We all need a little help from our friends, especially in event planning. Who better to help than your seasoned event professional peers? We spoke with six professionals who dished their secrets, gave their best advice and even sprinkled in a little industry inspiration.
After all, none of us can do it alone.
Lisa Criscera Conarton
Owner; LC Solutions Weddings and Events; Carbondale
Lisa Criscera Conarton got her start in the hospitality industry as a high school student working for her aunt, who was the general manager and director of sales of a local banquet facility.
Conarton worked there for about 12 years and then spent time at a number of hotels as a general manager and director of sales. In 2014, she and her husband—who she met at that same local banquet facility—took their combined event experience and opened LC Solutions Weddings and Events in Carbondale.
The route Conarton took, of starting in the industry early while working through school and beyond, is something she encourages for all people looking to break into events. She recommends seeking out event companies and shadowing them to get an inside look on what it’s really like. Hospitality majors and classes are great, but there’s no better standard for excellence than actual experience in the field.
“There is no book or class or paper that can prepare you for real life and the things that can pop up,” she says. “For new planners, experience is key.”
Conarton’s two biggest takeaways from the event industry are to develop strong relationships with vendors and always have a contingency plan.
Those two pieces of advice helped Conarton out at an event while working with a disastrous shuttle company. An event she planned was held at a remote location and a driver was hired to take guests to and fro. After the first trip, the driver refused to take anyone anywhere and was yelling obscenities outside. Conarton immediately thought of two options: either round up people to use their personal vehicles or find a back-up vendor. On a whim, she called a shuttle company she worked with often. One of their drivers, who happened to be out to dinner with his wife, left the restaurant, grabbed a bus and picked up the guests.
“It was really unbelievable,” she says. “When you have good relationships with people, and you do well for them, you never know what you’re going to get in return. You never know what’s going to happen.”
President; Albrecht Events; Philadelphia
Listen, listen, listen.
That’s Ashley Albrecht’s motto for event planning success.
“Listen to your clients so you can work together to achieve and exceed their goals for the event,” says Albrecht. “Be unique and find creative ways to make their vision a reality.”
After listening comes the exciting part—the planning, something that Albrecht enjoys the most.
“Creative brainstorming is my favorite,” says Albrecht. “When you start working on an event concept with goals in mind to develop a theme with décor and entertainment to support it,” says Albrecht. “It’s so exciting when ideas are all percolating.”
Albrecht started her company Albrecht Events, an event design and management firm in Philadelphia, in 2005 after five years in the field. Her all-woman team makes up decades of experiences and differing skills, which helps set them apart in a crowded industry
“We are filled with gratitude for the work that we do, the people we work with and the missions we support along the way,” she says. “Budgets and deadlines can be tight, but we make it fun and supportive.”
Her team’s connection, along with their background and varying talents, allow them to be prepared for any situation—expected or not. Albrecht has built a team of flexible and resourceful individuals who can think quickly on their feet and react calmly no matter the situation.
“With event planning, you need to expect the unexpected and always be ready to identify and execute creative solutions,” says Albrecht. “Surround yourself with people you want to work with.”
Owner and Lead Planner; Stylish Occasions Wedding & Event Planning; Lancaster
Melissa Martin, owner and lead planner of Stylish Occasions Wedding & Event Planning, always tells her clients that something little will go awry, but her team is always ready to fix it. There are those instances, however, when something big will go wrong. She mentions a wedding where a number of things went haywire. It was pouring, and water started to leak through the windows and doors. She couldn’t get in touch with the venue manager, so her team had to mop. Then the power went out, so they brought in generators and put up as many candles as they could. The result was a romantic evening with guests that never knew what happened.
Martin attributes that end result to her propensity to stay calm—one of the most important personality attributes of an event planner.
“When I receive reviews from my couples, one word that often pops up is ‘calm,’” says Martin. “That’s probably my biggest asset. I remain calm in all situations, which keeps my clients calm.”
Martin, who started her company in 2008 as a solo project (it has now grown to herself, three associate planners and a team of assistants), became an event planner because so many things went wrong at her wedding and she wanted to help people avoid her mistakes. To stand out from other planners, Martin says, you must understand what you bring to the table that no other planners do.
“Even if there are a lot of other event planners in your market, realize that you bring something unique,” says Martin. “Figure out what that is and be confident about it and your abilities.”
