Michaela Deasy-Smith has arguably one of the best jobs ever; and she loves it! Maddie Bowman catches up with the energetic Joint Director and Creative Head at Relish Festive…
An award-winning Cotswold-based catering and events company, Relish Food & Events has taken the UK leisure industry by storm, with a portfolio covering everything from the Media Producer Awards in London and the Cheltenham Literature Festival, to a number of private parties for the likes of Elle Macphereson, Kate Moss and princes William and Harry. We were so impressed by Relish’s Christmas offering at Bristol Grammar School last year, which was organised by their seasonal offshoot, Relish Festive, that we just couldn’t resist the opportunity to find out more. We caught up with creative head and master party planner, Michaela Deasy-Smith, to uncover the secret to the company’s overwhelming success.
How did you get into the event planning industry and why did you choose to work with Relish?
I was working as a freelance journalist for various magazines in Australia and sort of fell into the events industry after offering to help a friend organise the Brisbane Hairdressing Awards. After that I came over to the UK and was drawn to working with Relish because I believed in what they were doing and wanted to help to promote them. I thought they were trying to do too much and felt the company could benefit from focussing on just the catering and theatrical aspects rather than everything else – people really love the wow factor element to our events and I wanted to make sure that we could not only meet, but exceed our clients’ expectations. To be able to feed people three courses and provide real hospitality and theatre on a larger scale is an incredible achievement.
What’s the secret to your success? How do your events differ from the norm?
When it comes to corporate events and parties, people often expect the food to be rubbish and our clients are always impressed by the quality of our food and the fact that we can deliver each course hot to the table. We also have some of the most engaged chefs in the industry, so rather than just cooking and then going home, our chefs love to come out and talk to people and get involved in what’s going on outside of the kitchen. I also think it’s the personal touches that people like; the fact that we pay really close attention to detail and provide a personalised service. Understanding individual needs, like dietary requirements for example, and offering really good value for money all adds to our success. You could say we’re the Harvey Nichols of the party planning spectrum!
How do you go about choosing venues and performers?
All of our performers are employed on a freelance ad hoc basis and we choose them very carefully. I actually spend all year travelling around the country to see different acts and choose based largely on my personal tastes. Funkty Dumpty, the band we chose for last year’s Christmas event at Bristol Grammar School, actually played at my wedding! I knew they were good so it made sense to get them involved.
Whilst the type of venues that we use is really important – they have to have that wow factor – we also have to choose based on accessibility. We have to make sure that we can get our equipment in and that the kitchen has everything we need. The Christmas 2014 event was a bit different because we were holding the event at a school, which meant we had to consider issues of privacy and confidentiality as well as all the other stuff. Most of the time, party bookers have already chosen the venue. It could be anywhere, from the roof of a high-rise to a tiny basement; our unique selling point is that we are very flexible and can work in any space, as long as we can get in!
What essential skills do events planners need to have?
Resourcefulness is really important – you can’t just rely on Google when it comes to event planning. Far too many interns don’t know where to find things, even the most basic of things like envelopes, so knowing where to find what you need is a necessary skill. You also have to be able to imagine a space as a blank canvas and visualise how it will be filled. Too many event planners are very quick to dismiss clients’ ideas due to laziness, but really, anything is possible as long as it’s not detrimental to health and safety or out of keeping with the company brand.
What’s the most challenging aspect about working in the industry?
Everyone wants everything and they don’t realise it comes at a price. So often people approach us without having worked out their budget, which makes it difficult for us to give them exactly what they want. It can be pretty stressful if something goes wrong, like staff not being able to make it due to transport problems, but I don’t let stress get to me because I know there’s always a solution. The key is to keep a clear head and be resourceful about solving problems.
What are the perks?
It’s all about the people you meet. I love connecting with people and seeing them smile. I also love to see my team feeling happy at the end of an event. My husband tells me that I must be one of the only people he knows that really loves their job, and I really do – it’s an amazing feeling to know that you’ve made people happy and provided a really good service.
What are the benefits of hiring an events planner as opposed to doing it yourself?
If you’re hosting a party then you want to be free to enjoy it. If you’re doing everything yourself then the chances are you’ll feel stressed out and worried and might not enjoy it. If you let a company like us come in and help then we can make sure your event runs smoothly without you having to worry about things like whether the canapés have come out on time. We’re trained professionals and we love what we do – that’s what sets us apart from the crowd. We’re also well connected and can negotiate good deals based on clients’ needs.
When clients approach us, I always offer to take them out for coffee and show them the venue and ask them what their expectations are. I also give them a really clear quote so they can see exactly what’s included, and also provide a wish list detailing prices for everything, from magicians to live bands, which they can look to for inspiration. Most clients find this really helpful and go with whatever we’ve suggested, which makes the process even more stress-free for them.
What advice or tips would you give to someone planning an event?
It’s really important to know both your budget and the date of your event before attempting to organise anything else. The time of year that you choose will make a really big difference to the kinds of resources that will be available to you, and if your budget isn’t clear from the beginning, you might end up expecting too much or overspending. Whether your budget is £5,000 or £250,000, you can achieve something spectacular, but you need to have realistic expectations about what your money can buy.
Be sure to visit the website for upcoming events and further information.