COVID-19 has changed our lives to say the least—for better and for worse. For everyone in the wedding industry, from a business perspective, undoubtedly every business has suffered. But you know who else is suffering? The to-be brides and grooms! Their hearts are aching, mourning the perfect wedding they had foreseen for a lifetime.
Here’s a true story for you:
One of our clients had their wedding planned in mid-April. The couple were close friends of ours, so we were eagerly anticipating their wedding. Their beautiful engagement shoot had taken place months before at Malibu. We were in constant touch with the bride and groom and had a green light from them that everything was going to move forward as planned. Then, on March 20, 2020, California announced a statewide lockdown. This meant weddings are cancelled until further notice. If you know anything about Indian weddings, they are an elaborate production. I don’t just mean rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony and reception etc. like the traditional Martha Stewart wedding. Indian weddings last about a week, sometimes longer. Family and friends fly in from all over the world, and about a-week before the actual wedding ceremony itself, celebrations kickstart with a bunch of ‘smaller’ events—smaller as in your Aunt’s cousin’s wife’s brother is going to be there. This will give you a good idea of how elaborate they are. So, cancelling them, is not a painless decision. Not saying cancelling any wedding is easy, but this one was just closer to our hearts!
This is just one story. There are hundreds of thousands of stories like this. So, we wanted to help our wedding community, hence, we reached out to Michelle; a cross-culture wedding planner based in Southern California who runs Michelle Isabel & Co. Without further ado, let’s dive in with Michelle about how you should be planning your wedding in terms of COVID-19.
MICHELLE, CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR BUSINESS? YOU’RE A CROSS-CULTURE WEDDING PLANNER. THAT’S TRULY UNIQUE.
Hi everyone, thank you Insiyah for having me. So, I studied political science as a pre-law major at the University of Southern California, Santa Barbara (Go Gauchos!). After an internship in Washington D.C.— working for a progressive lobbying firm—I discovered I had a natural ability for high-level project management. It was thrilling for me to organize mass movements and to fervently think through the logistical details of making it all come together. Having been raised by immigrants with a strong work ethic, I now run one of Southern California’s most successful events-planning and production businesses—joyfully positioned as the only cross-cultural wedding planner in the country. I established Michelle Isabel & Co in 2016.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A CROSS-CULTURE WEDDING PLANNER?
A few years back, I was working with first-generation Korean clients that wanted to infuse their culture into their wedding. However, it was hard for them to conceptualize the idea of performing a Paebaek ceremony—which is the long-standing colorful traditional Korean wedding ceremony—in the middle of their traditional western wedding. My clients are very modern and visual people, hence, many times anxiety inhibits them from pulling the trigger if the idea seems too risky. Right then and there I realized that there was a gap in the wedding industry. Specifically, there was a lack of support for cross-cultural couples getting married in the U.S. Culture, traditions, and heritage are beautiful and should be shared for the world to see. So, I set out to be a place where couples can come together and be empowered to embrace their heritage.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF HAVING A WEDDING PLANNER?
Wedding planners are social gathering experts and are known in pop-culture as “super-hosts”. We live, breathe, and study what constitutes a good event on the daily. Planners are the only service providers that work on behalf of the couple, to protect their interests and goals for their wedding.
It’s not about if something will go awry, it’s a matter of when. That’s where the planner comes in.
The planner knows and should know all the production details down to the napkin fold. They are the one person on the wedding day orchestrating the entire production—while putting out fires. The only way for couples to enjoy their wedding is to be present. How does one become present? By being a guest at their wedding! If they are worried about x, y, and z…how can they be expected to focus on family that has flown in from all over the world, or spend time with friends that encouraged their relationship, or listen to speeches if someone is constantly tapping them on the shoulder to inform them that the power in one of the speakers went out.
I’ve had my fair share of rescheduled events with my current book of clients. I’ve noticed that clients who hired their own preferred team for their wedding day, have faced major hassles with rescheduling. While the clients that went with my book of preferred vendors are all bending over backward to make this as easy as possible for them. The network and relationships that your planner has built over the years of being in the industry is invaluable in a situation like we’re in today (AKA coronavirus).
WHAT DO YOU RECOMMEND AS A WEDDING PLANNER THAT ALL TO-BE-BRIDES AND GROOMS SHOULD DO IN TERMS OF COVID-19?
My first big piece of advice would be to stay excited about your wedding. Acknowledge and accept that this is a bump in the road and stay positive. It’s okay to grieve your wedding date. Go ahead and be sad about it and binge watch Grey’s Anatomy—that’s what I would do. That way when you’re sick of it, you’ll be energized to face the music of rescheduling your wedding date.
I’m part of a small community of planners in Orange County, CA and I polled our group to see how many of their weddings had been impacted by the pandemic through Summer 2020. 23 wedding planners responded and in total, it amounted to 149 weddings that were either canceled or postponed through the summer of 2020. There are thousands of planners across the globe, so I can’t even imagine what the actual number is and what it might end up being by the end of 2020.
Bright days are ahead, and I encourage you to continue planning. And if the means are there, plan for an even bigger celebration now that you have more time to invest and plan. Those things that were nice-to-have and those guests that were maybes can now be brought into the fold!
