The Ultimate Secret Wedding Planning Weapon: The Brief

briefWhen our friends asked us about our planning process, they were all shocked to learn that in total, it took us less than four months to pull everything together.   “How?!” was the question that immediately followed.  Well, as proven time and time again, necessity breeds creativity!  Our schedules in this stage of our lives were insane, and having gone through the wedding planning process once before, we knew that focusing needed to be a priority, especially given how overwhelming things could quickly get.

Enter a bride’s best friend: the nuptial creative brief.  (I promise I’m not a one-trick pony in giving you all yet another template – this truly helped us streamline our thinking during the planning process!)  What is a creative brief?  It’s a tool used by those of us in the marketing world to articulate the idea, inspiration, and objective of an advertising campaign to our agencies.  It succinctly captures the background and history of our brand, our goals, the tonality of the campaign, and the one message we want our consumers to walk away with…all on one page.  The shorter it is, the better the outcome – it’s all about focus.  We invest a significant amount of time crafting a tight brief, which our creatives then take and bring to life.  So I thought – what better way to focus our planning than to follow a similar process in thinking through what to communicate with our vendors!

Now it may feel somewhat unproductive – you’ll feel like you’re spending so much time thinking when you could be out doing.  But the up-front investment will pay off later on in the form of saved time: you’ll know exactly what you want, it’ll make it much easier to make quick decisions, it helps you stay focused on what’s important to share with your vendors, and it helps them understand what exactly you’re trying to achieve.  Whether it is just an exercise for you or whether you actually share it with your vendors, either way it can be a great tool (for us, we didn’t ultimately share it in this form with anyone and used it more as a guide in our conversations with them, though we did send bits and pieces of it as appropriate). Here are the elements we thought through and articulated…ideally, all on a single page!

Background.  Who are you, and how would you capture your relationship?  This is the section that not only introduces you to your vendors, but can also help you think through a few key characteristics, attributes, or moments that really describe you as a couple.  We broke this up into three general sections:  1) Who we are, 2) History of our relationship, and 3) Why we want to say “I Do.” Some sample questions we thought through were: Who are we as individuals?  What are some adjectives that describe us?  How did we meet?  How long had we known each other and been together?  What do we love about each other?  Other questions to bring our personality as a couple to life were: What did we like to do for fun, individually and as a couple?  How would we describe how we spend a typical weekend to someone?  And finally, why were we renewing our vows, especially given that it had only been five years?  Thinking through and articulating all these in just a few short paragraphs (short is key!!) helped our vendors get to know us deeply very quickly.

Goals or Priorities for the Big Day.  In a true creative brief, you would spell out your objectives of your campaign.  It sounds weird to have an “objective” for a vow renewal or wedding, so we thought it made sense to think through our priorities for what we wanted the day to be about.  As an example, our goal was twofold: a) to remember, celebrate and commemorate the progress we have made as a couple, and b) to thank and honor our closest family and friends for being there for us by renewing our commitment to each other in their company.  This is also a great section to spell out what’s most important to you about the day, so folks such as your photographer and videographer get a sense of what to prioritize.

The “Creative Assignment” (Optional). This can be tailored to your specific vendor, or can be eliminated altogether if you just want to use the brief to give an overall feel for the event.  For specific vendors though, such as florists, this is where you can lay out exactly what your needs are, i.e. 5 centerpieces, 1 bridal bouquet, 2 boutonnieres, etc.

Who Your Guests Are.  Just a brief description of who is coming to your wedding.  How many people?  Is it mostly friends from college, co-workers, or family?  Are they mostly in your peer group, or is there a much broader range of ages?  You could even consider including some adjectives you would use to describe their personalities and give a feel to who they are.  You could tailor this for your various vendors as well, i.e. if it’s for your caterer, you might mention you have a bunch of self-proclaimed foodies or coffee aficionados among the crowd.  For our site coordinator, this was also where we made note of special requests to our site coordinator, i.e. that there would be three young moms who were nursing and needed easy access to a lactation room.

What You Want Your Guests To Walk Away With.  What is the one thing you’d want your guests to say or feel about your day?  This isn’t necessarily something you have to share with your vendors, but it helps to think through it when it comes to planning the details of your day.  For us, it was really about making them feel loved and appreciated, and to experience the same awe and gratitude we had in how good and faithful God is.  By articulating that, we were able to bring it to life in the little things, like our personalized favors, the food selections we made, the elements and order of our ceremony, and more.

