How to… plan an unforgettable event

with Cheryl Cecchetto, producer of The Oscars

EMMYS 2011 - NFP036 page 147
Courtesy of Cheryl Cecchetto


With Vivid, Cannes Lions, Banff Television Festival, Semi Permanent and REMIX Summits all taking place over the next few weeks, media event season is well and truly in full swing!

In Issue 19, Collective‘s Contributing Editor, Amy Molloy, got some essential event advice from the brains behind the biggest parties in Hollywood; Cheryl Cecchetto, Producer & Designer of The Oscars.

She says even without a blockbuster budget, a start-up can plan an event with the wow factor.

Here’s how…



I’ve produced, designed and directed The Oscars for 25 consecutive years, and the Emmys’ Governors Ball for 16, as well as throwing private events for Sir Richard Branson, John Travolta and Michael J. Fox. I’m often asked if I recommend only inviting guests [hosts] genuinely like, or whether it’s best to be strategic and invite, ‘power players’ who will attract media attention. Depending on the tone and mandate of the event, I think a mixture of both new and existing business associates is best. Include more than a few trusted associates or friends you know will be personable, entertaining and create a comfortable (and therefore professionally productive) atmosphere.


You might think designing invitations for events like The Oscars isn’t important because everybody already wants to come, but it’s still important the design reflects the tone, sets the scene and sparks interest.The theme and tone of your event should be reflected from the start, be it emailed save-the-date notifications or formal printed cards (both are just as effective). I produced a Bar Mitzvah where the theme was ‘aviation’ because the Bar Mitzvah boy loved flying. We created a mailed invitation in the form of an airline ticket and the seating cards picked up at the door were custom designed boarding passes.


When choosing a venue, certain factors attract different demographics. If you’re marketing to executives, you should you choose a dinner location in a metro area close to offices. If your target customers are mums, I would consider an afternoon tea [and] I’d buy stuffed animals and games and hire an additional room, a nanny or a children’s entertainer. Your guests generally don’t want to begin their evening with a bumper-to-bumper drive or challenging parking. However, the best location is often one that is in fact slightly off the beaten track, eclectic and a brand new experience. I produced the closing party for the TV hit Friends at the Park Plaza Hotel. The location was so grand and so much fun it was worth the drive.


This can be a tricky one, as it’s a fine line between theming and cheesy, especially if your theme crosses over décor, food and even fancy dress. Think very carefully about your target customer and guest list. With the exception of a ‘Sweet 16’ celebration or a princess birthday party for nine year olds (though they are fun, too!), the theme must remain the undertone of the event rather than the obvious. I’m often inspired by libraries, bookstores, museums and geography, and Feng Shui guides me through all of my events. A few years ago I produced one of many Oscars’ Governors Balls, with an Asian fusion, East-meets-West theme, that was inspired by a Tea House in Beijing I once read about.

Whatever you do, start the party experience at the doorway. Get out some candles or diffusers, even in the guest bathroom. From the moment they walk in, you’re transforming their state of mind.


We’ve all been to events where the overly formal, sit down, five-course meal has made us feel restricted, bored and uninspired. The style of many Los Angeles events has evolved into cocktail seating and does not require guests to retreat to assigned seating at all. They can enjoy the entire experience from their comfy lounge settee if they choose to. For the past four years at The Oscars’ Governors Ball, Sequoia Productions has designed cocktail seating for 1500 guests with numerous, sequestered seating areas of various shapes and sizes. As I design, I consider the smallest details: how are the sight lines (watch out for huge table sculptures that block conversations), is the light in anyone’s eyes, is the music eclectic enough so at some point, everyone will get up and dance?


Whilst I appreciate not every start-up has the budget to spend on an events planner, consider the long-term investment, and the important business you may miss out on if you’re too busy putting out fires [during the event] to network. During an event, I was once asked by a chief financial officer to lower the music slightly during dinner so he could talk to a guest more freely. Less than 30 minutes later he happily reported he’d just closed a deal worth more than the cost of the whole evening. A good party planner will have the tools to encourage interaction. I once held a Japanese cooking party at my home, in which recipes were drawn from a hat and guests given different tasks.

 Read the full story in Issue 19 of The Collective



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