In this section, we're going to look at a real special event planner job description—as described by a professional; Chad Hudson, President, Creative Director, and Owner of Chad Hudson Events..
Now let's hear a first-hand account of a special event planner job description from a professional:
Chad Hudson is President, Creative Director and Owner of Chad Hudson Events, a full service event design, production and management company with offices in New York and Los Angeles.
Past events include Guess North American Conference, ABC’s Comic-Con booth, Major League Baseball’s All Stars Gala, movie premieres including The Twilight Saga, Ender's Game, and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, and numerous Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, and Super Bowl events.
“When a project comes up, say a movie premiere, it might be that several companies are asked to submit a proposal, and so we’ll often go to the studio to present ideas and bid on the work.
At the moment we’re working on a pitch for Major League Baseball in Minneapolis, so we flew to the city and did site surveys for the venues that we’re going to suggest at the pitch.
The pitch also involves coming up with the initial ideas for the layout of the event—how the party is going to look, the design and theme etc— taking into account the number of guests.
This MLB event is for 5,000 people, so we looked at about eight different venues that we could possibly pitch. From there, we narrowed it down to what we think is going to be the best location, in terms of logistics and cost.”
“For most of the pitches we go in on, there’s usually a starting budget, a sort of budget parameter that we’re given to work within. So we work on creating an initial breakdown of that budget for each of the areas, such as food & beverage, lighting, rentals, special décor, location fees, permitting, linens, transportation, trucking, and all the major components of the event. We create a rough estimate of what we think every category will cost and make sure all of that is covered within the overall budget.
If we’re working outside of New York or Los Angeles, where we’re based, preparing for the pitch often means working with different vendors; we try to utilize local vendors where possible so we can bring business to the local community. Therefore, we’ll go out to perhaps three different lighting vendors, three to four different furniture rental places, three to four different florists etc and get a proposal from each one. Then we’ll include those in our overall presentation to the client.
For the presentation, we’ll usually do a layout of the event, maybe a couple of different renderings of what the event will look like, perhaps with some reference photos, and the budget. The presentation is really to give the client an idea of the overall concept, the look and feel of the event, the layout, and the costs. ”
“In terms of the creative work, a lot of this has to be done in the initial stages of the project, before we go back to the client and pitch for the job. For events like the MLB one for example, there’s often not really a theme, so we’ll base the look and feel of the event on the venue.
For something like the Twilight movie premieres that we organized, we’ll typically work from the theme, look, and feel of the movie. In the third film, there was a big wedding in a woodland setting with lots of hanging wisteria, so we used that as the look for the party. In one of the other movies, a lot of it took place in the mountains with lots of snow, so for that premiere we did a snow and ice theme.
With film premieres, a lot of the time it’s easier to come up with the concept because you just base it on the themes and locations in the film. The creative, décor, and design for film premieres are sometimes the easiest. Not that it’s ever simple, but it does give you a starting point to design from.
In order to be able to submit a budget, we obviously have to design and cost out a lot of the creative concept in the very early stages of the planning process. We’ll pitch an idea, but a lot of times, the client will want to tweak it a bit. It always morphs and develops as the process goes on and we get closer to the event, but the overall design and creative is actually done very early on—in that short window between getting the brief and pitching ideas to the client.”
“Once we get sign off and we’re awarded the job, that’s when we really get into the nuts and bolts of it all. We go back to whichever venue the client has chosen from the ones we pitched, and lock in the location.
This also mean signing off whatever permitting is required, such as special event permits, and getting all of those applications filled in so that we have all the appropriate plans in place to move forward—whether that’s the fire marshal or building and safety permits.
Usually that goes hand in hand with the layout, so if we’re closing down Hollywood Boulevard to do a red carpet premiere, we have to make sure we go to the city of Hollywood and get their approval.
There’s a lot of permitting that goes along with special events, like having enough of a police presence onsite, all of which comes into play quite early on.
That also involves things like having the fire marshals approve our floor plans and layouts—to make sure we have enough exits or that the flow of the party is safe and none of the emergency exits are blocked by staging or decor. So we need to have the layout all worked out and drawn up on a plan in order to get the fire marshal to sign off on the event."
“Once we’ve secured the location, we go back to whichever vendors the client has chosen from the pitch and start developing the initial ideas with them. A lot of the times clients like to be quite hands on with the look of the party, but we have others that are quite happy to let us get on and do the creative; they don’t like be that involved in the detail. Sometimes we’ll be using our regular vendors, other times we might be trying someone new. We like to mix it up a bit with our vendors, rather than always use the same ones, because we don’t want all our events to start looking the same."
“Then we start to get into some of the more detailed elements, like working out a lighting design. So we’ll meet up with the lighting vendors and talk through how we imagine that looking, or we’ll go through the linen selections and decide which one suits the theme best, or whether there’s any other special décor design work to be done.
