I need a wedding planner, er, coordinator, um, designer. Wait… what?!

We investigate your options so you know exactly what type of wedding planner you're shopping for. By Lauren Matthews You know it's smart to hire... Read More

We investigate your options so you know exactly what type of wedding planner you’re shopping for.

By Lauren Matthews

You know it’s smart to hire a planner—but should you hire a wedding planner, coordinator, consultant, architect, producer, designer, or stylist? Sure, it’s confusing, but we investigated the different designations so that you’ll know exactly what you’re shopping for.

Job Titles Explained

Since there’s no license or certification required to practice wedding planning for a living, planners essentially can call themselves whatever they want. And while belonging to an organization like the Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC), the Association of Certified Professional Wedding Consultants (ACPWC), or the Wedding Industry Professionals Association (WIPA) is an indicator of experience, it’s not the only one. Talent speaks for itself via photos on the planner’s company website or blog. And, of course, as with all pros you might hire, always read reviews on sites like Brides.com (natch), and politely ask for references from other vendors and couples. Now that we’re clear on these points, let’s look at what these pros can do for you.

Full-Service Planner

a.k.a. wedding planner, wedding coordinator, wedding producer

Does what?
-Provides vendor referrals and negotiates contracts; schedules and attends all vendor meetings
-Creates detailed timelines and floor plans
-Helps determine and manage your budget
-Attends site tours and menu tastings
-Brainstorms style ideas and coordinates design details
-Coordinates hotel room blocks and transportation
-Manages the rehearsal
-Oversees everything on the wedding day (makes sure everyone adheres to the timeline, handles snafus, manages vendors, and executes your vision on-site)

Right for you?
-You have no free time because of a demanding job
-You have no clue where to start when it comes to planning, and your organizational skills aren’t the greatest
-You have a very short time frame for planning
-You’re throwing a destination wedding and/or a wedding weekend involving multiple events
-You’re hosting your wedding in an unusual space (read: not a hotel, restaurant, or banquet hall)

Wedding Designer

a.k.a. wedding stylist, wedding architect

Does what?
-Creates the wedding’s design concept
-Provides color palette guidance
-Oversees the décor budget and vendors (florist, rentals, lighting, stationer)
-Sources special props and equipment
-Attends a site visit to visualize where you want everything to go, devise a layout, and identify potential problems
-Creates detailed floor plans
-Ensures all of the décor elements are in place on-site at the wedding

Right for you?
-The décor is the most important element of the wedding for you
-You’re confident in your organizational and logistical skills, but your creative skills are lacking
-You’re trying to pull off a very specific theme or you have a million wedding style ideas that you can’t narrow down

“Day Of” Planner

a.k.a. wedding consultant, wedding director

Does what?
-Puts in at least 25 hours of pre-wedding work (versus 80 to 250 hours for full-service planners; up to 40 for designers)
-Meets with you four to eight weeks before the wedding to get a handle on what you’ve planned thus far
-Checks in with your vendors to review the signed contracts and confirm logistics
-Creates detailed timelines and floor plans
-Completes a final walk-through of the ceremony and reception sites
-Addresses any overlooked details (such as forgetting to hire a coat check attendant)
-Manages the rehearsal
-Oversees everything on the wedding day

Right for you?
-You want to play an active role in planning your wedding but would like someone to take care of the last-minute details and make sure you haven’t missed anything
-You’re extremely organized and detail-oriented
-You don’t have the budget for a full-service planner

A Few Key Things To Keep In Mind

Verbal Warning: To avoid misleading couples, folks in the industry now are referring to “day of” planners as wedding directors or consultants. “No planner of sound mind, experience, and education would walk in on the day of a wedding with no prior knowledge of the event or preparation and expect everything to flow flawlessly,” says Joyce Scardina Becker of Events of Distinction in San Francisco. So watch for part-time planners who offer literal “day of” services. “They’ll talk to the bride once or twice before the wedding and that’s it,” says Kathryn Kalabokes of Dream a Little Dream Events in San Francisco. “There are so many logistical problems that come up when you’ve had no prior involvement with the contracts and wedding vendors.”

When to Book: No matter what kind of planner you’re booking, it’s best to secure him or her as soon as you know your wedding date—even if he or she isn’t getting involved until the month before. This tactic also can help you get the most for your money. “If a couple books us early, we’re happy to provide them with our list of performance-driven vendor recommendations,” says Anna Leath of Just About Married in New York City.

Cost: Planners tell us that for the most part, full-service wedding production and design runs approximately 15 to 20 percent of the total wedding cost, depending on the planner’s experience, what region of the U.S. he or she is based in, and how much time your wedding demands. A wedding director generally will cost at least 25 percent of what a full-service planner would charge (so if the total package is $10,000, you can expect to pay $2,500 for a limited-service package). You probably can expect to pay between $2,000 and $6,000 for a qualified wedding director and $8,000 and $30,000 for a wedding planner or designer.

Going Without: Someone—not you—needs to make sure the wedding day itself runs smoothly and that everything you’ve planned is executed properly. But what if a professional wedding planner is not in your budget? While most venue coordinators and catering managers are happy to handle basic on-site logistics and simple setups—like arranging escort cards on a table or placing menu cards on each plate—keep in mind that their allegiance ultimately is to their employer, not you (meaning they’re making sure the food is served on time, not that the DJ is playing the right songs or that there are enough pens for the guest book). “It would be unfair to expect your vendors to handle tasks they weren’t hired for, but it’s helpful to tell them that you don’t have a planner and won’t be securing one,” says Joyce. “The most professional people certainly will do as much as they can for you.” Planners tell us the best option is to ask a responsible, trusted friend to handle a few important tasks, like managing the timeline or handling any snafus that arise with vendors, and then to thank the person with a gift card to a store he or she likes. “But you have to be really understanding that this is not the person’s profession—don’t expect everything to be ‘perfect,'” says Anna

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