How lucky are we, being members of the National Association of Wedding Professionals we get to meet some awesome people and none more awesome than celebrity wedding planner, TV star and NAWP founder Siobhan Craven-Robins……..
Siobhan is a an exceptionally busy lady with not only her famous wedding planning career, the NAWP but also University lecturing at two London Universities. When we approached Siobhan for an interview it was kind of a long shot, but in typical Siobhan style she made the time to have a chat with us. So what did we have to ask her… read on….?
Siobhan, you are widely credited with bringing the whole concept of having a wedding planner to the UK back in 1996 and since then you have become as famous as some of the celebrities you have planned weddings for! Can you tell us a little of this story?
Starting my wedding planning business really was a ‘blinding flash’ moment that I recall so vividly that it could have been a couple of years ago rather than a couple of decades ago! It had felt like a long working week and on a relaxing Friday night out, fuelled by a couple of Long Island Iced Teas, the conversation turned to what I would really like to do next on my career path. So here I am now, some 23 years later, still enjoying it and grateful for the success it became.
As there were no other wedding planners in the UK in 1995, I had to establish whether this was due to lack of need or if the idea really hadn’t been previously cultivated. This made my subsequent market research quite complex as I wasn’t researching the viability of an already established profession – I was having to introduce an idea and gauge its value as well as research it as a business model. This largely involved talking to anyone who had just got married and visiting wedding shows and talking to couples about their planning process and its challenges. After 8 months of research and business planning I launched in November 1996.
At this time, websites were just coming into being, and there were no online directories as yet! I advertised in the classifieds section of Brides and You and Your Wedding, but also knew I had to work hard to promote, not just my business, but what a wedding planner did. I had to educate the public to create a marketplace for my ‘product’. I did this by contacting the editors of those magazines and various daytime TV shows.
In April 1997, the ITV Lorraine show contacted me about filming a Bride’s Guide to planning a wedding with my help. I screen-tested and got the job! These 4 weeks on morning TV really helped in creating interest in my business. This, along with the support from Sandra Boler and Carole Hamilton, (the respective editors at Brides and Y&YW), proved invaluable in helping me on my way.
In 2002 I became GMTV’s Wedding Expert and organised and designed their ‘interactive wedding’ for 4 years. As this served to further raise my profile outside of just the wedding industry, I was able to finally realise another ambition and make a DVD on planning your own wedding. I had wanted to do this for some time and had more or less written it. In 2003, I joined forces with an industry colleague, Michael Kelly at Galaxy Video, and we spent a year filming it before its release in 2004.
Having celebrity clients who opt to publicise their weddings also helps in building profile. It provides content for your site and publicity and reaches an audience outside of just that in the industry. I am grateful when they opt to do it, and even if they don’t, are happy to credit me as planning their wedding.
In 2013, I co-founded the National Association of Wedding Professionals with Amanda Sherlock and Lester Gethings. I know you are going to ask me more about this, so I won’t go on about it here, other than to say it was another realisation of a goal and, I think, a great indicator of the progress and development of the UK wedding industry.
In 2018, I am still planning wedding (just 3 a year) as the NAWP is the bulk of my working life now along with lecturing to Events degree students at 2 universities in London. I’ve learnt so much in 22 years and it is great to be able to pass on this knowledge and help cultivate passion, good business practice and new talent in the industry.
But it’s not just celebrities that engage you as a planner, we see people from all walks of life for various reasons wanting the reassurance of a wedding planner. How do you think this has changed since you first started in 1996?
I wouldn’t say my clientele has changed at all over the years – there’s just more potential clients out there now as they have become more aware of wedding planners and what we do.
Interestingly, when I first started, I thought my main market would be couples who worked or lived abroad and wanted to get married in the UK. I do get those clients, but from the start, the mainstay couple is a busy, 30+ pair who generally live and work in London and are time short and paying for their own wedding. This has never changed.
What has changed, as I said, is that people are more aware now of what a planner does, how much they cost and their value. It is now a well-represented sector of the wedding industry and is considered less of a luxury and more of a necessity for some couples. This is a good thing for both of us!
Whenever there is news of a celebrity or royal wedding you are the ‘defacto’ go to expert that the media TV, Radio, Magazines and newspapers go to for a story. How does it feel to know you are absolutely at the top of your game?
I’ve never felt that! I enjoy what I do, know I am good at it and have realised many of my ambitions along the way – but it is ‘just work’ to me. I am passionate and committed to my work, my clients, the NAWP members and my students, and that is my work life that I feel blessed to enjoy. I feel appreciative and fulfilled.
With the statistical average cost of a wedding in the UK being in the region of £25,000 and with many couples easily spending upwards of £40,000 and sometimes much more we believe having a planner provides an additional level of security and reassurance. What do you feel are the top 5 benefits to a client of having a professional wedding planner on board?
- The ultimate benefit is having someone ‘steering that ship’ for them; they can enjoy the planning, knowing it will all come together, be exactly what they want, and that they can relax and enjoy the day.
- They will have a team of professional and talented suppliers, working well together, who will deliver their very best for that couple.
- As a planner we ensure their money is well spent and that their time is judiciously used. There’s no research to do or wasted and disappointing appointments.
- I think that having someone to bounce ideas off and liaise with other family members is also a huge benefit. You have someone to go to with any ideas you have and know that you will get salient and impartial advice. Similarly, if family have a large involvement, they can liaise with the planner rather than bombarding the bride and groom with their thoughts and/or concerns.
- Inspiration! A good planner will be able to suggest ideas that the couple may not have considered and bring ideas to the table that perfectly segue into their wedding.
The wedding industry is one of the most unregulated industries in the UK today and like us we have no doubt you hear many horror stories daily of how this can end in disaster. In 2013 you formed the NAWP, National Association of Wedding Professionals to promote professionalism and Integrity within the industry.
What does a business need to be able to demonstrate to become a member of the NAWP?
We work on a referral system. We ask for professional referees who we contact with a relevant questionnaire. We also have sight of the applicant’s insurance, and ensure that this is kept up to date, as well as interviewing the applicant once they have reached the final part of the application process.
What are the key benefits to a couple in choosing a NAWP member supplier
As an NAWP member, they have been carefully screened and therefore are worthy of the NAWP badge and its indication of a professional and ethical business. Our directory of members is made up of some the best talent in the industry.
When you are not planning weddings or working furiously hard to promote the work of the NAWP what can you be found getting up to?
It’s not easy to do in the early days of a business, but for quite some years now I have got the work-life balance right. As the adage states: it’s important to work to live and not vice-versa. Self-employment is a big burden and you have to have your downtime in order to cope with and enjoy it. I am an advocate of holidays whenever they can be taken, I love travelling and experiencing different countries and cultures. I also love live performance – theatre, dance and music – it’s rare for there to be a week when I am not enjoying one of these. Good times with friends is top of my list though; I have a far-reaching and varied array of (mostly bonkers) pals in my life and they give it its value.
For More information on the NAWP, to find a NAWP supplier or to apply for membership click here
To find out more about Siobhan and her work outside of the NAWP check out her website here
Photography Credits: Nikki Holland, Lloyd Dobbie, Eye Imagine, Mason Photography, 2exposures, Douglas Fry & Piranha Photography