks everywhere' or 'Ooh, cute boys,' if its good. And remember when it comes to the top people you have to remember who is friends with who, who hates who, who dated who, etc. Oh and you also have to be careful who you invite because say you have a great event, but only like a z-level socialite/gossip person comes, I would rather not have photos of the event on PMc, if they were only of like Olivia P[alermo] Kristian L[aliberte] or Bridget H[?] or Leven Rambin or someone like that, because it makes my event look crappy and low-brow, so I wouldn't invite them in the first place or would only invite them after I secured like A or B socials."
Chilling, right? Go ahead and imagine, for a second, what you'd be coded. On second thought, it's more like junior high than college, isn't it.