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Party poppers: what event planners bring to the table 

Susan Zackin on how — and when — to hire a planner

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New Orleans native Susan Zackin, owner of Z Event Company, which opened a showroom in Metairie recently, plans events ranging in size from a 10-person dinner party to banquets for 1,000 guests. Her team customizes events with rental furniture, props, lighting design and florals and handles all the details, including invitation management and headcounts. It also hosts events for nonprofits. Zackin spoke to Gambit about what planners can do for a party.

You began your career as an interior designer. How has that experience informed your work in event planning?

Zackin: (Now) I call them "very temporary interiors" — they last one night, but it's a very similar business. It's very detail-oriented. ... It's important to create an environment people can enjoy. Lighting and sound are important as well. Technical stuff like that differentiates me from other party planners: electrical and environmental control, as well as spatial awareness.

What do you look for in a venue?

Z: When I look at a venue, I wonder how suitable it is to my client and if the event can be supported by the venue. ... What time of year is it? What festivals are going on? Is there a parade that day? [Selecting a venue] seems like a simple [thing], but it's actually quite complicated.

When should a host use an event planner?

Z: When you want to be a guest at your own party — that's when you should get a planner.

What is the most common mistake an unguided host makes?

Z: They tend to spend a lot of money on little details that go unnoticed.

Can using an event planner save money?

Z: We receive some discounts [from vendors] ... so it doesn't really cost you anything extra. And we're saving you time, money and energy.

What should someone look for when choosing a planner?

Z: Someone with great references. Someone who's been in the business for a number of years [with] real experience, and someone that you have chemistry with. It is a very personal relationship. Meet with them, talk with the vendors that they work with — what kind of reputation do they have? The personality of the planner [is important]. A good planner won't let the host see them sweat. I should never make my client anxious, never.

What kind of lead time do you need to plan a party?

Z: We can pull things off really quickly because we have a lot of resources. Our vendors want to jump through hoops for our clients. Ideally, a few months is good, [because] the more time you have, the more likely you will get what you want.

How do you collaborate with your client?

Z: The host generally has an idea, and we sit down and discuss it. We then provide them with presentations and storyboards. Sometimes our clients are (from) out of town, so we even handle these things remotely via the Internet.

Party poppers: what event planners bring to the table
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Party poppers: what event planners bring to the table

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Do you find a way to incorporate the DIY client?

Z: Yes, because they're the ultimate boss. But if you let us do what we do best, you'll get the best results. Trying to micromanage too much often costs the client more money and stress and defeats the purpose of hiring a planner in the first place.

How do you give an event a wow factor?

Z: It's always good to have some sort of surprise. I did an Austin Powers-themed costume party. Everyone was invited to come in costume, but we had a costume bar set up as well with all sorts of accessories for the guests to add on to their own costumes.

What's your favorite detail that you have added to a party?

Z: Glittered truffles. They're chocolate covered in edible glitter (packaged) in customizable boxes. It was a little gift at each place setting that left a trail of glitter on each guest. They loved them. We always try to find unique items for each client and event.

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