YOU WANT CHALLENGING? How's this — walking a 40-by-60-foot tent up 150 stairs for a Condé Nast Publications event in Times Square. Not enough? What about handling all the permitting for Liza Minnelli's Manhattan wedding — with Fifth Avenue and Wall Street shut down? Celebrity events pose their own unique challenges for event planners. Special Events Magazine went to the rental pros for insight and advice on working for and with celebrities.
- Compensate for time constraints
Celebrity events have to come off perfectly in the face of many time constraints, says Stuart Kohn, vice president of Miller's Rentals and Sales in Edison, N.J. His company has worked on the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, post-Grammy parties, the Condé Nast Times Square event and Minnelli's wedding. To be prepared, Kohn sometimes overstaffs celebrity-thrown or -attended events, and loads extras on the truck that the client might not even think are needed. “You don't have the luxury of time in your favor to trot back to the shop,” he says.
Jim McManus, executive director of sales for Party Rental Ltd. in New York, uses a similar approach. “You might add 50 people to a pickup to get it broken down in a very short time or for some specific requirement,” he says. “You have to send an army in there to achieve those time sequences.”
- Partner for resource sharing
Another strategy McManus uses is to develop relationships with other rental companies. For an event at Lincoln Financial Field stadium in Philadelphia, he needed 500 ropes and stanchions, but it was the weekend before the MTV Awards. So McManus called other rental companies with whom he has established relationships to help. “We swapped inventory in front of Radio City Music Hall,” he says. “We all trusted each other enough, and worried about it a week later.”
- Address security needs
While working with stars can mean sticking to a schedule, it can also mean tight security. Rental pros are used to getting credentials for access passes, using unmarked trucks, signing confidentiality agreements, and unusual or strict load-in schedules. A good example, Kohn says, is a major movie premiere that Miller's will stage this month. “We will set up for 4 p.m. for the red carpet walk, and it has to be taken down by 10 p.m. for security reasons,” he says.
Party Rental Ltd. also pays close attention to stealth and security. “High-end celebrities post-9/11 on this side of the country don't want people they don't know coming to their secure sites,” McManus says. “Our drivers and trucks, license plate numbers, delivery times and pickup times are all important considerations.”
Perhaps the greatest challenge for rental pros are events involving the Secret Service. Jerome Nehus II of Los Angeles-based L.A. Party Rents recalls the opening of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. For the first time ever, he confides, there were five presidents and six first ladies in one place. “We supplied all the rental needs from chairs and canopies to trams and podiums,” he says. But the real challenge was managing this event's needs with sharp-shooters on the building, planes overhead, CIA and Secret Service in place, trams bringing guests from parking two miles away and, of course, the high celebrity quotient.
- Use only experienced staff
Established crew and staff members can help make additional security demands less stressful. Nehus says that his company relies on its strength in the back end — delivery crew, setup crew and inventory. With 100 personnel on staff full time, labor is not an issue, he says. His average driver has 18 years' experience, and that is the person whom celebrity security teams see.
Kristjan Gavin, creative director for Mary Ellen Murphy Destination Weddings in Yountville, Calif., believes that security measures bring their own contradictions. “You could be working with security personnel and hiring outside security, and have to mesh those two together,” he says.
- Run interference
In addition to being reactive to privacy threats, you can take proactive steps as well. Jeff Volkman, senior party director for Regal Rents in El Segundo, Calif., says his company has helped celebrities by throwing up roadblocks to paparazzi efforts, including “flying large balloons to cut down on photos, and sending out labeled trucks and decoys to another house.” Gavin has booked multiple locations to throw off the media. And many, such as L.A. Party Rents, use unmarked uniforms and trucks when requested.
- Expect the unexpected
“Everyone has to be what I call the ‘Event MacGvyer,’” Gavin says. “Be prepared for something to come at you that you weren't expecting, and handle it professionally.” One example — an event Gavin handled — was set up and ready. Then, “I got this phone call from the client who said a tornado just came through the tent,” he says. A freak Los Angeles twister had picked up the tent and moved it six feet, wreaking havoc. Gavin says, “We worked all night and had to cut bent pipes out of the tent and put them back in after they were fixed.” In nine hours, his team managed to ship in new china and glassware, reset the room and redo all the lighting.
- Be ready for location challenges
A celebrity's venue can be vexing. McManus recounts having to hand-carry equipment across the dunes to set up events on the beach where he wasn't allowed to bring in four-wheel drive vehicles because of endangered species and other environmental concerns. And it can be just as challenging at a celebrity's home. “Special events tend to be hard on landscapes,” he says. And some celebrity homes are like museums, he says, so his company is just as careful inside as out.
- Get the money
Volkman offers some hard-won advice: “Get your nonrefundable deposit check up front,” he says. “You are dealing with high-powered personas, and anything can change to cancel the event in the blink of an eye.”
- Train all team members to be detail-oriented
Because of celebrities' discerning tastes, the quality of the installation is always a challenge, according to McManus. “There are 10 million details that have to be 100 percent correct,” he shares. His solution is to have quality staff members well trained in logistics.
- Plan for perfection
If you are delivering a wedding for the founder of a major corporation, understand that this is an individual used to the best of everything, Gavin says. “The expectation is perfection,” he shares. “As the planner for those folks, we work with people who have passion, personality, product and professionalism.” If you have all four of those, you can accommodate any request, he maintains.
With so many players, you need to nail down critical tasks, McManus warns. “I think the learning curve in celebrity or high-end events is communication in writing and recapping all the details back to the people requesting it,” he adds. “Return it to them to share the responsibility of proofing the details.”
L.A. Party Rents, 818/989-4300; Mary Ellen Murphy Destination Weddings, 707/945-0260; Miller's Rentals and Sales, 732/985-3050; Party Rental Ltd., 201/727-4700; Regal Rents, 310/535-3660