Ever wonder how reality TV shows find their event planners? Want to know how to turn your Instagram page into a brand-building, client attracting portfolio? How’d you like to get in on the secret of creating a powerful first impression with your website’s home page alone? Elle Anderson of Elle A Events covers all of this and more.
Seven years ago, while living in Hawaii, Elle Anderson had her life flash before her eyes – she’d been in a car accident that landed her in the hospital. Until then, she hadn’t really asked herself what she truly wanted to do with her life. She already had a number of event coordinating, venue management and marketing jobs under her belt, but it wasn’t until that exact moment that she realized event production was what she felt called to do.
“I knew it was the culmination of my experience. It pulled all the pieces together. I wanted to create once-in-a-lifetime experiences for people.”
Unforgettable moments. When life flashes before your eyes, those moments are what stay with you.
Fast-forward to today where Elle A Events is a fast growing event production company with an accomplished team of creative professionals. They do everything.
“I get to be involved in so much more than one aspect of the event. This was why production for me was a bigger calling. I love being able to do custom fabrications and unique detailed touches; that’s the side of production you see. Planners and designers think of the ideas, but the people who put them into place are on the production side.”
Elle’s company has grown fast in the last six years in a way that could almost only happen in Los Angeles – by being on reality TV. Her television appearances may have been the catalyst for some of her success, but it’s not the only reason – her incredibly smart marketing strategies and business philosophy all contribute to her success today.
Our conversation with Elle ranged from how she first began marketing her business on Yelp, to how she found herself as the wedding planner for several reality TV shows, and how her marketing strategy and branding has evolved along the way.
She explains how she did it all, and why at the end of the day, it’s integrity that’s really the most important factor for growing your business (although a carefully curated Instagram page helps).
Building a reputation
Elle began her business like many event planners and producers do – she did good work, made connections in the hospitality industry and gained a great reputation.
“Initially, I went through the most organic channel. I put myself on Yelp and every wedding planning website to build my business. I used to run nightclubs and restaurants, so I worked a lot in the hospitality industry, and I built a strong name and reputation for myself for being hardworking, honest and working with almost any budget. That’s what people knew about me. They’d give me a budget, and I could produce a pretty phenomenal event no matter how large or small.”
But Yelp reviews and hospitality industry connections will only get you so far, so fast. Like any good Hollywood discovery story, Elle’s big break came out of nowhere when she least expected it.
Then Reality TV Happened
Elle’s friend from high school visited her in LA every February – they called it the ‘reunion tour’. They had their annual brunch, and two months later, Elle got an email from the woman her friend was staying with in LA.
“I get an email from her friend, and she says ‘a friend of mine is a producer on this TV show and they’re looking for a wedding planner, and I think you’d be perfect for this’. I said sure – I’m in, I’ll throw my hat in the ring.
“Two weeks later, after I’d forgotten about it, the production company calls me into an interview. An interview for what? I’d completely forgotten.
“I went into the interview. They asked me ridiculous questions. We all had a good laugh, and I think that’s really what got me the job. I’m a big goofball. I try not to take myself too seriously. I think that translates to production, and on camera it makes for a more fun planning experience.”
They called her back two hours after the interview finished and asked if she could start at 9:00 am the next morning.
“It’s all about who you know, and I didn’t even know I knew someone!”
The show was The Hollywood Hillbillies, and Elle knew that despite the quirky premise, it would be an incredible opportunity. For two months she worked with the couple, setting up cake tastings, hot air balloon rides, and venue visits.
Millions of viewers saw Elle work with Dee Dee and Paul on the show.
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“From there, my business doubled overnight. I still have people recognize me from The Hollywood Hillbillies. They were a memorable couple.”
Business picked up, but Elle wanted to do more than just weddings.
“I love weddings, but there’s not as much growth for a business on the wedding side of things. So we started doing non-profit events, which are very near and dear to my heart. I’m on the board for the Global Adolescent Project, and I wanted to be able to help more groups as well.
“When I opened my business I went in with the mindset that I wasn’t limited to any one thing. People limit themselves and limit their business, and it’s a lot safer to say I just do XY and Z. For me, safety is important when it comes to my team, but not when it comes to taking chances and risks and taking on new experiences.”
Once Hollywood finds a good thing though, they don’t let go of it. Soon Elle found herself on yet another reality TV show, TLC’s My Giant Life.
“In two months of going through the wedding planning experience with this couple, it was insane what happened to my business. New clients came in constantly. We were so grateful to be on this show and work with his awesome couple, and the morning after we wrapped that wedding, we were invited to be part of another reality TV show.
“It snowballed from there.”
How to build a team that grows with you
With clients flooding in, Elle dove into the deep-end and ramped up her business fast. She and her team now offer everything from graphic design, to event production and bartending. No detail is too small, no challenge too great. Elle’s team can handle just about anything.
Something I say a lot – you’ll probably see on my social media – you have to have a team that makes you better, who are driven to always want to learn more.
“I never know everything. I know a lot. I don’t know it all.
“I’m constantly learning, constantly growing my own knowledge, and I work with a group of people doing the same.
“Each one has a specific skill set, and I try my best to constantly thank them for what they do and show them how much I appreciate them and love them. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Each team member was chosen for their skills, but also for their integrity, something that is very important to Elle, and the bedrock of her brand. For building teams, she has this advice:
“You have to work with people you enjoy being with. Especially in this industry! You’re around them for 48 hours nonstop without a break and you might want to kill each other, but you really don’t because they’re your friends as much as your co workers.”
