Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Some Wedding Planners Lie

I want to first preface this post by clearly stating that I am not a professional wedding planner, by any stretch of the definition. I've never planned a wedding (besides my own) and I have no desire to learn all the ins and outs of becoming a professional coordinator. In my opinion, I honestly don't think I have what it takes to become one. I often stand in awe of the magnificent feats of design and inspiration that wedding planners engineer on a regular basis, and while I would love to be able to create such nuptial masterpieces for a client, I respect the fact that I just don't have the creative insight in me to do so. Most people don't. Great wedding planners are a special breed. They don't just "see" the "big picture", they systematically break it down to the purest level: form and function. It's this one element that that truly helps distinguish the difference between a professional wedding planner and a wedding planner.

Professional wedding planners don't create events, they create atmosphere.

With that being said, this brings me back to the main reason I was inspired to write this blog post. The other day, I was chatting with a fellow wedding industry insider about the saturation of wedding coordinators and planners in the current bridal marketplace. We both agreed that everywhere a bride turns, someone with a pretty website or business card is marketing themselves as a "professional" wedding planner. One interesting question that arose was: What qualifications does a person have to have to establish themselves as a "professional" planner? Does a certification from a wedding course or organization instantaneously transform someone into a pro? Is is the total number of events that they have helped coordinate over the years? Is it the total amount of years they have been part of the bridal scene? Is it the volume of awards and accolades they've received from their peers in the industry? We were both perplexed. Both of us just sat silently sipping our drinks wondering how a person decides take it upon themselves to begin distinguishing themselves a "professional" event planner. We finished our drinks, parted ways and both felt an uneasy feeling inside for not coming to an agreed conclusion. I was truly bothered by not knowing the answer.

The next day, I took it upon myself to proactively contact a few fresh faces in the wedding planning world and ask them if they considered themselves a professional planner or not. I was surprised how quickly EVERY single one of them answered a resounding "Yes" or "Of course" when approached. I then proceeded to ask them why they thought so, and they answers provided were quite alarming:

"... because my last three events went smooth and there were no big disasters".
"... because my pricing is probably higher than most competitors".
"... because my wedding planning blog gets of 100K of visits per month".
"... because I have a ton of positive ratings on WeddingWire".
"... because every single bride has sent me a thank you note after her big day".
"... because my mother was an event planner and therefore I'm a pro".

My heart quickly sank. Is this what the newcomers in the wedding industry actually feel makes a competent event planner? Are we basing the integrity of the entire coordinator service off of pricing and thank you notes?

So instead of letting that topic of conversation end, I decided to take the most common sense approach: I'd consult others directly in the industry.

So my question to all you wedding planners, eventistas, coordinators and consultants is: How long have YOU been a "professional" wedding planner and what minimum qualifications do you think a person should have before attaching that elusive "professional" label to their title? Not only is it a viable question, but I feel it's start to creating a soft standard that others in the event business should qualify themselves against before calling themselves a professional wedding planner. Being a wedding professional is an earned privilege, not a right. It's time to stop lying to your brides... and to yourself.

Together, we can advance the wedding industry.

22 comments:

  1. Wow...those are some odd responses about what determines a professional wedding planner.

    I think a wedding planner should have taken some classes and have either certification or a degree (or be working on it at the moment). I also think you need a certain amount of events under your belt before you can call yourself a professional.

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  2. Professional status should come from a bunch of things. Yes, of course taking courses and certifying but more so your length and breadth of experience within this industry. I too don't consider part timers to be true Professionals. If this is your chosen profession and it's your sole source of income, welcome to the job.

    I think Rudy makes some harsh yet true statements. Too many people jump in to this industry too quickly and proclaim themselves professional without even designing, creating and coordinating a single wedding. My friends - I'm sorry - but until you've done the work don't come showing me the piece of paper! Yes, technically your an Engineer when you graduate but your not a Professional Engineer until you've done the work.

    Brides should always ask questions, check references, and do their own due diligence when it comes to hiring a Wedding Planner. A professional has a portfolio and body of work to support their claim alongside stellar references from past/current clients and vendors.

    Price comes with experience which comes with expertise. Your not an EXPERT until you've been doing something a LONG time. Your not a MASTER until others look to you as a mentor and industry leader. Who would you like to hire?

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  3. Wow Rudy, excellent post and insight. Thank you for bringing up a question that everyone seems to dance around. I can say that I have been planning weddings for 6 years, but to call myself a true professional, I would say 3 years. The first 3 years were spent building my company, reputation, attending certification classes, and doing any wedding that came my way. I am not going to list simple things such as being certified because in my mind that should be a given. I wouldn't hire a Doctor who couldn't show me their PhD. I am surprised this industry isn't regulated and I hate that! So,I will list what I feel, turned me into professional, aside from the obvious.

