The Wit and Wisdom of Donnie Brown
By Beth Erickson
Attendees at this year’s Business of Brides will be in for a treat when keynote speaker, celebrity wedding planner, and Association of Bridal Consultants (ABC) member Donnie Brown takes the stage for “Kick Up Your Heels—And Your Events: Taking Weddings to a Whole New Level” on Nov. 12 in Denver. Texas-based Brown has a personality as big as the state from which he hails and decades of industry knowledge having planned more than 2,600 weddings, authored a successful book, and become a popular television personality on the Style Network’s “Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?” and “Married Away.” Wedding Planner Magazine caught up with Brown for a one-on-one interview.
WPM: You’re known for your larger-than-life personality and sense of humor. How necessary is humor in your work?
Brown: It’s incredibly important. If I see things spiraling downhill, if I see a bride getting stressed out, if I see tears starting to flow, I find a way to lighten up the mood, every single time—throwing something out that shocks them and gets them to stop thinking about what caused them to get upset. Then, when they go back and start thinking about it again, it’s not as stressful as it was before. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I can get people out of that chaotic moment. Humor is what I’m built on. I’d rather throw myself under the bus with humor, to make somebody else happy, than to see someone else spiral out of control. One of the first things you learn in this business is to be self-deprecating. For me, it’s all about my bride!
WPM: How have you made your business stand apart from the competition?
Brown: I will tell you the truth—no matter what it is. I’ve put a lot of brides on nutritional programs. I’ve talked brides into having breast augmentation. I’ve talked a bride into having rhinoplasty. I tell them their wedding is like a great Broadway play or musical. The venue is the stage, and they are the stars of the show, with their guests as the audience. If you were on the Broadway stage, what would you want to do? You’d want to look your very best. You’re smack in the middle of the most important time of your life. You’re probably going to do everything in your power—spend the money, make the effort—to look, feel, and be the best you can be. Truth telling helps them achieve that goal. A lot of people in the industry will tell them what they want to hear, but in the end, that doesn’t always make them happy. It often stresses them more. To me, the planner needs to be honest. You must level with them. That’s what they are paying us for. And, that’s what they’re always going to get from me.
WPM: How do you handle client requests, when you know, from experience, that they have a really bad idea?
Brown: I’ll look them right in the eye and say, “I don’t think this is going to come off like you think.” I have actually told a client before, when they blatantly refused my advice and went down a terrible path, “Do not tell anybody I had anything to do with this wedding.” Because, you know, I have a reputation to uphold. In the end, it’s their money and their wedding, but you certainly have to be honest with them. If you’re honest from the beginning, and they know you’re going to be honest, it makes telling them something that’s critical to the well-being of their event so much easier.
WPM: Where do you find inspiration?
Brown: We’ve been doing a lot of personalizing. Where I picked that up was in Architectural Digest from celebrities putting lots of personal touches in when they have an interior designer do their home. I also watch movies, and go to art shows. I’ll look at a piece of art and see something in an abstract piece that captures my attention, and I’ll try to incorporate that feeling into my work. I love hanging abstract art in a wedding reception. That can be a wonderful touch. And making a wedding reception look like an art gallery can be really lovely.
WPM: What associations do you belong to, and what value do you see in them?
Brown: I’m a member of June Weddings, ABC, and NACE. My affiliation with associations is critical. It’s how you build your business. It’s how you network. You could spend all day long calling people and going place to place, but why do that when you can see everybody in one location?…There are certain regions of the country where you find people have less camaraderie and less willingness to get along because competition is too important to them. To me, there’s enough business out there for all of us. Competition is healthy, and networking can make a better environment for everybody, most importantly, our clients.
WPM: What’s the secret to breaking into television?
Brown: It’s the hardest thing in the world. I was very fortunate. Do you know how I did it? I became very well known in the local industry. And when the network came to town, they were interviewing wedding planners, and they kept saying, “We’re looking for big personalities.” Everybody in town said, “Go see Donnie Brown.” It was putting myself out there that caused everybody to know who I was. Everybody used to tell me, “You put so much of yourself into these networking associations, I don’t understand why you do so much for free.” I always said, “I’m giving back to the place that I take from and, one of these days, it’s going to pay off. I don’t know how or when but I’m certain it will.” And it did for me. If you’re going to go after television, it’s much more difficult. You have to be willing to accept rejection.
WPM: How do you stay on top?
Brown: They put me on the show, and I put everything I had into it. Every time I was cast for an episode, I helped them arrange for hotel rooms for crew. I helped do anything they needed done. And what that did for me was that, as they weeded through cast members along the way, I was the one they always kept because they knew I was going to give them what they wanted, and would help the cast and the crew in any way I could along the way. Beyond that, it’s all history. I work every day as hard as I can to stay current and relevant and to use what I have learned along the way to stay true to myself and my brand.
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