WITH her background in corporate event and meeting planning, Silvia Young of San Francisco-based Dedicated to Detail says she brings a different mentality to the social event planning that is now central to her business. “If you've worked for a CEO, you have a different mind-set on deliverables,” says the planner, who held public relations and event marketing positions in the entertainment, technology, real estate and finance industries before launching her own firm in 1999. “Instead of ‘I'll get back to you next week,’ you're thinking about meeting deadlines and managing expectations.” This spring, she and partner Alice Grisez brought that businesslike attitude to the challenge-filled coordination of a 230-guest wedding at Silicon Valley's historic Hayes Mansion.
During the wedding's year-plus planning phase, it was the area of expectation management where her corporate experience figured most significantly, Young says.
“With a corporate background, you're less likely to be afraid to counsel your client, and say, ‘With that budget, let's look realistically at what we can do,’” the planner explains. Good thing for the Dedicated to Detail team, too, since the client had “million-dollar taste, and only a $100,000 budget,” she notes. She describes the client couple's major design directives as a lush look and a dinner presentation that sang “extravagance.”
To bring decor elements more in line with the couple's budget, Young and Grisez suggested renting trees instead of filling every inch of space with cut floral, and using uplighting, jewel-tone linens and black chiavaris to create upscale ambience. Such options would not only save money, but would keep guests focused on the right elements. “When a guest entered the room, we wanted them to go ‘wow,’ but not ‘wow’ because of the flowers,” Young explains.
In the dining department, the Dedicated team recommended adding a feel of extravagance with a multiflavored cake and a bountiful dessert bar that included an elegant, though not expensive, chocolate fountain.
Along with decor and dinner menu planning, Young and Grisez had to bring their corporate client-handling experience to bear in the area of a separate children's party their clients wanted on site. “The bride and groom didn't want children in the ballroom, but they didn't want to have ‘no children’ on the invites, because they didn't want to risk a lower guest count,” Young explains. While she and her partner wanted to meet the clients' needs, “We had to manage their expectations, so they would realize that maybe a young child doesn't want to be separated from his mother, even though there's all-you-can-eat pizza in the other room.” Handling the situation meant engaging in constant communication on the subject with a “very strong-willed bride and groom” who were “as intense as any CEO,” she says.
On the wedding day, a corporate-caliber production schedule — including theme description, color scheme details, comprehensive vendor list and a hour-by-hour schedule complete with contacts, locations and miscellaneous notes — helped ensure a smooth flow.
Not only that, but it also ensured another element more commonly associated with business events than social settings: accountability. “A comprehensive time line and production schedule hold everyone accountable,” Young says. “Everyone has approved their parts. Everyone is on board.” She adds, “It's funny, with weddings, a lot of vendors will say, ‘I don't work by time lines,’ but after the fact, they always come back and say, ‘It ran so smoothly — that was great.’”
And great the celebration was for the many guests, most of who had traveled from out of town for the festivities, according to the planner. While highlights included uplit juniper trees and topiaries set up around the ballroom's perimeter, along with an Asian lion dance performance, no single component was more appreciated than the children's area. “Having the kids' area on site really allowed people to let their hair down. It was so considerate, especially for the out-of-towners,” she says. “Yes, there was a little separation anxiety at first, but after that it went smoothly.”
As smooth as the chocolate flowing from the aforementioned chocolate fountain — “a huge hit,” Young notes. “When we were exploring where best to spend money, they really wanted something that would make an impression on people. Well, this was it. It was something everybody talked about.”
Her work on weddings draws on many of the same skills she used to plan successful corporate events, Young says, not the least of which is an ability “to manage ‘up’ — anticipate what the boss is going to want so they don't look over your shoulder, and come to them before they come to you.” However, there are marked differences in the markets, she cautions.
These days, one of the biggest challenges she faces is micromanagement, brought about by what she tracks as a trend she's seen in “brides suddenly laid off of work halfway through the wedding planning.” With her day job out of the way, “suddenly the bride is into every single detail. Usually, you don't have a CEO do that. They just don't have time. They have to step back and let you do your job.”
But whether it's the excessively hands-on bride or the lawyer groom intent on “nitpicking every part of the contract,” in the end it's about “learning to work in tandem,” Young says. “Just like in corporate, we have to manage the process so everyone is on the same page.”
Dedicated to Detail San Francisco, CA; 415/517-8003; www.dedicatedtodetail.com. Turn to page 65 for a list of resources for this event.
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