While Martin loves event planning, she cautions those looking to get into the planning world that they need to be serious about the profession. It’s not all fun and games—it’s hard work.
“[Event planning] looks glamorous in the movies, but it’s a very hard job,” she says. “I always suggest before starting your own company that you should work for another company or at least shadow another planner to make sure it is something you will like.”
Sheila C. Weiner
President; The Event Group; Pittsburgh
Sheila Weiner’s educational background is in law, but 30 years ago, when she discovered law wasn’t a good fit, she decided to launch The Event Group. Friends, family and others always remarked on her planning skills, so starting her own company made sense. She launched the company—a full-service event production, meeting, trade show, luxury wedding and destination management company—and never looked back. At the time, she was the only planner, but she now has a number of full-time planners and event managers that work with her.
“I truly love the diversity of events that we do,” she says. “We love creating unforgettable, flawless events and ensuring a seamless, wonderful experience for our clients and their guests.”
In her 30 years of experience, Weiner has learned that planners need to be educated, organized, respectful to vendors and available to their clients. Extra important? Being prepared for any situation—in the world of events, anything can happen.
Events, anything can happen. To be extra prepared Weiner has four simple tips: always have backup plans, work as a team with your vendors, don’t run and anything that happens behind the scenes stays there.
Weiner once had a fire alarm go off during a trade show. Instead of immediately panicking, her team made sure everyone left the building safely and then set up the entertainment outside to keep people engaged and near the building until everyone could return.
“Our team knows that no matter what, there may always be unexpected or unplanned occurrences,” say Weiner. “We expect the unexpected.”
Owner; Divine Celebrations; Pittsburgh
Erin Calvimontes was setting up a venue for a wedding scheduled for that day. The next thing she knew, the venue staff knocked a table into the cake, and it smashed straight into the ground. With some quick thinking and a little luck, Calvimontes got a hold of the bakery who rushed over a display cake in colors slightly similar to the original. Once it came time for the reception, Calvimontes quietly told the bride not to fret, but her cake had fallen. To keep her calm, she reminded her she was the only one who could tell and that the problem was solved. All was fine.
“We’re always expecting something to happen,” she says. “We anticipate what could go wrong and try to avoid that. When things do go awry, we try to handle them the best we can without alerting the client so they don’t stress over something that can’t necessarily be helped.”
Calvimontes has also seen grooms fall off horses and a client’s clothing start on fire.
So yes, truly anything can happen.
“You have to think on your feet,” she says. “You try to make the best out of it and try to resolve it as quickly as you can.”
Calvimontes, who started Divine Celebrations 25 years ago, originally started out as a photographer when event planners didn’t really exist. Eventually she transferred to full-time planning, which allows her to help bring other people’s ideas to life.
“The thing I enjoy the most about event planning is watching clients’ dreams and visions come together,” she says. “I help them de-stress their situations of planning.”
David Cole Snook,
CWP Owner, Lead Planner; Mx2 Event Design; Elizabethtown
David Cole Snook, owner and lead planner for Mx2 Event Design, got his event sea legs aboard cruise ships working for 27 years as an event and entertainment director, responsible for all passenger programing and on-board entertainment as well as private events. As he says, launching his own company in 2014 was just part of his retirement plan.
“My business was a long-term goal and strategy to retire from all the travel,” he says. “I slowly transitioned from my cruise career to fully dedicating my attention and energy to Mx2 Event Design.”
Working on ships gave Snook an unwavering ability to exude confidence and creativity at all times—be it when an event is going swimmingly or flailing. When you have the natural elements, 3,000 passengers and 1,100 crew members to contend with, you learn to be calm in the middle of a storm.
“There is no room for error, and when you’re in the middle of the ocean, there is no stopping for supplies, no other resource but your own creativity and problem-solving abilities to make something out of nothing when the unexpected occurs,” he says. “I’ve been able to harness that experience to maximize my ability to take on any challenge.”
In transitioning from sea to land, Snook relied on the strength of positive reviews, and it’s something he can’t stress enough. A review can make or break your career, be it word of mouth or online. For him, it was a way to garner more business and exceed in his career.
“Events seem to be so tied to the emotional side that testimonials truly make the difference,” says Snook. “Events aren’t just a thing; they’re an experience.”