Maintaining Healthy Client Relationships: Lessons from a PR Pro

Posted by on Apr 2, 2015 in Business Advice | No Comments

A great (but lightening fast) week here since I was up in Toronto to speak at the Business of Weddings on Monday and Tuesday with Todd Fiscus, Marcy Blum, the wonderful Rebecca Grinnals of Engaging Concepts and Engage! , Angela Desveaux of WedLuxe Magazine and the elegant Ines Di Santo. There was so much amazing content that Michael Coombs put together my head is still spinning, but I promise a recap of some of the highlights and lessons learned next week.

This week, I won’t call it laziness, though it is a little cross promotion, because I think it’s really worth watching our Besties in Business interview with Rachel Van Dolsen of RVD Communications, a boutique PR firm that works with small companies and brands, largely in the food and beverage and hospitality sectors. The video is 15 minutes, but I’m going to tell you about the highlights that YOU, wedding professional needs to hear, because in addition to what makes you NEWSWORTHY, she also has to a) decide which business is right for her and which isn’t b) find a niche c) maintain relationships with clients over a long term d) sell by promising totally intangible items over which she has no direct control. e) sell against lots of amateurs with business cards and a few contacts. Hmm… sound familiar?

So, at 3:47 we chat about saying NO to clients who don’t fit and WHY you need to do it to achieve true success. At 5:44 we talk about the key to selling something you can’t really guarantee… and keeping clients happy along the way (there is a trick to this). At 6:45 we talk about teaching people to love what you offer even if they’ve been burned by someone less experienced. 7:30 we chat about if you are ready for to hire outside PR and what a publicist needs to do a good job. Finally at 10:00 we hit how to assess if you are, as they say, ready for Prime Time and Newsworthy… Unfortunately sometimes we have a hard time facing the hard truth that we aren’t there yet. So without further ado, the video!

Drafting a Strong Destination Wedding Contract

Posted by on Mar 24, 2015 in Blog, Business Advice | 3 Comments

Hmmm. At the tender age of 22, I somehow found myself as the Director of Special Events at the Clio Awards. My charmingly cantankerous former boss made a big show of presenting me with a present (wrapped as such) that turned out to be a giant, spiral bound tomb with the un-sexy title of “The Essential Guide to Hotel and Venue Contract Negotiations”. I remember being so disappointed, having hoped it was a real “gift”, and instead it being a B2B textbook with one of the least sexy titles ever read. 5 years later it was the most used thing on my desk, so highlighted and dog-eared and post-it-ed (is that a phrase?) that it barely resembled it’s former self. I not only loved this book, I cherished it.

So, while Drafting a Strong Destination Wedding Contract may not sound like a sexy blog post, I’m hoping this will prove as lovingly utilitarian for you, fellow wedding vendor! As destination weddings become increasingly more popular (and with good reason, 5 days of gorgeous events can cost as much as 1 night of festivities in some of the more expensive US markets!) more of us planners, florists, photogs, even bands are getting called upon to “do destination”. Since, in my experience, the strongest contracts are written by a hundred unfortunate stories, I’m compiling here some points to be sure to include in your Destination Wedding Contract… derived over the years from our own experience, passed on to us by generous colleagues and some learned just this past weekend while we were out of the country working on a wedding. PLEASE, please, if you have any great tips or pointers to add to this, please add below!

1. Be VERY specific as to HOW you will travel. Coach? Business? Direct? How many lay-overs are you OK with? We learned this the hard way when stuck in Boston on a lay-over in the middle of the night.

2. Either book your travel yourself or REQUIRE APPROVAL RIGHTS before client books your travel. Clients often want the best talent to work at their weddings regardless of where the talent is and where the wedding is, but often they start to get squirmish at the cost of transporting said talent. So, while I don’t begrudge people using points or miles to book vendor travel, I do have preferences for airports and times etc, as you probably do as well, and you should retain your right to approve when and how you and your team move.

3. For Planners/Photographers, Express Your Desire to Stay at the Headquarters Property. For planners, there are early mornings and late nights, for photographers, it’s less about the late nights than it is about capturing the vibe around the key events. Both require access and staying anywhere but your main property (unless it’s a private home) is less than ideal and overall not worth the savings to your client as it compromises your ability to perform your job to the maximum of your ability.

4. Include a Per Diem. A lot of people may feel “Well, I’m eating where ever I am and I don’t want to seem nit picky.” But if you are on a resort (and especially a Luxury property) you might not have chosen to have 5 star dining for every meal had you been at home, so you should include a per diem based on the cost of the food at whatever location you will be required to spend most of your time in based on the job.

