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July 07, 2009


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maria @ {ritzy bee}

AMEN!!! Great advice and I can't tell you how many planners I have seen that have to explain themselves out of a messy situation to a client. The money is not worth risking & ruining your company's reputation!

Karla |Stylish Events|

Great post, Sean! There is a lot of controversy with this subject among the Wedding Industry.

In this world, people are tend to expect something back when they do something good (i.e. referrals. And I totally agree with Maria @ {ritzy bee}, it's not worth your business reputation at all.

Evan Reitmeyer -

Sean, you get a big amen from me on this one...

This is something I'm really passionate about. Outsiders see the wedding industry as a racket anyway, and kickbacks/commissions just reinforce that perception. It's an unambiguous case of ethics, plain and simple. Kickbacks drive up the cost for consumers, and erase the line between a referral for outstanding work and a referral for payment.

Thanks for posting about this, keep it up!

Robert Allen Wedding Podcast Network

Having been a wedding vendor for 24 years and now in wedding media. The topic of commissions and kickbacks has always been a discussion point. I agree 100% with you on the transparency issue. An event planner should be referring the best possible vendors. There needs to be a level of trust established by the event planner and having a financial relationship with vendors undermines the integrity of that relationship.

Great post

Linnyette Richardson-Hall

"And to the person at Engage '09 who questioned why a florist shouldn't pay a vendor who sent her many, many referrals a referral fee, I respond with this: why do you think the vendor was referring the florist in the first place? Because she is a GREAT florist and she makes the vendor LOOK GOOD. Your art needs to stand on its own."

Let the church say "AMEN"!! I agree with you and everyone else who has posted 1000%. My take is this - I charge appropriately for what I do, what I create and what I bring to the table. I don't need to get a "hand under the table" from anyone else because I sent business their way. I make recommendation based on a core set of principles - so if your name appears on the list or comes out of my mouth, it's because I know you can do the job. Period.

When will people learn that you simply cannot serve two masters?

Tracey Kumer-Moore


Let me add my "amen" to the choir!

I have NEVER accepted or paid referral fees in my business, never paid to be in a venue's wedding book (same thing, different wrapping) and in Las Vegas, LAND of the KICKBACK, it hasn't been easy.

I'm asked by some businesses that are new to working with me "How do you make money"? I charge my clients a substantial and fair fee for my services and allow them to take advantage of any benefits my valued relationships with wedding professionals might bring (in the way of better discounts, a special upgrade), etc.

When there are times a business has a business model where they prefer to work directly through me, I respect that and accept the discount and pass it directly to the client; full transparency and everyone knows up front that's how I operate.

IT HAS set me apart from others as a quality planner to do business with and I respected for it by the same quality of professionals that have the same core values I do and who I choose to collaborate with.

I teach "Vendor Relations" for the Wedding Coordination & Design class at TISOH ( I have been teaching this mantra to every class. I am printing/emailing this post for this and EVERYONE to see!

Teresa Wilson/Camelback Flowershop

Thank you Sean for breaking this down even more for me and everyone else. I am the florist who asked the questions after Marcy's speech. She was so transparent and clear and I love that about her. I had never been asked for a "kick back" before, until a few months before Engage09. And what a perfect arena to get such a controversial question answered. I appreciate the additional detailed information here in your blog...a powerful tool for me to stand behind. Thank you!

Katrina McCullum

Thank you for this post, there is a lot of this going on in the industry lately. I forward any incentives to the bride. I want to recommend a vendor for their work, not from what I can get out of it.

julianne smith

thanks for putting this out there. i come from the world of politics where everything is disclosed, even just a meeting over coffee, so it always strikes me as odd when commissions or pay to play things aren't disclosed.

Jeremy Carter

spot on.

Cynthia Martyn

Sean - THANK YOU for posting this! Well said, and mandatory reading for everyone in the industry.


Fabulous post! As a planner, I NEVER take a commission- never have. When I refer a client to a vendor, it is because I have a relationship, a trust and a confidence in their product- not because it puts money in my pocket. I don't endorse anyone I haven't worked with or have 1st hand knowledge of and I don't blog about unknown or questionable vendors. My reputation is on the line every time I send a bride somewhere. I don't take chances with that or with someone's wedding!


Fantasic post!!

Suzanne Carvlin, The Party Girl

Hello Sean, I have a question. I understand the transparency issue. That is just good business practice. My question is when planners say they have never accepted a commission. How do they make money? My mother owned an interior design firm and she charged an hourly rate plus a commission of 20%. Her clients knew this up front. She worked with vendors to make certain that the (if it was a furniture vendor, say) sofa was the style the client wanted, helped select fabrics, coordinated the sofa production and delivery timing and staged the sofa in the home. That is a lot of work and the more items she coordinated, the more complicated the work became, hence the commission. It make sense to not charge a commission on the overall wedding budget, but if a wedding planner is coordinating the details of all the transportation, hotel accommodations, etc., would you suggest a flat hourly fee, a commission fee or a combination of both? May of today's clients seem to understand hourly and commission rates for interior designers, why not their wedding planner, too?

