This month we are featuring fabulous event planner and GigMasters client, Carolyn Miller of Creative Celebrations. Carolyn's event planning business is based in Portland, Oregon. Creative Celebrations is a full service event planning company that offers services for all kinds of special occasions. We recently got to chat with Carolyn to learn more about her career, passion for planning and the focus behind Creative Celebrations. After you read our interview, you will like hear as much as we do!
GM: How did you get started as a professional event planner? CM: When I worked as marketing director at Sysco Foodservices, of Portland, Oregon, a big part of my job was to plan and execute the company’s annual food show. I developed each show’s theme and then arranged for seminar speakers, booth participants, and entertainment. I handled everything down to the nitty-gritty details, like making sure each vendor’s specific electricity requirements were met (for refrigeration, etc.). Thousands of foodservice professionals came to our shows to view and taste food samples from hundreds of vendors. While in this job, I was also in charge of monthly sales meetings and even some business-promotion concerts featuring national musical acts.
GM: What sets you apart from other event planners? CM: When a client retains Creative Celebrations, they are hiring me, not someone assigned by an event company. I personally handle each client event, from the event overview interview to the final day-of event coordination. I have been in charge of events for nearly twenty-five years and have seen it all – so nothing throws me! Also, my background in the hospitality industry gives me an insider’s perspective and an advantage when it comes to organizing and negotiating the food and beverage part of an event.
GM: What event planning services do you offer? CM: I provide my clients with creative ideas, venue research, and suggestions for coordination of entertainment, decorations, and food and beverages. I supply budgets, timelines, and run-of-show outlines, as well as day-of coordination services.
GM: What types of events do you typically plan? CM: I plan all types of events – large weddings, intimate weddings, destination weddings, grand openings for outlet malls and restaurants, fundraisers, trade shows, sales meetings, press conferences, conventions, as well as holiday, birthday and other special-occasion parties.
GM: What is your favorite part about being a professional event planner? CM: Well, it isn’t the long hours I spend on my feet, or even the money…. I do it for the smiles on my clients’ faces (or even better, tears of joy) when their dream day or night actually comes true! When all the planning, effort, and money has paid off, it’s extremely gratifying to know I helped make that special event happen for my client.
GM: How does entertainment fit into the events that you plan? CM: Arranging entertainment is a huge part of what I do! Music (and other acts) set the mood, reinforce the theme, and carry the momentum of the event, among other things. Often, bottom line, the entertainment – along with good food and drink – is the main reason guests want to attend an event. For example, I recently coordinated a Sixties-themed 60th birthday party for a client. I hired a great pianist (Kit Taylor) from GigMasters, and he played rock ‘n’ roll from the Sixties all night. Guests not only sang along, they danced in the living room – a sure sign of a memorable event!
GM: Why do you use GigMasters for finding entertainment? CM: I bill my clients by the hour, and I strive to give them value for their money. GigMasters enables me to put out a request for entertainment to 10 vendors in the span of 3-5 minutes. Responses are always quick and direct, and quotes are simple and easy to pay. My experience has been nothing but positive. Whether I’m looking for a period pianist, a caricaturist, or an Elvis impersonator, GigMasters makes the entertainment part of my job a breeze.
GM: If you could work on a specific event type more than you currently do, what would it be and why? CM: Being in the Pacific Northwest, I love planning outdoor weddings and events, July through October. There are so many natural venues I would love to use as backgrounds for big events, such as having Mt. Hood in the distance from a location in the Gorge, or Haystack Rock behind a wedding party on the Oregon Coast. I think the beauty of this area can become an intricate part of an event's theme.
GM: What’s the biggest misconception people have about event planners? CM: That they want to run the show! Let me clarify: We do want to run the show, but we want to run your show! I think people are sometimes hesitant to hire an event planner because they want their event to reflect their own vision, not the planner’s. But a good planner first listens carefully to your ideas, and then turns your vision into an effortless, seamless, cost-effective event. The best planners are the least intrusive; they’re the ones who work their magic behind the scenes to ensure everything goes smoothly while their clients take center stage and get all the credit for the success of the event.
