THEME noun: An implicit or recurrent idea; a motif

© Melissa Nowakowski 2008

Themes are an integral part of any function. You may not realize it but every function has a theme whether it is as simple as a colour scheme or a tangible motif carried throughout. Themes not only add definition to your function but also provide excitement and keep your guests guessing as to where your theme details will pop up next.

The key to having a successful theme is to be consistent. There's nothing worse than implying that there is a theme but then only incorporating that theme into one or two areas of your function. It's important to find that perfect balance and follow through with it.
Some of the best places in which to incorporate your theme are as follows:
  • invitations
  • music and entertainment
  • decor (ie: centerpieces)
  • food and beverage
  • favours
Here are a few unique theme ideas that can transform your function from "cool" to "that is sooooo cool". (One of which I am currently planning. See if you can guess which one):


Tea party themed functions have been done and done again. Why not mix it up a bit by having a Mad Hatter tea party theme? Fun, funky and offering oodles of play room and colour choices, a Mad Hatter Tea Party function is visually enticing (did I mention fun???)

Have each table clothed in a different bright-coloured linen (ie) one red, one yellow, one orange, one blue, etc. Top your tables with a variety of antique teapots holding striking florals mixed with coloured 'curly ting'. Instead of table rounds, join rectangular tables together so that they form a giant 'U' and have the head table at the top of the 'U'. During the cocktail hour serve mini-toast with butter and different jam flavours. For a wedding, why not turn a mad hatter hat upside down and provide blank cards upon which your guests can write their best wishes, then drop it into the hat. Have a three to four tiered Mad Hatter Cake. The possibilities (not to mention the fun!) are endless!


A circus theme is probably one of the most visually stunning and entertaining themes a person can do and yet they're rarely done. Now I'm not talking about a circus theme with clowns and tigers. I'm talking more about a circus theme inspired by the most fascinating of circus shows -- Cirque du Soleil.

Have a tented reception or transform your venue into a dreamy escape of purple, lavender, cream and blue tones. Utilize uplighting and draping in these royal tones wherever possible. Use pinspots to highlight centerpieces or specific details.
Provide exciting entertainment such as stilt walkers, fire breathers (if your venue will allow them of course), living statues or contortionists to roam about your cocktail hour. Top tables with high centerpieces of cascading vines and small-budded florals or remove the fabric from umbrella frames, situate them in a vase so that they stand open and drape beads throughout the frame spokes. Have a dance troupe perform after dinner. Serve candy apples as favours. Whatever you choose to do, the trick to this theme is to keep it elegant and dreamy but entertaining.


Everyone dreams of being able to travel the world, so why not bring the world to your guests? When done properly this theme can be an exciting experience, an educational opportunity and a personalized event all in one.

The vital detail in this theme is to name each of your tables after a different country in the world and dress it accordingly. For China for example, dress your table in a rich, red satin linen; provide chopsticks in addition to the utensils; have a Chinese takeout container of goodies as favours, etc. For France, combine a sheet of clear plastic, glue and wine glasses to form an Eiffel tour centerpiece; drape the table in blue linen, have a different kind of cheese delicately wrapped for each place setting or a miniature bottle of French wine, etc.

Incorporate different cultural food into your hors d'oeuvres and main courses; offer different kinds of wine to your guests (ie) Australian, Italian, French; have self-made passports replace place cards or seating arrangement charts; provide entertainment throughout the night such as Caribbean dancers, a Chinese dragon dance, steel pan drummers, etc.; incorporate different cultural elements into your function such as the bagpipes playing for a wedding ceremony.


Whatever the theme, choose something that best reflects your interests or tastes and work with your vendors to bring them to life -- or hire a planner to develop a theme for you and carry it out.

Listen to your vendors -- they may have an exciting idea or may be very knowledgeable in a specific theme.

Know your budget -- some themes may cost a lot more to pull off than others.

And most importantly, have fun!



© Melissa Nowakowski 2008

The latest trend in weddings and events for 2008 is chocolate. Now I'm not talking about giving away plain old milk chocolate or chocolate truffles in a box at the end of the evening. I'm talking everything chocolate -- an entire theme of chocolate. A palate experience that will leave your guests licking their lips.

