You know the essentials of event planning and navigating inevitable problems with finesse. Now you’re contemplating taking your business high-end and entering the luxury events market.
To begin, it’s important to understand the mindset of high-end clients so you can deliver on their expectations. According to Skift, two-thirds of American luxury consumers believe “luxury goods and services are about differentiating [themselves] from others.” For success in this market, you must differentiate yourself and your offerings.
Here we take a closer look at what it takes to transition your event planning business into the high-end, specialty niche.
What puts the luxe in luxury events?
If you’re considering high-end event planning—you should already know the answer. If not—hit pause and do your research so that you understand what sets luxury events apart from other affairs.
Look through websites with a rarified target audience, such as The Luxury Network Magazine and WedLuxe, or simply search ‘luxury’ on Issuu for high-end publications. Instagram is the go-to platform for an insider’s look at the luxury experience and market. Don’t limit your follows to event planning accounts—include luxury travel, products, experiences to learn (and keep up with) high-end trends.
A sampling of luxury event elements:
- Thousands of flowers forming ceiling installations.
- Swarovski crystal statuettes for every wedding guest.
- Hiring a celebrity chef for the occasion.
- Designing a starry night indoors, complete with crystal chandeliers and fairy lights.
- Drone videography.
- Live music — a famous band, a choir, or a string quartet, for example.
In short, luxury events have elements that ‘wow’ guests with their exclusivity, artistry, and beauty.
How to Shift into the High-End, Luxury Event Planning Market
Sarah Haywood, one of the world’s premier luxury wedding planners, says the best approach is working your way up, building experience, and establishing a reputation before entering the high-end market. “You can set out with an aspiration and a goal, but experience is crucial. You need experience before you can manage and allocate big budgets,” she said in a Wedding Market Chat with Wedding Market News.
When you work with a variety of clients, budgets, and venues you learn to handle the good, the bad, and the “uh-oh.” You want most of your big mistakes and learning opportunities to happen before you take on luxury clients. The high-end market is far smaller and major snafus will travel through the Champagne grapevine quickly.
You’ll know you’re ready when, faced with a situation that has started to go a little haywire, your professional veneer doesn’t cover total panic, but rather a real depth of experience and an understanding of viable solutions.
5 Essential Steps to a Luxury Event Planning Business:
1. Create your luxury event planning brand.
When you’re ready to start handling high-end events, you need a luxury-specific website and portfolio. The look is critical: High-end clients want to see what’s unique about your offerings. Check out the font flourishes on DebiLily’s lookbooks, the hip style and energy showcased on MKG’s landing page, and the large-scale color and opulence in David Tutera’s event gallery.
Imagine your dream clients, and design tablescapes, arbors, and distinctive guest seating charts with them in mind. Photograph your creations to use on your website and promotional materials. Use relationships you’ve developed in the industry to help you at the beginning; ask photographers and other vendors to donate time and services in return for the advertising opportunity.
Consider asking clients if they’ll let you include high-end elements in their events at no cost. You will have to cover the expense, but it gives you an opportunity to share your creative, luxe ideas and feature them on your website—and your clients will appreciate the posh, free additions.
2. Network with prospective high-end clients.
Once you have a suitable portfolio and website, figure out where your potential clients are—and spend time there so you can build relationships and network. In an article for Planners Lounge, Liz Taylor, Managing Director of Taylor Lynn corporation, describes how she chooses her vacation destinations (e.g. a resort in Barbados) and travel accommodations (e.g. business class) to meet prospective clients and grow her business. If you’re not targeting an international crowd yet, start closer to home: Go to professional events at the local golf club, attend donor luncheons at the art museum, or work the room during a fundraising gala at the theater.
Have your business cards and your elevator pitch ready to go at all times. As a group, high-end clients expect and participate in networking. Maintain the highest standards of professional behavior and work hard to sustain good relationships, and your clients’ networking skills will eventually go to work for you. After you establish yourself as a trusted partner, word of mouth and social media shout outs are likely to become a significant source of business.
3. Network with luxury planning peers.
Maintain good professional relationships with other event planners, and talk to more established luxury planners about their experiences. You never know when a colleague’s docket will be full and you’ll get a referral. Large-scale luxury events are often collaborations among planning firms, event production companies, and floral designers—so building professional connections is essential.
4. Pay attention to privacy.
When you start to get notable luxury clients, always honor their wishes about publicity versus privacy. Are they likely to be hungry for media and social media coverage of their luxury event? Or do they actively want to stay out of the limelight? Strictly abide by these requests or the referrals and social media @s will run dry quickly.
