She wakes up at 6 a.m., her inbox filled with 27 new e-mails
from the night before. The caterer has been booked but needs a list of
preferences, the florist is providing estimates, the host wants to know
about upgrading hotel linens. There's a meeting with a photographer that
afternoon, and the venue staff need a workable day-of timetable.
this isn't necessarily describing the typical day of a meeting planner.
It's also the daily grind of a wedding planner. And while the purposes
of the events are very different, the fundamental goals are the same: to
meet or exceed the expectations of the hosts and attendees.
and corporate events are so different -- but they're also so similar,"
affirms Cindy Shanholtz, owner of Chicago-based Effortless Events.
Brides want to have a meaningful gathering that, in effect, marks the
beginning of an exciting new phase in their lives -- and so do
corporations, she says.
On the following pages, wedding planners
offer their tips on creating remarkable, creative, one-of-a-kind events
-- all while dealing with demanding or jittery clients and limited
Define expectations Before a
wedding planner can start getting creative, he or she first must sit
down with the couple and find out who they are, what they're thinking
and what their priorities are for the big day. After all, creativity
needs a defined framework within which to thrive.
"I ask them a
lot of questions about what they want their event to look, smell and
taste like, how they want their guests to feel, what's important to
them. I'll get a sense of the client," says Michael Radolinski, owner
and principal event planner at New York City-based Michael Henry Events
The same approach, of course, applies to corporate
events. The corporate planner must fully understand the company's
culture and envision clear goals for the gathering -- whether it's
boosting team morale or increasing sales.
This is also key for
budgeting purposes. Wedding planners agree the best way to satisfy their
customers financially is to allocate money according to their
priorities. David Stone, director of catering and conference services at
La Posada de Santa Fe (N.M.), a Rock Resort, says he starts out by
jotting down absolutely every idea and desire the couple has, along with
the potential cost. Then he scale backs from there according to the
couple's priorities. So if the couple indicates that music is the
element that's most important to them, he will allot more money to the
music budget. That way it's all out in the open, there are no surprises
and the couple is getting the most bang for their bucks.
Once priorities have been established and budgets have been
appropriately allocated, wedding planners can begin getting creative.
Where do they start? While traditional bridal magazines, books and
websites are a given for getting ideas related to F&B, interior
design, floral arrangements and the like, many of the best and brightest
seek inspiration from less conventional sources.
"I tend to look
outside the traditional bridal context. I'm looking at art magazines,
I'm looking at creative people in general. Fashion and interior design
are a big inspiration," says Radolinski.
Shanholtz advises her brides to peruse magazines related to entertaining but without any wedding-specific angles, such as Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Architectural Digest and InStyle. These sources offer ideas for F&B, design, color schemes, room setup and other creative touches.
for inspiration outside the norm frees up both the planner's and the
host's minds and allows for events that are less "same old, same old"
and more unique.
"I think it's important to always think outside
the box," explains Stone. "We know what a typical wedding is going to
consist of. But if we can throw in a couple elements that are going to
be a surprise to guests, then that's what we need to focus on."
says that "personalizing the event -- either to the hosts or to the
locale -- is one great way to add these unexpected touches." For
example, since his hotel is based in Santa Fe, Stone's clients often ask
him to infuse some Southwestern flair into their weddings. Rather than
simply bus guests from a popular downtown ceremony site to the reception
venue, he'll employ a parade of mariachi musicians to escort them. He's
also plied wedding guests with margaritas upon arrival, and has even
introduced a mobile bar in the form of a tequila-toting donkey.
one of his more remarkable weddings, Radolinksi used the location of
the ceremony -- the bride's hometown of St. Louis -- as an overarching
theme. "One of the things the bride really wanted to do was get people
excited about coming to the city," he explains. "St. Louis is one of
those great historic places with beautiful old architecture that for a
period of time fell into disrepair. Now it's seeing a revitalization. So
our entire concept was about the city's renaissance."
wedding invitations unfolded to reveal a map of the 1904 St. Louis
World's Fair, and the dining tables featured bricks salvaged from the
remodel of a historic brewery in St. Louis, as well as other hardware
purchased at local junk shops, such as stone fleur de lis from gardens
and building façades, iron stars once used to stabilize brick walls, and
metal heating grates. The floral arrangements were even surrounded by
framed photographs of celebrated St. Louis architecture.
Smith, owner of Washington, D.C.-based Simply Elegant Weddings, notes
that it's important to let go of the "this is how we always do it"
mentality and approach each situation without any preconceived notions.
once told me that if you're not feeling particularly creative and you'd
like to be, look at the situation and come up with three different
options. Sooner or later, you'll just be able to naturally think like
that," Smith says.
This skill came in particularly handy when
Smith was faced with transforming a bride's chosen venue -- the ballroom
of the local Ritz-Carlton, which was stunning but which many of her
friends and family were already familiar with -- into something special
and distinctive that didn't break the bank.
"The bride wanted to
do something with branches or trees or a forest -- something completely
different than the elegant ballroom that it was," Smith recalls. "So we
worked in tandem with a lighting company to project trees onto the
walls, and the floral arrangements included branches that mirrored the
woodland effect. We totally transformed the room."
Create an experience Many
wedding planners stress that while the goals and vision of the bride
and groom are the guiding elements in creating the event, the guests
play a crucial role in shaping its execution.
"Whether you are
arranging a wedding or a corporate event, it's all about the guest
experience," Shanholtz says. "People want to go to an event and feel
like their presence means something. They really do want to feel
invited…and like they're not just another person, not just a number on a
To ensure the experience is both unforgettable
and the one intended by the hosts, Shanholtz recommends that planners
put themselves in the attendees' shoes. "What I've actually done before
is that I'll go to the venue, and from the time I exit the cab I'll walk
through everything that the guests will see. Is someone meeting them at
the door? Will someone need to direct them? Is there good signage?"
also recommends paying close attention to details such as the client's
favorite drinks, foods or music. These are all things that a company's
salespeople know and are usually happy to share, she says. "For
instance, for a wedding, I know what my bride and groom and both sets of
parents are drinking. For my corporate events, guess what -- I will
know what my clients are drinking. And I will send my bar staff over
with a drink for them before they have to turn around and ask," she
says. "I once did an event where the people were from St. Louis, so I
had a certain type of local beer. It's the attention to detail, the
little extra step that meeting planners will take that set their events
These are all small and inexpensive touches that nevertheless make a big impact on attendees.
Understand the stress
Who doesn't have a story of a family fight based on wedding plans?
"Weddings bring out the worst in people," Shanholtz says. "There's not
much I haven't seen."
When it comes to dealing with tense,
jittery or demanding clients, Radolinski has one simple mantra: It's not
about the [blank]. "What I mean by that is, usually your client is not
stressed out about the thing that they are telling you they are stressed
out about," he says. "It's usually not about the napkins; it's usually
not about the floral arrangements or the particular silverware. It's
usually that they're stressed about the way their mom has been acting or
what their maid of honor has been doing. And when I realize it's not
personal, it becomes much easier to deal with the client."
adds that taking a deep breath and gently asking the client what it is
about that particular napkin or place setting that is bothering them, or
whether there is something larger that he or she is worried about,
"usually the answer will be, 'I'm concerned about X, Y and Z,' and then
you can address the real problem."
Shanholtz and Smith emphasize
that coming across as confident, planning out as much as possible
beforehand ("People don't like surprises!" Shanholtz says), and
demonstrating great vendor relationships also are key when dealing with
"Working together is really, really important," Smith says.
Adds Shanholtz: "It truly does take a village to put on a wedding -- or any kind of event."