Sounds delicious doesn't it?

Well, it's as good as it sounds.

With regards to weddings especially, there are many ways to incorporate the infamous treat to create a wedding experience unlike any other. There are also numerous forms of chocolate to be used -- from everyday low-grade milk chocolate to dark chocolate to the real chocolaty deal with 75% cocoa. Here are just a few ideas on how to integrate this scrumptious theme into your wedding or event:


For the fall and winter months, combine chocolate brown and ivory or cream in your decor, attire and florals. Draping, linens and chair covers teamed up in chocolate brown and ivory/cream create a warm, elegant atmosphere while giving just a hint of what's to come.

Add a chocolate coloured sash to your ivory wedding gown. Use chocolate ribbon and ivory pearl heads to wrap the stems of your bouquet in soft, billowy ivory florals. Again the mix of chocolate and ivory or cream will create a warm yet distinctive look.

For the spring and summer months different colour combinations using chocolate as your base can create a multitude of looks whether its funky and cute, elegant or eye-catching.

Pink and chocolate can create sassy appeal. Chocolate linens can make a centerpiece comprised of pink florals really pop. Dress your wedding party in pink cocktail dresses with brown sashes. Bouquets made of florals in different shades of pink with a touch of brown hypercium berries can look quite chic against a wedding gown.

Pale blue and chocolate creates a very elegant, dreamy effect and tiffany blue and brown in a reception will capture attention.


The combination of typical finger foods with chocolate is all the rage at the moment. Whether it is chocolate sushi, chocolate chilli, chocolate covered cheese, goat cheese truffles, beef spanakopita with cabernet/chocolate sauce, etc. What would make us initially scrunch our noses actually delivers a unique and delicious experience for any palate. Another fabulous idea is to hold a "chocolate tasting" during your cocktail hour -- offering snippets of chocolate ranging from the lowest grade of chocolate to the highest percentage of cocoa. Match the tasting with wine or whiskey and you have a unique and unforgettable start to your reception.

Chocolate infused 3-course dinners may seem completely off the wall, but chocolate is actually a scrumptious accent to many meat dishes. The trick is to use chocolate or cocoa as an accent and not the main ingredient.

Mayan chocolate mushroom soup, wild arugula salad with a chocolate stout dressing, chocolate clementine salad (a la Jamie Oliver), grilled shrimp with a tamarind chocolate sauce, etc. are just a few of the many tasty appetizer options.

Salmon in a white chocolate sauce, chocolate brushed duck with chipotle goat cheese couscous, braised beef with cinnamon, chilli and chocolate, beef wellington served with chocolate sauce, lamb with chocolate merlot blueberry jam (the possibilities are endless!) can make for a creative and taste-infused main entree.

Other great chocolate/food pairings can include chocolate bread pudding, seared shrimp with white chocolate buerre blanc, chocolate fois gras, mahi mahi with cocoa oatmeal granola and more.

And of course, scrumptious endings can be made up of anything chocolaty and sweet, including pure Brazilian chocolate paired with creme brulee and biscotti, chocolate fondu paired with fresh fruit or classic hot cocoa with a delicious topping of vanilla ice cream.


Wine is surprising an amazing compliment to chocolate. Whether it's white, milk or dark chocolate -- choosing the right wine to accompany your three course meal can provide a delectable foodie experience.

While a Sherry or an Orange Muscat will flatter food infused with white chocolate, a light-embodied merlot works best with milk chocolate. Zinfandels are a perfect match for any dishes using dark or bittersweet chocolate.

Get creative with your bar as well. Adding specialty drinks to your beverage menu can be a gorgeous and delightful accessory to an already tasty evening. Why not serve from the bar italian chocolate sodas or a rage of martinis including chocolate raspberry, chocolate strawberry, chocolatini's or pepermint patty martinis.

Instead of late-night coffee, treat your guests to Chai hot chocolate, a mocha latte or a unique Mexican hot chocolate.

Where once chocolate was viewed as a delicate, dessert item, the new trend of chocolate-infused receptions is one that is destined to please anyone with a sweet tooth, a curious palate or anyone wishing to try something new.


Combine chic and sassy with a good cause and you have a favour that not only looks so gosh darn cute but supports an extremely worthy cause.

