May 24, 2013

What’s the deal with Wedding Planners? [Weddings 101]

Wedding

“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”
~ Aristotle

And it is 100% true. I have been in the wedding industry for 7 years now and I have my own wedding coming up next year. Does this mean I’ll whip up the event of a lifetime because I’ve seen so much? Lord no! I have experience, connections, organization, and a pretty good design sense but I know that I want an incredibly beautiful, stress-free event that I can’t create on my own. Quite simply: I am not a professional planner. From the hundreds of weddings that I’ve seen, I can tell you that weddings are better when there is a professional planner on board.

I have thought about planners a lot lately since I had to pick mine across the ocean. If even I had questions, I figured I should do some research and share my findings with other engaged couples. I asked some of the best wedding planners in the Greater Philadelphia Area about their jobs. This is what I learned:

1. What is the difference between a consultant, coordinator, day-of coordinator, event designer, planner, concierge service?
Sarah:
Day-of: This is someone who becomes involved in your wedding process a couple months before your day. They gather all of the details you’ve pulled together for your wedding so that they can be “you” on the day-of. They’re aware of what the DJ’s contract says so that they can ensure he remains there for the full 5 hours.
Great for: the bride who has pretty much everything planned, but has started freaking out about how it’s all going to come together on the actual day.

Event designer: This is someone who, drumroll… helps design your wedding. You may know you love the color lilac, but don’t know how to incorporate it in your wedding while maintaining a classy yet “you” vibe.
Great for: the bride who has a Pinterest board with hundreds of pictures of varying designs and doesn’t know how to narrow down her options and pull it all together into a cohesive design.

Planner: Someone who is involved in more than just the day-of. They are typically there from the first step of the wedding process. They assist you with vendor selection, venue selection, and guide you along the way.
Great for: the couple who is unsure of where to begin. The couple who is busy and needs someone to shoulder some of the responsibility.

Christina:
Consultant – someone who gives advice, tips, and guidance for your wedding without doing any planning or coordination. A couple who wants to plan and organize the wedding by themselves may meet with a consultant just to get an idea on where to start their wedding planning. Consultants may also have helpful documents and templates for couples to use during the planning process.

Coordinator / Day of Coordinator – someone who works on just the logistics of the wedding day, which includes event timelines, confirmation of vendors, and managing the wedding day. Typically coordination begins about one month before the wedding. There is no planning involved by the third party. The couple who chooses a day of coordinator has planned the entire wedding without outside help and wants someone to ensure the wedding day is executed as planned.

Event designer – someone who designs the wedding in purely the aesthetic sense. This includes flowers, lighting, linens, and other decor. This is a specific portion of the entire wedding planning process and designers are great for couples who have envisioned elaborate decor for their wedding that goes outside of mere flowers.

Planner – someone who coordinates all wedding vendors and aspects of the wedding. This includes researching and booking all vendors, floor plans, budget management, and event design. Generally the planner is accessible to the client for any and all wedding needs.

Concierge – Someone who acts more like a personal assistant to the couple. This person does not plan or coordinate the wedding but will aid the couple in detailed tasks such as dress pick up, welcome bag creation/drop off, booking appointments, etc.

2. What questions should you ask when interviewing planners?

Tonia:

The budget is important but before you ask the price of their services, get to know their aesthetic, skill set and personality. I always tell my clients that you can hire most of your wedding professionals based on the end product alone, but your planner, photographer, and videographer need to be people that you genuinely enjoy, as well as value their services. Not only will we spend the bulk of your wedding day with you, your planner will help create the day with and for you.

Erin:
There are three main questions:

What are you paying for?
Are they educated- do they have any degrees or certifications applicable to planning events? How did they get started in this industry? Do they have experience working in events in your area and the type of wedding that you are having? Have they worked at your venue or with your professionals before? How long have they been doing events of this particular type? Have they been featured in any respected publications? Do they come recommended by other respected vendors in the area? Do they have references that speak highly of them? Do they do this full time? If so, do their prices reflect that of a full-time vendor? How many PAID events have they been responsible for (not family parties or their own wedding)? Do they speak highly of their competition? Do they have staff? Who is their staff? What are their backgrounds? How many will be a part of planning? Does the team require travel accommodations/any fees for travel? Are there taxes/service charges to consider?

