The most famous person in the event business is looking to raise his profile even further. After years of producing events for A-list celebrities and big-name corporate clients, Colin Cowie is preparing to launch a wedding Web site designed to help brides find and organize ideas for every aspect of their weddings, from dresses to linens to honeymoon destinations.
Cowie has already published eight books and made countless TV appearances, including five seasons of his own show on WE. But he considers the October launch of Colin Cowie Weddings his most ambitious undertaking. “This is the most exciting project I’ve worked on,” Cowie says. “I think I probably spent the last 49 years getting ready for this project.”
Indeed, the site allows users to save ideas found in photos from Cowie’s 25-year career. Its photo-heavy, pared-down look is more inspiration board than comprehensive wedding planning guide.
Of course this isn’t Cowie’s first foray outside of the event business. In addition to well-documented gigs designing the likes of Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball and the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s Oscar parties, he sells a line of home products for HSN and has served as creative director of Net Jets and the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong.
Cowie is still keeping his hands in events, too. “I take on four to six projects [where] I personally interact with the clients on a regular basis. Obviously, that comes with a bit of a premium. And then of course, just like everybody else, I do another 15 to 20 parties a year where I have way less of that client interactive involvement.” His staff handles the bulk of the work on these. “But I’m involved and my design team is involved in every aspect of every party detail that helps us tell a story.”
The new endeavor puts him in competition with the wedding magazines and Web sites that have helped him promote his business over the years. “What really differentiates us from other sites is that everyone is trying to be everything to every bride,” Cowie says. “I bring the bride curated, edited trends and style based on her personality type. So in a very crowded arena, it gives me the opportunity to really go out there and make a big difference for her.”
The project started two and a half years ago, with Cowie raising money from investors to fund the project. He says he asked himself, “What is one great thing in my business that I can really leverage?” The answer: “While nothing is recession-proof, weddings are recession-resistant.” He has developed the site with a team of advisors, and brought on an editorial staff to run the site’s day-to-day operations.
What Cowie brings to the project is experience with high-profile customers like Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez, and his camera-ready ease with sound bites, dropping names and tips for living the good life, all in his deep, South African-accented voice. During a recent visit to his office for a combination interview/photo and video shoot, he shifts, seamlessly and comfortably, from smiling for the camera, to showing off the new site, to asking an assistant about the day’s meeting schedule, pausing only to state the obvious while posing for the photographer: “I’ve done this before.”
As excited as he is to discuss the new launch, he’s also happy to talk through the details of some of his favorite recent events, launching into tales of entertaining heads of state in Gstaad and hip-hop stars on a former Hollywood studio lot. And he’s candid about how the shifting economy has affected his business, as increasingly savvy customers create a renewed sense of competition. “I think where we will bring great value back into the market again is by delivering customer service,” he says. “A well-thought-out customer service program that’s very proactive with great attention to detail is what’s going to differentiate one vendor over another vendor, or get a client to make one decision over another.”
Colin Cowie on…
Timing: “Everything today is 20 minutes too long. So I have a pact with any client I work with. I like to do cocktails in 45 minutes max, because by the time I move them into the dinner or the reception, it’s already an hour. And I like to do things so before you look at your watch, the next activity is taking place.”
The Recession: “I think what that did was flush all the fat out of the system. It made it an even playing field for everyone. So instead of the customer picking up the phone and calling and saying, ‘I want you to do my husband’s 50th birthday,’ she now calls three people and puts us all against one another to see who’s going to give her the best deal. The customers have become very savvy.”
High-Profile Clients: “I learn how to deal with people who are very, very needy; also, people with whom you don’t ever want to start a conversation with ‘I’m sorry.’ So when it comes to things like money, I run a very transparent business. Because you are encouraging your client to spend amounts of money they’re not used to spending. So if you can make sure that they feel confident and secure and they know where every cent is spent, I find they’re much more free with cash.”
On Weddings vs. Corporate Events: “A wedding for a famous couple comes with a lot of things. They’re really needy; the more famous they are, the less they want to pay. You’re dealing with a lot of family factors, you’re dealing with agents, you’re dealing with managers. There are a lot of different needs that need to be taken care of. With the corporate business, it’s all about return on investment. One’s economic and the other one’s emotional.”
Cowie will deliver a keynote presentation at the BizBash Expo & Awards at the Javits Center in New York on October 19.