I'm so excited to have interviewed my friend, Laurie Hartwell. Laurie's one of my favorite mentors of all time & a vet in the wedding industry. She's is the Founder & CEO of The Bridal Society, which is the nation's leading wedding planning certification conference. She has over 26 years of experience planning weddings across the country & has earned many awards over the years planning weddings for celebrities & other elite clientele. She recently won "Most Helpful Mentor" at the National WEDDI AWARDS for all the help she gives to wedding planners all around the world. Laurie has a passion for the wedding industry & strongly believes in continuing education. Her goal is to raise the standards in the wedding industry.
This was a distinct privilege to be with her & get to ask her some questions that will give you insights that can help you navigate the challenges that come along with planning their wedding.
Here's what happened:
Ivy's question: Many couples don't know the difference between wedding planners & venue coordinators. Some think if they have just one, they won't need the other. What are the main differences between a wedding planner & a venue coordinator?
Laurie's answer: Your venue coordinators are there to make sure that everything that is associated with the venue - such as the food & beverage, the tables, the chairs, the lighting, the room, the banquet staff - everything that's involved with the venue itself, that's what the venue coordinator is there to ensure is running seamlessly & smoothly.
Now for people like us, as planners, we take care of all the other details. We work for the couple whereas the venue coordinator works for the venue. And, a lot of times, we work really well together. Some of my best friends of all time are catering managers at hotels & country clubs & private venues, & we work really, really well together.
There are some venues that will tell you that you don't need an outside planner & those are the ones that make me a little sad because they don't know what they're missing out on. We can make their lives incredibly less challenging... There's a pretty massive difference; I'll share another.
We, as planners, are going to walk our clients throughout the entire planning process. We'll help them navigate through the muddy waters of what to do first & why we do it this way. And, upon request, we're going with them to the photographer's appointments, baker's appointments & the florist & we're helping them make really great decisions & helping them save money. Whereas the venue coordinators don't really leave the venue. Those are just some of the main differences between the two.
Ivy's question: Many couples hire a wedding planner & many couples don’t. What does the data tell us about couples who didn’t hire a certified wedding planner & how they felt about it after their wedding day?
Laurie's answer: There was a poll that reported about 95% of couples who said they did not hire a Certified Wedding Planner said that they wish they had. But they said this after the wedding & by that time, it's too late. We can't fix anything, we can't make it right, so my advice to all of our future clients, all of our future couples getting married, those who are engaged now, people who are not engaged but are getting engaged soon - my advice to them would be, make sure you're hiring a Certified Wedding Planner, whether it's for the entire planning process or maybe just month-of.
Regardless, at least for that month-of, because that's the basic type of package any of our clients can choose, it will at least ensure that your wedding is going to run smoothly. There are so many details! There are over 5,000 moving parts in every single wedding. That's an enormous amount of details that, as someone who is also getting married that day, doesn't have time or the capacity. It's about enjoying your wedding; not managing a dozen or more wedding professionals.
Our job is about making sure all those 5,000 details are coming together perfectly on the wedding day. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me for a couple to say, "ah, I don't need anybody" because that's not working in your best interest at that point. I want more couples to have their best interest at heart & at least hire someone for month-of.
Now, some of our couples call this day-of coordination, but truly, there's no such thing as a day-of coordinator because, if there were, it would just show up on the wedding day & magically know exactly what was supposed to happen. Without any previous meetings with any of our clients, I'd be clairvoyant & I would just magically know. But of course, that's absurd!
It's important for us to meet with the client ahead of time, meet with all the wedding professionals, make sure that we talk to them, see what they need. We're putting together a very details wedding day itinerary that is just unmatched. And I know that some couples are like, "ah, I can put together a timeline," but what they don't understand is all the little things they miss completely & one thing that's missed in the day can actually throw off everything else in the day.
It's like a domino effect & that's why it's really important to hire a Certified Wedding Planner. We are trained; we know exactly what to do, when to do it & why to do it. Couples need to understand that we want their wedding day to turn out just how they envision. When they hire us, we are taking on their emotions, we're taking on their vision, we want exactly what they want for the wedding day.
