Wedding Planners - Hiring a Wedding Planner - How to find a Wedding Planner

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Photo Credits: Alison Conklin, Impressions by Nudrat.

Hiring a Wedding Planner

Photo: Brooke and Pedro Photography

I couldn't find a band. I was arguing with my mother over the guest list. My florist came up with a stunning scheme for my wedding -- but it was way over my budget. The perfect bridesmaid's dresses I chose were being discontinued. And I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable with making wedding-related phone calls and surfing the wedding websites during working hours. Hey, I liked my job.

And all of the sudden, my groom started to have some opinions. And not only about the band and how to stock the bar. About everything. Even the tablecloths.

I wanted to shred some tulle. I wanted to throw my hefty bridal magazines around like weights. I was at bridal breaking point. Help!

It really was time to get help -- professional help, as in a wedding planner (sometimes called a wedding consultant, coordinator or producer). Planning my wedding was getting less and less fun; I wanted to put the fun back into it. Plus, I was spending so much money on my special day. I decided that it was a good idea to spend a little bit more on a planner to make sure I was doing things right.

So I interviewed several wedding consultants who were referred to me by friends and vendors I trusted. Joy, the aptly named planner I chose, put the joy back into planning my wedding. She was my guide, my collaborator, my troubleshooter. She unobtrusively kept every detail in order. The best part -- I began to relax.

Planning a wedding these days is easier than ever. WeddingChannel.com can make every aspect of your wedding easier to plan. And vendors' websites can help you narrow down your choices. But sometimes a bride just doesn't have the time to do it all. A professional can indeed ease the burden and help you have the wedding of your dreams.

How do you know if you need a wedding planner? We talked to top wedding planners from around the country about what they do and why you might need their services. Their comments can help you determine if and when it's time to call in the pros.

Elegant Occasions, JoAnn Gregoli

JoAnn Gregoli's aim is to see stress-free brides. "If I haven't reduced your stress level, then I haven't done my job," says Gregoli, a New York City-based planner.

To Gregoli, certain wedding profiles lend themselves perfectly to hiring a planner. "One is simply when there is a time problem. There's just no time to do the research," she says. Planners can also be of great service if you are not living in the place in which you will be married. Let's say you live in New York City and your wedding is in Denver, where you grew up. Or maybe you're planning a destination wedding on an island in the Bahamas. A planner familiar with the locale can do the legwork.

Another wedding that can be enhanced by a pro is what Gregoli calls "the bigger undertaking." For example, a tented wedding in which everything from décor to food to bathrooms has to be brought in.

Gregoli says that whatever type of wedding you want, a planner can help your vision become a reality. In fact, a planner can help a couple hone in on what their vision for their wedding really is. Gregoli does that by listening to her brides, and she says that's a critical skill for a wedding planner. Because she knows how to bring all of the elements together, Gregoli can carry out her clients' dreams. "People don't want a cookie-cutter wedding; I can help make it more memorable."

According to Gregoli, hiring a wedding planner can be a smart move economically. "I know your budget and can help you stick to it." Also, planners can oftentimes get more out of the vendors. "We are repeat business for them. Brides come and go." And planners can steer you to top quality vendors: "Planners are only as good as the vendors we support."

Gregoli, like many planners, is flexible in terms of how much or how little involvement she has in planning a wedding. "Some I do are from soup to nuts -- everything, even accepting the responses," she says. But she also does many wedding day only jobs, in which she's called in at the end of the planning process to make sure that the wedding day, and the weeks leading up to it, run smoothly. "That's the bride who says, 'I've done a lot of work, now I want to have fun and be a guest.' "

It's easy to have fun at your wedding when someone else is taking care of the unforeseen disasters. Sometimes Gregoli spares the bride the details of behind-the-scenes mishaps. In one of her weddings, a bride was having a special cake flown from New York to Aspen, where she was getting married. When the cake arrived, it was a fallen, mushy mess. Gregoli had a picture of the original and worked with the hotel pastry chef in Aspen to replicate it. "I thought, why should sugar, flour and water ruin her day?" The day after the wedding, Gregoli told the bride about the fiasco. "She didn't even notice that the cake was different, and she said she was grateful that I hadn't told her."

