“[…] Most times, a difficult client is one whose budget is simply not cohesive with their expectations. I mean, you cannot seriously expect to get fresh flowers at the same price as artificial ones. As the saying goes, some clients have ‘champagne taste with mauby money!
“[…] There are clients that come to you with a $2,000 budget but their guest list has 100 persons. (Pauses) Come on, that maths ain’t mathsing!”
Wired868 highlights the day-to-day lives of everyday Trinbagonians in our ongoing series entitled: ‘A day in the life…’ Today, we speak with an event planner:
How did you get started in the events industry?
The cliché but also real answer to this question would be that I have been doing this, literally, since my days of macaroni art and finger painting. The idea to turn my skills into a profession actually came to me in my final year pursuing an event management programme while living abroad. It was a two-year programme offered by Arthur Lok Jack in collaboration with George Washington University [in Washington, DC].
Then, when I returned to Trinidad in 2016, I decided that I wanted to be my own boss. I figured that whatever I decided to do next would be a lifelong career. Whatever it was, it had to be something that I would enjoy. I chose event planning and it chose me.
What is your typical day like?
A typical day for me is extremely hectic—although the type of event may be similar, no two days are the same. If I have an upcoming event, most times I would have to meet with suppliers, run errands and collect miscellaneous items. Some days, I may have to visit the venue to complete spot checks.
If I am not prepping for an event, I am usually meeting and liaising with my clients and potential event vendors. I also attend to my personal and school responsibilities. So even when I am not preparing for an event, my days are very hectic.
Do you work alone or with a team?
I have a team of five persons separated into two groups. One group does event planning and coordination, the other group focuses on event design and décor. Within the last year, I often find myself working alone as there is a major shift in the size of events so I don’t necessarily require a full team at this time.
Where do you find design inspiration? How do you choose a theme for an event?
Pinterest! Pinterest is hugely inspirational for me. I also get inspiration when meeting with clients. In these conversations, I get a feel of their personalities, or I might hear a striking story or sometimes they discuss their favourite pieces. These are all pointers that you can really run with. That’s the importance of client meetings. It helps set the theme of an event.
I also find event themes in a client’s characteristics or personality. If you are observant enough, this trick can work for you as an event planner. For example, a client of mine is known as the Sequin Goddess. Her name and random conversations with her narrowed down the themes for her birthday event, which turned into a glitzy, sequin glam affair. Everyone that saw the event knew it was about and for her.
Learning my clientele and research are my sources of inspiration and themes for events.
Can you briefly describe an event planner’s role on the day of an event?
(Sigh). To be honest, I don’t think there’s a brief answer for this question. (Chuckles).
Any successful event would have an event planner from the get-go. I say this because an event planner/manager’s role begins before the conception of the event. Planners literally deal with all your vendors, suppliers, contract arrangements and venues.
On the day of the event, my team and I dedicate ourselves to ensure the client’s vision is realised. If it’s a corporate event, we ensure the client’s goals are met, whatever that goal might be. We manage all of the little pieces that make up the puzzle.
Additionally in any event, there are incidents or situations that may arise. Our job is to address the mishaps that may threaten the seamlessness of the event. An event planner literally functions as support from start to finish […] of an event.
Business News Daily suggested that event planning is one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Would you agree or disagree and why?
I agree. Event planning can be very stressful. A planner is single-handedly responsible for every aspect and outcome of someone’s personal milestones or corporate goal celebrations. You must be able to manage multiple clients, multiple personalities and multiple requests.
For instance, while a client may hire vendors for the event, the planner is the point person between these vendors—not forgetting their role as the host of the event. Let’s say a planner is overseeing an event and the ice at the bar runs out, the client isn’t going to report this to the bar vendor, they would come to you, the event planner.
Weddings or any other events that are highly emotional are also very stressful. Clients rely on you for almost everything, even if it is outside of your professional role. They sometimes want you to give them personal advice, be their friend or even be with them 24/7! Obviously, that isn’t realistic but in the mind of the client, it’s quite normal.
Event planners also have to manage various budgets, and some of them fall way below the price of the client’s vision.