5. Specify how many people can stay in a room with you… and who. A photographer friend once told us a story of being put up for the night in a room with 4 bridesmaids and having to sleep on a sofa. No Bueno. For some clients this clause might seem obvious, but for others you are saving yourself from an awkward nightmare later on.

6. Buffer in time before and after for you to do your best job! While it might seem that you are attempting to squeeze in free R & R, we all know how much work is needed (depending on our specific job function) to properly do your job both in the advance and the wrap up. So the client might want to cheap out on room nights, but it’s important to hold your ground and get there in the time in advance and stay for the time afterwards that enables you to do best what you were paid to do.

7. Specify the hours (in advance) that you are “on duty” and “off duty”. I sometimes think this is most important for photographers because people can often impose and say “please just stay a little longer to get more images…” but you need rest too, and you can’t be seen as being on call 24/7 (unless you charged for that) so be sure to establish your schedule and availability in advance.

OK! Please, please add more tips that you’ve learned to be good clauses for destination weddings! So appreciate and I’ll add some into a revised version of this post with your social handle! THANKS (oh and here is a pic from this weekend’s event!)
AAB Creates Destination Wedding In Mexico

Why Required Vendors Are Bad Busines

Posted by on Mar 20, 2015 in Strategy & Advice | One Comment

About a decade ago, it was fairly common for venues to have a list of “Required Vendors”, often this was specific to lighting companies, but sometimes could go as far as required caterers, florists and more.

This was smart business for the old model of wedding planning. First of all, brides and their mothers (who were the main people who were planning weddings a decade ago) appreciated the ease of having a list of proven vendors to create yet another beautiful wedding similar to the others that had been held at your property. Next, there was the quality control factor: you could somewhat maintain your venue’s reputation as producing “elegant” or “flawless” or “luxury” or insert adjective here, weddings, because you could entrust that these vendors counted on your location as a constant stream of busines and would always perform well. Then there was ease for staff: put together the same team weekend after weekend and it is easier. Finally, the BIG ONE: financially, the commission fee that these vendors are paying you is bankable… and if you weren’t taking fees from these vendors, no one believes you aren’t, so you might as well have been.

Today, this goes completely counter to how contemporary wedding planning works and while having “required” vendors MIGHT be working now, it is a business model in it’s twilight, so keep reading and share with a venue manager you love.

First: Couples are now planning their weddings together- brides and grooms, brides and brides, grooms and grooms. The planning of the wedding is a process that the couple not only doesn’t want to just “get it over with” but they look forward to it being a unique expression of themselves. So, assembling a team to give them more of the same of what’s already happened at your property isn’t a selling point for them. Nor is the ease. The process of finding vendors that uniquely “speak” to the story they want to tell is important to them.

Second: The couple is savvy and does a lot of research and has a sense of who is out there that’s a hot “florist” or Music company, etc. In cases where they have formed attachements, your list will turn them off.

Third: This savvy-ness can also translate to mis-trust of things that don’t seem transparent. It feels “fishy” to couples today to have their options limited and you will come across as “shady” or worse, trying to “swindle them” into spending more (this applies to even the Luxury segment). Your assertions of quality control to two self defined savvy individuals aren’t as welcome as they once were, because the contemporary to-be-weds often feel that they are competent enough to assess people’s professionalism on their own.

Fourth: You are limiting your appeal to a set number of couples who only like the style of the weddings that your required vendor team can produce AND you are also limiting the appeal of your venue to couples who might have different priorities financially than those who have booked before. For instance, your “great caterer” that you require might not be as high end as what a potential couple is actually looking for, but they might rather go elsewhere than do a buyout.

Listen, no one will blink at a “Recommended Vendor” list that provides them with options or even a diversified Required List with 3-4 choices in each area of varying styles, but you better have that buy out fee be reasonable… because even in a tight market like New York, I’ve seen Required Vendors Lists leave a bad taste in many a couples’ mouth and they will go elsewhere.
There is always another option.

Trendsetter: Floral Genius Sarah Ryhanen at Saipua

Posted by on Mar 13, 2015 in Florists, Trendsetters | One Comment

I got excited about the re-launch of the blog because the wedding industry focus allows us to resurrect an old wedding industry concept that Modern Bride used to do which was profiling “Trendsetters”… I never knew if brides actually gave a crap about that distinction, but I knew that I certainly did and dreamed of one day possibly being a trendsetter… and then the magazine folded. So, this new direction for the blog gives us the space to recognize trendsetters of all kinds in our industry! Being New York based, I am sadly worried about New York bias, so please send me any trendsetters that I should know about in YOUR area…

