POP-CULTURE-CONSCIOUS and style-minded, young party-goers make for a crowd that's tough to please. Those event pros who get kids' events right do so by tracking trends, putting safety first and appeasing — though sometimes not entirely pleasing — the grown-ups in the picture.
As the end of the school year nears, there are two things teen students share: a serious need for celebration and a serious lack of experience planning large-scale parties. That's where Tiffany Brown comes in.
The co-owner, with partner Yvette Jackson, of Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Wow! Special Events says that specializing in high school events is about delivering both convenience and cool. When her company contracts to assist a public or private school committee — often made up of students and unpaid adults — with the planning of its prom or graduation party, “We can come in and say, ‘Relax, we know your size, budget, all the important details,’” she explains. “Instead of having them search for months to see what sites may work and what dates are available, in one meeting we can show them locations and give a package customized to their needs.” At a typical price of $35 to $65 per student, that package may include decor, music, rentals, food & beverage, activities and security.
That takes care of the convenience factor. As for the cool — well, that's the fun part, Brown says. “Yvette and I really try to start trends,” she states. “Being part of ISES and MPI, we can bring them ideas they've never seen before.” Theme concepts she and Jackson have introduced to their young clients include the Hollywood awards ceremony, complete with red carpet, strobes and gobos. Also essential are unconventional venues: “Our company does not do hotel events — only unique venues, like museums, libraries, yachts and movie studios.” In all cases, Brown notes, “Lighting is huge. We decorate with it. It just gives you more for your money.”
To protect young revelers and put school administrators and parents at ease, Brown and Jackson make security a top priority of every party they produce. “On average, we have eight to 10 security guards at every event,” Brown says. Armed with a comprehensive confiscation list — forbidden items include chains, lighters, cigarettes and marking pens — guards perform pre-entry pocket pat-downs and purse checks to collect contraband, which is returned to the school to handle as it wishes. The fact that the guards are uniformed pros who are unfamiliar to the students goes far in fostering respect and “makes for a safe event,” she adds.
'Tweens, teens, even full-grown gals with a girlish streak are the target market for parties at the Seventeen Spa in Plano, Texas.
Headed by president and CEO Susan Tierney, and affiliated with Seventeen magazine, the two-year-old spa and salon books up to 70 parties a month, most for groups of six to 12 guests in the nine- to 18-year-old age range. Groups celebrating birthdays, graduations, quinceañeras and other milestones rotate through a series of treatments and services including hair, makeup and nails. For larger parties, Tierney says, the entire 8,700-square-foot spa space can be booked out to accommodate celebrants.
According to Tierney, the spa's popularity as an event space lies in its visual excitement as much as its primping packages. “From the minute you walk in the door, it's an experience,” she says. “We have 18 different TV monitors playing all the latest music. We give out a lot of information on all the trends happening. We really bring the magazine to life.” Adding to the appeal is a party policy that offers add-ons from limousine service to buffet spreads, while allowing event clients to bring in their own extras, including food, decor and guest favors, if they choose. Grown-up girls who want to celebrate special occasions — bridal showers and bachelorette parties among them — in a space brimming with youthful energy can even bring in their own champagne or cocktails for a decidedly adult edge.
Critical to the Seventeen Spa event environment is flexibility and intuitiveness on the part of the staff. While stylists are hip to hot teen trends — jeweled nail art being the hottest, according to Tierney, who laughs, “Everybody wants, needs nail art on their big toe” — they are equally attuned to different comfort levels among spa-party attendees. “For a lot of our first-timers, it's daunting for them to come in,” she says. “We walk them through, let them know what their service is like, what they need to put on. We try to make them feel comfortable on every level.”
With about 80 bar and bat mitzvahs accounting for more than half of the nearly 135 events it plans annually, 15-year-old Evention Inc. takes pride in its professionalism in the mitzvah market.
According to Beth Shubert, president of the Glen Rock, N.J.-based company, customization is key. “I hate cookie-cutter parties,” she says. And to customize a mitzvah celebration successfully, she adds, you have to understand your guest of honor. “Some bar mitzvahs can be so in-your-face about the kid,” she explains. “There are giant photos of them, their name is projected in lights, the DJ screams, ‘Go, Andrew! Go, Andrew! Go, Andrew!’ And maybe Andrew's a wallflower, and he's dying in the middle of the party.” To avoid such unpleasant mishaps, Shubert starts by asking clients a series of questions such as, “What is the child's favorite color? Do they have a lot of posters? What TV shows, movies and games are they into?” If she has time, she says, she will even take a look at the child's bedroom to gather clues.
Along with the individual preferences and personality quirks she has uncovered in her mitzvah-planning research, Shubert has noted a number of consistencies. Among them, “Kids are really consumers. The days of personalized T-shirts [as favors] are gone. They want name brand items: Tiffany, Coach, Louis Vuitton.” Also, “They want things more interactive. Live percussionists, photo stations, tattooists, hair-braiders, nail-decal people.” As for music, today's young teens tend to favor hip-hop, which with its thumping bass and often raunchy lyrics can be a problem for parents and sensitive guests. “We tell the parents that there needs to be some of that music,” she says. “And we use DJs who are smart enough to read the room and play the right mix.”
While Shubert insists it's important to get the child involved in coming up with a theme and helping to choose accessories such as sign-in books and favors, “You shouldn't let a preteen sensibility be the driving force for an event where the majority of attendees are adults,” she cautions. “They may think that purple linens and black napkins and green rose petals are fabulous, but everyone else is going to be sick.”
Evention Inc., 201/444-7789; Seventeen Spa, 469/361-0017; Wow! Special Events, 714/848-9698