In event planning and web design – it’s all about creating a feeling
One especially key player on Elle’s team is Sydney Thompson, Executive Assistant and Lead Coordinator, and all-around right-hand woman. That partnership resulted in another growth spurt as, together, they worked out a more coherent branding strategy for the business.
“When I brought Sydney Thompson on two years ago, she helped me redesign the look and feel of my business. I’d been in business for 4 years at the time, but I wasn’t truly happy with how it felt. It wasn’t truly translating me. We put our heads together and thought about what feel we wanted to give to our clients – it was a feeling of tranquility and peace. That translates into the colors and images we use on our site. It’s almost like a spa experience because our homepage moves and you almost get the feeling of warm sunshine on your face while driving through LA.”
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“And the play on words for Elle A Events – putting the LA cityscape behind the brand helps make the connection for people.
“That feel is very important to me. That’s what events are all about, the feeling you get when you walk into the room. I want my clients to start in a place of calm, so they know they’re in the right hands and we’ll take the stress off.”
Elle’s website reflects her understanding not of what her clients come to her for – extraordinary and memorable events, but what they really, deeply need when planning an event: calmness. Events are stressful. There are so many moving parts, so many politics. If you’ve ever planned a seating chart for a wedding, you know what I mean. In the midst of the madness, all you really want is for someone with a binder to come in and make it all okay.
In marketing, connecting with deep emotional needs is what we all strive to do and in event production and design, getting the emotions right is just as necessary. It’s the emotions that guests remember, more than any single detail.
Of course, the most warm, cozy, confidence-inducing website in the world doesn’t operate in a bubble. Elle also works on developing a strong SEO presence with the help of SEO professionals and has the benefit of organic growth from her television appearances and publications featuring her work.
There’s a surprising amount of branding in event design
The marketing and brand development Elle has done for her own business are also skills she uses in event design for clients. It’s a demand she’s seen grow over the past decade.
“Branding is something I’ve focused on more than I did initially. I didn’t know branding was such a huge part of events, because it wasn’t 10 years ago.
“Branding has become a large part of the corporate and nonprofit sectors. People have realized there are so many opportunities in events to promote their brand, their image, their look. You’re creating a vibe, feel, a lifestyle essentially.
“For us, branding has been working with Marc Jacobs, Samsung, and Six Flags, even the World Cup of Skiing. It’s pretty interesting what branding has evolved into. That’s part of our custom fabrication side of things; people can incorporate their logos into any aspect of their events. We can even 3D print a logo onto sugar cubes. Pick up a sugar cube in the shape of the planet with Google on it, you’re impressed.”
“Those are the opportunities to really wow the clients and give them opportunities to showcase their brand. It seems so small and not important, but it is – it all contributes to upping the client’s worth and their event’s worth.”
An event producer and designer who does it all and understands the ROI attached to her efforts? It’s no wonder Elle’s work is in such high demand. She sees how the small details, as small as sugar cubes, fit into the big picture.
And one of the details that contributes to her big picture is Instagram.
Elle on Instagram
Even with exposure from reality TV, crackerjack SEO, a beautiful website, and publications featuring her work, Elle doesn’t forget about social media marketing to grow her brand recognition and stay top-of-mind for her clients. But the way she uses Instagram is a little different than most. Her approach is the result of carefully considered strategy, and a total commitment to integrity.
Elle Anderson’s 5 Tips to Instagram Marketing with Integrity
- Take notes on what you like and don’t like. My Instagram journey started with my personal page. I kept seeing professionals I respected on there, and I liked how they were portraying their brands. To prepare for planning my own approach to Instagram, I stepped back and took notes on what I liked about what they were doing. Then I started creating a clean, very specific look.
- Think in terms of the big picture of your page. For every few pictures, I would post a saying. I created that sort of routine early on, which ultimately created a beautiful design for my page.
- Frequency is key. Sydney and I thought if we can post every day, something that we do (we rarely get photos from things we produce unless I bring my own photographer! That’s the downside of being the event producer, we rarely get images of the work we’ve done).
- Use high-quality, original images, and always give credit. Over the course of the last year, we’ve been focusing on getting images of our events from the behind-the-scenes photographers and giving credit to photographers who are already onsite. People weren’t giving credit where credit is due, which has made many photographers very cautious and stingy about sharing their work. So we wanted to create a safe space where we could promote the incredible vendors we work with. We always give credit.
- The magic number of hashtags? It’s five. For us, five hashtags is a very big thing. So many people in the industry will use so many hashtags. But after all the research and studying I’ve done, five hashtags is the optimum number for any person trying to get hits. After five, the SEO isn’t picking up those keywords. We try to find the five best hashtags – our favorites are #WeLoveWhatWeDo and #ELLEAEVENTS.
- Have fun – and show your audience how much fun you’re having with Instagram stories. We have a lot of fun, and the comments we get in the messages of our Insta-stories are entertaining and heartwarming too. We definitely keep people smiling.
TV shows are nice, but they aren’t what matters most
Even though Elle’s business skyrocketed after appearing on several reality TV shows, Elle’s advice for success in event production isn’t to get on a television show ASAP. She wouldn’t have had those opportunities if it weren’t for a much more fundamental quality.
Be honest. Be transparent. Really listen to what your clients are saying and asking for. I think more than anything, that’s what’s helped us grow within this industry.
“People know that if they come to us with a budget, we’re going to stay under that budget. No costs they aren’t fully prepared for from the get-go. I always try to keep the lines of communication as clear and open as possible so no one feels they’re being taken advantage of. And they trust me when I say “I need to do xy and z” that it’s really necessary and in their best interests.”
Honesty, transparency, trust and reality TV. It’s a rare combination to find, even in Los Angeles.