Wedding Industry Trendsetter : Sarah Ryhanen of Saipua

Wedding Industry Trendsetter : Sarah Ryhanen of Saipua

A quick tip on how I’m generating this “list”… if you’ve innovated something in business or stylistically… So who better to kick this off than Floral Genius Sarah Ryhanen at Saipua. It’s almost not proper to refer to her as a florist since I really think of her as an artist whose medium is flowers. I think about wedding aesthetic in two ways, BS and AS- before and after Saipua… their loose, wild style changed the whole landscape of weddings and launched thousands of copy cats and acolytes… but I can honestly still always tell a Saipua arrangement from any one elses… there is a signature uniqueness that simply stands out. Having worked with their team dozens of times, it’s not uncommon to watch Sarah and her team forrage in the forest for the right branch or drive for miles to the best Dahlia farm nearby. They are constantly innovating not just in their commitment to showcasing beautiful blooms, but to launching their own floral farm.

How many years have you been in business, and specifically weddings?
We started Saipua in 2006 and did our first wedding in 2007.

What, if anything, is your philosophy about flowers and how do you think that made you diffferent from the landscape when you launched?
I think being self taught was a big thing that set us apart from the rest at the time. I had no preconieved notions about how flowers were supposed to go together so I just did it free form the way I liked it. It made for a different look than the tight, round dome like arrangements that were still really popular at the time.

Do you remember your first wedding and what your budget was?
Absolutely I remember! It was a tiny little wedding at Ici in June. The budget was $700. I’m sure I spend double that on flowers, but the rest was history.
When you first started, the more natural wild style for wedding floral wasn’t really out there… how has it been watching some people do the “look for less” kind of thing and how do you get past it (mentally hang up kind of thing…)
It’s a question I get a lot – but the simplest answer is that “look for less” is actually going to be less. No getting around that. Our clients get folded into our world of flowers both in the city and now at our flower farm — they learn about flowers, visit the wholesale district with us, visit our farm to see their flowers growing in the field, plan their gardens with us…It’s a lot more than just ‘how much is your centerpiece.’
If we were still that, we’d be stuck in first gear. A lot of the new up and coming florists who undercharge serve the purpose of giving those brides on a budget great flowers. The process might be a little simpler, and the finished product a little less considered, but different people value different things. The bride who cares most about having a wedding with a rager of a dance party in the dark might not care as much about flowers and I get that.
Saipua Centerpieces at Virginia wedding

You recently wrote on your own blog that you’ve accepted that for Saipua to do what they do really well, you have accepted that you need a certain budget to do that. We kind of accepted the same thing here over the last couple of years at AaB… can you elaborate and do you feel that that “space” is what enables you to stay innovative/creatively motivated?

It’s really just about the logistics of running a business. The last 10 years of Saipua have been a serious crash course in business! Not my natural forte, but I’m learning slowly. The reality is that with a staff of 7 and a farm and a truck, etc, our overhead has really gotten sizeable. Our expenses are close to 50K a month. To reach that number (and then hopefully profit some) we’d have to do so many small weddings which actually can take a lot of time — sometimes a very small budget bride can consume lots of your time. It’s just a matter of growth — we don’t fit in that model anymore. When it was just myself and eric (my partner) and our pickup truck, those $1000 weddings at Frankies or Ici were great work.
Gruber Photographers, Wedding, Mitzvah, NYC, Event
What are you most excited about for Saipua in the next 5 years?
Any other advice/tips/ things you would share….

The first 10 years of Saipua was really about learning business, how we wanted to run ours. And of course learning about flowers and producing events. We’re really good at those things now. I have access to the best flowers in the world, and a staff who can build the most amazing compositions with those flowers. The next 10 years will be about developing Worlds End, our flower farm upstate. My vision for the farm is not only to grow some of my dream flowers — specimens I can’t get in our market or from other growers — but also to develop the farm as a center for floriculture; with artist residencies, performances, lectures, workshops, etc. We have so much work to do there but so many beautiful people on our side helping us!
Sarah with gorgeous dahlias

Wedding Photographers Biggest Marketing Fail

Dear Wedding Photographers:

We love you. We really do. Which is why we are want to let you in on a giant secret:  we hate your mailed collateral pieces.  Hate might be a strong word, but they invoke a range of emotions that include stress, guilt, anxiety and sadness.