Seeing as social gatherings are heavily impacted by shelter-in-place restrictions it’s my job to stay on top of what’s going on. On April 28th, Governor Newsom announced his proposed plan for reopening the state of California. Weddings are mentioned in Stage 3, AFTER schools are expected to reopen in July and August. Once certain benchmarks are met, we can move into Stage 3, which then addresses social gatherings. So, we’re looking at going way past August before entertaining the idea of allowing weddings. While I can’t predict the outcome, we’ll most likely start to allow gatherings incrementally. Starting with small groups and eventually moving into mass gatherings. But the road ahead is a long one.
So, from a planning standpoint, if you’re a couple getting married in those months—you’ll want to strongly consider pushing your wedding date.
When it comes to figuring out a date that would be best suited, you can start by thinking about the following:
- Take a look at your guest list to determine where your guests are traveling from. If most are coming from out of the country, you’ll want to strongly consider pushing your date to somewhere around late Summer 2021 or Fall 2021.
- If you’re dealing with mostly local groups, then you might want to think through how likely your guests will be okay with mass social gatherings. If the vibe is low, push out.
- Something else you’ll want to think about is speed-planning. If you opt for a closer wedding date, you might have to cram all the fun things in a short timeframe. The tasting, the engagement shoot, the mockup and design meeting. It’ll all be fast-tracked.
Keep in mind that this can all change tomorrow should a new wave break out, so just be vigilant by paying attention to the news and the numbers. No one knows how long this will last, so I wouldn’t consider choosing the Summer 2020 nor Fall 2020 for those just starting out in the planning process. Even if restrictions are loosened, there will be a period where we as professionals, will be working on creative solutions to manage and contain the spread of COVID-19 until a vaccine has been made publicly available.
HOW SHOULD COUPLES/ HOW ARE YOU DEAL(ING) WITH VENDORS IN REGARD TO RESCHEDULING THEIR WEDDING?
We are encouraging our clients to postpone their events. If the client chooses to cancel, unfortunately, in most cases, they are losing their retainers. Contractually, an agreement was signed with that vendor that resulted in them turning away other business on the date requested.
I know many couples plan to get civilly married for now and are considering hosting a big hoorah later on. This idea is for those that must get married on that date for legal reasons or there might be an emotional attachment to the date. Just be cautious about what you’re committing to and what date change clauses would mean to you if you needed to cancel or postpone.
First, if you’re postponing—contact your venue to find out what your options are. In most cases, venues are being flexible and postponing without penalties—especially for clients whose event falls within the stay-home orders.
Next, compile the dates and times the venue has available and are willing to postpone your date to. I’m happy to share the spreadsheet that we’re using with our clients, which I can email straight to your inbox if you need a little help with this. Just click the link here.
Lastly, contact each one of your service providers to discuss your options—should you officially decide to postpone. If you can, terminate the old agreement and negotiate new terms, so that it specifically addresses future pandemic-related issues–that would be in everyone’s best interest.
Your professional team is everything in this situation.
You made a really important point here. It is vital to contact each one of your service providers and have an honest, open conversation with them. I believe as a community we will come together during this unprecedented time and be there for each other. I know Murtaza and I have been continuously in contact with our clients, coming up with different solutions to build the best game plan. Many of our clients are highly overwhelmed and are constantly going back and forth between dates and plans for their wedding. We’re doing our best to help them and of course, be open to any negotiation with them.
Yeah exactly, I know many vendors are following a similar path.
So, contact your media team and rental company and find out what creative solutions they can provide to help make the most of the new situation. For example, they might suggest live-streaming your wedding for anyone that might be unable to travel or perhaps there might be someone on your guest list considered high-risk. I’m in these conversations almost daily, so I’m hearing all kinds of ideas, from multiple dance floors to more tables with fewer guests.
It’s funny you mention this because just a few days ago, we had a conversation with one of our clients who has decided to get civilly married for now and have a big celebration next Fall. We actually suggested this exact idea to them that we’d be more than happy to come help them set up equipment to live-stream their wedding ceremony (since no one is allowed currently during the ceremony besides the couple, one witness and the officiant). We also agreed on providing a post-ceremony shoot whilst maintaining social-distancing guidelines. The important thing to remember is that as photographers, we don’t necessarily have to come in direct contact with the bride and groom, or anyone for that matter. We can most-definitely capture that happy moment, from a distance.
That’s a great way to evolve as a professional during this unfortunate time. It’s amazing how creative we can get when we have our hands tied.
Contact your caterer and find out what they are doing to ensure the highest level of safety with food handling. For example, buffets definitely should not be an option given how much human contact is involved. You don’t want to end up on the news as the couple that allowed buffet-style eating at their wedding because they wanted to save a few bucks.
This too shall pass, so try NOT to make an emotional decision without the help of a professional. Don’t be shy to get help where needed from a local mental health expert. Get you and your entire team together on a video call and brainstorm the best ways to figure out the best solution together.
If you missed it the first time, I shared the simple spreadsheet that I’m using to keep track of my clients’ rescheduling plans. You can download your own copy here.
Choose to believe that you will come out stronger as an engaged couple then you were before this pandemic. Remember, you’re not alone.
Thanks for joining us Michelle at MKEshoots Photography, we appreciate it and I know for a fact that our audience will be abundantly thankful. If anyone is looking for a wedding planner, please feel free to reach out to Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There you have it folks, stay safe, and leave your thoughts below on what steps you’re taking in planning your wedding in light of COVID-19.