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Three Wedding Planners Dish On Opening Their Own Businesses

Business

As a child, it’s easy to write “firefighter,” “astronaut,” or “wedding planner” in the blank space under, “What I want to be when I grow up.” However, once you start talking college majors, would-be firefighters turn to careers in finance, NASA-dreamers stick to Earth-based professions, and wedding planners exit dreamland and enter reality. The three women we interviewed for this story, however, have not only made careers out of planning weddings, but actually own their own companies. We talked about how they found themselves in the event planning field, and what kinds of challenges and joys they experience on the regular.


Amy Shey Jacobs, Chandelier Events

Eleven years ago, after serving as director of public relations and events for The Knot (now XO Group, Inc.), Amy Shey Jacobs launched Chandelier Events. The NYC-based boutique company specializes in luxury weddings and events, including charity events, milestone events, bar and bat mitzvahs, launches, and brand experiences. The amount charged per event or wedding depends on what’s requested from the client, and the company plans roughly 50 events a year.

How did you find yourself in this field?

While I was at The Knot, I planned and produced weddings and wedding trend segments of all shapes and sizes. That included live events and many notable nuptials, including NBCs TODAY Ties The Knot wedding series, ABC’s The View Fantasy Wedding Series (where we married off each of the hosts including Barbara Walters to Mayor Bloomberg), and yes, the holy grail, Oprah. When I had my first baby, who was born weighing three pounds, I was fortunate enough to work out a special consultancy with XO Group, Inc. to create my own schedule. When my media contacts found out I was free agent, the projects started to roll in. They knew I knew everyone in weddings, how to produce a live event, how to balance a budget, and how to work with celebrities. One wedding led to another wedding led to another. One day, I got the call to plan a celebrity wedding, which entailed a feature in People Magazine, and decided to call my business “Chandelier.”

What does your team look like?

Day to day, Chandelier Events varies in its scope and size. I am the CEO/Creative Director/CMO/Lead Planner and Designer. My husband, Andrew, joined us full-time two years ago as COO/Chief of Getting Shit Done. I say that jokingly, but his legal and business background has become an incredible asset to our firm. We also have assistant planners and production freelancers who work with us depending on our events’ demands. Typically, our team rolls with four to 10 people for a wedding or private event. I consider every wedding a ‘Pop up’ company, and the professionals we tap to produce the elements of the event become extensions of our company during that time. For instance, at a wedding we planned last year at The New York Public Library where we had 184 guests in attendance, my staff list inclusive of everyone working at that wedding was 122 people long!

What is it about wedding and event planning you find so rewarding?

‘Creating something from nothing’ is what fuels me. Planning, designing, and producing weddings gives me a creative outlet for my artistic passions, and the idea that anything is possible with the right talented pros to make it happen. I look at the Super Bowl halftime show and say, ‘I can do that!’ So personally, the work is very rewarding. I also love working with people. With weddings, you are meeting a couple in the most joyous time of their life, and coming into a couple and a family’s life during the window of optimism and joy is truly special.

What are some challenges you experience that outsiders may not fully appreciate?

Events have a life of their own. You can plan, plan, plan, and check off every box, and inevitably there is always something that we either didn’t expect, didn’t show up, came in wrong, or life just happens. Yes, Grandmas do pass out at cocktail hour, tents do leak water, and snow falls. So if you go in with that knowledge and you prepare as much as possible, you get through it. You also need to deal with difficult conversations and decisions with clients (often where budgets or logistics or family drama are concerned) and as a professional, it’s important to learn where and when you are emotionally involved because it can take a toll on a person. Additionally, this is definitely not a nine to five job. It’s often a seven-days-a-week, wake-up-’til-you go-to-bed kind of job, so you need the stamina and energy to maintain your attention to detail even when you’re exhausted.

Amy Shea, CEO Chandelier Events

What does your ideal future look like, career-wise?