When I open up my mailbox after a conference and see a package from a photographer I don’t know and the expensive postage placed on it, a wave of dread comes over me, b/c I know how much time and money this mailing cost you to produce and I know it will end up in my trashcan within moments of me opening it.  The sentiment only gets worse when I actually get the thing open… because the more lavishly produced it is, the more badly I feel about your wasted money and guilty because I know about it’s inevitable resting place.  If your images aren’t the style of our brand or reflective of the work on our site, my guilt shifts to anger and resentment, because I’m mad at you for being so lazy as to not look at our work and edit your mailing list.  And now because of your laziness, I am stuck feeling guilty about throwing your money away.  And a little part of me thinks you must think we’re not that bright b/c no amount of pretty packaging will distract from whether or not your images are of the style of our site….

All this being said, I recognize that Mayra and I are just two women and one planning company (well, technically two, but you get the point) SOOOO, I decided to take this topic to a few of our Planner/Designer colleagues across the country.

Annie Lee of Daughter of Design works bi-coastally and has NY as her home base:

“I always feel so bad throwing away marketing materials or sample albums. But like, where am I putting that? And remember this is NYC, I have to be selective which underwear I keep, just no space for extra things. Send me a digital version please!

Brochures are obsolete in our business in my opinion!”
Lindsay Landman, of Lindsay Landman Events who designs and produces weddings, other social events AND corporate in New York said:
“I have such terrible guilt about throwing away these expensive promo pieces and so I literally keep a box of them, despite the fact that I have never actually reached out to a photographer as a result of getting an album, etc.  I’ll take a hand written note any day over an expensive book because I can see their photos online, but only a note can indicate why specifically they are reaching out to me based on my business and my clientele.”
I also reached out to Calder Clark, who I know runs the tightest ship and also maintains a stunning studio… Not surprisingly, being a Southern Lady, she was the most charitable of all of us, but was still in agreement….
 ‘I personally enjoy noting how other industry professionals brand + market themselves, and it’s a treat to unveil a beautiful box of hand-picked fine art prints. In the few cases when the photographer did his/her homework and actually targeted us appopriately, it easily converts into a new relationship + eventually a real booking- a win-win.
Unfortunately, 95% of the time, we are solicited + targeted by photographers whose work does not resonate with us, nor is even reflective of the style or level of  shooters with whom we already work closely. It’s not that this bothers me per se, but it saddens me that they didn’t perform their due diligence by leafing through our own image-heavy website to canvas appropriately. It seems instead like blanket marketing- casting a wide net and hoping something sticks . . . which then makes it seem less personal that they reached out to us personally in the first place, thus stripping their package of its authenticity + aim.”
Calder FURTHER went on to point out that being planners, we’re all a little OCD and the clutter of these things makes them too much of a hassle to keep around….
From North to South and East to West, the verdict is unanimous (though the reasons vary): STOP SPENDING MONEY PRODUCING EXPENSIVE COLLATERAL PIECES, BECAUSE YOUR MARKETING EFFORT ISN’T WORKING.  At least not the way most of you have been doing it.  So, I get it.. now you are saying to yourself, “but then how do I get myself out there to top planners and designers? “

  • To Lindsay’s point, NOTES go a long way.  If you are desperate to spend that money that you would have spent on the collateral piece, so do well-selected gifts…. After I met Matt Blum he sent me the most stunning, simple porcelain bowl with a fabulous note about how it reminded him of our approach to events… His note led me to his site, I loved his photos and while we haven’t found a job together YET, I’ve totally put him out there to my clients as an option and made efforts at working together.
  • Edit your mailing list for either a mailing or even just notes.  Don’t solicit people whose style isn’t like your style.
  • Photograph more industry events.  I have totally started reaching out to new photographers (like Carla Ten Eyck) after consistently seeing her gorgeous images of Engage posted on Facebook and other outlets. Yes, it’s an investment of your time and energy…but so is a mailing…
  • EDIT YOUR IMAGES, or better yet, take the money you would have spent on your website and hire an editor to help you- as Calder puts it, “tighten up your ship”- on your website.
  • In my experience most wedding photographers are terrible editors of their own work.  Kristi Drago Price runs Editor’s Edge and to me it’s a fantastic service for photographers as you go out to market yourself.   She can help you figure out exactly the ONE IMAGE to put on your gorgeous notecards that you send to a selected group of planners/designers whose work is compatible with yours.   As Kristi puts it

    “One of the biggest problems I come across while consulting (specifically with photographers) is what I call the “one man band syndrome”…putting way too many images in different styles and categories to show “range” when all they are doing is confusing the viewer.  Thoughtful image curation and organization is key to a calming and understandable visual experience….no one wants to think of this (below) when they look at your work!  Yes, editing your own work can be painful but in the end “less is always more.”

    I know… the truth hurts.. but wasting tons of money on ineffective mailings that alienate your target hurts more!  Photographers Biggest Marketing Mistake


    The Wedding Professionals Who Refer You Business