    1. I turned down weddings that weren't a good fit for me or the client. It was better to steer them in the direction of someone else, to ensure they were paired with the right planner than just take any wedding that came my way. No matter how big or small it was.

    2. I limited the number of wedding I take each year. How can someone be a professional when they push quantity, not quality.

    3. Word of mouth became a requirement. Vendors, community members, past clients and non-industry related professionals sent clients my way. Unless you are being recommended by those people that you work with, for or around you aren't quite a professional.

    4. I not only run a successful company of 5 (because no true professional can work on a wedding alone and do it successfully), I run a run a successful business. Meaning I am always looking for ways to improve my company, our reputation and our service to our clients.

    5. I make sure each comment and review (good, great and just OK) are seen. I don't pick and choose what I want people to read. We aren't all perfect...after all we have to fail to succeed right? Why not explain how you bettered your client and company, than lie?

    6. Most important of them all, I am a true professional because it is more than a job for me. It is a relationship. I cannot tell you how many couples I remain in CLOSE contact with, if not see them on a monthly basis for fun now. I have them tell me all the time, "Morgan, if I would have known you before my wedding instead of having you plan it, you would be IN my wedding as a bridesmaid."

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  4. First, I cannot believe the responses that you received "professional" or not, very generic! I don't know of any degree that you can get for becoming a wedding planner, BUT you can get a "meeting planning certification" and follow it with a certification geared towards Wedding
    Planning. Now, does this make you a "professional"?? It makes you certified, accredited ....You can be great at anything, but Only experience can make you a wise at what you do. We all learn everyday no matter what our profession, and it's a profession, not just a job;-) I have been in 6 years and I'm still learning....

    Thanks,

    JV

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  5. I'm new to the wedding planning business and consider myself a professional because I excel so much at what I do that people seek my services and would rather hire me than do it themselves. I do think classes and certifications are important and plan to join some of the many organizations that are out there. The bottom line is I have an education in a related field and proof that I can plan a seamless wedding better than most. A professional has connections to other vendors and knows how to market them self.

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  6. I think this post was very insightful. I am a new wedding planner and the couples that have chosen me so far have been made fully aware of this and that by no means am I a "professional" YET. I am upfront because the last thing you want to do is decieve your clients. I make it clear that I do posess great skills and have a lot of knowledge of the industry and will do an amazing job, but I do not have as much experience as others. I am so greatful to be given these opportunities by my clients who trust in me enough to be ok with me not being a "professional" yet. I think as long as you are up front and honest about your eexperience then you are good to go. Everyone has to start somewhere and that is how we learn. But at this time would I call myself a "professional" absolutely not because I have not earned that title yet as you mentioned before. I will most certainly be professional :) But will not give that title to myself until it is truly deserved.

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  7. I agree that people lie about being wedding planners. There are also distinctions missing that are confusing:

    1. Wedding Planners and Wedding Designers are not the same thing. A wedding planner is a logistical professional and a designer is a creative professional. A good planner may have nothing to do with interpreting someone's visual dream, but will sure as heck know who to hire that can. A good designer may not have the first clue how to plan an effective, successful event. Some people can do both planning and design. Most cannot and should not.

    2. There is no certification that is universally recognized by this industry as "proof" that you've gotten the proper education. Of all of the certifications (which don't really exist because there is no legal "wedding planning license") or programs which claim to accredit planners, the vast majority are shams. There are a few that approach the level that would be necessary to start someone in the right direction.

    Showing your "certification" or your slip of paper that says you are "accredited" doesn't mean a thing without the experience to back it up.

    What really matters when you are starting out is experience. Internships or apprenticeships, real professional event planning experience in another sector of the industry...some kind of proof that you know what the heck you are doing.

    Brides can avoid being lied to by doing more than asking the "planner" if they are professional. Ask the vendors in their region - and not just the ones who recommended them. Find out from the venues who have dealt with them what the actual experience is like. Ask if they are welcomed back to the venue. Ask if the venue or another vendor would in good conscience recommend them to future clients. Ask several people. Do your homework before investing.

    I guarantee if you cannot find three venues that would recommend that person from direct experience, you have not found an experienced professional planner. It's harder work than reading someone's paid-for certificate, but it is also way more accurate.