Totally chic and an absolutely perfect favour for a bridal shower, stagette, 30th birthday bash or even your wedding, The Keyring of Hope created by Cause and Affect in Toronto, Ontario, caught my attention the other day and I loved it so much I bought two -- one for myself and one for my mother who beat breast cancer three years ago.

This keyring features white and pink incredibly adorable interchangeable dresses (from bride-to-be to bride anyone?) and also includes a Breast Cancer ribbon charm and purse charm complete with faux diamond. The price is $12 for the entire set.

The best part? All proceeds from every key ring purchase go directly to Rethink Breast Cancer. Given how many of us have been touched by breast cancer - whether its our mothers, our grandmothers, aunts, sisters, cousins, friends, friend of a friend of a friend, etc this keychain-kit-and-caboodle is something that not only acts as a really cute gift but reminds us all of the hope in beating this deadly disease.

Did I mention how cute it is?



© Melissa Nowakowski 2008

The decision as to whether or not throw a launch party for a product is always a tough one. While many view it as an invaluable tool in drawing word-of-mouth, others view it as a waste of money -- often more dollar is spent on the launch party than what the company gets in return.

I have sat for countless hours in a stuffy boardroom, listening to marketing teams debating the pros and cons (not to mention the budget) of throwing a launch party, when really the answer is simple. If you know how to throw a launch properly and effectively - do it. If not, put your money into something that will definitely work for you -- like advertising or a publicist.

If you do decide to throw that launch party - here are things that I encourage my clients to consider:


What is the target audience for your product or company? Are they predominantly male or female? What is their age range? What positions do they hold? What areas of the city do they frequent most? Is your audience a group that likes to spend money or are they typically more frugal?

These are details that you must know before planning that launch party, because every little detail above will affect not only the type of launch that you throw, but the location and type of venue in which you hold it, and the type of clientele that it draws.

For example, if you're launching a new basketball sneaker,you're not going to throw a high-end, posh party held in the city's business district. You're going to launch the product in a very urban location and venue, lots of exposed brick and graffiti-- perhaps even on an outdoor basketball court -- you're going to have a DJ spinning some Hip Hop and R&B, you're going to give out "goody bags" with items like T-shirts or key chains with the sneaker's logo, coupons to buy the sneakers, etc. You may even challenge some guests to a game of 21 and the winner gets a pair of sneakers. It's all in knowing who your audience is, what they'll want and how to draw them out.


Typically your budget should be 10% less than what you expect to bring in revenue. Once you create a budget, stick with it. Like any other event in life, it's very easy to go over-budget on things that won't make all that much of a difference in the long run. Once you have a clear idea of who your audience is, focus your money where it makes the most sense: on what will attract your audience enough to buy the product or use your service. Things like food and drink are a nice touch, but only if they're relevant to your product or company. Otherwise, not only will they be costly but they'll detract attention from what's most important.


When I propose launch ideas, the question I get asked often is "Is that what is typically done?"

The answer is "NO!" Why would you want to throw a launch that has been done countless times or follow in the footsteps of your competitors?

The trick is to create a launch that will draw people to your product or company. But not just any group of people. A new set of consumers or clients! If you throw a launch that's similar to another, what incentive is there for a group of people to come to yours? Just like your product or company is different, so should your launch be.

The biggest misconception about getting creative is that it has to cost exuberant amounts of money. It's funny, but some of my most creative launches were done on a very limited budget. Perhaps that's because when you have limited means, you have to get creative. Choose unusual locales and venues (ie) for a book launch where the central character was a stripper, I held the launch in a dingy underground club off a graffitti'd alleyway. Choose unique entertainment (ie) for a cultural event use traditional performers. Incorporate your product or company into the decor (ie) at a launch for a jewellery company I used glittering necklaces to hold back delicate draping in brilliant colours and had more necklaces in chain-link fashion hanging from the rafters. In getting creative you not only "wow" the guests of the launch but you can draw more attention to your product or service than you ever thought.


