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 5: Theme { Sponsored Post }

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 5: Theme: Why does theme matter in special events?

Dozens of volunteers came together for this SE Portland gala and auction and raised over $75,000 for the school foundation. The theme was “Put A Bird On It”.

I think theme matters because I want guests to be comfortable, and it’s hard to be comfortable if you don’t understand your environment. I don’t want a guest to receive an invitation that sets one type of expectation, register on a website with yet another theme or design, and then arrive at the event where the room is one formality level, but the food service is a different style, and so on. An organized, cohesive theme makes people feel comfortable and immerses them more completely in the experience you’re trying to give them.

A theme helps us organize the environment and the experiences surrounding the event.

Do you have to have a theme? If by theme, you mean  “Circus”, “Casino Night”, or “Denim and Diamonds”, I think the answer is no. Certainly these highly defined party themes can work, depending on your event, but I don’t think they are necessary. One trend I enjoy is the use of one-word themes that, while allowing the planner to style the event, are open for interpretation — for example, “Revolution” , “Ignite” or “Transcend”. It also depends on your group. One successful theme we did recently was for a SE Portland school auction. Portlandia is still a party theme touchstone, and this group decided on “Put a Bird On It” for their theme. You can imagine that this had endless applications.

Have you used a theme to pull an event together recently? How did it go? Please feel free to share in the comments. Don’t forget to tweet, +1, or share on Facebook if you found this interesting and helpful.

Today’s Portland Event Planner blog post is sponsored by the LA Shop, offering many trade show and expo items at discounted prices.

Portland Trade Show Conference Expo Materials

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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!

Event Design Series: Day 2 – Trends

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 2: Trends: What are some new trends in event design and how can an event planner keep current? What new color combinations are requested by clients? What are the most popular themes for parties, galas, and corporate events? What themes are overused?

New Trends (2012-2013): The idea of un-themes is big. “Unconferences” with informal agenda-setting sessions and crowdplanning such as WordCamp are influencing the way even traditional corporate and sales events are being planned.  Rapid-fire presentation events such as Pecha-Kucha nights, Ignite, TED and TEDx talks; and storytelling events such The Moth, Backfence, and Portland Storytelling Theater have become wildly popular.

Photo by Kirby Urner via Flickr

These events’ success show that in either a corporate or social setting, attendees want to create the agenda, tell their own story, or have an upfront, personal connection to others’ stories. I’m seeing this reflected in the continued use of performance in special events, whether it’s having dancers from the bride’s culture during a wedding; or using a speaker with an incredible story to uplift and motivate a corporate event audience.

Photo: Craig Strong.

How can I stay current on trends? I think it’s more important for event planners to be creators of new designs, not necessarily followers of trends. At the same time “there is nothing new under the sun” – or is there? I love pop culture from every corner of the globe, and that keeps me on my toes. Online resources are always popping up with something fresh and inspiring all the time. Just a year ago, nobody was using Pinterest, now it’s everywhere. Tumblr seems to be under the radar for mainstream use, but is widely used by fashion brands and designers. Anyone can easily create a Tumblr blog (a mini-blogging platform) to follow and curate their own favorite content from around the web in a mini-blog format. I have several Tumblrs and my main one for event and design inspiration is here. Travel is the best for seeing firsthand what is hot in other places, and then you can bring that back to your home base and reinterpret it.

New color combinations: Fashion and retail are always pushing color in new directions, and of course there are always the color gods at Pantone. The good old-fashioned color wheel never hurt anyone. Right now I’m really loving multicolored event palettes. Take a look at online storefront Hello Holiday to see what I mean. Multicolor doesn’t have to mean garish or childish. You can have smaller swaths of multicolor paired up with a neutral like grey to keep the look balanced.

Photo by Aubrey Trinnaman for Anthology Magazine

Popular and most overused themes? The panel found straight-up “time era” themes to be the most overused. A Fifties sock-hop for example, feels dated right now, not retro in a fun way. But if you want to do an era event, change it up by focusing on something a very narrow topic from that time – maybe one celebrity – and go from there. Call me crazy, but when I think of the 50s I think of Che Guevara. Or  Marilyn Monroe. Social events are still using vintage and shabby-chic looks; bold and preppy graphics and stripes are still big.

Hope you’ve found “Day 2” of our Event Design Series helpful. For background on this series, go here. As always, I appreciate your comments!

Trying Out A New Resource for Canvas Prints, Car Magnets, and Promotional Materials { Sponsored }

canvas prints

I recently had the opportunity to sample Printcopia‘s online canvas prints service. I found the interface to be fairly straightforward and easy to use, and my print arrived within 7 days. While I’m not sure this would be the solution for personal items needing professional editing and cropping such as wedding portraits (please use your professional photographer for those!), I found the self-service canvas prints to be of excellent quality and more than adequate for my needs as an event planner. These would be great for display materials for tradeshows and decorative marketing of event photos around the office.

