Vanessa von Bismarck
Written by Saul Taylor
From growing up in Germany and studying in London, Vanessa von Bismarck went to work at a sugar trading company as a commodity trader. After deciding to switch industries she found herself working in PR across the pond in New York. After three short months, she set up her own agency with her business partner Carrie Ellen Phillips which now services luxury clients with global PR and communications strategy from offices in New York, London and LA.
How has your business changed?
I grew up around a lot of events. Not so much corporate events that I do now, but private events. I know how to gather an interesting mix of people and how to create the moment that people will talk about. For me that’s easy. Events are probably 20 per cent of our business today. The rest of the time we work with our clients on communication strategy that spans everything from PR and marketing to social media. Everything has to work together nowadays, because if it doesn’t your message gets completely lost. Events have really pivoted away from being things that are done for coverage in magazines, which doesn’t really happen anymore.
Why do you think that is?
Magazines just stopped publishing them because three months after the event it’s no longer relevant and that is how long it takes a magazine to come out. US Weekly will put a picture of a celebrity in, but it wouldn’t just be event coverage. So the influencers really filled a void there and they have seven, eight, nine million followers. If they take a picture, that’s more than five of those magazines put together and people are following them voluntarily.
How have influencers influenced events?
I think the guest list has changed. You still look for influential people, but you also look at their social media platforms and how much influence they have there. Sometimes people are invited solely based on this influence. That’s a big change, we never had that before. A lot of my clients cast models and they always look at their social media and how many followers they have. It’s interesting how social media has completely changed the face of the industry as a whole.
How have you adapted to it?
It’s funny, because you always have to remind clients that champagne is all well and good, but it’s not enough. What moments and experiences will you create for the guests? That is something that we still have to explain quite often to the more traditional European clients, because they don’t really think that way. They’re like, “Okay, we’ll put in a photo booth.” And I say, “A photo booth is not enough!” It forces us all to be more creative. It also allows us to connect with new talent. Hermès recently had a one-man band, which was amazing. The music was incredible and such a perfect Instagram moment, because you don’t see that often. I think that everything that we do has to be seen through a lens of content and views on social media.
What’s your approach?
For us, it’s personal. I can’t do an event that isn’t a success, it drives me insane. We deliver beyond expectations. One of the things that is different about us is the amount of involvement that I personally have in our clients’ work. I am deeply involved in what happens, so I don’t just sign them and walk away. I think that is a big distinguishing factor. Another factor is that we have a lot of people in this company who are connected to many different groups. I can do an Upper East Side party and I can do a super-cool Downtown cool kids party. You need connections to the guests that you invite.
How do you stay switched on?
I don’t do anything by myself. I have a strong team with strong connections. And I personally have a lot of connections, whether it’s Europeans in New York or the slightly older American set. I have spent 20 years here and I make a point of meeting people privately, so they don’t feel that I’m just constantly asking them to attend events.
What is an event like at ‘Casa von Bismarck’?
I do quite a lot of those. If you ask me to do a dinner for 15 people, I find it really hard. I always like to do seated dinners, so we tend to have chairs everywhere and mix a lot of people. We try to figure out what they are working on or what they are interested in. For instance, she’s an artist and he’s working on some kind of art exhibition so they need to talk; or this is a journalist who could be really interesting to chat with this person because they have the same hobby. I love curating events, for me it’s a lot of fun.
What have you learned over the years?
You have to know how to pivot. You have to be able to learn every day because things move so quickly that you may think, “We’re not going to get involved in that; I don’t know how that works; I’m not going to do it.” It doesn’t work like that. I think that younger people actually feel uncomfortable about the changes, but despite feeling uncomfortable they’ll jump right in.
What makes a great event?
The best kind of event is when you get flowers from the client afterwards. I have very rarely been in a situation where the client has said, “Wow, that was a disaster”. I couldn’t live with that. You would be surprised how often it happens — how often random people get invited to things and the client doesn’t know whether they are cool or not. We had a client — a high-end luxury brand — that was launching a bag and wanted Millennials, Gen Z, influencers, transgenders, everything. Some of those influencers are extraordinarily special looking, and that’s what they’re proud of. And great. I walk into this party and we had these influencers who were invited by the team because they work with them all the time. There was a woman my age from the brand at the party. I said to her, “You know what’s really funny is that five years ago I would have been fired for this event.” Today, it’s the coolest thing ever. I got two more events out of that.Back