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Of Blogs, Bridal Shows & Tweets: An Interview with Shayna Walker

My friendship with Shayna Walker of Williamsburg Wedding Design (and one of my favorite blogs Life in Weddings) began over some tweets and was sealed at lunch that included both of us enthusiastically chattering over our love of all things weddings, as well as the industry . She immediately impressed me with know how and motivation to educate wedding professionals, and it’s been happily ever after for us ever since.

When Shayna took the leap to start her 50 city Bridal Show Tour, I was ready for the ride. Apparently so was Fairfield Inn and Suites, who selected Shayna as one of ten finalists for their Road to Success Small Business Challenge.

Today, Shayna took a break for a moment to lend a little more insight to the ins and outs of taking on such a journey.

What motivated you to begin this Bridal Show Tour?

The simple answer is that I launched the Life in Weddings blog and wanted a way to promote it that would both build credibility and that would have a snowball effect in terms of publicity. I figured (and it looks like I was probably right) that not only would it be novel and useful to other pros, but as I added states I’d add to my audience base and people would become increasingly interested in following the adventure.

The more in-depth answer is that I took an audit of my business and personal life and determined three things I wanted to do more of: travel, speaking and writing. And I wanted to find a way to get paid for them while incorporating them into my business life and desire to help motivate others. This was one of those middle of the night brainstorms I’d had a couple of years ago and had been too afraid to pursue.

Last, but most important, I wanted to prove to myself and to my children that absolutely no obstacle is big enough to keep us from achieving our dreams.

While attending Lara Casey’s Making Things Happen Intensive I prioritized everything I had feared and this went to the top of the list. In fact, I launched the tour on January 15, 2010 – while I was in Los Angeles (my hometown) for the Intensive.

What have been the biggest setbacks/challenges with organizing the Tour?

The single greatest challenge is paying for the travel. I had (and still have) all of these intricate plans for securing sponsors , and having run them past a business mentor of mine, I know a lot of them not only have merit, but are kind of brilliant-ish. However, they all require me to overcome an intense fear of being told no, so it has taken much longer to get funding than I had originally planned.

There is also a nightmarish logistical side to the tour that I actually blogged about in depth the other day “with art”. It begins with searching for shows in states I haven’t visited, plotting the shows by state and date on a series of calendars, coordinating the most effective use of weekends (i.e. “how can I visit 3 shows in 3 states in 3 days?), then putting together a draft travel schedule by searching for flights, hotels, other transportation, etc. After the draft schedule is complete I have to obtain permission from the shows to attend, then actually book and pay for the travel.

And have I mentioned I still plan full time and have two 6-year-olds? This last trip I was faced with homesickness like I haven’t experienced since I was a kid. That was really hard to overcome. In fact, at one  point I completely lost site of the big picture, and if it hadn’t been for Wenda, Fran and friend/colleague/mentor Linnyette Richardson-Hall, I’m pretty sure I’d have cut my trip short and just arranged to get home as fast as possible. The pressure is incredible, but they reminded me that the rewards for both me and for my family will be too.

So, it’s not even remotely an easy process, but it’s as rewarding as it is challenging.

How do you go about selecting your Bridal Shows?

My preference is to work with a wedding professional who can refer me to a show, smooth the way with the producer, build enthusiasm and give me some guidance on the logistics. Wenda Evans in Los Angeles and Fran Aycock in Baltimore were the first two colleagues to do that for me back in January and March and it really helped. Most recently, Erik Kent of NJWedding.com took that to a new level which set the bar really high for future events.

If no one volunteers a show, though, I do a widespread internet search and look for shows that are a) convenient by date and location and sometimes b) unique or fascinating. Frankly, with as many stops as I have to make convenient tends to beat unique, but every show from a venue-produced open house to a gigantic annual expo is interesting and full of lessons.

What, thus far, has been the most memorable Bridal Show?

Wow. They’ve all got their special moments, so that’s really hard to choose. The Engaged show in D.C. was over-the-top luxurious and set in truly iconic venues. The Mid-Atlantic Green Wedding Expo in Maryland was my first exposure to a totally green event on the same day that I felt most warmly welcomed by the AACA Museum show in Hershey, which was a great unique setting with friendly people. I’d go back to Whitefish Bay any day and the stress-breasts in Los Angeles still make me laugh.

But I think the spirit of the event (as well as the phenomenal entertainment) at the New Jersey show was incomparable. Not only did they make me feel welcome, but the vendors were engaged and curious about the tour and Erik treated me like a featured guest at his booth. He was as delighted that I was there as I was to be there, and that fulfilled so many dreams I’d had about the tour since the beginning that I think right now, Jersey wins.

And incidentally, it wasn’t the easiest sell as far as convincing producer Bill (Bridal Billy) Lippolis to allow me to visit. He had concerns about me distracting the vendors from their sales and had some previous sketchy experiences that made him wary. I appreciate so much that he ultimately trusted me and more importantly, Erik, and that he let me attend. I think that many of his vendors really recognized the added benefit and exposure that being featured on the tour will provide, and we had a great time interacting.

Any Bridal Shows on your radar that you’d like to attend?

Kate Parker has recommended a New England show to me that I have looked into and would absolutely LOVE to attend. I truly hope they’ll welcome me. I have a couple of invitations to events now that came out of my participation in Wedding MBA and from colleagues I’ve met or kept up with on Twitter. I feel so grateful to the folks who have supported the tour both in spirit and with sponsorships that I want to make every effort to get to their shows. Hershey invited me back next year, and I want to go back because they’ve been so kind to me since I was there.

Oh…and Hawaii and Alaska – they are my biggest logistical challenges, so any show in either state will be a victory.

Stay tuned for Thursday, as we dive into the top tips Shayna has picked up on the road, how she balances it all, and what’s next for this Bridal Show maven.

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding marketing and wedding pr firm OFD Consulting. She is the exclusive wedding pr columnist to wedding marketing journal WedLock magazine and is a highly sought after speaker in the wedding industry. She loves ruffle table runners and Royal Wedding Tchotchkes. To learn how OFD Consulting can assist you with your wedding marketing and wedding pr, please contact us today.