Spoiler: We Know Everything There is to Know About Wedding Planners vs Coordinators vs Designers vs Stylists
Show of hands, lovies, who actually knows the difference between wedding planners, wedding coordinators, event designers, and wedding stylists?! All I’m saying is there should be a wedding planning dictionary just for this sorta thing. Well, there isn’t (that we know of) so we went straight to the industry experts and got the 411 (do people say 411 anymore?!) on what each title means, what they do, when you need them most, and, of course, cost because wedding budgeting is still a thing (read: very important thing).
Meet the Experts
Laura Maddox, a Partner of Magnolia Celebrates
Cathleen O’Connell, a Co-Founder of COJ Events
Samantha Leenheer, a Creative Director of House of Joy
Sara Bauleke, a wedding planner with Bella Notte
What is a Wedding Planner?
Wedding planners are full-service, meaning they are there from beginning to end. In fact, they are one of the first vendors you’d hire (along with the photographer and booking of the venue, obvs). As O’Connell tells us, they design, plan, manage, and execute “every single aspect of a wedding, including budget management, venue searching, timeline development, vendor sourcing, event design, and logistics management.”
Specifically, they focus on logistics, as Leenheer notes, such as “catering, timeline, guest experience, transportation, and other logistics-focused vendors.” She also points out that “some wedding planners are also event designers.” They’ll even work on the timeline and planning for other wedding-related events, and bring an on-site team to direct and manage all those wedding day events, Bauleke explains.
Plus, planners can help with contract negotiation. Basically, they’re superheroes for your wedding day, ensuring everything runs smoothly and according to plan. If there is a hiccup, they fix it! If there’s a minor snafoo, they handle it! And if you still can’t picture it, then just think back to Jennifer Lopez in “The Wedding Planner” (haven’t seen it?… what…? finish reading this blog and then make that your top priority, really).
When Do They Come Into Play?
Typically, the time to hire a wedding planner is right after an engagement or just after picking a date, Maddox says. More specifically, Leenheer explains, “[They] should be booked before any venue is booked but after an engagement. If not before, the venue is booked just afterward.”
However, if you’d like to give it a go on your own first, that’s totally fine. In that case, Bauleke notes, you may want to wait and bring them aboard after you booked a vendor or two to help with the rest of the planning (of which there’ll be A LOT).
How can you budget without knowing how much to budget for? Well, if you’re looking to hire a planner, Maddox says, “A wedding planner fall[s] within 12 to 15% of your entire budget.”
Related: Wedding Budget Checklist
What is a Wedding Coordinator?
While the title might vary from vendor to vendor, what a wedding coordinator is and does remains the same across the board — they are “day-of coordinators, who usually meet with you between 1-3 months out and find out who you have hired so they can wrap up/ finalize your plans and make sure your wedding goes smoothly. There does tend to be a bit more ‘putting out fires’ when you hire a wedding coordinator instead of a wedding planner. However, a good coordinator will identify these fires before the wedding day itself.”
Since they’ll be there on the wedding day, they will execute the schedule or timeline you created, O’Connell advises. And, as Leenheer says, their whole focus is to be on-site the day of to run event.
When Do They Come Into Play?
Unlike planners, coordinators aren’t there for you every step of the way. Instead, Maddox says, “Wedding coordinators can be hired as early as a year out, but typically don’t start work until six months or less out.” So if you go this route, it looks like you’d be on your own for a bit, but you can do this!
Something to keep in mind, Leenheer tells us: “A wedding planner or event designer will likely have wedding coordinators on staff as well.”
When budgeting for a wedding coordinator, Maddox suggests allocate 3-10% of your wedding budget for this vendor.
What is an Event Designer?
You know how we just said planners focus on the scheduling and logistics? Yeah, designers don’t do that. Instead, for them it’s all about the design elements, according to O’Connell. And if you’re lucky, she points out, you’ll find a wedding planner that doubles as an event designer. (Caveat: Not all event designers are wedding planners. . . . Uh, sounds like a math problem, but it’s true.)
