If you’re searching online for a wedding planner in Paris, you may be surprised to see the large number of agencies that are out there, especially when you consider the fact that the wedding planning industry is pretty new to France. One of the main reasons that I started my wedding planning agency in Paris was because I desperately needed help planning my own wedding in France while I was living in the U.S.. I didn’t speak French, and my husband’s sisters didn’t speak English-, which made me a complete wreck the entire time that we were organizing our wedding. Although at the time we didn’t have any definite plans to move to France, I remember thinking that if we ever did move, I would definitely consider becoming a wedding consultant (I was planning corporate and social events at the time- so it was a natural transition). Not long after we were married, my husband’s company transferred us to Paris, and I settled into motherhood and expat life, all the while keeping my eye on wedding planning. When we arrived in France 7 years ago, there were (I believe) only 3 or 4 French wedding planning agencies with an internet presence in the Paris region. By the time that I was ready to start my agency, the number of wedding planning companies in Paris had grown. I would say that 2 years ago, there were roughly 8 or 9 companies with a strong online presence. Today, I feel like that number has doubled, if not tripled. The majority of the websites that you come across for planning weddings in Paris will also have a page in English, which sort of puts all of the agencies on the same, basic level. So, how do you go about choosing the right wedding planning company in Paris if they all have flashy, English-language websites? Well, here are a few topics to consider to help you make the best decision for your situation:
As can be expected with such rapid growth, the quality of service from some wedding planning companies can sometimes be a bit shaky. I’ve seen ads in the back of the free paper on the metro advertising “Formation Wedding Planner”. They usually cost a couple hundred euros and last a day or two. One class plus a cute Joomla template and some good translation software and voila: “Fifi’s Rêves du Mariages”!. Just keep in mind that, as in the US, different wedding planners in France have different strengths and weaknesses. For instance, one thing that I’ve noticed is that in France, some people (wedding professionals included, alas) get confused between a wedding planner/consultant/organizer (pick yer term!), and a wedding decorator. The thing is that the standard French wedding is pretty formulaic. It’s rooted in tradition, everyone knows more-or-less what to expect, everyone gets just that, and everyone goes home happy. I don’t mean to imply that French weddings are generic- far from it! There can be unexpected elements at French weddings (surprise songs, funny games- anything, really!) but in general there isn’t the overall frenzy of customization that you find with American weddings. If a bride does want to do something a bit out of the ordinary with her wedding, it would more than likely be in the ambiance of the reception venue- the flowers, the centerpieces, the place settings, etc. So you’ll notice quite a bit of emphasis on decoration on some wedding planners’ sites. If you’re comfortable with the back-end organization of your wedding (maybe you’ve already booked your vendors, are comfortable speaking French, etc), but are looking for someone to put a bit of a French Flair to the look and feel of the event, I’d say that this type of company could work for you.
Another important difference is that in the States you can be married pretty much anywhere you want to- underwater, in a Wal-Mart, skydiving… It’s assumed to be part of a wedding planner’s job to help scout out and/or create a ceremony space for their clients, if contracted to do so. It’s a fairly run-of-the-mill request, and a client could rest assured that their planner would look at things like ambiance, logistics, seating, flow, lighting, etc. when scouting their ceremony space. Clients would also receive help in crafting their ceremony- their wedding planner would help them to incorporate their family or cultural traditions, or assist them as they created a new, personalized ceremony. In France, though, you can only be legally married at City Hall or in a place of worship. These ceremonies are not open to modification. A religious ceremony in France follows a format that is dictated by the particular religion, and a City Hall ceremony is more of a paper-signing formality. You can have your reception pretty much anywhere, but try to explain to someone that you want to set up an alter in an art gallery so that you can get married there, and you’ll be met with a blank stare (followed by a murmured, “c’est pas possible“). When speaking with a potential wedding planner in France, you may want to make sure that they’ve organized actual ceremonies in eclectic venues, as well as are comfortable with the significance of a personalized, non-religious ceremony.
One major difference between the average French and American wedding planning company is the issue of commission fees. Liene at Blue Orchid Blog posted about this last week, and it really got me thinking- I mulled it over for a while and decided to post anyway. As you can see by Liene’s post and the comments that followed, the topic of kickbacks and commissions in the wedding industry in the States is a very hot one. Although the US wedding industry isn’t legally regulated in any way, there are respected associations as well as individual business owners who self-regulate by adhering to a personal code of ethics. Because wedding planning is so new to France, everyone is making up their own rules, and applying other business practices to wedding planning. One of these practices is “sales commissions”. When I started this agency, it never dawned on me to ask for a commission from my clients or my vendors. I know that the vendors that I work with are top-of-their-game, dynamic, creative professionals. I select vendors who I think “get” my clients’ vision of their event, who are fun to work with and who are going to make my clients and my agency look good. I thought that was obvious and normal until I had a peak at another agency’s contract and saw that they were charging clients a 10% “service charge” on top of their consulting fee! I started asking around, and found that yes, it’s standard practice for wedding planners in Paris to charge a commission. I think this is sneaky and unfair- if you’re planning an overseas destination wedding you’re already in a vulnerable place- you are putting all of your faith in someone that you probably won’t even meet until a few days before your wedding. You’ve got to feel that that person and the vendors that they’ve selected for you have your best interest in mind, and that you’re not just being sold on someone because they’ve paid the highest price. I’ve even had vendors who have had to raise their prices in order to pay the planner’s commission fees! I started complaining about this to people in the industry here and was told that that’s “how it is” in France, and basically that I was stupid for choosing not to follow suit - I was told this both by French and Americans, by the way- greed has no bias. I may be stupid, but I choose to stand by my principles- for me, a great review or reference is worth so much more than 10% of a “sale”.
So, if commissions are “the norm” in France, what can you do to be sure that you’re getting the best service from a potential wedding planner? For one, you can ask them directly about their commission fees, and see if you’re comfortable with their answer. You can also ask them how many different vendors you’re being presented with for each category of service, and the range of fees for each one- if you’re being charged a 10% commission on a 1000€ dj, can they suggest a more moderately priced dj? Ask if they charge their vendors a commission, and if so- how much? Ask how long they’ve been in business- if a business has only been around for a few months, do you feel confident that they’ve built strong enough vendor relationships to warrant a commission? Lastly, look at the big picture, shop around- and go with your gut.
You don’t need me to tell you that Paris is one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world. AND it’s a great place to get married . But, like planning any destination event, planning a wedding in Paris will have its ups and downs. One of the best ways to ensure that the experience will be a great one is by going in with your eyes open and your head on straight.
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