Mix a sluggish economy with a crop of brides who see media versions of beautiful weddings everywhere and use the Internet to price-shop—and what do you get? Relentless pressure on professional wedding planners to pare down their traditional role as experts who guide the bride for months ahead of the big day. Instead, many brides who believe they can "do it yourself"—the DIY brides—are pushing wedding professionals to offer "day of" wedding services.
The topic brings a range of responses from professional planners, with those who flat-out refuse to offer such services and others who have added some form of short-term planning to the range of options they offer.
JUST SAY NO
Lindsey Pitt, CSEP, founder of Atlanta-based Toast Events, has a prepared statement she sends to potential clients asking about "day of" services, explaining why she does not offer them.
Pitt explains that the only way she can ensure a flawless wedding day is if she is involved in "conversations and meetings" with the bride in the months leading up the big day. She closes with the sentence: "We hope that you will see the value in our wedding experiences that we offer so that we can work together during the entire process to execute your vision and make your wedding the 'toast' of the town."
In contrast, Chicago-based wedding planner Ali Phillips, head of Engaging Events by Ali, has just launched a sister company—Elevage Events--to offer what she calls "weekend wedding services."
The move was prompted, Phillips says, by a steady stream of inquiries about "day of" services. "'Day of' coordination is very popular in Chicago," she notes. "We get about three inquires a week for this." Her new division enables Phillips to focus on full-scale wedding planning while her staffers handle the "weekend" services.
Lynn Fletcher, head of Lynn Fletcher Weddings of Calgary, Alberta, began offering her version of day-of services a few years ago thanks to the sour economy and the pressure of competition. "We want to be able to offer our services for every bride's budget," she explains.
Fletcher's company gives its "day of" brides a set of templates and checklists, which are returned one week before the wedding and reviewed by junior members of the team. "We have a halfway meeting with them as well just to go over their plan and help them along with any gaps or issues in the timing, etc.," Fletcher explains.
Besides offering day-of services, Fletcher's company also offers coaching to new wedding planners. "We really can support all aspects of the industry," she explains. "There will always be competition. It just makes us come to the table with our 'A' game every time because we know that there is always another planner waiting in the wings to take advantage of the business."
Although most of the planners interviewed by Special Events would prefer to offer full-scale wedding planning, some see "day of" planning services as a profitable way to clean up the messes made by DIY brides who realize as their wedding day draws closer that they don't know what they are doing.
Gwen Helbush, founder of Newark, Calif.-based Where to Start, offers what she calls her "wedding management" package.
"They do the planning and I bat clean-up," she explains. About four to six weeks before the wedding day, Helbush meets with the couple and collects all their wedding-related documents. After reviewing the plans already in place, she schedules a walk-through with vendors, meets the couple one more time, then oversees the rehearsal and the wedding itself.
Helbush says she has offered "wedding management" for about a dozen years, "and it is becoming more popular now," she says. While she prefers to plan a wedding from the very start, "You have to be flexible to stay in business," she notes.
Similarly, Kerry Lee Dickey of Santa Barbara Wine Country Weddings and Events in Santa Barbara, Calif., offers what she calls her "month of" package option—and she has some strict rules for brides who opt to use it. "Otherwise, you risk inheriting the mess a client made planning their wedding on their own," she says.
Dickey says she carefully pre-screens potential "month of" clients, and then requires them to hire vendors from her list. All vendor contracts must be in place no later than one moth prior to when Dickey steps into the picture. "If [the contracts] are not, I reserve the right to walk away—and keep their deposit—or I can charge huge fees to compensate me for the extra work that I will now have to do since they did not uphold their end of the contract," she explains.
Dickey is grateful for her "month of" option, she says, "because with the economy, fewer brides are booking my full-service package." She adds, "Most venues now require at minimum 'month of' to hold a wedding there, so it's a niche I'm glad to offer."
FIXING THE NEWBIE'S PLANNING
Ironically, the rush of "newbie" wedding planners into the market sometimes boosts the business of experienced wedding professionals who can step in late in the planning game to fix the newbie's mistakes.
"I have had several clients come to me after having hired another planner who 'said' they could handle things, but after a few months, the client realized that the planner was a joke, and therefore terminated their contract and hired me," notes Janice Blackmon, head of Atlanta's Janice Blackmon Events. She adds, "In a couple of these situations, the 'fired' planner had initially charged a higher fee than I did."
Robyn Martin, ABC, founder of The Wedding Belle of Edmond, Okla., started offering "day of" service but switched to a package called "The Basiques—Wedding Day Directing," which steps in to help brides about a month out. Martin estimates that she sells one "Wedding Day Directing" package for every 10 full-service packages.
Martin adds, "Most of the Wedding Day Directing packages we sign are actually distressed weddings for brides who have gotten in over their heads for any variety of reasons."
Martin says she stopped marketing to low-end brides, choosing instead to target brides who want the full-service package. "The reputation of the company has come full circle, and now those clients we thought weren't our clients are increasingly coming on board to get it fixed or finished."
STOP SAYING 'DAY OF'!
Virtually all planners interviewed by Special Events wish the term "day of" would just go away because it leads brides to expect a planner can drop in the day of the wedding and make everything run smoothly.
"A planner who claims to be able to swoop in on the actual day-of and pull it all together is conning someone—the bride and her family," says Erica Prewett, president of Atlanta's A Big To Do Event.
"I never just show up on the day of," Helbush says. "That is a lawsuit waiting to happen."
Photo by iStockphoto.com / © hartphotography1
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