Event Design Series – Part 6: Good, Bad, and Ugly

Our final installment in the Event Design Series on the Portland Event Planner blog. Continuing our discussion of event design (and please, make it a discussion by commenting)…

More about our Event Design Series here at Part 1, and where the questions came from

Part 6: Case Studies: Of all the designs and/or event decor you’ve come up with, what has been the most successful and why? …And what was the biggest ‘bust’?

I’m not going to post any client pictures as that would probably be a shock to the client that I thought their design was “a bust“. I will tell you that my weakness is sometimes being TOO accommodating to the client’s wishes.

In this example, I had a client who told me she cared absolutely nothing for decor and just wanted to make sure that the chairs in the room didn’t squeak against the floor. She had attended an event in the same venue for a fundraiser, and was horrified at the constant squeaking and grating noise the venue’s wooden chairs made against the bare concrete floor.

Obliging as always, I agreed to rent some very basic (and in my opinion, unattractive) hotel banquet chairs with little rubber tips on the chair legs. This way, my dear client would not have to endure that squeaking sound.

However, the rest of the event decor was compelling – she worked with a wonderful florist, we printed individual menus, and her guests received an adorable favor; one per place setting. Those details, coupled with the wonderful catering and simple, chic linens she had chosen meant that her choice of chair, which I had gone along with, was glaringly out of sync with the rest of the clean, classic decor. Looking back, I wish I had just suggested we purchase soft-felt furniture sliders and offered to attach them to all 800 chair legs. It would only have taken a few hours, the venue probably would have loved it, and the overall look would have been much more appealing. (Of course, this is all in my head – not a single guest, nor the bride, said anything about the ugly chairs!)

As far as a successful design? Again it seems that it came from taking a client’s wish and running with it wholly. In this event, the only direction my client gave was that she wanted “a big red party”. Working with Portland Art Museum, Vibrant Table, Royce’s Prop Shop, and Geranium Lake, we did just that. It is still one of my favorite designs of all time.

Photos: Robert McNary for Melissa Jill Photography


What are your thoughts about successful design — what constitutes a blowout or a bust? Any great event design stories to tell? Please share in the comments below.

You might also like to look back at the previous parts of this series:
Part 1- It’s an Event Design Series on The Portland Event Planner Blog!
Part 2 – Event Design Trends
Part 3 – Sustainable Event Design
Part 4 – Event Budget and Design
Part 5 – Event Theme and Design

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Event Design Series: Day 4 – Budget

Continuing our discussion of event design (and please, make it a discussion by commenting)…

More about our Event Design Series here at Day 1, and where the questions came from

Day 4: Budget: What tips do you have for a client that has a very small budget but wants a big impact?

Inexpensive table centerpiece of glitter paper, shadowbox frame, and candles
Materials available at most craft stores for around $15USD. Design concept by EJP Events.

I will try not to write a novel here, although it’s very tempting. Budget is always a concern, even for so-called “big budget” events – no one wants waste or to go over. Here are a few thoughts:

1. Manage your and your guests’ expectations. Remember that your target budget needs to reflect real life. For example, whatever your target event budget is, take about half of that for food and drinks and set your style/formality level from there. So a $30/per person event has a roughly $15/per person meal (including drinks and service!), so keep it casual!

2. Focus your efforts. If there’s no budget for an item like decor or party favors, remove it from the program rather than trying to do it halfway. If you design what you do have carefully, attendees often won’t notice what you didn’t include.

2. Cut your guest list. The number one element that affects the budget is the scale. Each additional guest means an additional chair, spot a table, place setting, invitation, print suite, meal or food, drinks, and rental items. Also – carefully manage your invitations and RSVPs so you don’t purchase for guests who don’t show up. You will get fewer guests than you expect more often than not.

3. If you are doing any event functions in-house or DIY in order to save money, start early. There’s nothing more morale-killing at an organization than giving a job like registration/nametags, decor, or setup to your employees (or, in the case of a wedding/social event, to your relatives and friends) and leaving things until the last minute. Your hoped-for “big impact” will wither and die as people sense the stress of your DIY staff or volunteers.

4. Choose a venue wisely. For example, if there’s no budget for decor, avoid sites with little built-in appeal that cry out for flowers or lighting. And if a speaker is an important component of the event, look for a venue with a great sound system included in the rental (and test it!).

5. Support “lean” events with customer service. If you are having to cut back on food or decor, chances are these are less noticeable if your guests are treated well and with personal service from the time they register to the time the exit the event.

Have a tip on event budgets you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below!

Trying out Postable – online mailing list organizer

Social media is so great. If you follow me on any of the services I use, you know that I’m a lover. I also love the ease of use that goes with connecting over email, FaceTime, and texting…all the wonderful technologies we have.

However. HOWEVER. I miss the fun of getting letters, of finding a gorgeous envelope peeking out from amid the magazines and business mail. I know – we have to conserve resources. And postal mail should be saved for special occasions. Still, I’ve resolved in 2013 to be more personal in my communications, because I realize that is what speaks to me as a user of social media, as a consumer, and as a person. Part of that will be to send more letters.