GM: What’s the one thing you wish people knew before they hired you? That we will end up being friends. I have never had an event end where my client and I did not hug and tell each other, “Job well done!” My clients have told me that working with me, is like planning the best day of your life with someone you would want to invite to the best day of your life!
CM: What’s the biggest mistake people make when planning a big event on their own? They underestimate how much time the details will take to put together the week of the event. It’s easy to say, “We'll just throw some daisies in mason jars the day of the party for centerpieces!” They don't realize how much time is involved in every aspect of a simple task like that. Do you really want to go pick up fresh flowers, transport them to the venue, fill the mason jars with water and arrange them, when instead you could be focused on happily getting yourself ready while looking forward to relaxing and enjoying your guests?
GM: Can you tell a story about a disaster averted? CM: I was coordinating a wedding with 220 guests at an outdoor venue in August. It was 96 degrees that day. The father of the bride had arranged to have buses take about 30-40 guests to the wedding from a nearby hotel. The bus company sent a small bus that could not accommodate that many people, so it took two trips to get them all there. When it was time for the wedding to start, twenty of the bride’s and groom's closest friends had not yet arrived on the bus. Twenty minutes later all the guests had arrived, so we could finally begin. But when it was time for the bride to go down the aisle, she turned to me, overheated by that time, and said, “I need a few minutes. I think I’m going to faint.” There are 220 people sitting in the 96-degree heat and she needs a few minutes? Not an option! I had her father hold her bouquet. Then I told her to hold out her hands. I poured water on her fingertips, looked her in the eye, and said calmly but firmly, “I want you to tap your fingers with the cold water against your forehead, your temples, and the side of your neck three times. Follow me….” I demonstrated what I wanted her to do while I had her take some deep breaths. Then I handed her back her flowers, gave her father his marching orders, and off they walked down the aisle. The rest of the wedding went smoothly, without anyone knowing what had happened. In fact, the bride had the time of her life! The moral of this story is that no event detail is too small. If I had been the one to order the bus, I would have been very specific about needing to transport all the guests to the venue by a certain time. It’s crazy how something like having-too-small-a-bus caused a ripple effect that almost led to a disaster. (At least I had already arranged for cold water to be ready for the bride at the head of the aisle!)
GM: What’s the one piece of advice you’d offer anyone about finding a planner? CM: Look for someone whom you are compatible with. You’ll be spending a great deal of time with this person, entrusting them to manage a meaningful event in your life. You’ll want to feel absolutely confident that you’re on the same page during your event. Hire someone you like enough to spend your special day or event with!
GM: What’s one piece of advice you’d offer anyone planning a party on their own? CM: At least hire an event planner for the day of the event. It is one thing to do the preparatory legwork – the creative, hiring and coordinating vendors, etc. – when you have months to plan things and make adjustments. But on the day of the event, you only have one shot to have the event run smoothly and to actually be relaxed enough to enjoy your own wedding, party, or event. I always say to people: It’s fine to go ahead and plan your event, but if you really want to enjoy your event, do yourself a huge favor and hire an event planner for the day. If you have an event planner, you’re not the one running, you’re the one smiling!
GM: Anything else you would like to share? What else would you like our audience to know about you? CM: I truly love being an event planner. I didn’t wake up one day saying, “I want to be an event planner!” I just naturally have always taken on the event-planning role, from coordinating themed progressive dinners for my campfire troop (on my own, in fourth grade!), to being named social chairman of my sorority in college. Now that I’m a professional event planner, I feel very lucky to be able to do what I love to do, every day.
To learn more about Creative Celebrations, visit their Pinterest page and stop by their website. If you are interested in working with Creative Celebrations, you can contact Carolyn here: firstname.lastname@example.org. Have you ever worked with Creative Celebrations? If so, share your experience in the comments below.