Q & A Planning the Perfect Southern Wedding
Emily Sullivan of Emily Sullivan Events and Intimate Weddings by Emily takes the cake this June, as she shares her in-depth insight into the wedding industry and how she found herself a leading competitor in the niche market of intimate weddings. With alternatives to big-budget, extravagant weddings that are more elaborate than an elopement, Emily and her team offer a simple yet impactful, customized experience that showcases a couple's unique personality. After 13 years in the business, Emily is an expert on best bridal practices and offers us her sage advice on how to make the most of your wedding budget and how to make your Big Day stress-free for everyone involved.
Q: How did you get started in the wedding planning industry?
I kind of just fell into it. I had been working for a cosmetics company, so I started to dabble in makeup for weddings. And then someone just said, “You seem organized, do you want to do my day-of coordination?” So I was like, “Yeah, I’ll try it!”, and so I did. It was scary but I started full-service planning within a year of that. It wasn’t necessarily something that I had a strategy for, it was just a good fit.
Q: What inspires you to create for your clients?
I think it’s very hard to be creative on command — it's more like a state of being. I'm always looking for inspiration. Once I get to know my clients, I’m always thinking about it, and it comes through a relational process. The more you know your clients, the more you can come up with unique things for them.
Sometimes they don’t know what they want and that’s great too because then you can really get creative. When you have too many boundaries, it’s really hard.
Q: What drew you into the niche market of intimate weddings?
I started to think about how weddings are changing and what people want from weddings and that brought up this all-inclusive package that we do now.
It’s not a budget thing, they still have great budgets. But we found that people just want it to be simple and they want it to be custom. Clients are moving more towards that in the future because they want to get back to the root of what it’s all about — which is getting married surrounded by the people that you really care about.
Q: Are larger, more extravagant weddings fading out compared to intimate weddings?
I think we will see our share of both. I think that the wedding market has always been elopement or big wedding and nothing in between — and that’s what we’re trying to do. That 50 people or under. I foresee that growing in the next year or so.
Mike Lirette Photography
Q: What does your Intimate Wedding Package look like?
It’s all-inclusive — the basic things are included [which] would mean the ceremony, reception location, food, drinks, officiant, ceremony music, bouquets, boutonnieres, cake, DJ, etc.
Clients then get to choose their own upgrades. Those upgrades could be a Second Line with a band, it could be videography, it could be hair and makeup on site — they choose from a list and we customize it.
Q: What is the most creative thing you have done for a wedding or reception?
Last year, we did a ceremony on a moving streetcar. We had different stops down St. Charles Avenue — at the first stop, friends and family got on; the second stop, the bridal party got on; and at the last stop, the bride got on. We had a ceremony musician, the officiant stood at the front, and the streetcar was actually moving while they were taking their vows.
Q: What do you think wedding guests enjoy the most?
I always tell people I’m a snob about food and music, and I think that is particular to my region. People care about the food; they want to have good food. That’s an expectation. I can honestly say that in New Orleans we don’t have a lot of “bad food”, which is a plus, but guests care about taste and they care about how you make them feel.
We love signage and custom things that make everything pretty, but at the end of the day, most guests do not remember those types of things. They remember more about how they felt at your wedding.
Particularly, for us, logistics [are important]. You don’t ever want to have a part of the day where a guest is like “What’s going on?" — standing out in the hot sun waiting for a bus that’s not on time. Guests are going to remember the flow, that everything went really well and that at no point was there any confusion. That’s particularly important in the kind of weddings we do because they’re destination weddings. Most of the time, guests aren’t from the city so we want to give them this experience of what New Orleans is like because they’re out of their element.
Q: How do you keep a reception exciting?
A flow, obviously. There’s a reason we do everything in the order that we do it in. Good music is so important. You can make it more fun by having surprise elements — come up with things that guests are not expecting, like music or entertainment. Some big things right now that we love are late-night snacks, [creating] surprises though food like Champagne popsicles or Lucky Dog carts.
The most important thing [to remember] in wedding planning is customization. All the way through, everything is custom. People want things that no one else has had, or they want things that are unique to them, or they want unique experiences — and they really want it to be a reflection of them.
One of my favorite examples: I had a groom who ate cereal at night, every single night. So instead of a having a groom's cake, he served everybody a bowl of cereal. It doesn’t have to be crazy, it just has to be a reflection of you.
It’s important though, when it comes to weddings, that we ultimately don’t get so far out of the wheelhouse that we forget what we’re actually there for. It’s a challenge because you want to do new things and stay relevant, but you also want to keep it simple and remember we’re there for the wedding itself.
Q: Where should a bride start as she begins to plan her wedding?
You should start with a wedding planner if you’re considering having one. So many times, I get clients that have already made commitments and then I can’t fix it, because you’re in a contract with someone. Hiring a wedding planner up front who really knows how to read contracts and knows what to expect can save you from getting into situations that you can’t correct later on.
Also, the first thing I like to do with my clients is to put the budget down on paper. It’s a workable budget, it’s always changing, but it gives an idea of what we can spend in each area.
Q: Why is a good wedding planner so valuable?
First of all, we know what’s realistic and what isn’t. I know if you’re getting a great deal on things or if you’re paying more than what’s it’s worth. It’s not always [that] we’re concerned with the bottom dollar, we’re just more concerned with the value of what you’re getting.
We know people. I’ve spent years creating relationships — I'm 13 years in — which makes it possible to fix problems quickly. We make it our business to have good relationships with people. [And] it always goes back to the logistics — we're problem solvers. I tell my clients in our first interview, "Your building could burn down and you’re not going to know about it until I’ve already fixed it and given you an alternative." We always say within our team #FigureItOut — because that’s what we do. That’s what I want everybody on our team to do, not just me. There’s nothing we’re above doing if it means creating the event or experience. We’re going to stop at nothing to make sure that nothing messes up that one single day.
Lizzie has been at Loews New Orleans since January 2016 and is a new resident of the Big Easy—but no stranger to its rich culture, colorful character and incredible cuisine. Her mom’s a NOLA native, and she’s excited to be returning to her roots.