Ask a Pro: Wedding Planner

Darbie and Joel Jarnagin, married June 27, 2020, at Parks Place in Corinth. Photo by Lauren Wood Photography, LLC.

by Kristina Domitrovich // photo by Lauren Wood Photography, LLC

Denise Kennedy-Brown, owner of Special Occasions by Denise Kennedy-Brown, has been in the wedding industry for about 15 years, and took her business to full-time seven years ago. Her business does anywhere from 25-45 weddings a year, along with other happenings like corporate events.

What exactly does a wedding planner do, & what packages should I look at?

“My goal is to make sure I know just as much or more about their wedding than they do,” Kennedy-Brown said. “And that everything is finalized and taken care of, up until the week of the wedding, that way the week of the wedding, they are definitely enjoying themselves, doing those last-minute massages, mani-pedis with their girls or their moms, and just enjoying everybody coming into town.”

She takes on the timeline and times out minute details of the day based on the information provided by the photographer and hair and makeup team, helps with the rehearsal, makes sure the vendors arrive and are set up on time, and calls shots throughout the day, until “waving goodbye as the happy couple leaves for the night.”

She offers three different wedding planning packages: full service, monthly check-ins and day-of coordination.

 “My full service, that’s usually more for the brides and moms that just really don’t have much time at all,” she said. “Their plate is already full with life and day-to-day activities, that the extra thought of wedding planning is just too stressful.”

The monthly check-ins align best if “the bride’s kind of a procrastinator, if they don’t stay on task very well.” Kennedy-Brown will reach out each month to remind the brides about monthly goals, and to make sure things are getting done. For those brides who are well organized, they might just need some assistance with the set-up and day-of work, cue day-of coordination.

Is a wedding planner really necessary?

Without a planner, “Then the bride is not able to be a bride, a mom’s not able to be a mom, or a sister is not able to be in the wedding party or (be) a sister, because they’re still trying to wrangle all of those details that they really don’t know how to take care of.”

Will a planner be able to see my vision?

At the end of the day, Kennedy-Brown’s business is to make her clients happy, which means achieving their vision: “It’s their wedding; I am there only to ensure that their vision comes true.” During consultations and meetings, she’ll help brides build their wedding books and vision boards. Usually, she encourages her clients to use Pinterest as a starting point, but not as a bible.

“Pinterest is great, I love Pinterest,” she said. “But what I also stress to all my brides is go ahead and look through those pictures on Pinterest, but now let’s gather three or four of those photos, and take different elements from each of those and now make your creation.”

She wants to make sure her brides aren’t just copying other people’s weddings, because at the end of the day, she wants them to have their personalized, perfect wedding experience, and she has a test for it.

“If you take the bride and the groom out of being on location when guests came in, do they know whose wedding they’re going to because they’ve picked different elements?”

Get your jinx out of the way

“I want to hear all about our visions and what our plans are, that’s what we really want,” she tells her clients. “But then I’m going to talk about that little dirty word. We’re going to talk about the rain or the weather or the cold or the heat, so we establish a plan b. And so in the very beginning, I go ahead and lay that groundwork.”

Kennedy-Brown stresses to her clients that it’s crucial to plan for the unexpected ahead of time to avoid future stress; plus, with a plan already in place, they can have an established time to “pull the trigger” and start carrying out that backup plan to make sure it looks its best.

“I always say that’s our jinx — if we go ahead and talk about it, then it’s not going to happen,” she said. “You hurry to have that plan in place, so that they continue having fun, getting ready, and I know what I need to do.”

Pro tip: Create a wedding email that you will put down for all vendors, registries, venues & websites, so you have all your wedding’s information in one inbox & can find things easily.

How to add personal touches

Writing vows doesn’t have to be the only way to make a wedding ceremony personalized to a couple, but it can be a good place to start. If writing vows is a little too intimidating, the union ceremony can be a great place to add character. Kennedy-Brown has seen a couple plant a tree they’ll keep in their first home, a bride paint an abstract piece of art. She even had one couple who were wine enthusiasts, and had a bottle of wine they wrote on enclosed in a box with letters to one another, and had their officiant bless the box, which they opened on their first anniversary.

Make these three decisions for a smoother wedding day

Kennedy-Brown highly suggests her brides do a first look with their grooms.

“It gives them that first look time to where they are just all by themselves, (they) don’t have to worry with the whole congregation,” she said. “You still get to have those butterflies, you still have that first look time where it’s just them.”

The couple doesn’t have to worry about missing an hour of the reception because of photos, and if the bride gets a little teary-eyed, she doesn’t have to “look like a little raccoon going back up the aisle.”

She also always encourages her brides and grooms to be alone after the ceremony for 15-30 minutes. This gives the couple a chance to be together, but they can also use this time to eat, “because let’s face it, if that’s not built into their timeline, they’ll never get a chance to eat.”

A new thing she’s seen, and has sometimes surprised her clients with, is right before they drive away, as the guests are lining up outside to see the couple off, Kennedy-Brown highly encourages the bride and groom stay inside for a last dance. This gives them a really intimate, sweet closing to their wedding day.

How to plan a wedding in a pandemic

“Love is not canceled, and neither is planning,” Kennedy-Brown said. “Don’t let COVID take away the newly engaged glow feeling and happiness, keep things positive.”

She’s encouraging her clients to go ahead with their wedding planning: Book the venue and vendors, “because let’s face it, vendors have booked up because of last year’s postponements, and of course for all the new engagements, so you want to go ahead and book them.”

While telling her clients that having a year-long engagement is not at all uncommon, she’s stressing that the most important thing for her brides is to closely look at the contracts. Check policies for rescheduling or postponing, and see if they refund deposits. She implores her brides to look at venues that “have indoor-outdoor capabilities, that way you feel safer.” See if the venue has doors to open and keep the area well ventilated.

Once your vendors and venue are booked, she said to hold off on the fine details until two or three months out. At that point, then it’s time to start asking, “What are the restrictions?” “How’s our area handling this?”

She always encourages her clients to have a wedding website, but especially now. These websites serve as a single place guests can go in order to find answers to all their questions, but it can also easily update people about new COVID restrictions. If people are particularly concerned and plan on not attending the wedding, the couple can offer a virtual option through their website, too.

As far as the reception goes, she’s seen a few different options. 1. Have the guests come in waves, starting with the elderly and vulnerable populations, so they can still visit with the couple and get some hors d’oeuvres and cake before the other, less concerned guests arrive; 2. Space out tables, and offer smaller tables.

“Maybe they don’t feel comfortable telling people how they feel, but they really are concerned,” Kennedy-Brown said. “So that gives them that opportunity and option of, ‘I’m going to stay out here more in the hallway,’ or, ‘I’ve got this pub table here in the back and it makes me feel more comfortable.’”

Should I get married this year or next?

Will you be willing to reduce your head count? Yes – 2021 | No – 2022

Are you okay with people being socially distanced? Yes – 2021 | No – 2022

Are you okay if a lot of guests skip dancing? Yes – 2021 | No – 2022

Are you okay if people are wearing masks in photos? Yes – 2021 | No – 2022

Can you budget for a plated, served meal to make your guests feel safer? Yes – 2021 | No – 2022

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