When not keeping the Middle West squad in line (and/or not running global consumer marketing for Cat Footwear) the amazing Jamie Kirby dabbles in wedding planning (dabbles = 10 years and over 50 weddings). Heyday Lab is a passion project that has taught Jamie countless lessons over the years, and with the end of the year upon us it seemed like a great time to ask her some questions about her year in weddings. Somehow despite all she does...she made the time to answer the following:
Middle West: Let's start basics, how many weddings did you have this year?
Jamie Kirby: 6.
MW: Were all of them in Michigan?
JK: 5 in Michigan and 1 elopement in Breckinridge, CO.
MW: Let's start at the beginning, how do you find clients? How do clients find you?
JK: Generally clients find me. But in 2017, I was lucky enough to have three dear friends who I got to work with which was amazing and kind of rare. The others found me through Instagram. A lot of my clients seem to be couples from elsewhere, but want to get married here. Maybe one of them grew up here, but they live somewhere else now. I like to think my quirkiness maybe appeals to out-of-towners. They seem to like my weirdness.
MW: Yay for Instagram. Yay fo yo weirdness. So after a client reaches out, what's the next step? How do you get to know them? How do you make sure it's the right fit?
JK: That's so important to me. Because this is my "fun" job, I always want to be sure that the relationship is enjoyable for both the client and for me. I spend a lot of time talking to the client. Learning about not just their engagement, but how they spend their time, what their hobbies are, etc. When they mention something they love, like maybe they're eating a Twix bar, I always try to remember that and incorporate it back in later. That can really make those little special moments feel personal and just for them.
MW: How do you get to a concept or a theme? Just from those interviews?
JK: I always ask them "what do you want your guests to say when they're driving home or when they're getting in bed after the event's over?" It makes them think about the guest experience and the comments they give are things we can return to throughout the process. I'm always asking "will this give the feeling we want?" with each detail. We also have a specific meeting where we go thru - it's mostly Pinterest now, it used to be bridal magazines - but we go thru photos to try to discover what it is that they're drawn to. Then I work to find a way to bring all those ideas together into a visual concept in the form of spreadsheet and powerpoint.
MW: Shocker! (Jamie is our resident Galactic Ruler of All Things Spreadsheet)
JK: Shocking, I know. It's a beginning to end, walk through of each step of the experience for their guests. From receiving the save the date to the last touch point as they leave the reception.
MW: That's the second time you've mentioned that and it seems really important: you're very guest/user experience oriented aren't you? You've brought that kind of thinking to everything we do, and I think it should be noticed that you're pretty radically user-focused.
JK: I mean, even though it is the bride and grooms' day. I work hard to make them focus, and make sure I focus, on their guests. I'm not the kind of wedding planner to make sure they have mimosas in the morning, but that no one else gets taken care of. It's about them, but they want their guests to have a great experience and if they do then they'll love it too.
MW: Something we haven't talked about yet: when does location come into the equation? Obviously that's a huge part of what you can do.
JK: Most of the time clients come to me with their location already in mind. If not it's all about does the vibe match? Can this venue support the concept we have in mind?
MW: Talk to me about your favorite phrase, "managing expectations." Why is it so important to you that you're clients have a good sense of what exactly to expect?
JK: I want the whole process to be one where we're working together to create the experience. There are some wedding planners who get the outlines and then go and make it happen; I want it to be a process that we go through together. I don't want them to be surprised at the event. I want them to be delighted when they see our vision come together.
MW: So they get some of the creative energy too?
JK: Yes! Exactly. To me it is so much more rewarding to work with them to accomplish everything they want it to be. I like to say that I get to "turn on a light in a new room in their brain." They kind of know what they want, but I get to work with them to show them how to make things possible. I'm sort've their "wedding spirit guide".
MW: Haha. I like that. Let's make sure we add that to your LinkedIn page. Okay, so maybe that gets us to the actual location and the event. Talk about how, and this totally applies to things Middle West does to, things can change once you get on sight.
JK: Totally. I once got a fortune cookie that said "over-prepare and then go with the flow" and I've had it at my desk for like 5 years. An event is never how you planned it. Life is never how you planned it. So having a really clear set of what must happen, but then being able to be flexible is crucial. I always work really closely with the client to have them understand the full picture so that we can adjust because of weather or a weird sight line or bugs or long set-up time. And that has to do with the timeline too. I'd much rather wait till grandma's out of the bathroom to start the toasts than be right at 8 o'clock. It needs to feel right, but you can only do that if you have a solid plan in place first.
MW: Let's return to this years weddings. Six weddings. Six very different looks. It seems like you don't have a particular style per say.
JK: Totally. I had a client meeting last weekend where they asked "what's your style?" And I told them it doesn't really matter. I never try impose my style on their night. I'm trying to represent them and what they feel like. I don't want to be the person you come to for a particular kind of wedding. I want to be the person you come to for your wedding.
MW: That seems pretty apparent to me from the outside looking in.. Okay, specifics. What was something that surprised you about this year?
JK: It's kind of general thing that goes across a few of the weddings so maybe it's a trend. I had one wedding where the couple had met at a music festival and they wanted the wedding to feel like that. So we had yard games and hay rides and a corn maze and different kinds of bands as the night went on, and I was a little worried that people wouldn't take advantage of all those things without some handholding. Then there was another wedding where we set up dinner without assigned seating and really without enough seats for everyone. It was a casual dining set-up (from the Southerner!!!), but still it seemed like kind of a no-no to not tell people where to go and when to do it. In both cases, the guests totally got it and casualness gave off the perfect vibe. Exactly what the couples were hoping for. People were way more relaxed and intuitive than I thought they would be, and they were happy and it was such a great feeling. I think I learned something from that.
MW: That's really great and really interesting trend. It also totally steals my last question which was going to be what you've learned from all your Heydays.
JK: Oh so much. I bring wedding planning into everything I do for Middle West and Cat and everything else.
MW: That too is pretty apparent from the outside looking in. That's all I go so I think it's the perfect place to call it a day (a Heyday). Thanks for answering all the questions. Sounds like a pretty great year.
JK: So good. So so good.