There's a lot of miscommunication because a couple may say, "I don't want to hire someone who's gonna take over & they're not gonna want my vision; they're gonna want their vision," and you've seen the TV shows. There are some wonky TV shows out there about weddings. Sometimes that can give couples a very strange look into what we've [planners] supposed to do. And I want couples to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that we only care about them. That's all we care about. We want to make sure they have the most incredible day possible.
Ivy's question: Getting a tad more specific here... Couples would need to jump through some of the most challenging hoops planning their own wedding without a professional to help them out, where having a Certified Wedding Planner would make a big difference for them. To that end, what kind of value does a Certified Wedding Planner add?
Laurie's answer: First, we can save them a lot of money because we [planners] are the repeat customers. What do I mean by this? When a couple gets married & they're hiring all these professionals, the professionals know the couple isn't getting married every year. Whereas when planners send wedding professionals business, because we do so so regularly, many times, those wedding professionals are willing to give our clients some very significant & beautiful discounts. We pass all those discounts to our clients.
Many times, if they add up all the savings that we provided to our clients, many times that adds up to what they've paid us, or pretty close to it.
There are so many things that could go wrong. Clients don't hire the DJ or musician for the right amount of hours; many times, they forget they even need music for the ceremony & they don't hire someone. If you wait until the last second, no one's going to be available (at least no one good).
Then we see that sometimes the client doesn't hire the photographer for the proper amount of hours. No one has sat down with them & said, "here's what I know you need & it's gonna start at this point in the day,you want them to stay all the way until the end; you're gonna need this amount of hours..." but if no one is educating these precious clients, then how are they to know?
Many times, couples don't know they've made this mistake until after the wedding is over. And again, by that time, it's just too late. We review the contracts; many times, we're there before the contract is even designed so that we're preparing out clients for what they really need. We're asking them so many questions about what they might want so that they're prepared with knowledge & they can make educated decisions rather than winging it & hoping that they're getting it right.
There are no do-overs with weddings, sadly. Because of that, getting it right the first time is going to save them so much time & money & it's going to ensure that they have the most incredible wedding day possible.
Ivy: These are some great examples of what couples wonder what things they're missing. I love to highlight these because I rather not tell my couples, "I put out a fire," in the background because that's the thing that evokes stress & that's what we're always avoiding putting unto our clients. So, being able to articulate the value of a Certified Wedding Planner this way is really valuable.
Laurie's answer: Of course! And think about how much can go wrong on a wedding day, especially if you didn't hire a Certified Wedding Planner to help you make those great decisions to begin with. So many things can go wrong & if we're not there, who's going to be taking care of it? Will it be the bride or groom? Is it going to be mom? Do they even know how to take care of it?
Planners have backups for their backups. We anticipate what might come, just in case, so we're prepared in case it does happen. It's insane what goes on in our head. What our clients need to know is that our job, being a wedding planner, is rated #5 of the most stressful jobs in America.
If you already have a full-time job & you're trying to plan your own wedding, which is rated #5 of the most stressful jobs in America, you're not going to look back on this 10, 20 years from now and say "oh my gosh, that was such a wonderful experience." You're going to think it was the most stressful time in your life & think, "I wish I would've hired someone."
How about living with no regrets? How about doing it right from the first point & hire a Certified Wedding Planner because all we do is this. This is all we do - weddings, coordinating, understanding the wedding industry, understanding what a seamless timeline of events looks like on the wedding day. We have this information & we know what wedding professionals are worth working with & which ones we wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.
Our clients, unfortunately, don't always have that information, so it can get incredibly disheartening. When they start feeling out of control, they sometimes give up on the whole wedding. I hear so many couples who didn't hire a Certified Wedding Planner say, "ugh, let's just elope." That's the saddest thing for me.
We hire a professional for everything else. For example, when our car breaks down, don't we usually take it to a mechanic? Maybe we need to go in for a surgery. Wouldn't we hire the best surgeon possible? If we're hiring professionals in all of these other areas, why wouldn't we hire a professional who knows weddings inside & out, backwards & forwards, upside down. We know it. We can plan weddings in our sleep. We're professionals who know what we're doing, by when, & why it's supposed to happen that way.
