THE best party favors are those that reinforce an event's message, boost a brand, or are just plain fun. Whether they're interactive gifts that attendees make themselves or charming tchotchkes that commemorate the occasion, guests will treasure these keepsakes long after the last canapé is gone.

HANDS-ON FUN

“As an event planner, you want guests to walk away from an event with both an experience and a party favor they will never forget,” says David Gersh, director of development at Simi Valley, Calif.-based Dance Heads, which offers an interactive experience where the heads of event guests are superimposed onto video images of the bodies of professional dancers. As participants lip-sync to classic pop tunes against a green screen, their performance is captured on camera, then set against an animated background to create a keepsake recording. Dance Heads recently switched from its original VHS format to DVD technology, allowing the company to imprint the DVDs with corporate logos and the event date. “The experience is twofold — the performers are putting on a show for everyone who is watching, adding entertainment value, and then they walk away with their performance on DVD as a souvenir gift,” Gersh says. “In addition, the host of the event will receive a master compilation of all the videos to enjoy long after the event is over.”

Another hands-on option — pottery favors that guests design themselves. Angie Verburg, executive director at the Contemporary Ceramic Studios Association, says that pottery-painting sessions are great for smaller team-building events, bridal showers and children's parties. The Fresno, Calif.-based association is made up of more than 900 pottery studios in the United States, Canada and Europe. Event planners can contact a studio in their area to arrange for an event to be held there, or arrange for studio staff to oversee an off-site event. Guests select a piece of unfinished pottery such as a coffee mug, vase or platter, paint the piece, and have it glazed and fired. “Recently our studios have been offering more options for corporate parties,” Verburg says. “Most studio owners will come to {the client}, and/or deliver the final piece.” If an occasion requires guests to take the favors home with them, a “make and take” option uses acrylic paint that doesn't need the firing process.

GET PERSONAL

“Personalizing gift items has been a trend for several years” and is still going strong, says Dana Smith Acosta, owner of Charming Favours in Pleasantville, N.Y. The company meets demand with personalized favors suited for events such as bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and corporate functions. Its Web site organizes favors into categories for type of event or specific themes to make selections a snap. Nostalgic choices such as friendship balls — an old English tradition — and small brass watering cans filled with packets of flower seeds make ideal gifts for weddings. For corporate clients, the focus is on stylish but practical products such as soft leather journals, and atlases filled with useful information such as maps, telephone directories, country information and time zones, Acosta says. These items are typically personalized with corporate logos, and can be customized even further with unique pages, end leaves and packaging. “Don't overlook the importance of gifts and favors when tying together all aspects of an event,” she notes. “Aside from other components of a great event, {these} serve as a token of appreciation for each guest.”

Light-up mementos continue to make a big impression on event guests, says Jim Weigl, president of Virginia Toy & Novelty Co. in Virginia Beach, Va., which specializes in glowing and light-up party favors. “Lighting is so important to set the mood,” he says, “and our products can infuse color into any event.” He notes that the company's line of WeGlow Ware — disposable flatware with a glowing handle that can be removed and turned into a necklace — “is our hottest item for the special event industry.” The handles, which are available in myriad colors, can be customized with company logos and text.

Weigl says that many of the light-up items that are commonplace to planners are novel to event guests. “To those in the industry, sometimes items become old news quickly, but to your client they are new and fun every time,” he explains. “People still get excited about glow necklaces, and {those} have been around for over 20 years.”

MEMORY-MAKERS

Philadelphia-based Special Favors creates custom book jackets imprinted with full-color images and the event name and date, which are then wrapped around miniature books. The company offers more than 150 palm-sized versions of popular editions covering a range of topics, from how to choose wine to collections of love quotes. “We recently provided miniature magic books for an event with a magic theme,” notes manager Allan Ash. Also available are more than 100 kits, which contain a miniature-edition book and accessories geared toward a particular activity or hobby. For example, the Sushi Box contains a 32-page sushi recipe book and tiny tools such a bamboo rolling mat, a bowl for dipping sauce and chopsticks. Fully customizable box wrappers can be designed with a logo and message covering all four sides, and on some kits the company can customize the components. “Our products are designed to be creative, engaging and fun,” Ash says.

RESOURCES

Charming Favours, 914/747-5092; Contemporary Ceramic Studios Association, 559/433-0716; Dance Heads, 800/446-3211; Special Favors, 800/810-4145; Virginia Toy & Novelty Co., 866/708-8697