Engage!13 Recap :: Insights from Marcy Blum

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

biltmore engage!13

Last week I spoke at Engage!13 at The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, the semi-annual conference for companies who work in the luxury segment of the wedding industry. I make a significant portion of my income as a professional speaker, and as a result I've been a part of many conferences and business events. Engage is hands down the best and has redefined what a conference can look like, not just for the wedding industry but in the corporate world as well.

To paraphrase my colleague, Sean Low: just like Apple, you don't need to be first to make a real impact. Engage was not the first business conference for wedding professionals, but it was the one that redefined everything. What Kathryn Arce and Rebecca Grinnals have created has not just made their attendees' companies better, but pushed the business-to-business side of the industry as a whole to be better. If the writers of Blue Ocean Strategy ever publish a revised edition of their book, Engage could be included as a clear cut case study of how to take an outdated model and create something new that no one else can compete with.

marcy blum

I'll be recapping Engage!13 over the next few days, and today I wanted to share a little about Marcy Blum's session. Marcy spoke first and her talk set the tone for the entire event. First a little background: if you work in the wedding industry and aren't familiar with Marcy Blum, then you haven't been paying attention. I say that in the kindest way. Many of the event trends people now take for granted were started by Marcy, including the rustic farm table look that is still so popular.

Many of the people who have gone on to invent trends or create successful businesses were able to do so because of Marcy. David Stark, who also spoke at Engage, got his very first event job from Marcy. Marcy introduced Sean Low to Preston Bailey, and Sean went on to help turn Preston's company around from near bankruptcy to profitability (and every time I see Preston speak, he publicly thanks Sean for doing so). Rebecca and Kathryn have said numerous times that Engage simply would not exist if Marcy hadn't pushed them to do it. I also personally owe much of my career success to Marcy.

A four page feature on Marcy in a 1976 issue of People Magazine.

So when Marcy got up at Engage and said she's not a lifestyle expert and neither really is anyone else, her statement comes with tried and true experience. She's been in the food and event industries for nearly forty years*. She's been to culinary school and owned restaurants. She's planned events for the biggest names in the world. She's seen it all. If anyone could rightly be deemed a lifestyle expert, it would be her.

The backbone of Marcy's talk can be summed up in eight words: know what you do and know it cold. There is no excuse for professional incompetence, especially in the luxury sector. Many people work on getting publicity as a lifestyle expert and then stop there. Crossing your fingers and hoping that clever marketing will make up for whatever you might lack in talent or skill won't cut it: you actually have to be able to back up your talk. She shared a pop quiz of twenty things that have come up with her clients in the past year that they expected her to know without googling: video mapping, recipe ingredients, flower types, etc.

marcy blum and sylvia weinstock

This concept translates to other disciplines within weddings as well: photographers and cinematographers knowing their cameras and settings inside and out, having the skills to to capture a memory in any light and any time frame; stationers memorizing the proper etiquette for all the various permutations of verbiage, knowing which stocks and inks will bleed in humid climates; catering directors knowing table setting details, ingredients, food origins; floral designers knowing what's in season in which country, which flowers to never set near food because they attract bugs or are poisonous, and so forth.

Whatever term-du-jour the media calls you (lifestyle expert, celebrity wedding designer, top ten photographer) doesn't matter. When the stress of the biggest project you've ever worked on seems unbearable, can you deliver? That is where the mettle of your expertise is tested.

Marcy's was the perfect talk to kick off Engage because it set the tone: you have to know what you're doing or all the rest of the stuff -- intuition, trusting your gut, staying up to date on the latest tech trends, evolving and taking risks -- can't fall into place. If you can't (or won't) go deep in your field as an expert, then all the rest is meaningless.

*She started as a toddler, obviously.

Photos by Jeremie Barlow, Allan Zepeda, Carla Ten Eyck and Andrew Henderson except for that terrible non-professional Instagram photo which is obviously mine. 

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