As I’m the creative director, I’ll usually just sketch something out. I usually have an idea in mind for the look of a room, so sometimes I’ll sketch out different décor pieces and we’ll go to our production vendors and have them create whatever pieces we’ve come up with.
If it’s a big production and we’re having a lot of things custom-made, we start that process quite early on; as soon as we get the budget approved, we’ll go into production on any of those big décor pieces."
"The event planner will also meet with the caterers to come up with a menu, again a lot of the time the client will have an idea of what they’d like—at least in terms of the overall theme, such as Italian or Asian. With film premieres, we’ll look at where the movie is based or if there’s any relevant theme for the food, to give us a little guidance. We’ll give the caterer some initial direction, then they’ll come back with some menu ideas and we’ll perhaps tweak the menu to get it to the place where we’re happy with it. Then we’ll show it to the client, who will either approve it or make changes, then we’ll bring the client to meet the caterer and do a tasting where everything gets finalized."
"We also start to look at all the finer details, such as how many reserved tables we’ll need, or we’ll start working on a layout of the room to make sure we have enough seating, buffets, and bars.
We try to have one point of service for everyone hundred guests, to make sure there’s no lulls in service or any lines at bars and buffets—because I can’t stand to have a line. It’s about making sure the flow of the room is as smooth as possible, with enough places to sit and enough interesting things going on in the room.
We try to make sure our events aren’t just about bars and buffets or tables and chairs; we try to do lounge areas or different activities going on around the room, making sure that there’s visually exciting things going on, but also activities so that guests aren’t just sitting around eating or having a cocktail."
"For entertainment, we try to come up with unique and different ideas for our events, so we’ll usually pitch four or five different options—whether that’s a DJ or live band or circus acts. The event planner will get together sample CDs or digital files that we can give the client, whether that’s music files or videos of live performances, to show them what we could book. We like to be very hands on with all aspects of our events, so we’re often out there looking for interesting new acts.”
"For some of our clients we handle the guest list too. If it’s a movie premiere, we’ll take a gust list from all the different departments within the film studio, such as marketing, distribution, and music, and they’ll submit their names to us. Then we’ll send out the invitations and track all the RSVPs, which we’ll then submit to the main client. We’ll also do all the seating for everyone inside the theatre for the screening—so we’ll assign seating to all the talent from the movie, the directors list, the producer’s list etc. Similarly, we’ll arrange all the reserved seating at the post-screening party to make sure all the VIP’s have a designated area at the party.”
“Talking about menu design and guests lists can make it sound like it is 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."
"The permitting process is probably one of the least glamorous and fun parts of the job. There’s a lot of phone calls and meetings with city officials; if you want to try to close a public park for example, there’s a lot of paperwork and planning you have to do to get approvals for that sort of thing.
In New York for example, you have to pay an incredible amount of money to Parks & Recreation if you want to use a public space, so not only are you having to deal with all the cost related issues, there’s also a lot of red tape you have to deal with because it’s a public space."
"This job involves so much budget work and number crunching and there’s nothing glamorous about that. Sometimes you might have to do seven or eight budget revisions over the course of the planning. People don’t often think about that side of the job. A lot of times, the creative parts—the décor and all the fun, fancy elements—get cut because of budget. All the bells and whistles are the first thing to get cut when you’re trying to balance the budget. For an event producer or designer, those can be the most fun parts of the job, but then they end up getting cut because of budget reasons, which can be really disheartening.”
“It’s the same where you’re working on-site at events too; sometimes there might not be enough catering staff to cope, so we end up busing tables ourselves just to get things moving.
The load-in for an event sometimes requires several days, so we might be doing that for two or three days prior to the event, depending on the size. That means the event planner needs to be there to oversee everything from the very first delivery, right through till late at night, several days in a row.
It’s really long hours and you’re often running around a lot over the site. A lot of the time, we’ll build an event from the ground up; where we’ll go into a parking lot and erect a tent, so you’re on-site for days—from the moment the first production truck arrives until the last piece of equipment has been removed.
During the event itself, the planner might be behind the scenes in the kitchens overseeing and expediting the food to make sure it’s all getting out on time. Or they might be backstage making sure the performers are on schedule, or in the garage making sure all the town cars and limos are dropping off at the right place.
You sort of have to be everywhere at all times, so you’ve got to be able to work really well together as a team. You might be stationed out front to deal with the transportation, you might be backstage handling the talent, or on the floor overseeing food service. It’s a question of separate, divide, and conquer. It’s really easy for the event to fly by and you miss most of it from the guest’s perspective. The planners are there to make sure everything happens when it’s supposed to and the way it’s supposed to.”