[INTERVIEW] Sandy Malone: “I’ve planned 500 weddings”
Here’s one of my favorite interviews so far, featuring Sandy Malone, one of the most charismatic and energetic wedding planners I’ve ever spoken to. Sandy has ton of wedding-related experience and I’m sure her answers will WOW you as well as they WOWed me.
Q: Sandy, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with us. I feel like you have a lot of wedding knowledge to share! First of all, tell us why wedding planning?
A: I planned my own destination wedding on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, in 2004, and although all my guests had a fantastic time, I didn’t have fun because I was too busy worrying about the little details and triaging the problems. I’d been planning events (including weddings for friends) in the Washington, DC, area for years, and got married in Vieques after finding it while consulting for the Government of Puerto Rico. We bought a vacation home here and fell in love with the island. There wasn’t a wedding planner on Vieques and when the time was right for my husband to retire as a police captain in DC, we took advantage of the opportunity to fill a niche that was desperately needed. And the company exploded!
A: I began my professional career as a political journalist. I was managing editor of Campaigns & Elections Magazine during the 1996 election cycle, and then went on to write the first Politics.Net column for the Wall Street Journal before they even had a Tech page. But I’ve been party planning since high school when my parents found themselves in our Headmaster’s office explaining how their daughter had managed to pull off a hotel suite party for hundreds of high school students after a dance. I was always the one who organized the group events for my friends and their friends, and this continued into college. But my other first love has always been writing. I won my first journalism award in high school, and went on to win several national awards while at The Ohio State University. Being able to teach brides and grooms how to plan their weddings and what pitfalls to avoid has become a passion for me – and my columns run in BRIDES and The Huffington Post several times a week. I blog for lots of other publications too, but there’s only so much time. I have my first book – a how to DIY your own destination wedding guide – coming out in early Spring 2016!
A: I am the star of TLC’s “Wedding Island,” which originally aired in 2013. That show was bought by FOX International and has aired (and continues to air) all over the world in a multitude of languages. It’s the only reality wedding show that has ever shown that back-end (or inside) of how a destination wedding planning company really works, complete with disasters and emergencies. You’ll find tons of links online and on my web pages.
Q: As for your duties as a wedding planner, what is it that you can do for a bride in the process of planning the actual event?
A: In wedding planning, I wear two different hats – sometimes I’m a traditional wedding planner. That means I take care of everything, from writing the travel information packets and helping clients choose everything from their venue to décor. And I also make everything run smoothly week of the actual wedding so that my clients can relax and be the “Guests of Honor” rather than the “hosts” of their own wedding events.
I also do DIY wedding planning consulting. This is something that no other planner I know does for clients – I’ll treat it like a wedding I’m planning and go through everything the couple has put together and help them look for potential problems, vendor red flags, and anything else that could take away from their perfect wedding. Depending on the clients, I may create all the materials they send to their guests, write their schedules and confirm their vendors. Some DIY brides and grooms just need guidance – some need actual planning assistance. I’m happy to help. Not many wedding planners are willing to give away their secrets to clients who want to do it themselves. I decided not to fight the DIY planning trend – instead I’m embracing it and making myself a resource for creative, self-motivated brides and grooms.
A: On an average wedding day, my crew meets at the office at the crack of dawn to begin loading. Because we’re on a remote island, we’re not just the planners – we also bring in a setup crew that takes care of setting up equipment, furniture, lights and everything else that’s needed. We start setting up early – doing everything possible (you can’t put out linens or anything else that shouldn’t be rained on in the Caribbean until the last minute), and then we run home and shower and dress up like “real” wedding planners, and return to the wedding venue to coordinate all of the vendors as they arrive and set up. We send the bride down the aisle on time (that’s key), supervise the cocktail reception and dinner, act as the master of ceremonies for events, and trouble shoot anything that pops up – hopefully before the brides and grooms are even aware of the problem. Our goal is to give our couples a beautiful, stress-free wedding day full of fabulous memories.
