An Open Letter to a few Wedding Planners: If you are doing this, you are breaking the law, not to mention breaking your clients’ trust!
Let me also preface this article by stating that I am no longer working as a lawyer and do not seek to provide any legal advice. If any legal advice is needed, please contact a lawyer.
Brides-to-be ask me for assistance and advice on a daily basis, and I help them plan their weddings. However, I am not, and do not seek to be, a “wedding planner”. I write wedding planning guides and sell a wedding diary and organiser, and the brides I talk to both plan their own weddings, and have wedding planners. I have no conflict of interest in writing this, I do so only in the interests of the wedding community – vendors and couples alike.
I didn’t use a wedding planner, but for some people, I understand that adding the pressure of wedding planning onto your very busy life can be too much, and so you choose to engage a wedding planner/event planner/wedding stylist to assist with your vendor bookings, decor, styling and more. Hey, some wedding planners will even deal with your seating plan, guest list and wedding budget for you – and there’s nothing amiss about that!
However, on a number of occasions, brides-to-be have asked me for assistance when they discover that their wedding planner is doing something way beyond their responsibilities, and there is something seriously amiss about that. Most recently, one discovered that the planner was adding 25% onto every invoice before passing it onto her.
This is absolute corruption. We wouldn’t accept it from a Politician, a Real Estate Agent, or a Lawyer, and we must not accept it from Wedding Planners.
Like Lawyers, a wedding planner is a trusted advisor – also in a position of giving financial and emotional advice, to suggest the best vendor for the client.
Accepting secret commissions and kickbacks through the wedding vendor bookings their clients make through them is bribery and corruption, and needs to be stamped out.
This illegal practice distorts prices, reduces competitiveness, introduces uncertainty and risk into the market, and erodes fair and transparent business practices. It’s against the law (Secret Commissions Act 1910, Fair Trading Act 1986, and probably more).
To be clear, there’s nothing illegal about the wedding planner receiving a commission, kickback or bonus if you know about it. The client understands this and therefore there is no fraud and the situation is completely legal.
What you should do if you suspect your Wedding Planner is participating in this behaviour
If you suspect that your wedding planner may be doing/planning on doing so, I understand that you may feel like your relationship is tarnished already. Personally, I wouldn’t continue working so closely with someone who would be deceptive. If you actually discover your wedding planner has been doing so, I suggest you have her fee (and the commissions) refunded, and find someone new.
The most recent bride-to-be I spoke to about this actually did confront her wedding planner, and though the wedding planner did not deny it, understandably the bride didn’t feel comfortable to continue working with her. The way she discovered the breach was to contact the same suppliers for quotes directly, and found the 25% mark-up on each.
Two examples of commission requirements – 10% and 30%!
Avoid the Possibility Altogether
The easiest way is to pay wedding vendors directly, rather than using the planner as an agent. You will have an easier time negotiating a price with your vendors if you (or they) don’t have to pay a commission to someone else.
At the time of negotiating the planner’s rates and responsibilities you can explicitly state it in the contract, for the avoidance of any doubt, that there are to be no further payments to the wedding planner.
If your planner has a ‘preferred list’ of suppliers, you can certainly ask if there’s any kind of commission payable to her. If there is, I suggest you either choose your own vendors independently, or find another planner, because that’s a serious conflict of interest.
Most high-quality vendors have no need to pay a commission for a referral; they have enough business on their own merit. Likewise, a quality wedding planner will charge properly, and work efficiently, for her fee, and won’t rely on commissions and kick-backs.
Bottom line, if it feels wrong in the slightest or it’s a gray issue to you – it probably is wrong.
Tips on working with a wedding planner:
- Don’t be afraid to shop around for a planner, just as you would any other wedding vendor.
- Know what to ask your wedding vendor. The little white planning pack has lists of questions to work through, including pricing structure, experience, and for photos and testimonials from weddings they’ve planned. As an example:
- How long they have been in business?
- How many weddings they have organised? Can they provide references and a portfolio?
- How do they charge, hourly, fixed fee or % of your wedding budget?
- Do they accept commission or are all discounts passed onto the client?
- Do they operate on a full time basis or do they have another job?
- Do they have insurance?
- Meet for coffee and see if you’d want to be friends with her(/him) – if you don’t feel good rapport, will you really be able to work closely together for the following year?
- Ensure your fiance agrees with your decision to hire a planner, and that he gets on with them too – you don’t want a third party creating any friction.
- Before you sign on the dotted line, examine the contract. Does it include being there on the day in person (or will an assistant attend), and what post-wedding services are included?
Help spread the word for other Brides-to-be
If you are a client (or wedding vendor) who has been affected by such practices, please share this article.
Vendors, don’t be a part of such agreements. Send your quotes and invoices directly to the client, and ensure money doesn’t go through the wedding planner. These agreements are destroying the integrity of the wedding and event industry by eroding vendor ability to make a profit while providing high-quality products and services.
Wedding planners, I know that most of you would never do this, and the more transparent you can be about your fees, and lack of commission taken, the less likely these unscrupulous planners can continue their behaviour. If you want to thank other vendors for referrals, send wine or chocolate!