Imagine a luxurious private mansion in the Hollywood Hills, which has been hired to host a party for Vanity Fair magazine.
Valet parking attendants greet A-list celebrities as they step out of their stretch limos onto the red carpet, surrounded by flashing paparazzi photographers.
Inside, the venue has been transformed with Great Gatsby-inspired 1920s era decadence; 30ft tall Cristal champagne fountains tower over the pool while zebras and flamingos roam the grounds.
Molecular gastronomy hors d’oeuvres, prepared by Wolfgang Puck, are passed around by flapper girls wearing Cartier jewels, while Jay-Z performs an exclusive set above Busby Berkeley-style aquacades with hundreds of bathing-suit clad showgirls forming human waterfalls.
The event planner is the one who spent days picking through clause after clause in a legally binding contract, so that Vanity Fair could hire the private mansion in the Hollywood Hills owned by a litigious Russian billionaire.
They’re the one who compiled a four-inch thick dossier of risk assessments, method statements, fire certificates, and other health and safety documentation in order to erect the aquacades and human waterfalls.
They’re the one who spent many a night in the office till 10pm—crying into an Excel spreadsheet and regretting ever becoming an event planner—because the client had decided at the last minute that they were now "not quite feeling" the sets that were approved and built two months earlier.
They’re the one who missed Jay-Z’s set because they were running around backstage ensuring his post-performance private chill-out lounge was decorated in "calming shades of taupe" with a selection of cold cuts, Gatorade, and a dozen eucalyptus-scented white Versace towels—washed once—on hand.
They’re the ones who spent weeks negotiating permits and insurance documents to allow zebras and flamingo to walk around the event.....
.....and they’ll probably be the ones who will have to deal with the fall-out when they crap all over the Russian billionaire’s hand-woven yak-hair carpet.
If you’re thinking of becoming an event planner, it’s important that you have a realistic understanding of both the industry, and what the job itself really involves.
For a start, most events aren’t remotely glamorous. They are business meetings, seminars, conferences, trade shows and conventions, or experiential marketing events designed to promote brands and products—and it’s in those sectors where the majority of event-planning jobs are.
Even if you do end up working on some of the more exciting and glamorous events—the movie premieres, launch parties, awards shows, and red carpet affairs that make up a small niche in the industry—the chances are you probably won’t get to experience much of that glamor or excitement yourself; because you won’t be there as a guest. As the event planner, you’ll be too busy juggling spreadsheets and schedules, rushing around backstage with a radio stuck to your ear putting out fires—although not literally, I hope.
“If you don’t like early mornings then you’re probably not in the right industry. You’ve got to be onsite at 6am when you’re doing an event and you’ve got to be the one who’s bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, smart, and coherent—and you can’t have been drinking the night before. Everyone else is having a good time when they’re onsite; they are there to party, but you’re there to make sure everyone goes away with the most amazing experience—that’s your job. And unfortunately, that means that behind the scenes you’re running around like a headless chicken making it all work.”
Despite this, event planning is still one of the most unique, exhilarating, and rewarding professions you can choose. It can see you travel to overseas locations, work (and sometimes stay) in luxury hotels and private venues, grant you special access to people and places—including celebrities and VIPs—and provide you with some truly unique experiences that most people will never be privileged to.
My own career in event planning has allowed me to fly on private planes, ski in luxury resorts, party at the Cannes Film Festival and The Academy Awards, work with legendary performers such as Mary J. Blige and Elton John, and hit the dancefloor with Madonna, Tom Ford, and Gwyneth Paltrow at Stella McCartney’s wedding.
Later on this site other event planners recall their own privileged moments since becoming an event planner, such as throwing footballs around the pitch with the Carolina Panthers, visiting the Lego factory in the Czech Republic and meeting their ‘master builder’, and escorting Nelson Mandela to sit with the Queen of England at a state banquet.
So while I want to prepare you for the realities of the job, rest assured that becoming an event planner will afford you some amazing 'pinch me' moments.
“Don’t expect it to be a glamorous job, but expect it to be a really exciting career. There’s not that many careers where you get to see your work regularly come to life and have other people experience it first hand.”
Experiences such as these can create amazing moments in a career, but they make up a very small fraction of the day-to-day job. Similarly, the excitement and adrenaline rush of working onsite—when months of planning is finally brought to life—and the thrill you get from seeing the reaction on guest’s faces, also makes up only a fraction of the job.
This is why it’s essential to differentiate between ‘the event’ and ‘the event planning’—so you know what you’re getting into. While the event might involve overseas travel, luxury hotels, champagne, gourmet food, entertainment from world famous headline acts, and maybe even celebrity guests. The event planning will be all about number-crunching budgets, drawing up contracts, negotiating with suppliers, creating schedules and lists, and overseeing logistics.
For the most part, it’s a desk job. The majority of events take several months to organize; some take six months to a year—or even longer. If the event only lasts for one day, but six months has been spent on the planning, that means more than 99.9 percent of the job consists of office-based administrative work preparing for the big day.
“Aspects of the job, like menu design and guests lists, can make it sound like it's all fun and glamour all the time, but it’s definitely not! It doesn’t feel glamorous when we’re in the office late at night stuffing thousands of invitations into envelopes, or when we’re slaving over the sixth or seventh version of a budget. Nor when we’re re-drawing layouts because the fire marshal didn’t approve the first one because there weren’t enough exits—and that has a knock effect meaning we now have to change where everything in the room goes."
If you’re comfortable with that prospect, and are attracted to the idea of being the person responsible for all the meticulous and detailed planning, thorough organization, and military-style logistics that goes on behind the scenes...
if you relish problem solving, and the thought of juggling multiple events at once excites you...
if you understand that while you might be flying to exotic locations, meeting celebrities, or working on high-profile events, you will be there as staff; to work and serve others...
then a career in event planning may just be right for you.
So read on to get the inside track for becoming an event planner—with advice from the professionals.