Q: From your experience, what do you feel is the biggest mistake that brides make when trying to choose the right wedding planner?
A: You get what you pay for, and when you hear about brides hiring “certified” wedding planners they found on social media for $500, you have to wonder what exactly that wedding planner is going to do for them, and how much experience she actually has. You have to think about what you want a planner to do for you, and how much of a perfectionist you are. I’ve dealt with too many brides who initially hired somebody else less expensive (often new in the industry and willing to work for very little to get their business off the ground) who doesn’t have enough destination wedding planning experience to make wedding planning fun for the bride and groom. A perfect example was on the Bravo TV show “Vanderpump Rules” when Scheana Marie hired a coordinator she found cheap on Instagram and ended up with a hot organizational mess on her wedding day. Nothing went the way the bride had envisioned it and she spent a good part of her day screaming about, or at, her wedding planner. I’ve jumped in to triage many weddings for clients who either had to fire a bad wedding planner, or tried to DIY and got stuck, just a couple months before the big day. I believe it’s worth it to do things right from the beginning. And if you’re DIYing it and you don’t know what you’re doing, seek out advice from somebody like me who is willing to give you the forms, spreadsheets and charts that you need to keep everything organized so that your planning is successful.
Q: What sets you apart from other wedding planners out there?
A: I think too many planners will agree to do ANYTHING that brides and grooms ask for without explaining the cost and stress associated with the request. I don’t do that. I tell my clients the honest-to-God truth about the realities of their requests. Most people respect my honesty. I tell them from the beginning that I reserve the right to laugh at them, but I’ll do it to their faces and we’ll laugh about it together. Pinterest has made all the nice, normal girls nuts at least once in their wedding planning. I’m also different in dealing with actually executing a wedding. I don’t pretend I’m a guest – I know I’m the planner and understand my role. When I’m on site at a wedding, I’m 100 percent focused on the event. While we have guests on the island, my team doesn’t drink because we know we’re the point people in case of emergency. My clients know that when they arrive for their weddings, all they have to do is follow the schedule I’ve provided to them and be where they’re supposed to be on time, and everything will go smoothly.
Q: Describe one of the most emotional events you were part of when planning a wedding.
A: I’ve planned 500 weddings, so it’s hard to choose just one special story. Something that touches me every time is when I see two families, both with multiple children, blending together through a new marriage. I’ve had intimate weddings where all the kids seemed more excited about the pending union than the bride and groom (and they were happy too). Young children are fun to watch going through the experience, but it’s also special to watch teenage and young adult children of both the bride and groom working together as a family during the wedding weekend. We had one group that arrived in matching team t-shirts representing their amazing union. When these blended families weddings happen, you can see just as much hope in the eyes of all the kids as in the faces of the couple about to be married.
A: There is a belief that your wedding has to be “different” from everybody else’s – and that’s true. But it will be different, no matter where you get married or how you plan it, simply because it’s YOUR wedding. While your wedding should reflect your taste and style, it isn’t necessary to seek out the most unusual, complicated, and expensive things that you’d never even thought of before just so you can be “different.” Sometimes unscrupulous wedding vendors take advantage of those girls and charge them an arm and a leg for the dumbest stuff on the planet, at the same time the bride and groom are struggling with their budget. While I can understand not wanting to have your wedding be just like your sister’s was, you don’t have to throw all that is conventional to the wind in an effort to throw a wedding unlike anything anyone else has ever seen.
A: Trust your gut instincts when you’re planning your wedding. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. That goes for choosing a wedding planner, or if you’re DIYing, choosing everything else too. If you don’t know what you’re doing, get help from somebody like me who offers DIY consulting services. Our new company Sandy Malone Weddings & Events, based in the DC-area, is offering both traditional planning services and DIY consulting for brides and grooms all over. There’s no reason you should be stressed out when there are resources available to make wedding planning fun, and make sure your events run smoothly in the process.