The Big Three

Event planners, coordinators, and designers: which is which and who does what.

Illustration by Jasu Hu

As you plan your wedding, it probably seems like you’re adding two tasks for every one you cross off. You’ve heard there are people who can help, but you might not know who they are, what they do, or whether they fit your budget. 

A planner, coordinator, and designer are three types of wedding professionals who each have a different way of ensuring you have a beautiful, stress-free day—and, depending on your event, you might need all three. They’re there to help you choose colors and fabrics, bustle the dress, tie bow ties with ease, and wrangle both children and dogs. Mallory Rood, the owner and lead planner at All the Dainty Details in Charlottesville, describes her role as a jack of all trades. “Even though we are not florists, we’ve put together last-minute DIY centerpieces. Even though we are not DJs, we’ve sent brides down the aisle while working on the Spotify playlist. We’ve added flowers to wedding cakes and moved ceremony florals to second locations.” 

Here’s what planners, coordinators, and designers do, and why they’re essential to your big day. 

Wedding Planners

A wedding planner is one of the first pros you should call. Qualified planners have dozens—if not hundreds—of events under their belt, while this is likely your first one. Think of her as your super-experienced best friend, ready to guide you through the process and keep you on schedule. She’ll help you locate vendors, negotiate contracts, manage your budget, and wrangle details. Often your wedding planner will also serve as the day-of coordinator for your rehearsal and wedding day. 

Katie Lester, co-owner of A Little Party Events in Lynchburg, says that a planner can make the process less stressful. “At some point, you want to look at a professional and say, ‘I’m off to enjoy my party, you’ve got it from here.’ And we do. Our couples feel confident by their wedding day that they are in good, experienced hands, and they trust that we have their best interest in mind as we navigate the day.” 

Cost: Although you should allocate 3 to 10 percent of your finances for a planner, they can also save money by recommending vendors within your budget. 

Illustration by Jasu Hu.

Wedding Coordinators

Often referred to as a day-of director, wedding coordinators ensure that your special day runs smoothly. Even if—perhaps especially if—you plan your wedding yourself, you need someone to run the show; that’s the coordinator’s job. From conducting the rehearsal to adhering to the wedding day timeline, a qualified wedding coordinator works behind the scenes to ensure that your vendors and wedding party are where they are supposed to be. She is the point person who can solve problems and make any last-minute adjustments to the timeline and other details.

Shelby Jennette from Shelby Lynn Events in Richmond does both planning and coordinating. “A wedding coordinator is someone who is there to take what the couple has planned and make it come to life! They can tie up loose ends and make sure that what you have planned can be executed flawlessly,” she says.

Cost: In Virginia, a day-of coordinator costs between $500 to $1,000, although many wedding planners include this in their services.

Wedding Designers

Also known as event stylists, a designer listens to your ideas and brings your aesthetic to life. They coordinate your color palette, arrange decorations, source props, and make sure all of the elements look beautiful together. 

Lauren McQuillian, the owner of Max & Dexter Event Design in Lynchburg, says, “An event stylist dreams with the couple to create an event that is as unique as them.” A designer usually also serves as day-of coordinator, and may also offer planning, “but with more involvement in the setup of detail and aesthetic communication with vendors.”

Cost: Book as soon as you can, and expect to spend 5 to 10 percent of your budget on someone who does event design, coordination, and planning in one.


This article originally appeared in the February 2021 issue.

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