Every host feels her company's corporate event or his organization's charity auction deserves a red carpet, whether metaphorical or literal. Amy Zagin and Elizabeth Youngman agree.
For six years, they have run Red Carpet Occasions, an event planning company in Bergen County. They specialize in providing, well, a gala, roll-out-the-red-carpet feel to events ranging from intimate birthday parties to sprawling corporate summits.
Where other similar companies have struggled in the face of recent economic turbulence, Zagin and Youngman have not only survived but thrived.
"The difference," Zagin says, "is we really form a relationship with our clients."
Almost every client they serve, Youngman says, becomes a repeat customer. That first event often convinces clients to use Red Carpet exclusively from then on.
"They trust us wholeheartedly," Zagin adds. "They just give us the date of their event and tell us to run with it."
Why such faith in a pair of party planners? Put simply, competence breeds confidence. Zagin spent 10 years planning events for a law firm and then an Internet company. And Youngman worked for six years with, as she describes it, the premier entertainment company in the tri-state area. They met when Zagin hired Youngman to plan her son's bar mitzvah, after which Zagin tapped Youngman for all her corporate events.
Finally, they decided to break out on their own, bringing a record of success and a pedigree of experience that are difficult to match. And that is what clients have embraced enthusiastically.
It helps that Red Carpet knows how to squeeze a buck.
"That's really the most important thing," Zagin says. "We know where to spend their dollars."
"And we're very strong negotiators," Youngman says. "We spend their money as if it's our own."
In a boutique industry that revolves around creating splashy, flashy events, efficiency is the watchword now more than ever. Companies need to grab more attention while spending less money.
Youngman says the economic downturn has emphasized the importance of reducing costs while maintaining and even magnifying brand message and corporate image – which happens to be a specialty of hers and Zagin's.
As the driving force behind Red Carpet, they have planned all types of events. They have handled birthday and retirement parties and small training sessions for 25 people in a hotel. They also have assembled weekend turnkey events and hours-long galas for 1,000 people at venues in Chicago, San Francisco and New York City.
For many corporate events today, one key to success is involvement. Guests want to be engaged and feel like they're sharing an experience.
"We try to bring together the buyers and sellers in an interactive way," Zagin says.
That can mean presentations that get attendees involved, or more creative possibilities. For example, Red Carpet planned an event for online merchants that worked almost like speed dating, in which buyers moved from station to station to meet different sellers. And at one charity event, large screens announced donations as they came in, which compelled others to donate.
At charity events, Youngman says, clients and attendees also "want the feeling of giving to go beyond the event." So the party might take place in a space that donates a portion of the fee to charity, and Red Carpet always recommends donating flower arrangements to local hospitals afterward.
While technological bells and whistles are nice and promoting a brand is vital, in the end, Zagin and Youngman rely on their years of experience to tie everything into a cohesive – and, above all else, wildly pleasing – package.
"Creating the unexpected wow is very important," Zagin says.
"If it's not a great event," Youngman says, "it's almost like it never happened."
Fortunately, with dozens each year, Red Carpet's events are always happening. Zagin and Youngman also are always growing and learning. They're intimately familiar with the continual challenge of finding an event's perfect venue, considering such variables as audiovisual capabilities, ambience, flow and capacity, so they network and visit new venues constantly, both locally and nationally. In the tri-state area, Red Carpet's past event spaces have run the gamut from Chakra in Paramus to Lincoln Center in New York.
"We're constantly keeping up," Youngman says. "Our eyes are always open; our ears are always listening. We almost never sleep."
Still – and this almost goes without saying, given the quality events they produce – Zagin and Youngman enjoy the work.
"We're fortunate to be able to do what we love," Youngman says.