Eight years ago, college a-cappella friends Erica Taylor Haskins, Liz Castelli, and Adette Contreras were bored with their day jobs. The three women had no prior events experience but plenty of creative juice and decided to launch an experiential events company called Tinsel. Though they initially focused on weddings, the Brooklyn-based business gained traction with corporate clients, designing a Spotify party with fringed chandeliers and helping The Cher Show on Broadway kick off its run in glamorous fashion. Now, they even have their own magazine called Loose Ends.
We caught up with Tinsel to hear how three friends made their dream business come true, and how they’ve adapted to changes in the events space.
The Vendry: As naturally creative people, how do you channel that energy into experiential events?
Tinsel: As we’ve grown our team over the years, we’ve hired more team members to manage the creative output and distilled our own energy into how we run the business. Liz leads and runs our day-to-day production, Adette sets long term goals, and Erica heads our partnerships and relationships. Long story short, rather than focusing on the actual output part of an event design company, we're really focused on creatively running the company from a higher standpoint.
The Vendry: What's the biggest impact that social media has had on your work?
Tinsel: The way we frame our events now is “how does this story get told to people that aren’t here?” What is the takeaway that becomes a visual artifact for people? Social media is the biggest driver of that. People see an event on social media and ideally they understand both the message and what the company is trying to sell– not just the FOMO of it.
The Vendry: Are there technologies that you think will increasingly be used in event planning?
Tinsel: We hope so. From our perspective, there are internal tools that events companies can use to be more efficient. We pride ourselves on being pretty organized and systematic about the way that we run events. So of course we have our own tools that we've created for things like timelines that go to clients, and the decks that we share to send to clients to convey creative ideas. But we also use a lot of project management tools, like Asana, for project management. We internally use Slack as a way to communicate instead of using just email and clogging up everyone's inbox. At events, we’re finding that clients are increasingly interested in data points for guest engagement. We have vendors that are exploring heat mapping to understand which areas of an event get the most foot traffic.
The Vendry: When you're measuring the success of an event, which aspects do you look at?
Tinsel: It really depends on the client. If it’s a product launch, we are looking at foot traffic, social media engagement, and how many people actually take samples. For a philanthropic event, we’re focused on how many people make donations on-site. Some corporate events are really just staff parties so a strong return on that investment is happy employees that look like they are having fun. From an HR perspective, employees that enjoy the company culture are going to stay at the company longer.
The Vendry: You started your business calling yourselves wedding planners. How much does putting together a wedding overlap with the other types of events you put on?
Tinsel: They’re definitely different animals and we want to speak to both audiences without alienating the other. An interesting shift for us is that more and more, we're finding that our social clients are seeing the fun and out-of-the-box things we're doing in the corporate space and they're like, “That's what I want for my wedding.” So, that's been a really great shift for us and then actually helped us to articulate what we wanted to be in the social space.
The Vendry: What do you wish more people knew about your work?
Tinsel: Two main things. The first, is what clients are paying us for; ultimately, they're not paying us just the cost of candles, it's not just for us to create flower arrangements. Really what they're paying for is our creative time and the time that it takes our team to work with all the other vendors involved to create a cohesive vision and then bring that vision to life. This can sometimes be hard to put a dollar amount on, and people that don't work in our space sometimes struggle with that.
The second thing we want people to understand is that weddings and business events come out of conversations with our clients and getting to know them stylistically. The proposal phase doesn’t always get it right, in fact we prefer that it doesn’t. It's a process to land on what feels actually right.
The Vendry: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give someone starting out in the field?
Tinsel: You are working against yourself if you start at a low price point and charge more year over year because that requires constant rebranding. If you want to ultimately be a luxury brand, you need to charge luxury prices to start. Also, it is really important to find your visual and stylistic voice early on. Especially in markets like New York, and L.A., where Tinsel works. They are so super saturated that it's not enough to be good and have your work look as good as everyone else's.
The Vendry: What inspires you?
Tinsel: We’re constantly inspired by our own team. Tinsel has an advantage because not many of our team members come from traditional events backgrounds. They have backgrounds in sound tech, interior design, TV set design, and more. All those things combined, it's a big, perfect storm of a lot of really specialized skills that, I think, gives us a pretty wide range in the designs. We like to get weird and think of things that haven't been done before.