What services do they provide before the wedding day?
Will they assist in design? Will they handle site selection? Will they recommend vendors? Will they establish (and manage) a budget for you? Will they handle deliveries? How many meetings will you have? Will they happen in person, via phone, or skype? What type of communicating is preferred/included (unlimited emails, scheduled phone calls, etc)? How will plans be confirmed with you? (We send clients our completed detail forms to sign off on.) Will the planner confirm your vendor arrangements? Are they handling anything to do with travel arrangements for your guests/you? What about transports to/from hotels? Do they schedule recreational activities/tours for your guests? Who will handle payment of vendors? Will they be a part of planning the rehearsal dinner/after party/nextday brunch? What about delivering welcome baskets or helping with hotel arrivals? Will they plan and coordinate the actual wedding rehearsal?

What services do they provide on the wedding day?
How many staff members will there be? When does their day begin/end? What is their backup plan in case of last-minute vendor cancellations/staff emergencies? What is in their emergency kit? How does their typical wedding day unfold? What is their role during the different parts of the wedding day? Who is responsible for setting up decor? Who is responsible for packing up decor at the end? Who is responsible for paying/tipping vendors? What ISN’T included on the wedding day?

Ask them about situations in which they’ve been onsite and their quick-thinking contributed to saving the day (see #8). Ask them about a mistake they may have made and what they did to fix it and ensure it never happens again. Find out what their favorite part of wedding planning is (I love fleshing out the logistics and developing timelines) and what their least favorite part of it is (annoying vendors that don’t follow up on our confirmations).

3. Why would a couple need more than the venue coordinator?
Chrissy: 
Having worked as both a venue coordinator and also as a planner, I am in a ripe position to explain the difference! As a catering sales manager (or venue coordinator) it was my job to see that the venue ops team and catering crew had all of the information they needed to execute an event properly. Specifically, that means that I oversaw the wedding setup and dinner execution. Whenever possible, I would help my clients with small items, like table numbers and escort cards, but my priority was, of course, representing my employer and seeing that the catering/venue team was successful on the big night.

As a planner, advocating for my clients is my top and only priority, and the work goes way beyond what happens at the reception. I work with clients from start to finish when it comes to tackling wedding tasks- many of which have little or nothing to do with the actual reception setup. Items like connecting them with the right professionals, assisting in communication with vendors, guest list planning, invitations/stationary, transportation, hair/makeup styling and scheduling, attire, ceremony planning, scouting locations for photography and creating shot lists, creating a master timeline for the entire wedding weekend, and personalizing the event design details. These are all things that I did not have a hand in when I worked as a venue coordinator.

4. What kind of experience/background should a couple look for in a planner?
Rebecca:
Some planners come with a background in finance while others might have worked as teachers or in the public relations field. No matter what background they come from it’s important to explore what kind of experience they have specifically in wedding planning and also what kind of education they received. Some kind of education in event planning whether it be a certificate program or associate’s or 4 year degree is important to provide the planner with the foundation and essentials they need to make their events a success. It must be combined with practical real world experience in specifically wedding planning. Corporate events and weddings are very different types of events, each with their own logistical considerations and dynamics so having experience in planning weddings is important to the success of your wedding planner and his/her events.

5. How much do planners cost? How are packages usually structured?
Rebecca:
Each wedding planner you interview will have their service tiers or packages. When developing their packages they will consider their own experience and education, the level of service they offer, and value for their time. The cost for these services which will vary from planner to planner. In the Philadelphia market, Day of or month of packages range in price from $1000-$3000 while full service packages typically range in price from $3000-$6000.

6. What questions should a couple ask themselves when considering if they need a planner?
Tonia:
Where do you need help the most? What’s keeping you up at night? What about the planning process interests you the most? What are you dreading about planning your wedding? Are you detail-oriented or a big picture kind of person? Will you DIY, and if so, how much time and money are you willing to invest? (Tip: Pick one or two things to DIY well in advance of the wedding; there’s nothing worse than a stressed bride with a hot glue gun the week before her wedding!) Once you have a general sense of where you need help you can start to find the right fit.

