Networking isn’t something that comes easy to introverts, and this little Black duck just happens to be one of the worst networkers in Melbourne. But in the Melbourne wedding industry, where referrals are (just about) everything, I do make the occasional effort to get to know my fellow wedding suppliers.
When Rosie from Sensation Entertainment told me that she was starting a new initiative with Michael Lee from the Brighton Savoy, I pulled my head out of the sand, blinked a couple of times, and indicated my interest. It’s called WINE, which stands for Wedding Industry Network Events (love me a good acronym).
Their debut event was held last Monday night at the Wellington Room at the Savoy. Tickets were only $35, and included food and drink, so I figured if nothing else I would get a feed out of it.
Turns out I got a whole lot more than that.
After an introduction by Rosie, who was the MC for the night, Network Ten weatherman, marriage celebrant, corporate host, and all-round nice guy Mike Larkan took to the lectern. As anyone who has seen him presenting the weather would know, Mike is a great public speaker – he’s fast and funny and doesn’t take himself too seriously. One of the female guests went into a swoon at one point, but Mike expertly defused the situation and no lasting harm was done.
He gave the audience some insight into how he handles bookings, particularly what proportion of gigs he accepts and turns down, and the reasons he turns them down (apart from anything else he does 4 or 5 shows a week as it is – great problem to have).
The main takeaways from his speech were:
1. It’s as important to impress other suppliers and venues as it is to impress your clients. Recommendations and word of mouth are the most powerful marketing tools we have.
2. You should never recommend anyone you have not seen in action. People mightn’t remember when you gave good advice, but they will always remember when you gave bad advice.
3. You should be picky about which bookings you accept, commensurate with your skills and experience and the quality of your product or service.
4. You should be honest with yourself about the value of your product/service, and not pitch yourself either too high or too low.
Next up was Michael Lee from the Brighton Savoy. Michael is one of the most savvy operators in Melbourne. He regularly goes overseas to discover the latest wedding trends – these typically arrive in Australia the following season. He radiates tremendous energy and enthusiasm, and clearly loves what he does. He’s also quite self-effacing and humble.
He began by describing a meeting he had 15 years ago with reps from The Yellow Pages, with whom his business was spending many thousands of dollars in print advertising. He raised the spectre of the internet in the meeting, and was told by the reps that it was “a fad” that would pass. This got a laugh from everyone in the room.
Although he touched briefly on Google search rankings and the way sponsored ads have begun encroaching on organic listings, he mainly talked about social media and its effect on the wedding industry – particularly Facebook and Instagram. He then asked who of us had checked in on Instagram yet. Only a few hands went up. Suddenly everyone was reaching for their phones. This was clearly not the kind of environment where playing with your phone while someone was talking was frowned upon. So I took a quick snap of Michael, whacked it up on Instagram and Facebook, and tagged the Savoy. Some other suppliers in the room saw it and liked it. Instant networking!
That was the end of the “you sit there and listen” part of the night. It was followed by the “now go forth and network” part, and boy did we go forth. At one point you couldn’t move there were so many people taking photographs of each other. Being the introvert in the room I hung back, but I did get nudged into the firing line of a camera with a couple of the blokes.
It was then all about meeting people, and what struck me was how few I had met before. Of the people there I had previously only met Rosie from Sensation, Mike Larkan, Michael from the Savoy, and Renata from Weddings of Distinction. All I can conclude is that there must be an awful lot of wedding suppliers in Melbourne. On the other hand, because I’m only usually present for the wedding itself, I rarely run into all the people involved behind the scenes. We’re like ships in the night.
Two such people were Kerrie Gargano and Kerrie-Anne Higgins, the lovely ladies from Magical Makeovers, a wedding hair and makeup stylist. Being a straight bloke my interest in this kind of thing is limited (there are people out there who find live music pretty boring too I guess), however it was interesting to hear how they fit in. They seemed similarly oblivious about what I do at a wedding, and I was only too glad to fill them in.
Next I met Patrick and Diana from Euro Photography, who specialise in high-end photographic services primarily for international weddings. They told me about the Albanian wedding functions they do that have 800 guests and go until 3am – something I haven’t experienced since the late 90s when I was a waiter at a function centre in Dandenong. International weddings really are a different ballgame.
Marriage celebrant Sarah Aird, and Meg Marshall from dress rental company Simply Borrowed, got my attention next. Sarah is quite possibly the bubbliest person I have ever met, and I can only imagine that she’s a lot of fun as a celebrant. Both ladies were the life of the party and I had to tear myself away from them or else I would have talked to them all night and ignored everyone else.
At the bar I bumped into Brenton from Plan My Gay Wedding. Brenton wants to educate wedding industry suppliers about this growing market (which is sure to grow even faster should same-sex marriage be legalised). I really have no idea how to market to same-sex couples – or at least I didn’t until I spoke to Brenton. After patiently brushing aside my (not quite serious) suggestion to simply fill our sets with Kylie Minogue songs, he explained that the main thing to do is keep the language flexible. Essentially this means not using the terms “bride” and “bridal”, as it puts gay couples off. What is equally off-putting is when a supplier goes too far in the other direction and exaggerates the difference between gay and straight weddings (there really aren’t that many differences when you think about it). What I got out of this is that same-sex couples want to get married just like everyone else, without a big fuss being made about them being different. When I got home I checked my website and social media pages and found only one mention of the word “bride” (which I deleted). Lo and behold, I was being a sensitive, thoughtful chap without even realising it. That’s a first.
Next I met Shannon Towan from Music With Memories. It was good to chat with him because we have a lot in common: he used to be a drummer and became a DJ six years ago. Genuinely funny bloke, and I hope to work with him at a show some time soon.
Towards the end of the night I spoke to Jon from wedding car hire company Mustangs in Black. After admitting that, like myself, he was a bit overwhelmed by face-to-face networking, we got talking about his well-established business, which now operates out of both Melbourne and Sydney. Mustangs in Black has a tremendous social media presence. Jon told me that the secret was to get someone else to do it for him. My day-job involves doing digital marketing for other businesses, and I loathe doing my own marketing (I guess it’s like playing at your own wedding), so his suggestion was enticing, and I plan to investigate it further. Jon gives all his drivers cameras and gets them to take shots while they’re out on the road; they capture interesting and expressive shots that pro photographers would usually miss. His clients are, of course, stoked. An excellent example of value-adding, and the photos also help market his business. It must be said though that businesses like Jon’s with their beautiful props are made for Instagram; the rest of us have to try a little bit harder!
All-in-all I’m glad I attended the event, and look forward to the next one.