City Celebrations, Marlies Lissack

"Planning a wedding is getting easier with the web, but a lot of brides want referrals. They want help picking things based on their taste and their budget," says San Francisco-based planner Lissack.

A big part of Lissack's job is narrowing things down for the bride so she can make choices easily and wisely. When she has an out-of-town bride, oftentimes the bride will only be in San Francisco for a few days for planning purposes. "I choose three vendors for every category. They don't have to spend hours tasting dozens of cakes, just three."

Lissack says that a good planner can help you get the most for your money by choosing good vendors. But she says beware of planners who tell you they will save you a lot of money. "That's misleading. Some vendors offer a little better deal when you're working with a planner, but not much."

Lissack, however, can help brides save money by catching mistakes that brides may be unaware of. "Like you're renting china, and the caterer is also bringing some."

Most importantly, Lissack can save her clients time. "And time is money. A professional bride can lose her job if she's on the web all the time or running around for wedding meetings."

Communication between Lissack and her clients is key. "We have to be able to communicate. One of the most important things is that you have to like your consultant. You have to like their style and taste. You have to like how they talk to you. Do you feel like they're listening to you or are they pushing their own ideas?"

Lissack offers different services depending on what a particular bride needs. She also does wedding day only jobs, which is really a misnomer, because she starts working three weeks before the wedding. Here's how it works: she gets to know the bride, she gets to know the venue, she calls the vendors, and makes an intricately detailed wedding day schedule.

To Lissack, the wedding day service can be a lifesaver. "It's really smart to hire someone on wedding day. It's like an insurance policy."

All the Marbles, Melissa Reddington

New England-based Melissa Reddington agrees that a good consultant can help you "spend smart" by prioritizing.

"If you don't care about favors or special imprinted cocktail napkins, then why have them?" she says. "I can help you determine what's most important to you. Is it the food or the flowers?" Spending choices are made accordingly.

Reddington also helps streamline planning by selecting vendors that match the clients' tastes. "If they want simple centerpieces I won't waste their time going to a florist who does four-foot high centerpieces."

Reddington can give brides the confidence to break the rules. And in doing so, she helps their weddings become more unique. An example: one bride who was having an English-style garden wedding chose a flowery invitation and decided to go with green ink. Her mother balked -- Emily Post says only black or gray ink is proper. "I said to the bride, 'Is Emily Post coming to your wedding? Do you like it?' and she said she loved it. So we went with it and in the end everybody loved it," says Reddington.

Reddington says that planners can also enhance a wedding by pulling together different resources from the lighting to the flowers to create a certain décor or look.

Wedding planners also alleviate family squabbles. "It helps to have a neutral third party," Reddington says. In many families there are divorced parents and awkward situations. But if family politics get too intense, she refers her clients to a family therapist.

Reddington sees her role as troubleshooter. She is aware of things that brides may overlook. "If you're planning to have your wedding in a museum or gallery, what is the climate control situation and lighting like? If you want to use a mansion or historic site, what are the bathrooms like? I know the questions to ask."

Some More Tips

The best way to find a good wedding planner is through recommendations from friends and vendors. If you attended a wedding and it seemed well-planned, find out if a planner was behind-the-scenes. Also, make sure that the consultant you hire truly is a wedding consultant. Some others in the bridal biz, from caterers to band managers, may call themselves consultants to make a few extra bucks. There is an organization, the Association of Bridal Consultants, that deals with wedding professionals, so you might want to start there. Many planners have their own websites, another good place to start. But be sure to interview the planners in person. As our experts emphasized, your rapport with them is critical.

Planners charge for their services in a several ways. Some charge a flat rate (anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000), others charge a percentage of the wedding budget (usually about 10-15%) and others charge by the hour. Don't be put off by price. Some planners are willing to negotiate. One very respected San Francisco Bay Area planner, Cay Lemon of Zest Productions, who charges about $7,500 per wedding, is willing to work on a sliding scale, "if it's a good match."

Planners can be brought in at any time during the wedding planning process. Planners agree that they like to be hired at the beginning, but they are happy to accept what Gregoli calls "911 calls."