Sarah:
I think everyone needs a planner but I’m biased. To me it just makes sense to have someone there for one of the biggest days of your life to ensure everything is going to run smoothly. Depending on a friend or family member may sound like the greatest, most cost-effective idea, but as someone who has done hundreds of weddings, it’s not a good call. So what they need to ask themselves:
* Are you okay with focusing on the details on your wedding day or do you want to be able to just enjoy your day (not concerned that there won’t be enough chairs for the ceremony or that your grandma who is in a wheelchair won’t make it to her seat)?
* Do you want to have a cohesive design/theme of your wedding?
* Do you want someone to organize it all and make your day run fluidly?
* What do you want from your planner: do you want a planner that you can be friends with or someone who comes in does the job then goes home?
Knowing this will help narrow the search down for you and naturally rule some people out for you.

How much time do you REALLY have to put towards your wedding? Let’s be real, everyone starts out thinking you can “do it all” but then you realize: you work a full-time job, you travel, you belong to a sports league… you really don’t have as much time as you thought you did. So be realistic from the get go. And just because you hire a planner doesn’t mean you’re not involved in the planning process.

7. Are there weddings that don’t need coordinators?
Chrissy:
No, I do not believe so. Every bride deserves to enjoy her day! Without a planner, the bride and sometimes the Mother of the Bride will end up fielding questions and calling the shots all day long. Being in the wedding industry, knowing the players and being able to anticipate potential issues for my clients is something that a super crafty, organized girlfriend just doesn’t do (and shouldn’t be asked to do). I am a BIG fan of working with my clients’ friends and family to create personalized, special touches for a wedding. There is really no substitution for an experienced wedding planner looking out for your best interests at all times.

Rebecca:
You may be surprised to find that as a planner I will say yes. I think each bride and groom will need to determine how much time they have in their life for planning and what kind of day they want to experience on their wedding day. Some couples have enough time in their lives to do the proper research needed to plan their wedding. Most couples on average will spend about 10 hours a week planning their weddings. A typical wedding can take 200-250 hours to plan. If you feel that you have the time in your life to commit to that then perhaps you do not need a planner. If on the day of your wedding you are willing to go through the day with the possibility of having to deal with the issues that arise (and there will be issues) then perhaps you don’t need a planner. Think about what is best for you and your family and know that you or they will be the ones handling any problems.

I see the value that experience and knowledge can bring to pulling off a successful and stress free event.

8. When have you saved the day in a way that only a wedding coordinator (not the couple, not “a really organized friend”) could?
Erin:
We have solved literally hundreds of issues behind the scenes during weddings. The craziest wedding day involved a photographer breaking her foot onsite, a groomsman having an allergic reaction and leaving by ambulance, and a fireworks display that caught a bush on fire. Yes, all at the same wedding! Without years of experience dealing with chaos and working under pressure, I don’t know that I would’ve been prepared to handle it all! We were able to get multiple photographers onsite within the hour to cover for our injured photographer, get an epi pen to the allergic groomsman, and thank goodness the local fire department was onsite to put out the fire! We are also ordained in case there are issues with the officiant – the only thing that really matters is that the wedding ceremony happens; the rest of the day is just a party! We have seriously thought of solutions to most problems far before they happen… which makes us the professionals, prepared to tackle any issues that come our way!

9. What would you like prospective clients to understand better about your job?
Christina
Clients should see their wedding planner as their best friend and advocate. I fight hard for my clients. Not to get them the absolute cheapest vendors, but to give them the best value for the money they want to spend. I know when vendors are nickel and diming my clients or trying to be dishonest. Since starting my business in 2007, I have made some amazing connections with vendors, all of whom I trust very much. I don’t accept any kickbacks and clients should know this so they can expect honest referrals from me at all times.

As a planner, I am very easy going and my planning process adapts to each client’s personality. Every couple is different and wants different levels of control in planning their wedding. I am there to support and to guide them, and my main priority it to make sure that at the end of the wedding day the wedding is exactly how they had envisioned it but better.

The trusted experts:
Sarah Kudlack of Juniper and Dash

Christina Hill of cHill Weddings

Tonia Adleta of Aribella Events

Erin Proud of Proud to Plan

Chrissy Lehman of Truly You Events

Rebecca Richman of Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants

“Good plans shape good decisions. That’s why good planning helps to make elusive dreams come true.”
~ Geoffrey Fisher  



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