I want to start off this month’s Chi@Glance Spotlight feature with the word “Network.” I always try to instill in the young adults I mentor how important networking is. I’ve gotten several jobs, made several friends, and have met most of my Chi@Glance Spotlight guests through networking. Networking can seem intimidating at first, but you are truly missing out on amazing opportunities and incredible experiences if you don’t force yourself to get out there and meet new people.
Our April Chi@Glance Spotlight feature represents a truly successful networking story. Chi@Glance is shining the light on Wedding/ Events Planner, Ali Phillips. Ali started her company Engaging Events by Ali 15 years ago and has over 350 events under her belt! She wasn’t always working in this industry though. Ali started off her career working in logistics and financial management at a trucking company. She went to a networking event where she met a woman that was a wedding planner. The woman expressed the need for a wedding assistant on the weekends. Ali decided to give it a try and she was hooked after working her first wedding! She loved getting the buses loaded to transport guests from the church to the reception venue and all of the intricate details it took to plan a successful event. Not to mention, you are helping someone plan one of the most important and happiest days of their life! She fed off that energy and decided then and there that wedding planning was her true calling. Ali then started working to make her dream career a reality.
As with all transitions you have to put in hard work. Ali was lucky enough to have a mentor in the woman she met at the networking event. She also joined the Association of Bridal Consultants. Along the way she picked up design and continued to educate herself by attending seminars and conferences. In this field you must stay ahead of the trends and be knowledgeable about everything from new venues to new cocktails on the scene. Ali’s company “Engaging Events by Ali” was born out of passion for the field. Ali plans weddings, social events, and corporate events in Chicago and all over the world. The company offers planning, design, and production. They do all the planning, all design (concepts and coming up with design), and working with creative partners to make sure everything goes off without a hitch.
Why is it important to work with an event planner versus DIY (Do-It-Yourself)?
Ali said “DIY is just that…you have no one there supporting you. I think it’s very important to have the help of a professional that has done this over and over again and has a proven successful method. It makes the experience that much easier for you, your family, your friends, and your fiancé. In the planning process you want to have someone to lean on to ask questions. There’s no need to google. Just call the professional that has honest opinions and is vested in helping you have an amazing event. On the weekend of the wedding it’s extra helpful because you can just be a guest at your own wedding. You don’t have to worry about loading buses, lighting and putting out candles, or controlling the temperature of the room. There’s a planner there producing behind the scenes to make sure everything goes smooth. It’s kind of like I don’t do my own taxes. I hire an accountant because I want them done right. Having a professional planning the most important day of your life gives many brides and grooms piece of mind for the most important day of their life.”
Ali is currently planning a 50th year wedding anniversary. The couple didn’t have a wedding planner when they got married 50 years ago, but they did have one for their daughter’s wedding. They saw the benefit of having a wedding planner and decided to hire Ali’s team for their 50th wedding anniversary dinner event. Planning an event can be daunting and a lot of work. It makes life easier having a professional throughout the whole process.
Speaking of process I was curious on the timeline it takes to plan a wedding. Ali said no two couples are alike and no two weddings are alike. First step is meeting with the couple to talk about who the couple is, what they want to accomplish, what they want their event to look, feel, and taste like. Once the couple is onboard Ali does fact finding (planning process). The planning process involves creating a budget, looking for all the amazing vendors (creative partners), and from there hiring creative partners based on budget.
After the planning process, comes the design phase. The design phase is what the wedding looks like and all intricate details like the linens on the table. Two months out they start producing the event and putting together a production schedule (Timeline) for brides. What’s so great about working with engaging events by Ali is the team is there wedding weekend to make sure everything goes smooth. The family and guests get to sit back and enjoy the wedding/event.
Typically Ali would like 6 to 8 months to plan the event, but they have planned weddings in 8 weeks. Ali’s team put together a 250 person beautiful wedding at the Drake Hotel with a 15 piece band in under 2 months!
Why is Ali Phillips of Engaging Events by Ali a Chicagoan WE should know?
“I am a ridiculous Cubs and Black Hawks fan. I was born and raised in Chicago. I graduated from a Chicago University and I got the accent to prove it! 🙂 I’m also the go to person for ALL things wedding in Chicago. I know all the amazing Chicago wedding venues and cool spots!”