What is most challenging about your job?
You see those 11pm calls to discuss the type of glass you should use for an event. (Laughs) Girl, I’ll tell you, that is the most challenging thing about this job.
For some clients, the line between your professional capacity and their personal point of view is a bit blurred. Sometimes clients tend to treat you as if you are a part of their family and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing right? However, whereas I am okay with my mother calling me at any given time—whether it be midnight or four in the morning—when you see your phone ringing at that time and it’s a client, it can really become very challenging maintaining that semblance of professionalism. You know that ‘I’m there for you, you can contact me’ approach?
I mean, what in the world could possess someone to call somebody at that time for something that can wait until morning? So, umm, yeah, that is one of the biggest challenges for me!
How do you handle ‘difficult’ clients?
Most times, a difficult client is one whose budget is simply not cohesive with their expectations. I mean, you cannot seriously expect to get fresh flowers at the same price as artificial ones. As the saying goes, some clients have ‘champagne taste with mauby money!
[…] There are clients that come to you with a $2,000 budget but their guest list has 100 persons. (Pauses) Come on, that maths ain’t mathsing!
How I treat with things like that? Well, I don’t take anything personal. However, in the same breath, I know that I have to be firm. Additionally, I would do a breakdown of literally everything the client requests with a cost. It’s not a quotation nor is it an invoice. It’s just an outline of the prices of everything requested by the client who would then be able to see what it costs to turn their dreams into reality.
In the case when a client is really trying me, I am not afraid to say ‘Hey, perhaps I’m not the right person for you’ and happily refer them to another planner. Every time I did that, the clients got themselves together quickly!
I draw examples from companies like Mercedes. They don’t advertise because their product is for a particular type of client whom they don’t necessarily have to convince to choose them.
What is most rewarding about your job?
As cliché as it sounds, it’s the joy on my clients’ faces for me. Just knowing that I am doing something that I am fully passionate about and also achieving some degree of success with my clients’ satisfaction are all rewarding elements that make up for all the difficult, challenging, stressful times.
What do you do to unwind after an event?
Definitely a glass of wine! Or, sometimes the bottle! (Laughs) I don’t always get to unwind immediately due to the after buzz of the event, but when I am able to, I try to relax on the same day or night after an event.
Another thing I have done to unwind is designate Mondays as a certified rest day. After the pace of an event-filled weekend, I need my Mondays off; or at least 24-hours dedicated to sleep!
How has Covid-19 affected your personal life? What adjustments have you had to make?
This may be strangest thing you are about to hear but Covid-19 has actually allowed me to return to myself. Many people that know me know that I always set high standards for myself. I am always on the go, always moving, always doing something.
Covid-19 has reminded me of what is important, and that is self-care. The pandemic has also reminded me to be present, with friends, family and even myself. I mean, sometimes you’re trying to be there but your brain is fighting you, because it’s on overdrive. You feel like you need to do this, you need to do that; you need to make this money…
Instead, Covid-19 said, ‘No! What you need to do is chill the hell out!’
Guess what, I did just that.
What is the biggest change that event planners had to deal with since the pandemic hit?
The biggest change I think for almost all event planners would be the scale of the events. Planners have literally gone from preparing 300 chair covers, to now setting a table for 10, 20 or even 30 at maximum. Of course, there is also the financial change as larger events may provide a greater chance to make more money whereas smaller events mean a reduced income.
To top it off, we also now have the additional responsibility of ensuring events are safe and virus-free for guests. While we are always on the lookout for anything that can go wrong, the safety factor has intensified because now we have to be more cognisant, and to some degree responsible for persons’ actual health and sanitisation.
There are definitely moments when you feel like praying to every single God out there (though I believe in only one) to ensure that no one slips through the cracks and infects everyone.
I go to great lengths to try to make the environment as safe as possible. A temperature gun is always present and persons are always checked and sanitised. Whether at a client’s home or my personal event space, sanitation stations are always set up at different points at all events. I provide uniformed staff to ensure that all sanitary measures and protocols are observed.