Strangely enough, it’s hard to keep track of everyone’s address. I remember having a black leather address book, with tiny alphabet tabs down the side, edged in gold. Those days are gone. Excel isn’t really cutting it for me, not with the multiple groups and interests I have as an event planner. So I’m trying out Postable, and I would love for you to connect with me there. Who knows – perhaps you’ll get something fun in the mail from me soon.

Oh, a bonus – Postable is also great for your bride and groom clients to collect addresses in order to send wedding invitations. I imagine it could also be opened on a tablet like iPad and used at an event to facilitate signups or registrations. Enjoy!

Event Design Series, Day 3: Sustainability

Continuing our discussion of event design (and please, make it a discussion by commenting)…

More about our Event Design Series here at Day 1, and where the questions came from

A low-landfill sustainable event coordinated by Portland event planning company EJP Events. This 2,000-attendee company picnic was planned so that all dishware was compostable and only recyclable drink containers were used. The small trash bag at the front left shows the entirety of landfill trash generated by the event. Photo: EJP Events

Day 3: Sustainability: Special events can be wasteful. What steps can planners take to make sure they are producing a sustainable event? And how can you use alternative materials in your design work?

I think you have to look at the event’s purpose and make sure you can align it with sustainability before you proceed. If you want to be known for sustainable events, yet promote events like Black Friday, you’re getting off on the wrong foot.

That out of the way, then you should take the event apart critique each element for the following: 1. Is this element creating waste — and can this waste be diverted or recycled? 2. Is this element using resources in an ethical way? (Ethical labor, ethical apportionment of food, water, energy)

Also, looking at the event as a whole: 3. What is the environmental legacy of the event? 4. What is the moral and ethical legacy of the event?

Alternative materials are everywhere. The last ISES Art of the Party event showed some great examples. I saw everything from Home Depot yard cloth used as table covering (which could be used in gardens after the event) to upcycled books (that would have been recycled anyway) being used as design materials. Catering is part of event design. Much has been covered regarding local and sustainable food sources. Lighting is part of event design. We have wonderful, low wattage light treatments available to us now. Look at every aspect you possibly can.

Event materials that are sustainable 1) do not draw heavily on, or entirely avoid, virgin resources such as cut trees or mined metals; 2) divert waste from landfills; 3) or can be reused, thus staying out of landfills; and 4) do not promote toxic chemical buildup through their use (e.g. batteries going in the trash)

You have a responsibility as a planner and a designer to explore alternative, sustainable sources first when creating your designs.

Event Planner Tech Tip of the Day: Reading PDFs in iBooks

For us in the event planning world who use iPhone, iPad, and iOS (which seems to be the majority), we are always looking for that cool new shortcut or hack that will make life easier. While not splashy, using iBooks to read PDFs that are emailed is one that I have found to be a huge time-saver.

Let’s say someone emails you a PDF that is important, but you want to read later. The other day, I received the Splendid Insights Global Study Wedding Report (thank you Liene!). It is 41 pages of wedding marketing goodness that I do not have time to read in one sitting, unfortunately. I also am a compulsive inbox-cleaner, so I can’t leave something like that in my inbox.

Enter iBooks, the Kindle alternative for iOS. The thing is, it’s not just for books, it reads PDFs as well and organizes them elegantly on a nice little bookshelf.

To put your PDFs in iBooks, first tap once on the PDF attachment to make sure it is fully downloaded. Then simply press and hold down down on the attachment in your email. A pop up menu will ask you if you want to “Quick Look”, “Open in iBooks”, or “Open In…”. Select “Open in iBooks”. It’s that simple!

Now your PDF is on the bookshelf ready to read when you are on the train, waiting for your table in the restaurant, or whenever. You can also use this method to save any PDF – such as event plans, event timelines, or diagrams. No more clunky clipboards at the event, just put your phone or iPad in a handy spot!

Find this hint helpful? Know any other quick event tech tips? Please leave a comment below. And if you did find it helpful, please feel free to share or pin.

To automate or not to automate?


(Image thanks to D’Arcy Norman via Flickr.com

With the escalating popularity of social media sites, I hear a lot of advice, especially in the wedding and event biz, about automating your social media feed.
This can consist of pre-scheduling tweets on Twitter, or scheduling blog posts in advance, or linking accounts with ping.fm or other services, so one status update can show across several services, just to name a very few. Many of these services are great timesavers and used wisely, can make the task of social media for business more of a pleasure.
However, I would caution business owners to remember the “social” aspect of social media. Those whose only contribution to Twitter is the RSS feed of their blog, for example, run the risk of looking like they’re only in it for themselves. Especially when said blog is simply a roster of products or services for sale and contains little real advice or education for prospective readers. If you’re wondering why you have few followers, no blog comments, low blog stats, and little interaction, take a hard look at what you’re putting out there and ask yourself, “Is this interesting to the type of people I’d like to interact with, and is it worth a response?”
Whether you choose to automate or not, make sure you keep the social in social media by interacting, reposting/retweeting, and assisting; the same as any good business owner would do in non-online life.