I actually met Ali at a wedding planner event at Fig & Olive and knew she was someone to know right away. Several other wedding planners there were excited to meet her and she has quite the reputation of being the “go to” person for all things Wedding related. Wedding season is in full swing and I took this opportunity to grill Ali on venues, cost, and her most memorable experiences. Read on below for our one on one interview. 🙂
Tavi J. Interview with Ali Phillips of Engaging Events by Ali
Congratulations on Engaging Events by Ali 15th year anniversary. That is amazing! I know you are well known on the Chicago Scene, but how often do you do destination weddings.
I do a lot of Chicago weddings and about 2 or 3 times a year destination weddings. Last year we did Aspen, Figi, and St. Johns. I love planning events in the U.S. as well as outside the country.
How does it work with destination weddings? Do you go out to the site before the wedding?
Yes. We have a wedding in Tennessee and just did our third and final trip there. Last year we did a wedding in Fiji and headed there once before the event. We try to go one or two times prior to the wedding day. A lot of communication for destination weddings is via Skype, phone calls, or emails. We always go one or two times to the destination to meet with vendors, design presentation, food tastings, etc…
When planning a wedding what are the most important aspects?
- Really important thing to do is sit down with your fiancé and family to talk about the budget. That should happen first. How many guests are attending, what can you afford, and whose contributing towards it.
- Having a plan is really important. Know what average costs are so there are no surprises down the road.
- You need to do big budget planning and then detailed (wedding dress, photos, videos, flowers, lighteing, food, bar).
- What are the 3 to 4 most important elements you really care about? What is the average size of your wedding party?
What is the biggest and smallest wedding you’ve planned?
Smallest wedding 29 people and the biggest was 550 people. The average wedding size is 150 to 200.
What are some of the most beautiful wedding venues in Chicago?
Aaaahhh this question is soooo hard! Let’s see our Chicago favorites…..
- Modern I liked museums like Adler Planetarium.
- Traditional is more so Libraries…like Chicago Cultural Center, Harold Washington Library, Newberry Library, or Chicago History Museum.
- Cool elegant ballrooms like the Drake Hotel or Intercontinental
- Hip Modern Places like The Wit, London House, Langham
- Artsy – Morgan Manufacturing and Bridgeport Art Center
What I love about Chicago is it’s indicative about what the client loves. In Chicago we have it all! Adler Planetarium which is modern cool and hip and the Chicago cultural center is really traditional but really unique. We have so many unique venues!
Under the radar more affordable are:
- The Lakewood/Paramount Events
- Gallery 1028
Right now I really love Revel Motor Row!
What popular trends are you seeing this year for weddings?
- Were back to color! People are really embarcing color in their design. Gone are the days of the blush weddings! We see a lot of color now, which I love. Color is super in now.
- Return to wedding cakes. For awhile it was donuts and cupcakes. Now it’s back to traditional wedding cakes.
- Couples embracing smaller wedding parties.
- Lots of fun late night snacks. I’m seeing a lot of taco bars and trucks. I saw In and out burgers and sliders from White Castle.
A typical wedding and reception is about 6 hours. It’s all about the after party now. Whether you’re moving to a different ballroom or going to a different place. Wedding parties are continuing late into the night.
- Destination weddings are becoming more popular. I just did an article in the Chicago Tribune about this. Couples want to take their friends and family on an adventure. Whether it’s a beach or the mountains in Colorado or going to the wine country in California. I do at least 2 to 4 destination weddings a year.
Are destination weddings typically smaller?
They are smaller. Around 80 to 100 people. They tend to be close family and friends.
What is the average cost for weddings these days?
Chicago 60K to 80K. Often we see 75K to 110K in Chicago depending on how much you’re doing décor wise. That’s for 180 guests with a band. We’ve done weddings in Chicago that were 40K or in the suburbs. If you do the burbs food and beverage costs are a little less. National wedding average according to The Knot is around $60,000 depending on the number of guests attending.
What is your most memorable wedding experience?
We did a 108 person wedding in Fiji and that was 7 events in 5 days in a third world country. We had to bring a lot of stuff in and put it on boats to get to the small island. It was really amazing and fun! One of the more logistically challenging weddings I planned. The guests loved it!! I have a million more memorable moments, but this was my most recent one.
Make sure to check out Engaging events by Ali and follow along on social media.
Ali Phillips can help you plan your next memorable event!
Engaging Events by Ali
1467 N Elston Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642
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