Ivy's question: Relationships are important, for example, the relationship between a Certified Wedding Planner and her to-be-weds. Can you please speak on the importance of a Certified Wedding Planner’s relationships in the wedding industry and what value that adds to the couple’s wedding planning experience?
Laurie's answer: You have relationships on two ends; we've got relationships with our couples & we've got relationships with all the wedding professionals that we trust. It all ties together. What our clients need to know first & foremost is, because we have your best interest at heart all the time - not half the time, not a quarter of the time but all of the time, we want to make sure that only the best wedding professionals are being hired.
What couples need to know is that we've done extensive research on who's good, who's bad, who's amazing, who's affordable, who's both? I want amazing & affordable - that's what I'm looking for all the time! We've developed amazing relationships with wedding professionals so well that, when we get to the wedding day, it's so smooth.
We know what each other's thinking; we know what we're going to do before we do it & that's what we call the dream team. Wedding planners want to build that dream team for the wedding day. When you have many wedding professionals coming in & working together, it really helps when we have some sort of relationship.
At so many weddings, I can just look at the DJ like this & he would know exactly what I meant. Then he'll nod & say, "got it, I'm on it." It's fantastic that we all can work together. Because I trust those wedding professionals so much, I don't have to babysit those people because - my job - I need to make sure that, by wedding day, I'm only looking out for my couple & concentrating on that rather than having to babysit the people we hired. That's why we only hire & work with the best of the best.
I've also been blessed enough to have great relationships with my clients, I'm still friends with the majority of them. To me, it's two-fold: I have great relationships with vendors which only benefit my couple & I get to have amazing relationships with my couples that extend for decades.
Ivy's question: I want to thank the community, The Bridal Society, for helping me help my clients & provide that value. Whenever I have questions, I have over 4,500 Certified Wedding Planners to ask right on demand. That is fantastic! I'd like to also shed light on the accreditation process for all wedding professionals & now, Certified Wedding Planners in The Bridal Society will have access to all the aspects of a wedding, those professionals. Can you say more about that?
Laurie's answer: I'd love to! We've recently opened up the Accreditation Division of The Bridal Society. The reason why this came to be - I've been waiting for someone to do it for years & years & years - it's really difficult for couples, wedding planners, wedding venues to be able to tell just by looking at someone's website if these people are qualified to actually work a wedding.
Some people may be really talented at coming up with a website & they just decided yesterday that they want to be a wedding photographer. Couples don't know how to distinguish those people. The Bridal Society has decided to open up a division that will give wedding professionals the opportunity to showcase that they are, in fact, very educated, that they have all their proper business documentations, that they are incredibly overqualified to work a wedding.
This is going to have all referring vendors because it is so, so hard being able to tell if someone just has 3 minutes of experience or if someone has 10 years of experience. You can become an accredited wedding professional; you can fill out an application, you provide us with your business documents, you have to be insured, you have to have a certain number of positive online reviews & they have to be from specific locations.
We also require that you get referrals from wedding professionals in your community & those people have to fill out a form to say, "yes, this person is awesome to work with on the wedding day" or, "awesome to work with leading up to & planning; I highly recommend," and we ask specific questions. This helps eliminate the people who would never be able to qualify for accreditation. It helps make some sort of distinction because, up until now, there has been zero regulation in the wedding industry.
If I woke up tomorrow & said I became a DJ (Ivy, don't ever allow me to do this), I could just open up a website & go grab a speaker & an iPod & say, "I'm a DJ!" Well, that's not working toward the industry's best interest! So, because we wanted to create a way to have a distinction, between someone like that & someone who's amazing at being a wedding DJ, we created to Accredited Wedding Professionals.
This is an awesome way for the wedding industry to raise up & raise the standards. For too long, we've kind of just allowed these unqualified wedding professionals to take on too much business. In turn, what's happening, is they're ruining a lot of weddings. That makes me incredibly sad.
What folks need to know: Once accredited, that professional is listed on our wedding planners members-only site. So, when any of 4,500+ wedding planners are looking for a professional in a different state or out of the town that they live in, we can just look it right up! Certified Wedding Planners know that The Bridal Society has already vetted these professionals, so I can trust them & don't have to question anymore. And that's awesome!
What a fun, fruitful interview! No advice beats a trusted vet's. (Thank you, Laurie!)