Twelve years ago, a certain show came on the air and I suddenly understood how epically ridiculous television could be. It was (and still is) the perfect combination of romance, drama & lots and lots of roses. What fifteen year old girl doesn’t want all of that? Some might call it “terribly awesome” (me), others may consider it simply “terrible” (most people). But when you get down to brass tacks, The Bachelor is sheer entertainment and one heck of an excuse to indulge in froyo. And by indulge, I mean decidedly overindulge like I still have a fifteen year old’s metabolism. Plus, Clare Crawley lives in my city, so there’s that. The latest and greatest in the franchise is Bachelor in Paradise, set in beautiful Tulum, Mexico, which coincidentally, happens to be one of Ashley Smith’s favorite places. How’s that for an off-the-wall connection and perfect segue?
This girl knows a wondrous backdrop for a wedding when she sees it (hola, Tulum!), which comes at no surprise considering she’s incredibly well-traveled and well-versed in destination weddings & events. Ashley creates truly unforgettable experiences for her clients and I’m absolutely certain she could give Jennifer Lopez’s Wedding Planner a run for her money.
NAME Ashley Smith
LOCATION San Francisco + worldwide
EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND BS; University of London and San Francisco State University in International Business and Hospitality with emphasis on Event Management. ABC coursework and member of ISES and ABC.
COMPANY Buzzworthy Events
Tell me a little bit about yourself & how you got started in the wedding industry. It’s been a roller coaster of a ride! I didn’t start out thinking I would plan weddings. I always knew I wanted to travel. In college, I studied International Business and Hospitality thinking I would land a killer job in Hong Kong or somewhere incredible. However, getting deeper into my studies in London, I fell completely out of love with International Business and realized that I needed to do something that satisfied my creativity. I realized I was driven by passion and sought after that. I was working at a high-end hotel downtown and was approached to help plan a wedding in Madrid. I was already working in catering and events and knew I wanted to create events, so I jumped all over the opportunity to do something more personalized. I love people and creating experiences. I love being a part of an environment that engages all of the senses and I love creating memories. Coupled with the fact that I love travel and have a pretty extensive background in the food/beverage/events/hospitality industry, it was a natural transition into weddings.
Creating an experience is of the utmost importance to you. Where do you begin? I really get to know my clients. I pull as much information and inspiration from them as I can. Often, the locations I work in are significant or sentimental to my clients. It might be a country they originate from or a place they both love. From this, the location becomes the keystone of the event, where I can start to create the experience. I love my clients and want them to have a great time while planning their wedding and love their experience, but I also care about the guest experience. Most guests are traveling to these weddings from afar (sometimes incredibly far), so it’s all about them enjoying every moment, being included, and having a worthwhile experience. Personally, I know what it’s like to travel out of the country for a wedding, then arrive only to feel left out or in the way with all of the festivities because the rest of the experience wasn’t well thought out. Often, the couple is busy and don’t have time to engage with everyone. I love to incorporate little touches, like local elements into the guest experience wherever possible and to provide a unique atmosphere surrounding the wedding that sets the mood for the day of.
Tell me about the planning process. Is it anything like what is depicted in “The Wedding Planner”? Haha, no! Not at all! My job is so much more hands on than Jennifer Lopez’s. There isn’t always a ton of structure to what I do. I plan destination weddings and every single one is very different. In the movie I think they brush on a lot of truth in the job scope, however my job can be the most insane thing. Sometimes I am a graphic designer, a consultant, a travel agent, a friend, an interior designer, a florist, a set director, a culinary guide, a builder, and many, many more roles.
Describe your aesthetic. Where do you draw inspiration? Is it ever-changing? My aesthetic is sophisticated-casual, fresh, with touches of whimsy. I love good clean design. I have always been drawn to natural elements. I am definitely a water person. I am always drawn to locations surrounded by water; beaches, lakes, rivers, love them all. I produce outdoor weddings more often. I love boutique hotels and less ventured spaces. I am also a huge fan of adventure, if I can find a way to incorporate a boat or something unique into a setting, I will try! I love to make use of local flavors, textiles, vendors, musicians, and anything that might be relative and useful to a wedding (plus is helps the local economy). One of my favorite sourced items was at a wedding on the beach in Tulum, Mexico where we surprised all of the guests with late night fresh coconut popsicles made from a man in town, they were awesome on the dance floor as the temperature heated up.
