David Tutera is an event planner to the stars: he’s done Elton John’s wedding and Matthew McConaughey’s gala events. He’s also a celebrity in his own right, with his reality TV shows offering a behind-the-scenes look at his events. This week, he shares his origin story (a singing telegram is involved!) and how he stayed afloat when in-person gatherings were off-limits.
We know that certain industries thrived during COVID—home renovations and online shopping, anyone?—but there’s no denying that some sectors took a major hit. We got a call from Eve, an event planner wondering how she can move forward post-pandemic. Well, we brought in the capital-E expert to answer Eve’s question.
David Tutera is best known as an event planner for the stars and reality TV show host. His full business is much more diverse, including industry training events, a partnership with Macy’s, a bridal boutique, and more. David’s work focuses on “the art of celebrations. Any celebration should be about joy, and that’s how I make a living.”
David is the grandchild of an Italian immigrant, an entrepreneurial flower shop owner who taught David some of the basics of running a business. At the age of thirteen, David worked the phones at the shop, listening in as his grandfather ran the show. “He was giving me these nuggets of information” about the importance of respecting staff, profitability, and paying attention to details. His grandfather also invited David to watch the floral designers at work, sparking his interest in creative industries.
After a brief foray into law school, David took an unexpected detour into singing telegrams (!!), where he decided, “If I was going to leave school, I knew I needed to make money.” Dressed in anything from a gorilla suit to a barbershop quartet, he wrote and performed ditties for clients. When the telegram business owner decided to sell, David was first in line with an investment from his grandfather.
His first event-planning client was a woman who had passed his office window display—very silver lame and ostrich feathers—and asked him to “do” her son’s bar mitzvah. Despite not being 100% sure what a bar mitzvah was, he said sure, a moment he credits as teaching him “the power of yes.” He slowly transitioned from telegrams to “little parties,” and ultimately found his footing in events.
While he initially passed when reality TV came calling in the early 2000s, David has now been a media personality for more than 17 years. One twist to the early days of his fame was that his biggest and most lucrative clients didn’t want to deal with David’s busy TV schedule, leading to an unexpected business drought. “I literally thought, did someone cut my phone line?” He eventually started to attract new clients interested in both his fame and his skills. The experience made him very aware that all projects have their own life cycle, and will have the best moment to launch; anticipating those ups and downs will help smooth out turbulence in cash and client flow
It wasn’t always easy and luxurious: he danced with the IRS, couldn’t meet payroll, and grappled with some pretty serious business setbacks. He made a point of protecting the people he worked with, and fixing his mistakes. While it was fifteen years ago, he says “when you go through those large problems, significant amounts of them, you learn quickly what to do.” After those hurdles, he put his support network in place—the folks who can do his taxes while he takes care of the creative side. “You build this puzzle around you. Those people allow anyone in this business to elevate themselves.” By freeing up his administrative tasks, he can focus on keeping his creativity juicy.
During COVID shutdowns, he started rethinking events and his business. He did a COVID-safe live event in March where the aim was to figure out a future for the events industry, which he sees reviving in full in 2022. “We have to figure out a way to continue our livelihoods.” He also recently discovered that his grandmother was a seamstress, and great-aunt owned a bridal boutique, adding a sense of destiny to his own bridal atelier inspiration. “Sometimes, the things that you do are really laid into the roots of your family.”
To learn more about our guest, go to https://davidtutera.com/
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