I look at the second decade of Chandelier, and third decade of my career life, as the legacy stage. We’ve learned, we’ve built, and now what are we doing with this thing we’ve created? I’d really love to grow Chandelier as a brand and as an expert and as a designer. I love the idea of becoming a household name that lives outside of weddings. Is it a book? Yes! I’ve got one I want to write. Is it a product line? Yes! I keep thinking that we’d make a great champagne for all of life’s celebrations. Is it more TV? Yes! TV is my first love. And where we’re going to produce events, too? Chandelier has produced events all over, but we are ready to expand. In 10 years, I’d love to be producing events all over the world!

Brett Galley, Hollywood Pop Gallery

Hollywood Pop Gallery was founded 20 years ago by Brett Galley’s mother, who happens to be acclaimed artist Joyce Galley. It’s since expanded to a six-person team the serves New York City, Greenwich, Conn., and London. Their clientele roster is expansive and impressive, and includes the likes of Diana Ross, Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert DeNiro, the New York Yankees, and MoMA. They charge on a percentage basis based on an event’s overall scope and budget, which ranges from 12% to 20%.

How did you find yourself in this field?

My Mother, who is an artist, decided to open an art gallery that featured 3D art. People thought it was clever and unique, and I helped her on the side while I was in art school studying to become an art dealer. People were begging to rent this unique space for their parties, so we eventually allowed them to do that. The clientele used to bring in their own decor, designers, and entertainment, and I said, "We can do that!" It snow-balled from there. After putting the most talented people in place, including an art director who started out as the lead window designer at Bergdorf Goodman and a British wedding planner who had moved to the states after she married an American.

What is it about wedding and event planning you find so rewarding?

Well it certainly carries a lot of stress and responsibility, but for a client to put their trust in you and your team – and trust that you will help to facilitate and enhance one of the most important days of their lives – makes it all worthwhile. Personally, I love new beginnings, and to me a wedding is all about moving forward in a positive, exciting way.

What are some challenges you experience that outsiders may not fully appreciate?

I could write a book filled with chapter after chapter of challenges. The bride and groom and their families are understandably nervous, but it is the client that communicates their style and expectations and then lets go, that typically enjoys the experience more.

Kim Sayatovic, Belladeux Event Design

New Orleans-based Kim Sayatovic began planning weddings and events on a professional level five years ago when she founded Belladeux Event Design. Belladeux is a three-person team that consists of herself, a full-time event director, and a secondary designer that’s contracted for special projects. Sayatovic plans between four and six weddings so that each client gets her undivided attention, and prices vary depending on scope and size.

How did you find yourself in this field?

Before I was a professional planner, I was always the go-to friend to throw parties and events, and I volunteered with large events often and really loved the planning process. After spending a decade working as an industrial property manager, I went back to college in my 30’s to study public relations. While there, I discovered that the part of PR I liked the most was the actual events. I eventually went into business with a partner and fell absolutely in love with weddings, so when we split and I re-launched on my own, I chose to focus more on weddings.

What is it about wedding and event planning you find so rewarding?

I am an artist at heart. I love creating things from nothing, and I absolutely live to see crazy dreams turn into realty. I have a minor in photography and another in geology, and being able to utilize my love of the natural world in visual form makes me extremely happy.

What are some challenges you experience that outsiders may not fully appreciate?

Kim Sayatovic, Belladeux

Exhaustion. Many times, a client doesn’t realize how many hours we put in to the planning even before the actual event day. Also, on the day of, we are on site for up to 15 hours doing set-up, managing the actual event, and doing break down. Recently, in fact, I was on site with an event for 18 hours. The client was so happy at the end of the night that she just wanted to keep chatting while I stood there smiling and trying not to fall over. It’s worth it in the end, but it can get physically and mentally tiring.

What does your ideal future look like, career-wise?

My long-term plan is to open an event venue, which will allow me to focus on just a few weddings a year while still being involved with celebrations. I also love the design aspect of my job the most, and I would like to be able to focus on bigger projects.

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Politics

Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.


When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.