The Financial Follies: Like your high school prom
Our anonymous society correspondent attended the 2014 Financial Follies, hosted by the New York Financial Writers’ Association, on Friday night in New York and submitted the following report:
Let’s admit it — the Financial Follies — the annual black tie gathering of flacks and hacks in the Marriott Marquis in Times Square — is kind of terrible. But that’s not going to stop us from going back year after year. Deep down, we all secretly love it.
When I first started in financial journalism, I was so jealous of the people in my newsroom changing into their cocktail dresses and tuxedos because they had been invited to something called the “Financial Follies.” I had never heard of it, but I really wanted to go!
A year later, I snagged an invite.
My first year at the Follies was quite memorable, and not in a good way. About 30 minutes into the event, this larger man with an obnoxiously deep voice from a newspaper creepily stroked my arm. I don’t think the bar had been open that long.
Luckily, one of my co-workers saw what happened and pulled me away. I was also seated at a table with a PR firm I had never heard of that didn’t really have to do with my beat. The only other folks I remember at the table were two Forbes reporters. One of them was giving me a hard time. Times have certainly changed.
I skipped out on dessert at my first Follies. It was a huge disappointment. At my second Follies, I barely sat at my table.
This year was my third Follies. I actually had a top PR firm offer me a seat. Plus, I already knew going in that the event is lame.
I arrived at 6:45. There was already a decent-sized crowd on the sixth floor. I checked my coat for $3.50 (I won’t forget that after having to ask someone from another news outlet for cash. I probably still owe him.)
I headed straight to the bar. You have to buy drink tickets.
“$7 for water?” I asked. “That must be some fancy water.”
“It’s sparkling water,” the man selling tickets replied.
I shelled out $11 for lousy glass of white wine that I could hardly choke down.
I mingled for a bit with some of my industry buddies. Then, a friend suggested we go crash VIP on the 8th floor.
It was easy. We just strolled in. The VIP cocktail hour had an open bar and crudite platters.
One PR guy explained that the open bar at the Follies went away around 2008 as a “sign of the times.”
It makes sense — I can’t imagine granting an open bar to a bunch of financial journalists. Who in their right mind would want to cover that tab?
At 7:30 p.m., the event staff start banging this annoying song on a xylophone signaling it’s time for dinner and the program. It took a good 20 minutes to corral everyone away from the bar and to their respective tables.
The Follies features a staged musical show that’s billed as “an unregulated derivative of past events.”
This year’s show was actually bearable. OK, I didn’t love it, but I didn’t have to leave my seat either. Then again, no one ever attends the Follies to see the show. No one goes for the food either.
Gov. Chris Christie, Bank of America and former PIMCO head Bill Gross were all roasted in the satirical songs. One of the songs was a tribute to hedge fund manager Bill Ackman’s infamous Herbalife short:
(To the tune of It’s My Life)
“Herbalife/I won’t stop ever/I can hold this short forever/ I just want this company to die (Herbalife).”
“This trade is like a gridlocked highway/Like Carl and Dan, I did it my way/ I just want this company to die/ Herbalife!”
The PR firm that reps Pershing Square seemed to enjoy it, too. Their table waved their arms back and forth like they were at a rock concert.
I excused myself for a restroom break. I didn’t really have to go. I just wanted to see what was going on outside of the ballroom.
At a table toward the restrooms, Fox Business Network’s Charles Gasparino was holding court with a bottle of Grey Goose. Everyone wanted to stop by and chat and fill up a cup. Now that’s how you do the Follies properly!
I returned to my table with a vodka cranberry in hand. I finished my filet and talked some business.At 8:36, a trader buddy of mine in Chicago messaged DM’d me on Twitter, “Ru thrrr? Jealous!” I told him not to be.
After dessert, I returned to Gasparino’s table. It was definitely the happening spot of the evening.
After dessert and coffee, inebriated journalists and PR folks filtered out of the ballroom. People were in search of the after-party to keep the revelry going. The word was that there was a party in room 4444. Then, the rumor was that it was on the 26th floor. Everyone crammed into the glass elevators. No parties were ever found.
I left the Marriott with a group in search of some food. All of the decent Midtown spots were closed since it was close to midnight. And there was no way I would go into McDonald’s. I hopped in a cab and went home.I suppose the real appeal of the evening is getting to see colleagues and friends at different news outlets.
From my own experience, folks in financial media already tend to hang out a lot whether it’s a happy hour or dinner. The Follies is sort of like high school prom for us with everyone dressed up and some people too dressed up.
I’ll be back next year.