Should Wedding Planners Accept Commission?
Today I would like to tackle a topic that is close to the hearts of the UKAWP: directors and members alike. It’s the taboo subject of commission, also known as “kick backs”. We believe that every supplier has the duty to act with integrity and always with the couple’s best interest at heart: doesn’t that sound obvious? If a couple hires one of our members they can be confident that planner does not, and will not, accept *commission. They can be sure that any supplier recommended to them has been recommended because they are the best supplier for the job.
However, in many other industries like tourism and corporate events, businesses accept and pay commission. We understand this and for some it makes perfect sense. We feel when it is business to business it can be acceptable, for example a travel agent earns their salary by receiving commission from the tour operator, car hire company, hotel etc. If they didn’t earn the commission they’d have to charge the consumer direct a fee for organising their holiday for them.
But we are talking about the consumers. A bride and groom will hire a planner to help them with their wedding planning: this could be ensuring their vision is met 100% and/or to help them spend the money in the right areas, making sure they don’t overspend. We are not talking blue chip companies’ marketing budgets: this money could be the couples hard earned savings or perhaps contributions from family, so it’s imperative it’s handled with due care and attention.
Trust between the client and planner is imperative
So what happens if their planner takes commission? Can the couple truly trust them? Are their recommendations based on suitability for the job or the knowledge that the planner will earn extra money?
It’s not unusual for venues to pay 6-10% of the overall booking to planners. When you consider what a large proportion of the wedding budget goes on the venue and catering, receiving or paying that in commission is rather hefty. Can venues genuinely afford to do this, or will they simply add 6-10% to the final bill so their profit margins remain the same? In this instance the couple will unknowingly be paying 6-10% on top of what they could have been.
So I ask you, does this planner have the couple’s best interests at heart? Does the venue have the client’s best interests at heart? We feel taking commission blurs things: can the couple truly trust any recommendations made to them or will they do some research of their own to ensure the fee they are paying is fair? If the latter is the case the value of having a planner potentially becomes negated or invalidated.
Over the years as a planner, suppliers have often said “of course this is the price to you so you can add whatever you want on top of that fee before recommending us to your client“. When we say ‘I’m sorry we don’t accept commission’ the suppliers are sometimes shocked and at times ask why not.
Of course from a pure “profit” point of view, not accepting commission seems crazy, in a world where money is sometimes valued more than honesty, why should a planner lower his/her levels of earning?
Could you say “no thank you” and “can my clients have a discount instead”?
It takes a strong planner to say NO to commission when it’s offered. It takes a strong planner to put the value of an honest relationship with their bride above profit.
There has been much discussion about commission both here in the UK and abroad: to read further views here are some articles so you make your own mind up, what would/will you do?
Is your fee structure explained to clients?
If you do accept commission, do your clients know? Do you explain that as well as your fee for organising the clients wedding; you will also receive commission from some suppliers. Or is it all done in cloak and dagger? If the clients know and are ok about it, then who are we to say that is wrong?
As Debbie from The Wedding Planners Lounge: says “If an event planner is taking commissions or kickbacks without their client’s knowledge, it is unethical.”
Or to word it more strongly from Preston Bailey: “If you take commissions without your clients knowledge, you are doing something shady and borderline illegal”“
What about the suppliers?
And as always Sean Low puts it succinctly when talking about commissions and kickbacks
“Should you be grateful for a referral? Of course. But show your gratitude by going above and beyond for both your client and the vendor. Overpromise and overdeliver. In the medium and long run, the value generated by your actions will far outweigh any commission you might have to pay.”
Kickbacks are gap revenue that creative businesses receive because they have put out an artificially low price to win the business or simply because they believe their market power so strong as to be able to bully dependent players into paying them.
I can attest to this, my suppliers frequently go over and beyond the call of duty for me and my clients, doing tasks that are out of their remit. Why? I like to think its because they value me as a planner and want to keep me happy!
But it’s not just planners taking commission and it’s not just venues/suppliers paying commission. There are some venues out there with recommended supplier lists. As they have their clients’ best interests at heart they make life easier for their clients by providing a list of suppliers they love and trust. But hang on, do they truly, honestly trust and recommend those suppliers?
There are many venues out there with recommended supplier lists but to be on the list you have to pay either a one off fee or a % in commission of the value of the booking. I’ve (Dream Occasions) have had situations in the past where I’ve booked some of my key suppliers for a wedding who are reluctant to give the usual discount to my client, but why I ask? Because they are part of the venue recommended supplier list and even though the booking came through me the venue still expected my supplier to pay the commission thus the supplier would be doubly out of pocket. Ironically this particularly venue is one which immediately says “we don’t pay commission” when I call to enquire about availability, I’m always quick to say that’s great as I don’t accept it!
Preston Bailey – Dear Preston paperback