Kristina Valenzuela, Petals and Pizzazz

Hello Sean, thank you so much. As a florist, I would hate to know that a planner is only referring me because I paid her, not because of the work I do. One of my biggest annoyances in the floral industry is the prevalence of wire services--teleflora, 1800 flowers, FTD, bbrooks, etc. Not only do they charge a referral fee of about 22%, but they also charge a membership fee, and various other "necessary" charges to be in a good position within the group. The end result is a florist trying to not only satisfy, but delight a customer while working with about 60% of the usual revenue. A customer is expecting a $100 flower arrangement, but the florist is only receiving $60. There is much more to be said about this whole topic, but I am wondering what your thoughts are on this.


Wonderful post; thank you!
but I do have a question; you have a link to Bridal Bar on your blog. Don't vendors pay a membership fee for the privelege of being included?

Sean Low

Suzanne --

I think the Interior Design model can work for planners if it is explained and justified to the client. For Interior Designers, so long as they are passing trade discounts to the client, it is actually fair value for their service.

Kristina --

Not a big fan of wire service models, but does get you business. Would let your clients know that the wire service is taking a fee and ask them if they would like to pay for it separately or have it included in their bill -- this way they know that they are getting a $60 arrangement not a $100 one. Don't know if this is possible given your contract, but sure would be great if you could do it.

Nancy --

Bridal Bar is a pure referral service and the value is that they are matching the right client with the right vendor. Bridal Bar screens its vendors very carefully and has the right to terminate the vendor at any time. The value of the business is a referral. To my knowledge they do not pay any percentage linked to sales (i.e., a commission) nor do they hide that vendors are paying to belong to BB. So to me a completely different animal from commissions and much more akin to paying to advertise with say, The Knot or in a bridal magazine.

Suzanne Carvlin, The Party Girl

Thank you for the reply, Sean! I am so excited for your new business venture! Congratulations!


Excellent post. As wedding planners, we need to keep our brides and grooms' best interest at heart and that includes watching their dollars.

Peggy Hall

There are so many things about the creative market that are what I consider "sleazy" such as printers charging a "set up fee"? That is ridiculous - they just know that they're service, and turn around time aren't memorable enough to bring a client back a second time, so they take what they can get when they can get it.

Also, it's not advertised in the price of their services - just thrown in there once the job is nearly finished, if not completely finished.

Harmony Walton

Hi Nancy,
I actually created The Bridal Bar and we make no secret of the fact that our vendors are part of a pre-paid, highly edited membership. We do not take any mark ups or commissions whatsoever. I firmly believe as Sean does, that you can't gain the trust of the client when this is on the table. When we recommend a vendor and/or product to our brides we want them to know that it's because we think it will enhance their event, not because we make a larger dollar return on it. We don't charge the bride a cent, they know where our revenue comes from, and even if they don't hire a single vendor of ours, we still assist them as best we can and offer the most service possible. I don't think you can get more transparent than a free and individual wedding service like that, one who doesn't take a back end from your event in any way. Even a magazine charges you a few dollars for the right to look at their paid advertisers - not to say this is wrong, but I don't think magazines or my model can be to blame for commission concerns in this industry.

Sean's blog is great at creating discussions, he is so brilliant and in tune with our industry, he knows how to bring topics of passion and importance to light. That said, I would trust any link, any post, or any thought process he puts his name on - and none of those are paid...that's when the value of a recommendation is truly trusted.

Nancy Liu Chin God, thank you!!! I have been preaching this. I once was faced with a wedding planner who insisted I pay her a commission. After a few times, I stopped and confronted her. Needless to say, she has stopped referring me and I will not apologize for standing up to her. Thank you for your honesty and great insights. I have never regretted that decision even though I cannot work on her $$$$$ projects. Nancy Liu Chin

Nancy Liu Chin God, thank you!!! I have been preaching this. I once was faced with a wedding planner who insisted I pay her a commission. After a few times, I stopped and confronted her. Needless to say, she has stopped referring me and I will not apologize for standing up to her. Thank you for your honesty and great insights. I have never regretted that decision even though I cannot work on her $$$$$ projects. Nancy Liu Chin

Home Theater Furniture

Even when you realize that you can’t do everything you used to, it is hard to give up the freedom to do whatever you want.


Thanks for the tip! I'm a Wedding Planner and I've been in business for about a year. Alot of of vendors do this sort of thing. I do not expect referral fees/kickbacks- I believe it is unethical and its not fair to the client. I rather have the vendor give a 10% discount to a client than giving me a fee.

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