Event designers “oversee all of the design-focused elements from floral, stationery, draping, lighting, and any component that impacts the aesthetics and guest experience. They are responsible for creating the look, feel, and vibe of an evening,” Leenheer says.
They are there to “create a cohesive design for the wedding events. The designer will create a visual concept, then source and bring on board appropriate creative partners to bring the vision to life,” Bauleke explains. “Event designers are most often closely involved with the floral designer, the lighting team, the rental companies, and design and build companies that will fabricate items specifically for the event.”
When Do They Come Into Play?
“Wedding designers can be hired up to a year out. However, it is suggested to wait until 6 to 9 months out as trends can change your vision, and you don’t want to design two weddings,” Maddox says. However, “some designers will create the wedding concept at the beginning of the planning and use it to guide decisions throughout the process. Other times, designers may be brought in after some of the non-design-related vendors are booked,” Bauleke explains.
Although, for budgeting purposes, you might be considering hiring a designer at “the very beginning to support the design process as it intersects with the budget and the overall plan of the event,” O’Connell tells us.
Hello, anyone there?! Yes, I’ll need an advancement on my next twenty paychecks because Maddox tells us, “A designer can be up to 50% of your budget.” *Deep breath*
What is a Wedding Stylist?
“A wedding stylist is an individual responsible for the styling of the couple and sometimes the wedding party as well. They take care of sourcing, procuring, and preparing all garments and helping the couple get dressed on the day of an event. Some wedding stylists are just prop stylists and are responsible for the detail images and the style direction on the day of an event,” Leenheer says.
Need help picking out a dress or altering it? A wedding stylist can help with that, too. Maddox tells us, “They also can be your bridal concierge by being there on the day of the event to ensure all dresses and suites are steamed — any last-minute alterations are taken care of, and more.”
In terms of when they start, it depends, but according to Bauleke, many stylists “begin the day before the wedding, styling details ahead of time if the schedule allows so that the photographer can capture them beautifully. They will be on-site the day of the wedding to continue to do that throughout the day.”
When Do They Come Into Play?
Literally the *best* part of planning. Okay, well, maybe not your favorite, but it’s certainly ours! So our only question is: how soon can you hire a wedding stylist?
In Maddox’s opinion, as soon as you go dress shopping. And we happen to agree. In terms of a timeline, if you have a yearlong timeline, it’ll be about 8-10 months before the wedding day, Leenheer advises. Although, “they can be brought on at different points” and they are “present on-site on the wedding weekend,” Bauleke says.
Promise, how much you have to budget for a stylist won’t have you running to the kitchen for a glass of wine. . . . Ready for it? Maddox says, “A stylist (including the cost of your wedding gown) can be up to 7 to 10% of your wedding budget.” Told ya, that’s not so bad. Then again, you should probably grab that glass of wine anyway — you’re planning a wedding!!
TBH, destination weddings are having a serious (well-deserved) moment in the spotlight. Italy, France, Greece… all destinations of which we actually featured in our magazine this year. Just sayin’. 😉Anywayyyy, back to *planning* a destination wedding. It’s not easy and planning is a full-time job regardless (hello, that’s why there are wedding planners, they do this for a living), so planning a wedding overseas or even in another state when you’re not there can be a feat, to say the least.
That’s why Bauleke says, “For destination weddings, I always recommend a full planner. It's challenging enough to pull together a wedding when you live where you’re getting married, but when you’re planning from a distance (be it a destination wedding for everyone or you both just returning to one of your hometowns for the wedding), you want to have someone working with you every step of the way, who can deep dive into the appropriate vendor options in the location of the wedding.” Sounds like some sage advice to us. However, Leenheer notes something that is also very important, the planner you hire should have experience in destination work. Maybe even in the destination you’re looking at? Sounds wise.
Photo courtesy of 28 North Photography