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  8. Great post, and yet a perplexing debate. I see it a few ways. First off, I have 1.5 years of wedding experience, though I have been planning large scale events for over 5. Because of my commitment to the industry and my career, I consider myself a professional. This is not a hobby. BUT that doesn't mean I consider myself a PRO, or THE Professional Wedding Planner. In fact, I consider others in the industry who inspire me and are reputable and awesome and reliable (the list goes on) to be the true professional.

    For me, it's not YOU who can determine you are the professional, it's your peers. I see it that way with the word entrepreneur. I don't think it's something you should refer to yourself as.... owner yes, start-up owner, CEO, president, chief, top dog, whatever... just not entrepreneur. It's a quality that your peers would use to describe you.

    Therefore, I think it's not whether you consider yourself a professional, it's what you are doing to be a professional. And what you do to improve, learn, enhance your skills and what you are capable of, will speak to your professional skills. But PRO and professional, I think are 2 different words. Pro = expert. And again, it's not you who can determine that you are an expert. It's something your peers would classify you as, and THAT is a big mountain to climb. Very few of us can be lucky enough to be seen as that. Just my two cents. Thanks for asking, and posting such a great topic. I'm sure good debates will be an outcome and hopefully some good conversations and changes in the industry.

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  9. What a fantastic post! It's interesting, this idea of the titling of "professional." When I graduated college, I took the first job offered me which was "professional" ballroom dancer. The mere act of being hired by a studio and getting paid automatically took me from college student who was on the dance team to "professional ballroom dancer." It wasn't until I'd been with the studio for over a year that I even began to feel up to the title. And when I left the studio, the title was just as magically stripped away.

    When asked how long I've been a planner, I always respond that I've been a planner off and on for the last 15 years, stead for the last 6. Even though I was paid over all of those years, I'd only call myself "professional" in the truest sense of the word for those last 6 because that's when I decided event planning was truly my chosen career. And planning 80 events a year for a large venue very quickly vaults you to professional or weeds you out to hobbyist.

    It'll be interesting to watch how this all unfolds.

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  10. When I completed reading this post, my first thought was, "Yahoo Rudy". The responses Rudy received from those coordinators made feel disappointed for our industry.

    As I read through the comments, I started to change my mind - sort of. Can a newbie call themselves a professional? After reading some of the comments, I want to say yes-with caveats and an explanation.

    I say this because I think there is a huge difference between a professional (a chosen profession) and an expert. Let's look at some definitions for professional: following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain; of, pertaining to, or connected with a profession; following as a business an occupation ordinarily engaged in as a pastime; and done by a professional; expert.

    The last definition is the one that Rudy is referencing, but many starting out in the industry look at the definition of a professional as a 'chosen profession' and thus once they properly set-up shop, they are a professional (by definition). If these newbies have taken appropriate action to become a valid business, have education that meets the needs of a wedding coordinator, etc. then in all marketing honesty, I suppose they could call themselves a professional. BUT, by no means could they call themselves an EXPERT.

    This is an industry and profession where constant education of engaged couples is required and this is one more aspect where the EXPERTS and those of us in the industry will have to diligently educate the public of the difference between a 'professional' and an 'expert in their field'.

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  11. Kudos on this post!

    We find it so discouraging that some call themselves "professional" after they've simply planned their own wedding or a friend's. Having been in this industry for 7 years, we believe it takes a special combination of key elements to truly be able to call yourself a professional and to fairly sell yourself a a real "professional" to brides and grooms.

    1. The most important element you need is heart. Seriously. You really can't jump into this industry expecting to make a quick buck. It takes passion. A real love for this industry and for making people happy. If you don't have heart and determination, it's not for you.

    2. In order to really call yourself a professional, you do need experience. Have you dealt with a near disaster? How did you handle the problem? Have you dealt with arranging details of an out-of-country destination event? Have you experienced unruly vendors or had to avert a crisis? If so, how did you deal with this? Simply telling a potential client that your last three events have been perfect doesn't cut it. There's always something going on behind the scenes that we need to tackle. The key is to handle this with GRACE and tact.

    3. You need an outstanding attitude. Doing your job well and doing it with a smile goes a very long way. You can't call yourself a true professional if wedding artists won't speak your praise. Potential brides and grooms need to have an assortment of vendors they can call on for a recommendation. If you put off a bad attitude or a bad vibe, it's far from professional. Great vendor references go a very long way.

    4. Finally, all professionals need to keep an open mind. While we consider ourselves seasoned planners, there is always something to learn. Non-professional planners often take on the notion that they know all. This is not true. Situations come up often where we have to roll with it and figure out a solution. Keeping an open mind and learning from our peers and friends in the industry is invaluable to our success and the success of our industry.

