Event Planner Spotlight: Sunna from Alison Event Planning & Design
If you're debating whether a destination wedding is right for you, then you've probably come across Alison Event Planning & Design. As one of the premiere, boutique wedding destination planning firms in the country, Alison Event Planning has a global network of collaborators to help execute a wedding away from home, transforming spaces all over the world for a more sophisticated palate. We talked to Sunna Yassin, Event Director at Alison Events, who's been in the business 15 years. Sunna told us about their process for planning a destination wedding, the challenges of making it all happen, and going back to basics for 2013 wedding trends.
How long have you worked in event planning?
About 15 years. I started with hotel planning and catering and I’ve been freelancing with Alison for a few years now, full time about a year. It’s been about six years since I met Alison [Founder and Creative Director of Alison Event Planning & Design]. We just had a really similar style and shared a lot of the same interests so it was really a natural progression.
Tell me a little about Alison Event Planning. What makes you guys unique in the event planning world?
We are a team of four full time employees in San Francisco and we have a freelance interior designer. We specialize in destination weddings. While we do travel quite a bit, for us, a destination wedding is really a wedding that takes place outside of where a couple lives. A lot of logistics are based on the fact that people are local. We have someone in DC getting married in Sonoma County for instance.
Tell me about your process with brides/clients.
I think the first step, people usually see us through some sort of press or referrals. We definitely attract a specific, sophisticated yet fun client. We rally up front with people with fees. It’s a few emails, usually the first calls start with ourselves, then a Skype call. People are interviewing us to see if they should hire us, and we’re interviewing them. It’s sussing each other out to see if we’re a good fit. The initial conversations are just getting to know our clients, they get to know us, and then we go from there. And then going through realistic expectations of costs. We then establish a friendship and a trust. Once we establish that, we roll with it. We definitely become friends with people over the course of six months to a year.
How long is your usual process with clients?
It depends. Our average clients are 8-12 months out. What we always say is that the longer you’re planning, the longer you have to change your mind. I would say the process is about a year. I think as far as under that goes, as long as people are open, it can be easy to do something in five to six months.
What are the most common trends you see in wedding planning this year?
I think this year people have really gone back to basics and looked at spending top dollars on things that are a little more memorable. In late 2012 and now, people are keeping things a little bit cleaner, a little more simple. Better drinks, more high quality foods versus tagging every single piece of food, and going back to that seated dinner. The last few years we’ve gone a bit country with family style dinners. I would say it’s gone back to a black tie affair, even in places in and outside of California. It’s nice to go back to basics. The menus are still really innovative and people care more about the food quality being served. I think the expectation is you should do do do because people are coming all this way but…now we’re just finding that people want to chill with friends and kind of be on vacation. It’s nice.
Do you have a favorite wedding?
We had a wedding this past May, it was so lovely. The couple was in their late 30s, they had great taste, they actually went to elementary and boarding school together. She had been married prior to this wedding. Long story short, they reconnected and the wedding weekend was so fun, they were very big foodies. The things that stood out the most was that they were just really in love, nothing really mattered because their friends and family were so happy they were together.
In the past five years, what changes have you noticed in planning events?
I think the biggest thing in terms of planning is the situation with email, Facebook, Skype, Pinterest. A few years ago, the blog world didn’t exist. Not only do clients find us that way but we find vendors that way. It’s so easy to just click on their link. You meet so many people and you see so many things, you feel like you know them from seeing their work. You can easily establish working relationships. With clients, you can really do everything online and only meet once for the wedding. You can Skype as easily as you can meet in an office and it saves so much time.
What are some of the challenges you run into with wedding planning?
I think one of the biggest challenges is when people can’t let go and they get fixated on something. Flowers are a perfect example. It’s about being fluid, you kind of have to go with the flow. People do that really well with food or wine but we try to tell people it’s like that with everything. Also, you have a bride and you have a groom and they have parents. And when you have other people footing the bill, that’s a challenge. So we try to tell people that we want one point of contact. My philosophy is, if there are drinks and there’s food and there’s music, people are going to have a good time. There’s a lot of to-dos but at the end of the day, the more people that spend time together and know each other, the better it is. We think it’s important to express to people in the beginning that if the exact flower doesn’t show up, it will be okay. Everybody will still show up and they will never know that that flower didn’t show up.
What are some pieces of advice or insights you can share with other event planners who may be hesitant to take on weddings?
The biggest thing we always say is just do what you do well and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. It’s so easy to be jealous of what one person is doing, and I think there’s enough business for everybody. Do what you do well, and let everything else fall to the wayside.