Of course you want the general public to attend but be sure to invite key members of the media and any celebrities or organizations that you think the launch will appeal to. By inviting the appropriate journalists to attend you not only may be able to capitalize on media coverage but you have just invited perhaps the best word-of-mouth source. Be sure to invite the right journalist for your launch however. Don't invite media in general. For example, if your launch involves fashion invite media from the fashion pages in local newspapers, editors of fashion magazines, producers of fashion shows and bloggers. I can't stress bloggers enough. They are the word-of-mouth experts of all word-of-mouth professionals. If your launch is a culinary affair, invite food bloggers, foodie journalists, producers of cooking shows, editors of food pages in the newspapers and also the editors and reporters of lifestyle sections, magazines and programs.

Do your research. Find out who the editors, reporters and producers are. Don't just send a generic invitation. Be specific as to who you're inviting. It makes it much easier to follow up and your chosen media will be more inclined to attend if they feel you specifically invited them.

In addition to a formal invite, send a press release to the same media 60-days in advance highlighting the unique details of the launch (as well as info about the product and/or service) and a follow-up release two weeks prior. This will again entice your media to attend but will also help get the word out to the public that this event is happening.

Inviting "celebrities", well known movers and shakers or organizations not only create an additional draw as it makes your launch look like the "place to be" (which I'm sure it is!) but its also a good opportunity for word-of-mouth among the creme-de-la-creme.


Get the word out! Whether it's by press release, advertising, email blasts, newsletters, radio spots...whatever you need to do to make sure that people notice your launch and want to be there. I always include something along the lines of "Limited space available so RSVP/purchase your ticket now!" so that the public know that if they want to get in they better let you know pronto. Even if its a free event and there is unlimited space, by asking people to RSVP you'll have a pretty good understanding of how many people to expect and whether or not your marketing dollars are working for you. It also provides you with an opportunity to follow up after the event with potential consumers by way of newsletters or offers as you will likely have their contact information.


Having a sign-in book, poster, etc. is a good way to get potential lead information. Again, this will provide you with an opportunity to follow-up with newsletters, special offers, etc in the future and also to get a sense of who attended.


Sending your attendees off with a bag of goodies at the end of the night is always a plus. Pack that bag with a promotional flyer/postcard/magazine/business card or anything that features your product or service. Tangible items like logo key chains, coffee mugs, pens, etc. will not only get used but are perhaps the most productive way to keep your product/service on the minds of your attendees well after the event. If it's a product your launching, depending on they type of product, including a coupon towards the purchase/an online discount offer or even a sample of the product goes a long, long way. And who doesn't love swag?

Handing out goody bags at the END OF THE NIGHT is key. You don't want your guests to have to lug a bag around with them the entire evening. Also it weeds out the swag-drifters -- those who come for the free swag and then bail immediately after they get it. And again, it keeps the event and your product/service fresh in their minds even after they've left the event.


Problems will arise. No event happens without a few hiccups. But the key is to ensure that only you know these hiccups occurred. Make sure you have a logistical plan in place -- ensure that you have a Plan B and a clear, concise timeline. Confirm details with all of your participating vendors. Hold a meeting with your vendors, event staff and partners prior to the event to ensure that everyone is on the same page. This will guarantee that even if problems do arise they can be dealt with quickly and efficiently and your guests will be none the wiser. There's nothing worse than a disorganized event, an event with lag times or an event where a problem occurs and it takes so long to deal with that problem that your guests notice that something is off.

Hire an event planner. Whether it is to fully plan the event for you or to just manage the day.

Event planners are skilled in designing events with both creativity and an objective perception. We are able to see the event from both the public eyes and yours. And we are skilled in managing the event so that it executes as it should.

Also, contrary to popular belief there are those of us in the industry that do offer day-of services wherein we can be hired to manage the event and all those involved for you. Those with a small staff or large, complicated events benefit from this type of service the most. And like full-planning, on the event day it also enables you and your staff to interact with those who have attended and to further promote your product or company verbally. By being able to interact with your guests -- whether they are the VP of a company, a reporter, a "celebrity" or the average consumer/public -- you are showing that their feedback and presence matters to you and customer service is just one of the many things you can deliver on.

Always remember the purpose of your launch. This is not a party. This is not a celebration. This is a prime marketing tool to draw the public's attention to your product or service. And so it should be treated with as much diligence and focus as any other form of marketing. Just like you would look over a print ad a hundred times, the same dedication should be given to your launch to ensure that you leave a lasting impression in the minds of your consumers and industry colleagues.



