Toss the Bouquet

I went to Toss the Bouquet yesterday. A full day of presentations and panels with industry leaders organized and styled by Beth Bernstein of SQN Events with floral designed by Natalie Walsh of Hello, Darling. Mondays are usually pretty scrubby for me unpacking, washing, answering emails, so walking into the W Chicago City Center Hotel--showered, ironed--was a very, very swanky upgrade. Everything looked fantastic, lovely teal and shimmering metalics throughout. Each of the attendees received a name tag with their name, company, and icon to show what kind of company they had--I had the rare candelabra--thanks, Courtney Callahan ;-). From morning 'til night the W staff and organizers were so thoughtful with food and drinks and breaks (with coffee and chocolate). When Beth saw some people rubbing their hands--okay, that was me, I'm from here, but my internal thermostat is broken--she turned up the heat.

But, what did I get out of it besides mini quiches, chocolates, and a nice notebook? To paraphrase one of the presenters, it was like drinking from a fire hose at moments. I took notes and some things percolated over the cocktail hour conversation last night and today some ideas floated to the top.

Check out the whole list of presenters. We were pretty lucky.

1. There are a lot of different ways to do business in this industry. Debbie Geller does major 10,000 person events and she doesn't do social media and, by her own admission, hasn't updated her website in 6 years. She builds her business through referrals, and she obviously is really great at what she does. Some people, blog, tweet, instagram, facebook and pinterest 'til the cows come home to reach their audience and it works for them. That is alright.

2.  Ami Price, editor of Elizabeth Anne Designs, had good advice about looking into what kind of online presence blogs have when you're deciding where to submit. Some blogs with big traffic have smaller Facebook readership than sites with less traffic. It's about who you want to reach. The online landscape changes quickly and there is no stable algorithm. This was actually heartening for me because it means I need to find what works for me to reach my intended audience, not that I need to go on a quest to discover a magic piece of information that will make it all work. Also, Liene Stevens of Think Splendid confirmed my suspicion that having a Google+ presence does improve Google search rank. So, I joined.

2. Also, thanks to Liene, I am a Millennial...possibly. I thought I was a younger member of Generation X, but I may be a really old Millennial. Someone in line for snacks said, "You're on the cusp!"

Liene gave an interesting social research-based presentation on Millennials' behavior and values as it relates to weddings and I have to say it resonated. I don't like B.S. (after Watergate, who does?), I do care about food and where it comes from, I did have a very friend-centered wedding, DIY (not just for my wedding) is a necessary creative-outlet-cum-life-coping strategy, I do think that both pairs of my grandparents, married 50+ years, are kind of heroic in that respect, I value their commitment to each other and want that, and I do go online to meticulously learn about anything I'm going to invest in.

After Liene's  talk I decided that I'll fly my Millennial flag a little higher. For the record, I am cool with the DIY weddings. There is a dark underbelly. (Just ask your family and friends afterward. Or I'll give you my sister's number.) But you are my tribe.

3. Heterosexist language in the wedding industry happens for the most part unintentionally and without malice. Bernadette Coveney-Smith of 14 Stories, had practical advice on how to check your language from your website to your contracts to not exclude gay couples. Other attendees I talked to took this to heart. A gasp went up when Bernadette shared her survey data that showed that more than 20% of gay couples experience some form of homophobic discrimination from their vendors or potential vendors when planning their wedding. One company that disapproved of same-sex couples getting married told a couple that they wouldn't refuse their business, but would donate their payment to an ex-gay organization. How thoughtful.

Bonus myth-busting for me: lesbians actually spend more on their weddings than gay men. That was a surprise.

And little known fact: gay weddings have the highest percentage of awesome performers. I don't know if that was stated, but the photos made it clear. My wedding had a surprise fire dancer, but there was a high percentage of gay guests, so I think the fact still holds.

4. The Chicago wedding and event industry is really nice. Not fake nice, but the we're-all-in-this-together-for-real nice. Many of the speakers called attention to this and the fact that this share/share-alike dynamic is not present in every region in the country. Go, Midwestern values--our parents raised us right on meatloaf and humility.

5. The three ladies behind The White Dress in Color are awesome. There was a real love, mutual appreciation, and joy emanating from their conversation. The Costa Rica shoot with the horses and the waterfall and the gorgeous models, and the rain and beach...is a dream, and not the one where I'm washing dishes and answering emails--the audience got teary. I got a chance to talk with Candace Coppola and Carla Ten Eyck and they are just dedicated totally to creating beautiful images, together with Beth Chapman, in spite of the rain and all the obstacles. They were really honest in saying that sometimes business can be repetitive, and sometimes beauty, useless beauty, is an end unto itself, or it can get you through the rest of the slog.

6. Calder Clark's website will make you cry, she is blonde, has the cutest face, and lives in Charleston, but when she referred to herself as the Commandant of a wedding-making battalion, I thought, that is not a metaphor.

7.  Gwen Hotchman Stewart of Sidley Austin LPP spoke about intellectual property, trademarks, and creative commons licensing as it pertains to the industry. I now believe "Nimble Well" is an arbitrary mark and I'm going to look into trademarking it--thank you, Gwen. And thank you for saying, many times, that litigation is not usually worth it. But talk to your lawyer. Also, you are the brunette Alyson Hannigan, and your noir-themed wedding photos are amazing.

I had some more bullet points, but I'll wrap it up. The best part was spending the day with so many people who care and are good at what they do and like each other. It doesn't have to be hard.