event planning

Shhhhhh! - Planning A Surprise Event

That famous line that everyone cheers as an unassuming person walks into their party.  They never knew it was coming and either meet the experience with laughter, tears, or confusion as to how the group was able to keep this from them.  Either way, everyone deserves a fun surprise in life rather it be big or small.

Surprises are a great way to step up a celebration, weather the entire event is a surprise or elements of the event is a surprise.  I am super excited to share on planning a surprise event as I’m working on a surprise wedding for a fantastic couple.  I won’t say too much, but trust I’ll share those highlights once it’s all said and done.  Back to surprise events… Who doesn’t love a surprise?!  Okay, some may not, but I think it has more to do with their need to be in control or the fear that a detail could be missed.  I’ve pulled off a few great surprise events so I wanted to share the key elements that make them work.

1.       Informants and Under Cover Agents! A spy is a person employed to seek out top secret information from a source.  They are a huge asset in planning a surprise of any type.  They need to provide very specific details and pass them along discreetly.  A great example of this is a gentleman getting assistance from his girlfriend’s friends to find out the type of ring she would like for a proposal.  That is some pretty detailed intel and when done right can make for a truly special moment. 

2.       Know your audience.  A lot of assumptions and decisions will be made regarding what the honoree would enjoy and what the guests will enjoy.  The uniqueness of a surprise event is that both guests and honoree(s) have little to no knowledge of what to expect.  You as the planner or organizer have the responsibility of appealing to both.  Let’s start with who the surprise is for.  Do they like minimalist or extravagant things?  Intimate settings or larger crowds?  Loves adventure or is comfortable with the familiar?  Are the receptive to surprises at all?  All these elements should guide what is done and how it is done.  The guests that attend are the secondary audience to consider.  While the honoree(s) may drive the tone and style, the guests determine size and the logistical constraints of the event. 

3.       Budget wisely.  Surprises don’t have to be expensive.  They can be cost effective as a lot of the value is in the thoughtfulness of doing it in the first place.  With any event the cost and value of things need to be weighed carefully.  You need to be mindful of the honoree’s thoughts and values as it relates to spending.  Do they thing balloons are a waste of money or do they value a great meal?  If the individual’s finances are tied to the honoree being surprised, this can be tricky!  Responsible spending is that much more important in this scenario. 

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Here are my top 5 favorite surprises:

#5 “Just because” flowers delivered to home or work place.

#4 Nested Boxes that start off huge and end with a small thoughtful token.

#3 Surprise Birthday parties with guests from out of town.

#2 Gender Reveal using a Ferris wheel!

#1 Surprise Wedding!

Do you want a Fyre Wedding?

The industry is buzzing about the Netflix documentary “Fyre Festival: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” and for good reason.  This inside look on the inner workings of the festival planning, how it became a disaster, and the after math it caused is probably the culmination of everything that could go wrong when planning an event with the exception of a fatality.  The event was the brain child of Billy McFarland with the celebrity backing of Ja Rule.  The concept of the festival starts as a way to promote a celebrity booking app called Fyre which had great potential.  It played into the desire of consumers having access to the exclusive artists that they love.  The festival was merely a way to promote the brand as it launched.  The draw came from A-list models like Alessandra Ambrosio, Hailey Baldwin, Bella Hadid, to name a few, and other pop culture celebrities like Kendall Jenner.  They took social media by storm and created a buzz like none other.  Genius!

The tickets for packages sold out within 24 hours with options ranging from $1,500 to $25,000!  The expected number of attendees was 5,000 people, which at average cost of ticket is around $66 million on ticket sales.  I love how the documentary repeatedly states that McFarland is either the smartest guy in the room or completely full of it.  I’d at least like to applaud this general concept.  Although I knew how the documentary would end, I still felt myself routing for them to pull it off.  That was until McFarland does the cardinal sin in this industry, which is not listening to the experts. 

The Fyre Festival team was comprised of a talented group, however when you are not utilizing your team to its full potential or you ignore the red flags they hold up, you are committing yourself to assume major risks and failures.  Billy had a concept of finding solutions.  In theory this sounds great, however his downfall was not accepting reality and the solutions given.  Let’s parallel this festival for a second to a wedding.  Odd right?  Actually, there is a lot that correlates with different events in general so why not. 

The famous tweet that destroyed Fyre’s hype verses what you want your guests tweeting at your event!

The famous tweet that destroyed Fyre’s hype verses what you want your guests tweeting at your event!

