Along with price-shopping brides who haggle over every penny in the wedding budget, veteran wedding professionals face another headache these days: the newbie wedding planner. Often armed with little experience—other than their own wedding—the newbies drive down fees and taint the value of experienced wedding pros, many in the business say.
Newbies are not a recent phenomenon, explains Joyce Scardina Becker, president of San Francisco-based Events of Distinction and founding president of the Wedding Industry Professionals Association. "However, they do come in waves," she says, "and right now it feels like a tidal wave!"
The San Francisco Bay area sees "at least one newbie a week," says Jenne Hohn, founder of Napa, Calif.-based Jenne Hohn Events. Although the recession has pushed the newly jobless to try to break into weddings ("I've heard of corporate planners who said they would never touch weddings now seeking advice on how to plan them," Hohn says), she thinks the problem started while the economy was still healthy. Many planners and vendors "saw that the wedding planners were doing well and decided to add planning to their repertoire a way to get a piece of the pie."
One of the most galling trends, Scardina Becker says, is the low-cost, "day of" wedding coordination service many newbies offer.
"I'm not sure how the term 'day of' coordination originated, but it is a term that needs to be eradicated from the vocabulary of the wedding industry," she says. "No wedding planner of sound mind, experience and education would simply show up on the day of a wedding, wave their arms in the air like a symphony conductor and expect everything to flow flawlessly." Instead, she says, a professional wedding planner would spend from 30 to 45 hours a month out from the wedding date, making sure all plans are in place.
Note: Hohn shares her thoughts in "The Myth of 'Day Of' Wedding Planning"; click here to read more.
The problem stretches across the Atlantic to England, notes London-based wedding planner Siobhan Craven-Robins, a 15-year veteran professional.
Until 1995, weddings in England and Wales had to take place in a church or register office. But when the law changed, a wide range of venue options became available to brides, and wedding planning blossomed. Craven-Robins notes, "In the U.K., wedding planning is still a growing industry, and a difficult one to get into if you are not setting up your own business. Consequently there are always new planners setting up." She adds, "Most don't survive long as they have a somewhat rosy view of what the job really entails! I get on average four CVs [resumés] a day from people wanting to be wedding planners."
Although her strong brand has protected her business thus far, Craven-Robins sees the same problems with newbies in the business. "A number of planners have complained about the novices starting up and seriously undercutting on price," she says. "In the long run, it does no one any favors. They will be unable to sustain a business on such small fees, it devalues the brand, and makes the industry unnecessarily cutthroat."
REPUTATION AT RISK
Along with driving down fees, some newbies are compromising the reputation of wedding planning by their ignorance or—or disdain for—professionalism, some veteran planners say.
Colette Lopez, head of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based La Fête, said she was "floored" a few years ago when her client posted photos of the wedding Lopez created on the Web site of the new "planner," claiming they were her work. "I see a lot of blogs that are showing just table designs and set-up shots instead of actual events," Lopez adds.
Tara Wilson, founder of Tara Wilson Events in Fort Worth, Texas, has been pestered in recent months by callers pretending to be prospective brides. She knows why they ask detailed questions about her pricing and services: "It's very frustrating to have newbies calling and pretending to be brides to pick my brain," she says. "I would much prefer a start-up planner ask to take me to lunch and discuss her questions rather than try to sneak answers past me. I would be happy to share my insights about this challenging and unique business with the right person, but honesty is the best way to go about it."
Besides knowing little about the wedding business, many newbies know little about business period. For a presentation at The Special Event 2008, Scardina Becker polled wedding planners and learned that 45 percent did not carry business insurance, and 13 percent had no license. "This was a motivating factor for me to help start the Wedding Industry Professionals Association," she says; WIPA members are required to have a business license and insurance.
Yet the shortcomings of the newbie planner show up in time. "I hear all the time from my vendors all over," Lopez says, "that the florist, photographer, band emcee or head captain ends up taking over the event to keep it on track with planners that are not experienced."
Janice P. Blackmon, with more than 25 years in wedding planning, was called on recently to bail out a newbie herself. The head of Janice Blackmon Events in Atlanta—a market "saturated" with wedding planners, she says—tells the story of a newbie planner so ill-equipped to handle a wedding "that on several occasions she even asked the client what they should be working on next," Blackmon says. The worried bride checked with her venue for a recommendation on a planner, and Blackmon's name came up. "I was able to come in with two weeks until the wedding, pull everything together, and create and produce the flawless wedding that the bride had been dreaming of," she says.
Blackmon hopes for the day to return when clients "understand that to have the event they desire, it takes quality vendors and professionals to work together to achieve that goal." But with the bumper crop of inept newbies, "I fear we will continue down the road as we are today," she says, "with having to spend extra time explaining why we charge what we charge for our services and why we can't just give away our time and expertise."
Hohn, however, is more optimistic. "Ethical planners have held a constant fee structure as a way to maintain the integrity of the industry," she says. "These planners have found ways to reword their assistance structure and more clearly define what it is that they do. Not only that, they are educating brides along the way. This type of education is what will save the industry from the 'attack of the newbies.'"
Photo by iStockphoto.com / © Yarnica