The luxury experience firm Oren Co conveys their message of “signature discretion” and exclusivity with an ultra-minimalist website that only offers their portfolio upon request. Van Wyck & Van Wyck has a ‘Protected’ section on their website with exclusive portfolios prospective clients can’t see without a password.
5. Take notes.
Finally, plan for repeat business by keeping track of the preferences of your clients and their guests in event planning tools your entire team can access. A well-executed wedding, for example, can lead to business at birthdays, holidays, and other celebrations. Don’t forget to keep track of what doesn’t work, too, so you don’t repeat an idea that got only a lukewarm reception.
How to Differentiate Your Luxury Event Planning Firm 3 Critical Ways
Naturally, luxury budgets are extravagant, whether you’re planning a wedding in Sonoma County or an international anniversary celebration in the Côte d’Azur.
But what truly differentiates luxury event firms is their ability to deliver the unexpected, and a high-touch experience that caters to—and goes above-and-beyond—the client’s wishes.
What your luxury event company must offer:
1. Customized design:
Luxury events are personalized to the clients’ often highly specific desires. Cookie-cutter solutions are not sufficient, and the timelines are longer than typical for general event planning. Booking a celebrity chef from Paris for your clients’ event in Vale, Colorado is going to take time to coordinate.
Examples of customization in action include Revelry Event Designers wedding with a rustic barn vibe—but without the barn. Instead, the feel the couple wanted was recreated with wood beams inside an expansive tent. An event by luxury planner Colin Cowie created an opulent atmosphere with the help of aerial dancers performing beneath crystal and champagne-bottle chandeliers.
2. Detailed, white-glove service:
Clients are paying for exceptional service—for themselves and their guests—from start to finish. This means offering chilled sparkling water during planning meetings, and ensuring seamless event arrival, registration, and departure for guests. Event services tools can help you streamline event arrivals and store details that let you personalize event experiences for VIPs.
3. Exclusive experiences:
Today’s luxury events clients and attendees expect immersive experiences—with design elements, entertainment, swag, and food and beverage that is not widely available. As a planner, you may need to source specific linens, backdrops, china place settings, castles, rare flowers, or even horse-drawn carriages.
The 4 Offerings That Will Make Your Luxury Event Business Stand Apart
Many essential skills of luxury event planners overlap with skills that aren’t exclusive to the high-end market. But there are key qualities event planners need to take their business high-end, including:
1. Polished branding.
A luxury event planner doesn’t just provide the event—the planner’s service itself is part of the luxury. EVERYTHING should be on-brand: Shift your business’s marketing to high-end magazines and glossy brochures that sit on coffee tables in other high-end businesses. Forms and contracts should be printed on heavy-weight bond paper. Every email and every phone call, from your or anyone on your team, should give the impression of surpassing professionalism while also seeming effortless.
Social media matters to the luxury market, so explore the Instagram feeds of luxury event firms you admire. Follow Fête NY or Leslie Mastin Events on Instagram for inspiration, or explore this roundup of top event designers by BizBash to discover planners who match your aesthetic.
Of course, how you present yourself to clients in person also matters. A neat, professional, and polished appearance is a must—and better still if your look reflects a clear sense of style. Luxury clients want to know you have a vision and that you have confidence in its value.
Take a look at Goop and Gwyneth Paltrow to see how the actress and luxury business CEO infuses ALL of her events, activities, and social media postings with her brand.
2. Ability to merge visions.
Although luxury event planners are often hired for their unique sense of style and creativity, they must be able to apply that style to the client’s vision and sensibility. That means making sure to understand and prioritize what the client wants at every step and in every detail.
3. Strength and grace.
A luxury event planner must have a firm grasp of what’s possible for their client in the allocated budget and timeframe. This means spotting any potential conflicts or disconnects way ahead of time, and using tactful communication to manage client expectations.
4. Flexibility and accessibility.
At the same time, luxury event planners must bend over backward to meet client needs and goals. You’ll need to be available graciously at odd times and on short notice. Clients will expect this level of access. A luxury event planner probably only says “no” when they absolutely must—but when they must, they do it with tact. To avoid frustration, clarify the times you won’t be accessible.
In addition to these traits, a luxury event planner relies on the same fundamental skills as other event planners: time management, problem-solving, and people skills. As you take on more luxury clients, you’ll polish the skills that establish you as a high-end pro who brings client wishes to life—while making a name for yourself along the way.