A wedding should be a happy time of celebrating love and life.  The union of two families can be looked at as the event of the year, which is what Fyre was going for.  How did they kick it off?  They used influencers to set the tone and expectations of those who would attend.  For your wedding you would parallel this to your engagement announcement and save the dates.  Like Fyre, the experience for your event starts months and months before guests arrive.  Fyre maintained this buzz with videos and posts that continued to convey this experience.  Couples can do the same with releasing engagement pictures or video of their destination to friends and family.  This is where I have to stop though.  Fyre truly takes a turn for the worst here as crucial planning elements completely fell on death ears.  Let’s break down this parallel further so you can see what I mean.

·         Plan before you send the invitation!  The Fyre team was so focused on building the draw to the event that they completely dropped the ball on planning for the event.  They promoted their location using a drug lord’s name, which was against the agreement made with the land owner.  They did not hash out the logistics of their vision to make it reality as total attendee count and supporting facilities was not considered.  Finally they had no contingency plan for accommodations.  Before sending an invitation for a wedding you need to nail down your venue and guest accommodations.  This starts with having an approximate guest count.  You can love a location, but if all your guests can’t fit in the venue you will need to think of another option.  Rustic barn weddings for example, can take on a Fyre feel really quick if you have not thought through bathroom accommodations or how food will be prepared and served.  Had the Fyre team considered these things prior to opening up ticket sales they would have potentially had a more exclusive event and been able to accommodate the attendees they had coming.

·         Level Up.  This simply mean staying true to the event /brand and the budget.  Fyre introduced their brand with heavy hitters claiming it to be the party that everyone would be talking about.  Yet, the lack of a stable budget and planning was met with compromises that were made to “pull it off” the event did not meet the level of the initial buzz.  This is one of the reasons the performers started to full out of the festival.  The documentary never mentioned any solid budget that tied to how each element would be financed.  The same is needed with a wedding.  A budget helps everyone maintain expectations.  It should be utilized to maintain the feel of your wedding throughout with allocations to accomplish what you desire.  Don’t blindly book vendors saying you have a hefty budget and want acrobats coming from the ceiling only to later crunch the numbers and double back wanting DIY and reduced rates.  The reality is the planner or individual driving the budget should be able to say what can and cannot be done from the beginning.  If someone wants to add to your budget, you will then have options on where to upgrade or add.  Fyre could not do this as investors for the festival were sold hoop dreams of getting a return when partnering.  Numbers were skewed or unknown during planning.  To put it, plainly they lied and had no idea how much was needed prior to needing it.  Couples, be real about the level of your event and your budget.  Allocate for all your details and level up in all areas to reap the experience you set out to achieve. 

·         Brides, don’t be a Billy!  It is your special day and you want everything perfect and as you envision it, which is fine.  You hire a team to guide you through the planning and design process because they are the experts and can get it done.  Billy completely missed the two big words in my last statement, which are “guide” and “expert”.  McFarland was amazing at rallying a team and starting businesses, but what he wasn’t was a professional music festival planner, or consultant, or any other title that would have made him credible to force the team into a definite fate.  Respect for his vision and his investment should be handled with care.  Where things went wrong is when he chose to not lean on his team of experts when he needed to most.  Instead the documentary revealed that he simply fired people that did not agree to the illusions he had of making the impossible happen.  A couple should hire professionals that they trust and that are flexible in considering how to execute the end goal, which is the fabulous wedding everyone committed to making a reality.

·         When things go wrong, own up to it.  This part applies to vendors, planners, and the couple.  If the couple is responsible to bring specific things to the rehearsal dinner and forget, that is okay, but know that major delays may result in paying additional fees.  If a vendor is supposed to provide certain items that were agreed upon contractually, they are responsible to uphold their agreement.  Not doing so results in certain consequences.  The most troubling part of the Fyre documentary was the lack of ownership of the disaster that occurred.  Workers went unpaid, attendees did not get their money back, and the main person responsible just ran away from the crime as if nothing had occurred.  As a result, what could have been a salvageable event, turned into a nightmare of an experience.  Relationships were broken and reputations tarnished.  This is not how you’d want people to remember your wedding day.

Jerry Media did a phenomenal job of showing the intricacies and the downfall of the Fyre Festival.  The documentary reached a climax when everything hits the fan and guests arrive to see the chaos and unmet expectations of what was supposed to be a luxurious experience.  The festival ultimately was cancelled, and many suffered losses to include attendees, workers, investors and the Bahamian locals.  This is a must watch for anyone and everyone planning an event.  Yes, even someone planning a wedding.  The lessons gleaned may be the difference from having a Coachella or Fyre experience.  Curl up on the coach.  Turn on Netflix and watch the drama unfold.  As you watch think to yourself and say, “Do I want a Fyre Wedding?”