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Editor's Page: Here Comes the Client

A friend sent me a copy of a June 2000 article from "Smart Money" magazine titled "Ten Things the Wedding Industry Won't Tell You." The article takes the wedding industry to task for a range of sins, from fouled-up flowers to drunken DJs.

At first I was angry. Any profession has to apologize for mistakes now and then, for people in the business who don't know any better and for people who certainly should.

But what disturbed me more was what the article tells us about the public perception of the wedding industry. As they teach you in Public Relations 101, perception is reality.

I called wedding professionals I respect, and on certain points they agreed with the article completely: The amateurs are giving the pros a bad name.

"People who are working out of their homes, with no insurance, are underbidding us all the time," says Dave Merrell, owner/president of Los Angeles-based An Original Occasion.

"The good planners will be creative, customer-service-oriented, up on all the new trends and flexible to meet individual client needs," says Lisa Wagner, president of Enchanting Affairs of Rockaway, N.J. "They should be insured, associated with a trade organization such as ISES, attend seminars or conferences on a regular basis that offer continuing education and be able to provide references or letters of recommendation."

The second point that came through to me in my calls is how many event planners used to do weddings.

"The time invested in a wedding is at least double that of a corporate event," says Chuck Barletta, head of Boston-based BallyHoo Events. "I do them only as a gift to my corporate clients," says Steve Kemble, Steve Kemble Event Design, Dallas. "The average bride and groom do not understand the cost of doing an event."

If wedding clients do not know the true cost of producing their events, then it's up to the wedding industry to educate them. Depending on the market, the options could be a flat fee, an hourly rate or a per diem. The point is, whether through reticence or habit or some desire to protect a wedding's sense of magic, the wedding industry isn't communicating clearly the price of weddings. That means the value of the professional wedding planner isn't being communicated. In a world where more brides and grooms are older, are working and are footing the bills for their nuptials, this failure to communicate is costly.

A payment method that is holding the industry back, however, is commissions, or what "Smart Money" gives an uglier name - kickbacks.

The Association of Bridal Consultants doesn't mince words. "The association's stand is, don't take commissions," ABC president Gerard Monaghan says. "They cast a perception that the consultant is recommending certain vendors because of the cut." The ABC's newly revised code of ethics reads: "Members will disclose to clients any payments received from suppliers." Monaghan adds that Colin Cowie, the highly regarded wedding designer, says that commissions stifle creativity.

If the public is unsure about making a commitment to the wedding industry, it's because the wedding industry isn't making plain what it does and what it costs to do it.

Planner Janie Glade of An Event to Remember, New Orleans, hits it on the head. "First and foremost, be honest with your client," she says. "People are trusting you with their lifelong dream."

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