    A combination of these elements + integrity and creativity = a true professional.

    Great post! I think this is an important read!

    Aleah + Nick Valley
    The Good Life Special Events, San Diego
    and Fine Line Management & Events, Seattle

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  12. Right, I agree with Shayna - I think you're talking about being an "expert", not a "professional" per se. As others have said, a certification only shows that you went through the necessary classes to get the certification. It's the actual on-the-ground experience that makes you an "expert". And it's not just your peers who will determine that, but your potential clients as well. That's why it's important to be upfront about how long you've been doing this, and make sure you have referrals and references available/on your website. Your client is going to decide if you're expert enough to work on their wedding. And that changes depending on who you're talking to and what they think they need.

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  13. Right, I agree with Shayna - I think you're talking about being an "expert", not a "professional" per se. As others have said, a certification only shows that you went through the necessary classes to get the certification. It's the actual on-the-ground experience that makes you an "expert". And it's not just your peers who will determine that, but your potential clients as well. That's why it's important to be upfront about how long you've been doing this, and make sure you have referrals and references available/on your website. Your client is going to decide if you're expert enough to work on their wedding. And that changes depending on who you're talking to and what they think they need.

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  14. Great post that has provided me lots of insight. Defiantly a fantastic discussion starter.

    Referring to oneself as a " true professional" is a pretty grey area. In November I am going into my 4th year of business and even though I have experience, I still don't classy myself as a "true professional" YET.It is what I am striving for and will obtain. My first 2 years I was building my company to coincide with my business model. As well as taking additional education, networking, building a brand, reputation,sharpening my skills and the main thing working my butt off for my clients because experience is essential.

    I operate my business with ethics and integrity and my clients always know I have their best interest in mind. Even if I don't agree with some of my clients decisions, I have made them informed and in the end it's what makes my client happy. At the end of the day, it's their wedding and their decisions.I am a firm believer on quality clients and if I don't think I am a good fit or the client isn't a good fit for me. I have no problem referring them to someone else who is. I don't believe on taking every client on and only take on a certain amount of wedding clients a year. It's quality over quantity with me. It also helps me provide excellent service doing it this way.In this industry you need to be passionate,patient and extremely meticulous. You also need thick skin otherwise, this is not the right career for you.


    I find that after a bride has planned her own wedding, she is instantly a "wedding planner". Not realizing not every wedding is the same, nor is every bride.I see this time and time again and with this, I see these businesses disappear quickly.I find that weeds some of the "quick buck" wedding planners and sets me apart.Planning weddings is hard work, it's not for everyone. To me it's my career, not my weekend hobby. If you are that serious about yourself and your business then why are your doing this part time? Planning weddings is a full time job and by no means am an expert but those responses on what determines a professional wedding planner, really opened my eyes and made me think.

    I think clients really need to do their research before hiring a wedding planner. Ask for references, look at their portfolio, contact vendors who they have worked with. If they belong to an alumni or are certified, contact them to find out this wedding planners status.

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  15. It is very similar to the real estate boom...everyone got their license and starting selling homes. Well when the market dried up only the good realtors were able to make a living. The same will happen with the wedding industry.

    Many brides have so much fun planning their own wedding they decide to become a wedding planner. So many have a very romantic idea of what a wedding planner is.

    My background is in interior decorating. Along the way I have been a restaurant manager in charge of all events that were held at the restaurant or that the company sponsored. I designed window displays and booth layouts too. Several of my decorating clients asked me to help them decorate for holiday parties and other events. That is when my business started to change.

    I had planned a few of my friend's weddings and they referred their friends. I chaired several big fundraising events for local non-profits and used my design skills to keep costs down which led to several other event clients. I didn't advertise or seek out weddings and events, in the beginning it was all word of mouth. (a very powerful tool) This lead my business into a very interesting mix of decor and entertainment.

    My experience in interior decorating, management and event production are all needed in this industry. Can a bride become a planner? Absolutely...but more experience than planning your own wedding is needed.

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  16. "You betta be able to back it up" - that's my take on the whole situation. I've been a professional planner for 17 years - steadily. I've come through the proverbial "time" warp and watched this industry grow, explode and morph.

    For me, the bottom line is EXPERIENCE. Consistent, verifiable, legal, in-the-trenches experience. Having your name imprinted on a certificate, business card or letterhead DOES NOT mean a darn thing. Trust me - I've come across folks who've taken every class this side of kingdom come, but could not for the life of them plan, produce and direct a wedding event.