Printcopia also offers car magnets, custom banners, and inexpensive signs — items that all of us as event planners need to use at one time or another. I haven’t tried these items yet, but if they are the same quality as the canvas print I was able to sample, this would be a great resource to add to my list.

Disclosure: We received a complimentary 11×14 canvas print sample prior to writing this review.

Voting open for NW Meetings and Events Best of 2012

Event professionals in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho can show their appreciation for their favorite meeting venues and services in the pages of Northwest Meetings and Events magazine. Voting is now open for the magazine’s “Best of 2012”, where hotels, attractions, and service providers can be nominated for the Readers’ Choice Best of Awards.

Make sure to cast your vote before the deadline on February 24th.

Blogging for your Event Planner Business


EJP Events is no stranger to event planner blogging – and Special Events magazine noticed that today, asking us to share some thoughts about why an event planner would blog and what’s in it for them as a business.

You can read the entire article, “Event Pros Who Make Blogs Pay Off” at Special Events Magazine’s website. Thanks to editor Lisa Hurley for reaching out to us and quoting us in the article.

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon on Flickr

Favorite iPhone apps for Event Planners


Planning an event is so much easier with a smartphone, don’t you agree? While I know there are lots of choices out there, it seems the tool of choice in the special events world is, surprise, surprise — the iPhone from Apple. I thought it would be fun to make a list of the apps I can’t seem to live without, and see if you all agree.

Sunrise, Sunset Does what it says on the box. Calculates sunrise and sunset times. Perfect if your client is wondering if they need additional lighting, or if they’ll get enough use out of their candles or twinkle lights.

TideApp if you’re doing an event on the beach, you need a tide table! Otherwise your wedding ceremony or employee picnic could end up with cold, wet, feet!

SoundLevel Never get busted again, keep the neighbors happy, and stay on the good side of the law. This app is a decibel meter. Simply stand at the borders of your event and check to make sure you are within the legal limits (usually 80 dB within a city).

Google Apps (Calendar, gmail, Tasks, Documents) Not specifically for event planning, but oh so helpful to have your calendar, email, and task list in the cloud so you can check it at any time. You can also share with employees or contractors at different levels of security so everyone has the latest updates.

Bar Stocker I might be cheating a little bit, since this is my own app. But it was so annoying to open Excel every time I wanted to calculate how much liquor, beer, and wine I needed for my upcoming events. Bar Stocker lets you input number of guests, length of event, season, and type of attendees and does all the work for you.

AccuWeather Premium . Critical for your outdoor events, for travel, and just all around good to know weather information. I pay additional for the premium service so I can get a detailed 15-day-forecast.

Tally Counter How many people actually attended the event? Tally Counter lets you stand in the back and click as you count heads.

iHandy Level Is that picture of the retirement party honoree level? Is the arbor you’re setting up perfectly straight? This app makes use of the iPhone accelerometer so you can check.

and of course, what busy event planner could live without…

Chipotle Ordering I’m only half kidding. If it weren’t for Chipotle on those on-the-go days I wonder what I would eat.

What are your favorite special event planning iPhone apps? Do please share!

Applying for an event planning internship

I receive many requests for event planning internships and job shadows.  It is not possible to accommodate the torrent of requests that come in every fall and spring.  How can a candidate differentiate themselves and get a call back?

I think a compelling cover or opening inquiry letter is key.  A phone call may not get picked up, or your call may come at the wrong time (planner on the way to the meeting, onsite at an event, working from home with children, etc.)  In addition, event planners tend to be on the more traditional side when it comes to etiquette (we are asked to be managers  of protocol and guest experiences, after all) and a phone call can feel far too casual.

I saw an internship request come across The Bridal Loft’s inbox the other day that I thought was very well written.  It asked all the right questions, and positioned the candidate as someone who was truly interested in what her target desired in an internship.  This is very different from the common mistakes of starting a cover letter or inquiry with a bunch of “all about me” information and meaningless superlatives (“It is my lifelong dream to work in the wedding industry”). You can bet I noticed this person.

  My name is XXXXXX and I am an XXXXXXXXXXX student at XXX. Time is soon coming to apply for internships and I am very interested in yours. I would love to know what you expect from your interns and what you will be looking for in portfolios and resumes. When would be the right time to apply and what method would you prefer. Would you rather an online portfolio or a printed copy? I was also wondering if this was a paid internship or purely for the joy of the experience. Thank you so very much for your time and I hope to hear back from you soon.

Sincerely,
XXXXXXXXXXXX

Image thanks to ehow.com