Industry Leader Interview: Madeline Fauntleroy With Pier Sixty

From 3,000-person Super Bowl parties to opening nights on Broadway, Madeline (Maddy) Fauntleroy’s job is never uninteresting. However, planning events in New York City is a lot more than glamorous venues and VIP guest lists. Maddy gives us a glimpse into her daily life as an Event Manager at Pier Sixty.

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Tell me about the path that led you to event planning in New York City. 

Thanks to city college courses, I ended up graduating high school a semester early and using the ‘hectic pre-college period’ to try and figure out what in the world I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t exactly figure it all out, but I did end up with an internship at The Goleta Historical Society. I worked with the Marketing Director to plan small events and oversee the venue. The internship helped me narrow down my interests and seek acceptance to the Tisch Center for Hotel & Tourism Management at New York University. On a site visit with one of my classes, we ended up at Pier Sixty & The Lighthouse, two event spaces on the Hudson River in New York City, and I’ve been working for Abigail Kirsch Catering Relations at Pier Sixty, The Lighthouse and Current (our brand new venue!) since I graduated in 2012. We plan, cater, and host over 500 social and corporate events per year between our venues. I started as a Sales Assistant with the company and was promoted to Banquet Administrator a year later where I am responsible for managing our 100+ person in-house banquet staff and making sure the details from every department come together to produce a flawless event. I was recently promoted to Event Manager and look forward to planning weddings on my own and running our corporate events!

I’ve seen The Wedding Planner but I’m guessing there’s more to it than what J-Lo shows us. Tell me about the process of planning an event. 

I happen to love that movie and definitely wanted to be a wedding planner after seeing it. While the movie accurately portrays the countless details that go into planning a wedding, there is one part that irritates me a bit… her high heeled shoes and fitted two-piece suites. The day of the wedding I may be on my feet for 12 hours – from the arrival of our vendors and staff all the way through to the last guest’s departure at the end of the night. Realistically, I’d be rolling myself home in a wheel chair after a week of running events in those heels and tight skirts. My respect goes out to any planner pulling off a wedding in high-heeled pumps!

 

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What is your schedule like? Do you have a daily routine?

I am a very routine oriented person, but it’s difficult to maintain a set routine in the event industry. As you’ve probably noticed, people prefer to have parties on evenings and weekends therefore my schedule adjusts accordingly on a weekly basis. Every weekday at 11am our planning team has a “Banquet Event Order” meeting to review the final event details for the next 48 hours. I spend a lot of time in front of the computer corresponding with clients, staff, and vendors. Fortunately, my time in front of the computer is balanced with time on my feet meeting clients and working the night of the event.

What’s the best event you’ve ever planned and why? 

First off, I cannot take full responsibility for any of our events. All of our events are the joint effort of five departments full of extremely talented people. One of our biggest productions was a media event for the 2014 Super Bowl in NYC. The open-air parking lot leading up to the front doors of our Pier Sixty venue was completely enclosed and filled with food vendors from around New York City. There was a massive 25-bartender bar in the middle of the lot along with separate beer stations. The space was filled with over 3,000 guests who entered through a long white tunnel. It was about 10 degrees that day in February so it was a challenge to keep the outdoor space warm, but the event ended up being a great success despite the cold.

Another of my favorite events featured design by David Stark for the opening night of the Broadway musical “The Last Ship.” We had a VIP lounge filled with celebrities like Sting, Blondie, Melanie Griffith and Queen Noor. The VIP lounge was set on our Glass Terrace on the Hudson River with vignettes of leather couches, ottomans, and oriental rugs. The main bar in the ball room was set under a few hundred champagne glasses hanging from silk ribbons — when a guest ordered champagne, a glass was cut from the installation and used for service.

Most recently we featured our brand new venue Current with a cocktail reception that displayed our signature Abigail Kirsch roving carts including a slider cart with crab cake and duck foie gras sliders along with a deviled egg bar and Asian food station (the food was to die for!) Our culinary team did a spectacular job designing the menu and the event perfectly represented the endless opportunities for our new space.

Any event horror stories? 

Always! I don’t want to divulge too much but I’ve seen everything from university seniors who mobbed and completely crushed a square quad bar at their senior formal to the police being called during a wedding due to a badly behaved bride. There are always going to be horrors that pop up unexpectedly and our job is to deal with them in a manner that impacts the fewest number of our guests possible. If we’ve done our job, most of the guests will leave with smiles on their faces and no clue as to what went on behind the scenes.

What kind of technology do you use when planning/ managing events?

Our new venue Current features an entire ceiling of LED lighting covered with wavy white panels. The LED lights can be changed to any color on the color wheel acting as a dramatic mood-setting feature for any event. GOBOs are used often to control the shape of light being emitted. We use GOBOs for many corporate events to display the company’s logo. We’re currently looking into a coat check system that scans and logs every item onto an iPad and texts your coat check ticket number to your phone. The technology is amazing and opportunities seem to be quite endless so long as the client is willing to pay!

 

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What is the most frustrating part of planning process?

I used to get very frustrated with all the last minute changes. I’ve since learned to roll with the punches as it’s the nature of our business. We are constantly making adjustments based on ever changing guest counts and table changes. Dietary restrictions have also become an important part of our planning process. It is no longer enough to have a fish and vegetarian alternate available, we make sure to check in with client’s regarding all guest’s dietary needs including gluten-free, vegan, dairy free, sugar-free, cilantro-free, no strawberries, no nuts, no shellfish (the list is endless!)

What makes an event successful for you? 

My success is directly measured by the success of our clients in reaching the goals set in place for their event. If we are planning a fundraising event, we succeed by creating an environment that effectively displays auction items and by supplying ample amounts of liquor to encourage bidding. A wedding is more personal and depends on the planner’s ability to create a day that will go down in history as one of the happiest of the couples’ lives. Ultimately my success is measured by the happiness of our guests at the end of the event. The positive feedback from guests is how we know we’re doing a good job.

There are so many steps and “to-do’s” when planning an event. How do you manage all of them?

To-do lists! I write down everything and keep a detailed calendar on my PowerBook. I never expect to get through the entire to-do list by the end of the day; I simply move the unchecked items to the following day’s list. I also try to respond to emails on my phone during my 30-minute walk to the office. This way I face a much more manageable inbox by the time I arrive. Writing everything down sounds simple but it is the technique that keeps me on track. I have become very good at prioritizing, since I know I won’t get everything done, I make sure to at least do the most important parts of the list.

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What is the best part of your job? 

The best part of my job is the fact that I get to design an environment for people to gather and create positive memories. I also love to watch the spaces transform from one day to the next. It’s incredible to take a blank space, dress it up, tear it down and then do it again in a completely different style the next day. I’m blessed to work with an amazing group of people who love what they do and make going to work something I can look forward to.