© Melissa Nowakowski 2008

So often couples get caught up in the details of their planning and wow-ing their guests at their wedding that the very reason for the celebration gets somewhat tossed aside.

A Wedding is a celebration of your marriage to each other – a celebration of the day that you and your love join together and embark on a new life together -- the merging of two completely different people into one unit. That being said, here are some tips on how you can incorporate the ‘we’ into your wedding.


Focus your wedding on your personal style and taste as a couple rather than on the latest trend or what you’ve seen in magazines. Whether it is centering your theme around places you have been together, having your favourite drink served, having your wedding set in your favourite colours, etc. making the celebration about the two of you and not how awe-struck your guests will be keeps the celebration in focus.


Carve out 15 minutes to a half hour for yourselves in your wedding timeline. It can happen during the cocktail hour, just after the ceremony, during the dancing, or any point in your wedding that suits you best. Take this time to [i]privately[/i] connect and revel in the fact that you are now husband and wife. Not only will it give you a brief break from the harriedness around you, but it will insert a slice of romance into your day that [i]only the two of you[/i] get to experience. Regardless if you achieve this by having separate transportation from your wedding party, arranging your head table bistro-style with a table set just for the two of you or sneaking off to the bridal suite, taking even the briefest of moments for yourselves will add that extra spark to your cloud nine.


The First Dance is [i]your dance[/i] that conveys the two of you as a couple so make it reflective of your joint personalities. Salsa, waltz, disco, groove or just gaze into each other’s eyes. Whatever you choose to do making that first dance “your dance” will surely put a personal stamp on your night.


When it comes time for your speech as Bride and Groom and you have finished thanking your guests, vendors, wedding party and families, turn to one another and say what you’ve been wanting to say all day. Forget that there is anyone else in the room -- say what you feel and toast to one another. Not only do you deserve it, but more often than not you don’t get the opportunity to voice all that passion when standing on the altar. Another idea – a fun one that includes your guests in your special toast -- is to tell your guests how the two of you met and what your first thoughts were of one another. A cute antidote like this will not only entertain your guests (not to mention letting some of them in on how you met!) but it will bring back a flash of memories reminding you of how your love took you to this point.


No matter how wild, wacky or weird your cultural traditions may seem, your culture is still a part of you. Regardless if you are 1st, 2nd or 10th generation or how little of your culture you practice, incorporating even one small element of your culture into your wedding defines the backgrounds that you are blending to carry on for generations to come. If you find that even one of your cultural traditions don’t quite fit the “feel” of your wedding or is too complex, consider other ways to incorporate it. This can be as simple as having a traditional pastry laid out for your guests to pick up on their way out of the reception, serving a traditional “signature” beverage for your guests to try or having a framed photo of each set of grandparents in their home country resting on a table.


Showing the stages of your courtship from beginning to present day is a great way to incorporate the “we” factor in your wedding. Whether it’s through a slideshow, a photobook or scrapbook or a “tree of life”, not only does this provide amusement for your guests during the cocktail hour but it’s something that the two of you can keep and look upon long after your wedding day.


Show the evolution and merging of your personalities by having a table with “his”, “her”, and “us” favourite items. Have three or four items for each section which can include her favourite CD, his favourite sport like a golf ball, her ballet slippers, your airline tickets to a few countries you’ve visited together, etc. Not only will this table provide nostalgia for your friends who know you best, but it shows how your personalities have changed to complement each other’s “favourite things”.


Carrying or incorporating family heirlooms into your wedding can represent more than just the joining of your families...it can be a reflection of the bloodline from which you come. A handkerchief carried with you in case you cry, a pocket watch that belonged to your grandfather, a necklace or cuff links that your mother or father wore on their wedding day, a cake and knife server set passed down for generations…any piece of your bloodline that you keep with you on your wedding day will remind you from where you’ve come and will add something special to the term “the joining of families”

Whatever creative way you choose to do it, putting the "we" back in weddings will not only make your wedding day more "you" but will provide reminders at every turn of who you were, who you are and who you will be together and always.