Theme.  I’m planning on doing a whole other post about themes and some ideas on how to come up with one, but this could be a style, a combination of colors, a place, perhaps  even a signature object that inspires an idea.  Essentially, whether overtly or subtly, the theme is what will help to tie together the day and create cohesiveness throughout.  If you can keep it short, you can also describe the meaning behind your theme or why it’s significant to you.

Executional Considerations (or Executional Mandatories if you prefer).  This is where you can suggest some ideas or spell out a few additional details that you want your vendor to keep in mind.  For example, we put our color choices here, or also mentioned specific flowers we wanted incorporated. 

Tonality.  Using just a few adjectives, describe what the tonality of the day should feel like.  For example, it could be “sweet and romantic” or “offbeat and edgy.” One way to think about it is if your event was a person, how would you describe her?  This gives your vendors a feel for the personality of the event and can guide them in helping create the overall experience and air for the day.

And finally, some sample elements!  I created a Pinterest board with several images that served as inspiration for our theme and included the link.  For my more “traditional” vendors that were less web-savvy, I went ahead and printed out a collage of images that served as inspiration to us.  (That’s right, bringing back the good ol’ inspiration board, which was what we used to do in the days before Pinterest!)  Having examples of elements that evoke the overall look and feel you are going for goes an incredibly long way for your vendors, especially the more creative ones like florists and designers.

Well, that’s the secret!  I know it seems like a lot to fit on a page, but that’s the beauty of the creative brief – it’s brief, tight, and forces you to focus, so that you stay on track and don’t get distracted by all the beautiful inspiration and décor elements out there.  Hope this helps!

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From Wedding Bells to Wanting Out

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(Source: Orange Turtle Photography)

When it comes to the most breathtaking, heart moving, tear inducing moments, the vow exchange is hard to beat.  There is nothing quite as beautiful as two people publicly and earnestly professing their love and commitment to one another.  In moments like that, I’ve often wondered how a couple could possibly go from saying “I do” to “I want out.”  And in my wildest imagination, I never imagined that I’d one day be able to shed light on how exactly that could happen.

It didn’t happen overnight.  I don’t think it ever does…I’m pretty sure no one gets married expecting the marriage to reach a breaking point.  We certainly never thought it could happen to us: we loved each other, we had a strong foundation of friendship, and we shared the same values and faith, which we strove to live out each day.  Yet, it still happened.

We didn’t start out with huge fights or arguments – those came much later, after the trust in our relationship had already been eroded.  Sure, we had a few big stressors that accelerated us down the wrong path.  But the real culprit – clandestinely guised as courtesy, an easygoing nature, or even selfless genuine loving care for the other – crept in, seamlessly becoming routine in the way we related to one another.  And that culprit was none other than lack of awareness – of self, of the other, and of the state of our hearts.

We both led incredibly busy lives, with very little free time.  We thought our relationship could wait; after all, we’d always be there for each other.  We had made it – we were married!  But the day to day busy-ness and the focus on work and life turned into a consistent lack of communication.  We didn’t realize that we would grow and change, that we still had to work on getting to know each other, staying connected and pursuing each other.

We were both nice people.  We went out of our way to try to be understanding of each other.  We didn’t want to cause unnecessary hurt by bringing up certain small things that bothered us.  But the trouble came when “not sweating the small stuff” and “being the bigger person” turned into denying our own hearts and sweeping hurts, disappointments, and unmet expectations under the carpet.  We didn’t understand that some of the small stuff was actually big.

We always gave each other the benefit of the doubt.  We assumed the other person didn’t mean something hurtful.  What we didn’t understand was that it wasn’t enough to leave it at a benefit…that doing so also left the doubt in there too.  And failure to clarify could then turn into unresolved misunderstanding.

For these reasons and many more, within a couple years, we found ourselves at a point where our relationship, unbeknownst to us, became extremely fragile.  And when the stressors came (and they always do), we quickly hit a breaking point.  We found that we didn’t know each other – we had such different personalities and couldn’t remember why we even married each other.  We found that we didn’t trust each other – it felt like we were never there for each other.  And we found that we had fallen out of love – there were so many hurts that had accumulated in our hearts that even in spite of our desire to love each other, we had nothing left.

I’ll have to save the story of how we got out of all this for another day, but to take the tone back up a bit (and not leave you all depressed!), I’d like to leave you with a few lessons learned – things that I think could have helped us avoid our situation, that have indeed prevented other couples from getting to that point, and that help us in our present happier times keep our relationship strong and our love growing.

