The Knot and Loverly recently announced that they’ll offer a “concierge” service to help couples begin their wedding-planning journey by providing them with personalized vendor recommendations from the site’s network of paying subscribers.
Loverly founder and CEO Kellee Khalil stated that services like this are more affordable than using a traditional wedding planner. She said, “A wedding planner costs, on average, $3,500 starting, for a full-blown one,” which is why only 16% of brides hire one today.
Then she went on to say the the statement heard round the wedding-planning world:
Plus, one of biggest reasons couples hire a wedding planner in the first place is vendor recommendations. “That’s really what you’re paying for early on when you’re hiring a wedding planner,” she added.
Like most, my immediate reaction was one of disappointment. To minimize a planner’s role in the wedding, even early on, to be the exact same as a generic, advertising fueled vendor list is truly a shame. We work with thousands of planners each and every day, and I’m certainly the first to say they are some of the most hard working professionals out there. I may not know them all personally and yet I’d go on record saying there’s NO way that vendor recommendations are the only thing couples get from hiring a wedding planner. Clearly, even to someone with a highly regarded position in our industry, a wedding planner’s work is still very misunderstood. And frankly, we need to change that.
We reached out to our network of planners to hear what they thought of the idea and its implication that planners are, more or less, replaceable. The response, as you can imagine, was passionate. After sifting through tons of responses (thank you, all!), I realized our collective thoughts on this as a wedding-planning community can be broken into two main categories:
A Planner’s Purpose:
The number one issue we heard—from so many of you—was the fact that Khalil’s statement misrepresents the purpose wedding planners serve. Her remarks imply that a wedding planner’s purpose early on in the process is simply to hand over a list vendors. To say our network of planners took offense to this is an understatement.
A planner’s purpose—yes, even “early on”—stretches far beyond vendor recommendations. Ask any couple you’ve worked with as a planner why they hired you and chances are, none of them will reply with a simple “so you could recommend vendors.” Sure, that’s a piece of the pie. But a small piece—a sliver at best. And, as many of our planners stated, vendor recommendations come later in the game—after taking the time to get to know a couple and their style, after looking over the budget and timeline, and after laying the foundational design. It’s rare a planner sits down right away and tell them who their florist should be or which caterer to use, based on nothing at all.
Alisha Chadee of Whim Event Coordination and Design perhaps stated it best when she said, “Saying that couples hire us for recommendations greatly simplifies and diminishes what we do as professional wedding and event planners. Some of my clients hire me because they understand that my network is extensive, but the majority hire me because I manage their budget, take a vision and cohesively fill in the gaps that are required to turn it into reality, I understand etiquette and trends, and on the day of the wedding, I manage ALL of the details”
Similarly, Ashley Stork, of I Do! I Do! Wedding Planning said “For our clients, we don’t start with vendor recommendations. We do an extensive design plan, really trying to capture what is in that bride’s brain of her dream wedding as well as review budget breakdown and how the overall budgeting will work. Then we begin with vendor selection which is not based on who advertises with us, like these services are but are based on experience of that vendor, if they fit that client’s style and budget as well as if we think it will be a good match. We attend these meetings with our clients to ensure all details are covered and our clients feel comfortable with the vendors they are meeting. There’s normally several weeks worth of work before we delve into the vendor selection process.
You are not going to get this time and attention from an online concierge service. This is the benefit to having a person you can call, email, and connect with. Normally, in the beginning, we are also helping clients understand the expectations of what the scope of their event will look like, and flushing out all the expectations of the clients and parents have and how can we meet in the middle. You get what you pay for.”
We couldn’t agree more.
A Planner’s “People”:
Something else that came up regularly was the question as to whether or not a couple who is satisfied with a concierge service is really a a couple that would work with a planner in the first place. The overwhelming response—is that the answer to that is a simple no.
Our “people” tend to be clients who want a cohesive, branded, beautiful event that’s managed from tip to tail.
Shannel Renae of Shannel Aiken Wedding + Events summed this up well: “Brides that seriously want a less stressful experience will hire you beyond the free concierge service. I personally feel like the brides using this service are primarily the DIY type and weren’t going to spend the money on a planner in the first place.”
That being said, many planners still feel that, even though the concierge service isn’t targeting the same couples planners are, Khalil’s statements surrounding the new program send a dangerous message to engaged couples both in and outside of our audience. That message, essentially, is the idea that planners are replaceable.
Alexa Kritis, of Long Isle Events said “In my opinion, the online concierge service is now giving brides more of a reason to think that a ‘day of’ coordinator will suffice because they’re receiving their vendor recommendations and think that’s all they’ll need until the day of. But what about negotiating contracts, budgeting, RSVP tracking, seating arrangements, invitations, formalities, wedding etiquette, and dealing with families, before hand? Not to mention the 10,000 things at once we’re doing on the day of, short of walking down the aisle ourselves for them!”
So, what do we do about it?
I think our best bet here is to turn lemons into lemonade (or, rather, sour grapes into wine). We can all agree that our profession is one that tends to be largely misunderstood and that, this concierge service does pose a threat—however small—to the businesses we’ve all worked tirelessly to build. So, here’s my proposal:
I say we treat this announcement and the statements surrounding it as an opportunity—an opportunity to communicate more clearly our purpose, an opportunity to educate couples on our importance, and an opportunity to assert ourselves and our missions as planners within our communities.
Alexa Kritis, of Long Aisle Events went on to say, “More needs to be done to educate brides that full planning is the way to go – because they’ll be taken care of from the moment they sign the contract until their last guests leaves their reception. If companies like The Knot and Loverly stuck to what they know best, and leave us planners to do what we do, I think everyone would be better off so we can continue to be a rising tide instead of a hurricane.”
Words are powerful. Khalil’s words are powerful. But ours can be, too. We should use them strategically to communicate our very irreplaceable purpose to our clientele.