    This is truly a business where you have to "learn the ropes". Every wedding is different, which means you have to be quick on your feet and in your brain so that efficiency is the hallmark of the day. I've offered a year-long internship for the past 10 years just for that reason. I WANT you to see what this life is like and I WANT to see if you've got the cajones to deal with it. Sadly - only a very few have the moxy, personality and brains to make it work well.

    I sincerely wish for standardization in this industry....it would cut out a lot of the "madness" I see. Everybody and their mama is now a "wedding planner"..but in the short term, they are just wrecking it for those of us who are dedicated to the craft and the cause...

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  17. While I'm not a Wedding Planner (I design wedding stationery); I believe this is one of the most awesome and thought provoking blog posts I have read in a long time!

    In my view, a Wedding Planner is a professional when they 1) have YEARS of experience; 2) an outstanding portfolio and references; 3) keep themselves abreast of the industry; 4) have an extensive list of REPUTABLE vendors 5) are extremely passionate about their work.

    Because a bride planned her wedding, a friends wedding, a friend of a friends wedding - it does not make her a Wedding Planner, let alone a professional.

    Nor does obtaining a piece of paper (i.e. a certificate in "wedding planning") make someone a professional. Guess what? I have one of those pieces of paper - I would never consider calling myself professional in the field of wedding planning - not even close! I got my certification more for the background of wedding planning - not to become a wedding planner. I don't have what it takes to be a wedding planner, as a "professional" wedding planner takes a certain "breed" of person.

    The Wedding Planner field is too saturated;
    unfortunately, by many whom consider themselves "professionals." Of the hundred or so "professional" wedding planners in my city alone, I would only consider, and call upon, five of those to assist couples in planning their weddings. I've worked with those five, I know their backgrounds, I know what they can and can't do. I know that they are not "we decided to do a wedding planning business - because it's fun" operation. They have YEARS of experience and this is their PASSION.

    Again, a great topic and I hope that it will continue in hopes of actually determining what makes a wedding planner a professional.

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  18. I commend you on this post, because it's an issue that many of us in the wedding and event industry are trying to deal with as well. In my opinion, what makes someone a "professional" is a combination of years of experience and client satisfaction. A professional planner realizes that they need to stay abreast of trends in the marketplace, belongs and actively participates in professional associations, and continues their education. A planner can do 50 weddings and if their clients weren't happy, that in my opinion does not make them professional. However, if he or she not only has the numbers, but the client satisfaction to back up those numbers, they makes him or her a professional. I worked as an event planner for 14 years in the non-profit industry and when I decided to start my own business and incorporate weddings in to it, I didn't lie to my brides and tell them that I have vast experience, just trust me. I went out and sought education on weddings from the Association of Bridal Consultants, joined the association and participate regularly in my local chapter. Yes, I had experience in event design and management, but my experience with weddings was limited to friends and family. I didn't have to spend money and time in order to become a professional Wedding Planner, but I did and it's that choice that can often separate the professionals from the not so professionals. Like Socrates said, true wisdom comes from knowing that you know nothing. A professional Wedding Planner never stops learning, never stops improvement, and does not present him/herself as something they are not.

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  19. The same could be said of many wedding vendors. I can't tell you how many people I have met that have purchased some dslr from a geek at best buy and suddenly they are professional wedding photographers. They go on facebook and post pics of their kids and pets and everyone just goes crazy over them. They have no experience...and not a clue to what it really takes. They shoot in "P" for professional mode....pathetic mode is more like it. Unfortunately, when they get into that dark, poorly lit church that does not allow flash and they are shooting with some junky kit lens and all the images are dark, orange and out of focus, it is the bride and groom who pay the ultimate price.

    Don't even get me started on djs.....owning a karaoke machine and ipod does not make you a dj.

    From a wedding photographer who owns professional equipment and knows how to use it.

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  20. Excellent post! I tell people at the very least make sure your wedding planner has a business license and liability insurance. I am amazed at the amount of newcomers who don't have them.

    I have designed events and weddings for years and have a resume to show my clients as well as vendor references. It is okay to be a rookie, we all were at some point just be honest and be willing to learn before you claim something that isn't true.

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  21. The proof is in the pudding. If they did a great job and the customer is happy then why is that a problem? Everybody has to start somewhere and every veteran had their first wedding assignment. I'm not a wedding planner, but I'm in the wedding business and I know that you need a high level of confidence in yourself before you even think you can pull off your first wedding or whatever your industry is. The author shouldn't speak as an authority when he/she starts off by admitting she/he doesn't know the first thing about doing it. I'm just saying...

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  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

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