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Should Wedding Planners Accept Commission?

Bernadette Chapman

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?

Would you?

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!

Venues

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!

 

Further Reading

Sean Low – A Duck is a Duck  + Commissions are not Kickbacks

Preston Bailey – Dear Preston paperback

14 Comments

  1. Val on 21st March 2014 at 11:50 am

    Thank you! A great post on a very important topic and one that I feel very strongly about. I do not accept commission (although I am offered it quite frequently). I always explain to suppliers and venues that in order to maintain my independence, any recommendation I make to my clients is based purely ‘on best fit’ with what clients are looking for in terms of quality, style, price and any other factors that are important to them.

    Instead of accepting commission I always try to negotiate a preferential rate or discount for my clients with the supplier.

    • admin on 21st March 2014 at 5:20 pm

      Thank you Val, lovely to hear you views and I’m sure your clients appreciate the discounts you’re able to negotiate on their behalf

  2. Melanie Kiani on 21st March 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Very topical Bernadette and its often a very tricky element of our services to explain to clients and to suppliers to get the point across that the commission we would have received if we were taking the place of some commission based planners or events companies is actually passed to the client as a discount in order to benefit the client. Its a firm belief as a reputable wedding planner, UKAWP member and RA of UKAWP that by not accepting commissions you are demonstrating you are working on the basis of the best suppliers in the clients best interest rather than the one who gives the best commissions.

    Melanie

    • admin on 21st March 2014 at 5:22 pm

      Thank you Mel, very interesting to hear your views not just as a planner but a venue as well. I agree can be tricky explaining to clients that you don’t take commission which is why suppliers pass on discounts or value added instead.

  3. Dominique Douglas on 21st March 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Thanks so much for this blog. I totally agree with your points and in fact it was one of the reasons I first got involved with the UKAWP – we agreed on not taking commission. We have always had this policy and in my experience clients really appreciate it. Some suppliers will agree to the commission going to clients as a discount and some don’t; some think I’m crazy not to take it and others like to work with us even more as they understand our clients are our priority.
    Dominique

    • admin on 21st March 2014 at 5:23 pm

      As a London planner I have no doubt you have felt the pressure over the years to accept commission as I think its a little more an accepted practice compared to perhaps regional parts of the UK. So pleased you have stuck to your ethics!

  4. Kerry Morgan on 21st March 2014 at 5:14 pm

    As a photographer, a key element to my business is making sure I do an amazing job and give my clients the very best service. As such, I am recommended by previous clients, wedding planners, florists and venues (to name a few).
    There is a venue that I have worked at on a number of occasions. I have a great repoire with them. I make sure the day runs smoothly and think about them (e.g. I don’t make the dinner run late because I’m off in the grounds somewhere taking pictures!!)
    I always send them free of charge images of their venue after the event which they use in brochure and on their website. I’m courteous, efficient and make their clients look fab.
    They recommended me on lots of occasions because of this.

    Then last year when everyone was feeling the recession bite, they asked me for 10% of my fee. This is a lot of money to me. I work there 4 or 5 times a year. So I did have a bit of a moan about it but I reluctantly agreed. Since then, I’ve not had a single recommendation from them. They have 15 plus photographers on recommended list and I can only assume the work goes to those who are happy to pay without moaning! It’s wrong, it’s not fair but I can’t see it ending time soon. I guess the public need to be educated in this.

    • admin on 21st March 2014 at 5:27 pm

      Thank you Kerry, really interesting to hear your view as a supplier and I can imagine it must be frustrating knowing a venue you worked incredibly well with has changed its recommendation process. It’s tough out there for everyone in terms of making a profit so I guess sometimes charging commission to suppliers might feel like a quick win to bring extra income into the business.

      Interestingly we have had some venues recommend the UKAWP to brides as a place to search for planners, they say to the clients try the UKAWP as none of their planners accept commission!

  5. Krystle on 22nd March 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Very interesting subject Bernadette, especially as we were up next after you when you spoke about this at the event recently! As a relatively new company, we rely on offering a commission to new wedding planners who’ve never worked with us before to first introduce them to our unique concept. However we always encourage transparency and as such advise them that we’re more than happy for them to offer the (not insignificant) sum as a discount to the client if they so choose. We’ve found that many choose this option as they receive their own magazine featuring their work which they can then use for marketing purposes anywa, so it’s win-win for us also. We don’t mind passing on a commission/client discount as we see it as a natural acquisition/marketing cost, and once they try us, our services usually speak for itself, so as a supplier it’s just a great way to attract that initial attention.

  6. Sue on 22nd March 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Hi Bernadette,
    A Wedding Planners relationship with their clients should have an underlying basis of trust. A couple will want to know that their Planner acts with integrity at all times and recommends either a Supplier or a Venue to them based on what is right for them, and their style and their budget for their Wedding.

    Surely, they would not want to work with or think that their Planner works with a limited circle of Suppliers or Venues that pays commission to them. It is my view that there should be complete transparency with any commission offered to the Planner as a referral fee and in agreement with the clients MUST be passed onto them.

    We have also been approached by some Venues recently requesting an annual fee from us to go on their recommended Suppliers list. This is surely wrong and misleading as Suppliers should be on their list because of their professionalism and proven first class service.

    I believe that any commission changing hands in the industry for introductions and referrals is a big NO –NO to Planners and can introduce bias and unfairness for a Bride & Groom.

  7. Kelly Chandler on 25th March 2014 at 11:35 am

    A fantastic article on the age-old issue of commission and I agree wholeheartedly. The role of a wedding planner is such a highly unique and personal one, it’s got to be an open, transparent and honest relationship between planner and client or it will fail.

    Years ago when I started up and when UKAWP was in its infancy many could not understand that The Bespoke Wedding Company adhered to this and that UKAWP (of which I used to be a Director) put it as a code of practice. We discussed it long and hard and we did wonder if we were going crazy many times I know in the face of lots of opposing views! I am so glad that I have stuck to my principles over the years, hard as it might have been at times. The sort of business I have now and the high level of discerning clients I work with each year are proof that you can earn a fair and good fee for each planning job and work with couples in a truly open and honest way, delivering them the ultimate wedding without caveats.

  8. Jessica on 27th March 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Certainly gives a clear explanation on how commission works and why at the UKAWP do not accept it.

    My company is all about keeping a clear and ethical working environment between myself and the client.

    Love this blog post Bernadette!

  9. How Much Does a Wedding Planner Cost? on 24th September 2019 at 10:02 pm

    […] this excellent blog from UK Alliance of Wedding Planners on wedding planners accepting […]

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