I also produce a lot of same sex weddings. I have gotten a bit of recognition for these, and they are so much fun to plan. I love the angle with these weddings. More often than not they are a celebration that is truly about the couple, and all other dynamics tend to fall to the wayside.
I try not to pay too much attention to what is trending at the moment. I think there are some really gorgeous ideas floating around, but I also think that it sort of pinches your creativity. Lots of weddings are starting to look the same. I like to pull inspiration from the couple themselves and the elements that will surround their wedding, ie, the setting or what is available locally – it creates a more personal feel.
What has been the most challenging part about working for yourself? The most challenging thing has been to learn how to ask for help. It is really easy to think you can do everything. Let me tell you, you cannot! Asking for help is the most helpful thing I have done for myself. Once you let that sink in, you can accomplish the things you really should be doing, like your job versus trying to manage your business, personal life, clients, and everything in between. I’ve also learned to let go. I often want to be “perfect” but perfect isn’t always the answer. Striving for excellence makes me much happier than being let down when things are not “perfect”. Lastly, from learning the hard way again, pick up the pieces and keep moving forward. It’s really easy to quit or stop when things get hard. I have taught myself how to keep things moving even when I am feeling down or at a loss circumstantially.
How did you gain exposure for buzzworthy events when you first started out? How have you approached marketing since? In the beginning, much of it was word of mouth referrals. As of late, I mainly use social media. Honestly, I’ve been planning weddings and have not had as much time to focus on growing the business as I would like. I would really love to have help! A partner or a team would really give me to ability to take on much more. I have had some of my work featured on blogs and sites like Style Me Pretty, The Knot, PopSugar, and Inspired by This. I think it’s important to interact with an online community too, where people can gain a sense of your personality and your style. I contribute advice and etiquette tidbits to The Wedding Party, which has a lovely following. I have had many people find me through Twitter, which I find surprising!
Has there been a particular moment where you felt most accomplished in your career & knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was a perfect fit for you? The first time someone found my work on the internet and hired me based on that. There are endless reasons why someone hires a wedding planner. However, when they love your work and want to hire you for that, that is the most flattering and fulfililng feeling in the world.
When you’re not planning beautiful, unforgettable weddings, what are you doing? Exploring! I am dying to take a few months and just travel. Nothing makes me happier than experiencing new things, meeting new people, and absorbing as much as I can. Even then, I am still scouting and dreaming up scenarios for events with all the things I find on my travels. I also spend a lot of time with my dog, Jack. As of late, we’ve been fixing up my bike and exploring much of California (even though I’m a native to SF).
What one pearl of wisdom would you share with those getting into the wedding/event planning business? Don’t rush into it and take on every wedding that comes your way. Take your time to understand your clients needs and your role as a wedding planner. Making sure you are a good fit with the client is so important, I cannot stress it enough. From experience, everyone will be much happier when you all have the same vision, goal, and are like-minded. There are a lot of areas where experience and knowledge are powerful in this industry and you don’t want to put yourself in a sticky situation. Create a solid network of other professionals that you can refer people to.
Cake or pie? Pie! (I encounter A LOT of cake in my job!)
Guilty pleasure? Taking photos on my iPhone! I have too many photo apps and easily over 4,000 photos on my phone. I’m somewhat of a sentimentalist, mostly are of travels that I can’t delete. I just learned about sharing streams…uh oh.
Favorite SF eatery? Huge toss up, there are so many! My go-to spot that’s always great is Serpentine.
If not San Francisco, where? The beach! Usually somewhere near the jungle where I am surrounded by water and lush tropical plants and indigenous people. I love anything outdoors and adventurous. I tend to keep visiting Central America. South America and Indonesia are next on my list.
Item you can’t leave home without? Cell phone. For real.
Featured image of Ashley by Pictilio