These measures alleviate some of the fear associated with the spread of the virus and it is also what made us take the chance to continue with events prior to the lockdown.
Yet, to the back of my mind, I’m always hoping that I don’t receive a phone call that someone has the virus and now everyone becomes a secondary contact and all of the drama that comes along with that.
Did you have to adjust the way you work?
The adjustment I made was in the way I marketed my company and myself. Sometimes people tend to think you are out of reach; they assume that you are only open to doing large events. I had to rebrand my company to show that quality events can be done on a smaller scale.
I wanted to show my clients that they could still have that picnic for two with an experience similar to a fancy wedding. I wanted them to see that they can still have that special dinner at home.
The adjustment for me, the planner, would be the financial aspect of the event. Yes, I would want to match my current quality standards but in reality, the budget would have its limitations. This means that my profit margin would also be limited.
Sometimes, I get carried away easily and use the entire budget on the client’s event setting. When that happens, I don’t make a profit. I had to recognise that I am now working on a smaller scale for everything so I should be careful not to screw myself over in the process.
What most frustrates you about life in the Covid-19 pandemic?
Honestly, I would say the lack of personal responsibility by adults in our country. Yes, for the most part, some are putting things in order to ensure their safety and the safety of others during this time, but I think that personal responsibility as a nation is not there.
In my capacity as an event planner, I can have everything organised to protect guests at an event but then there would be this one person that goes into their car, touches different things, then comes back into the event claiming that they sanitised when re-entering when they in fact did not. I would then have to be firm and insist that they sanitise again in my presence, just to be sure.
On a personal level, I no longer go to places like grocery stores because I have witnessed people walk in and out without sanitising and lie about it. You can actually see how relaxed persons are about the pandemic. They take too much for granted, and we are seeing the results of that now as a country.
In Trinidad, we tend to have a lackadaisical mindset where ‘anything is anything’ and people just are not taking their personal responsibility seriously. It’s so frustrating!
Is there anything that encourages you about life during the pandemic?
What is encouraging for me during life in the pandemic is honestly witnessing the reconnection among family and friends. Before, I would have done events where some guests didn’t even know each other, now persons are faced with having to select their most intimate family and friends as guests for their event.
When you are limited to five or ten guests, there is no room for somebody that you haven’t been in contact with for the last 20 years. You are seeing persons return to what really matters.
You also get to see people become innovative and do things that were previously unheard of, like transforming their living room into a restaurant setting. I would hope that these trends continue because it really reconnects us as a people to what matters most.
Forget the glitz, the glamour and people’s impressions about the event, just being a part of that life celebration and seeing people make the most of the times we are in, is truly motivating.
With the need for physical distancing at events, do you think event planning has a future?
Definitely! Event planning has a bright future. To me, many people didn’t even realise just how much the event industry has been impacted by the pandemic. Now, I think people understand just how important planners are.
Before the pandemic, persons would question a planner’s labour fee. They would have a budget for all the fancy stuff but could not understand the labour cost. Now, people are seeing just how necessary event planners are for structure, ideas, execution and concepts. We are able to take your wedding and transform it into a virtual event. We do that with live streaming, pop-ups, drive-by events and many other things the average person would not think of.
Additionally, many planners have diversified their offerings by adding options for concierge and gifting services. Humans are habit-forming beings by nature, so many persons would have seen the benefits of these services and would use them long after the world heals from Covid-19.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an event planner?
I would advise them to do thorough research so they can understand what the role entails. It is not at all pretty. The event photos are pretty. The final result is pretty. But, the months and years of work is not pretty. You have to be prepared and be up for the task.
Secondly but just as important, I would suggest getting a mentor. That made a huge difference for my business. Be open to placing yourself in a learning space. Be open to smart networking. Do not be afraid to reach out to other planners you admire. Place yourself amongst them whether virtually or in reality to get an idea of how they work.
To be an event planner, you need to be professional, creative, have an eye for detail and a make-it-happen attitude. As I said before, you are single-handedly responsible for bringing a client’s vision to life. Your attitude should reflect that no request or challenge is too difficult for you to get the job done.