Don’t stop pursuing each other.  Marriage doesn’t mean you’ve arrived at a destination and you’ve made it.  Find creative ways to enjoy each other, to persist in wooing each other, and to continue getting to know one another.  There’s a quote a famous professor from my alma mater said that I love: “Marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married”.  I love it because it starts with that marriage commitment.  We inevitably change.  Or even if we don’t, there are things we discover later either about ourselves or our partner.  Expect the change, and love your partner through it and because of it.  Keep things exciting by planning dates and fun ways to delight each others’ hearts.  Stay connected to each other, so that you’ll be growing together as opposed to growing apart.

Protect your space as a couple.  Work, friends, and family have a way of taking over the calendar.  While those are all important, prioritizing your marriage means actually making it a priority…which means intentionally carving out time for it and saying no to other things sometimes.  As a married couple, you are creating and becoming a new family, which becomes your primary family.  It was so hard to say no sometimes – to family events where there was a lot of pressure to attend, to friends when we didn’t want to miss out, even to some work events where it felt like it might be limiting to miss out on a happy hour or other relationship/career-building opportunity.  Even if your partner understands, your actions imprint what you really think on their hearts and whether they really are what’s most important to you.  I’ll likely dedicate a future post to discussing this topic more thoroughly, as this was a big one for us and a huge area of struggle for so many new couples.  But to keep it short, relatives will eventually come around (and if they don’t, can you live with that?), friends will understand, and there will always be more opportunities at work.  Set your boundaries and prioritize each other.

Talk it out…even if it hurts.  Loving someone doesn’t mean never making them upset.  Communication, or lack thereof, is almost always at the heart of conflict.  It may feel unnatural or awkward at first, but it is always better to express what’s on your mind and clarify any areas of potential misunderstanding or conflict.  While it helps to be tactful, being direct is way more important.  If possible, stick to “I” statements and how your partner’s actions made you feel, rather than accusatory statements.  Chances are it was a miscommunication – I can’t tell you how many times I interpreted and received a statement a certain way when the motivation behind the statement was so far removed from it.  Even in the middle of trying to work something out, we’d sometimes find that we heard something differently than what the other person meant to say.  Clarify, clarify, clarify!  And if in fact it wasn’t a miscommunication, it’s always better to have a discussion about it and to address it before it builds up and becomes a much larger issue.

Be direct.   I would also add that as romantic as it is and as much as I wish this could be the case, try to recognize that your partner can’t read your mind.   I used to think being “soulmates” meant we would be on the same wavelength all the time.  While it may sometimes feel like that while dating, you’ll quickly find that marriage is a different ballgame, as we all eventually lose the rose-colored glasses we wore during the honeymoon period of our relationship that likely filtered out the times when we didn’t get it quite right.  We each unknowingly brought in so many expectations into our marriage, expectations that we thought our partner would meet.  When that inevitably didn’t happen, rather than recognizing it was simply that the other person didn’t know what we were thinking, it instead led to doubt about the other person’s commitment and if we were right for each other.  We now try to be much more direct with each other – even in the simplest of things like what we want to do for dinner or how we want to celebrate a birthday or anniversary.  I know it sounds unromantic, but when the honeymoon stage is over and reality sets in, rather than hoping for your partner to always read your mind, help him or her out and just let them know what you’re thinking.  It will pay off, because over time, they will start understanding you better and “getting” it, keeping the romance alive.

Know each other’s patterns and give each other space.  Everyone deals with conflict differently.  Some people need to hash out the issues right away; others need some time alone to process through and calm down first.  If things get heated, it’s usually good to give each other some space to allow the situation to deescalate first, and then to try to have a more objective discussion when the emotions aren’t running as high.  I can’t tell you how many times just simply taking a 20 minute break made all the difference in the tone of the conversation.

And finally, stay vulnerable.  The worst thing you can do is to harden up and detach from one another.  Even though it’s scary, sometimes sharing your heart helps keep things in perspective.  Apologize to each other.  Own up when you make mistakes.  And be honest about when it hurts.  We get angry because it’s really masking our hurt sometimes.   But if you are honest about your hurt, it helps your partner see past the anger and stay in touch with his own heart too.

Well, that’s a lot.  I could go on and on, but these are a few key things that we always try to keep in mind and have helped us immensely, even in the present day when issues come up.  These are much easier said than done…just as wedding vows are much easier said than kept.  But the habitual act of putting these things into practice, of choosing to work things out, of sticking it out day after day even in the hardest moments – these are what truly say “I do” when it comes down to it…and that’s beautiful.

For those of you who have been in long-standing relationships, how about you?  What are some of your best tips for keeping the communication lines open?