Planning a future around events

By KERRY FELTNER
Fast Start • March 27, 2015

From creating elegant holiday place cards as a child to planning events for high-profile celebrities, Pauleen Vacca has found her calling in the event industry.

Vacca, 25, owns Pauleenanne Design, an event firm that employs two full-time and a part-time employee, with interns on rotation. She founded the firm in 2011 after graduating from St. John Fisher College with a B.A. in English writing.

Vacca became interested in events work while in college. On a tour of the college, Vacca was introduced to the Student Activities Board and decided to give the club a try once she enrolled.

“I knew the second I got on the Student Activities Board, ‘This is it,’” Vacca says. “After that point there was just no going back.”

There she helped to plan events large and small, including an “Amazing Race”-like event and the college’s annual gala. St. John Fisher gives students a lot of space and responsibility for events, she says.

“At Fisher they were so just ‘Do it yourselves,’” she says. “I got a ton of event experience there.”

Vacca also interned with a wedding planner and a corporate events company during college. And for one summer as an intern at Shiraz Events, she solidified her passion for event planning working on events for celebrities and major companies such as Amazon Inc.

“The first week I was there we did an event for Shakira,” Vacca says. “She wasn’t there, which was a little sad, but I mean the rest of my life I can say I did an event for Shakira.

“You don’t get paid, and some people are so anti that. But I gained so much experience that it was more than worth it,” she adds.

Vacca landed the internship through Dream Careers Inc., which connects applicants with internship programs in major cities all over the world.

Despite her experience, Vacca had a hard time finding a job in events planning after graduation, so she took her career into her own hands.

“I was kind of at a crossroads of ‘what do I do?’” Vacca says. “I was just like, I’m going to go home and do it myself. I wasn’t going to settle for something that was sales.

“I see so many people who go into communications work for companies that are sales and they’re in a sales job,” she adds. “And I think, ‘You didn’t go to school for that. You went for so much more.’”

Four years after returning to her home in Greece, Vacca operates an office at 1577 W. Ridge Road. She averages 15 weddings a year and aims to someday open offices in Albany and New York City.

A break came in the first year when an old friend agreed to let her plan her wedding free of charge.

“I was trying to figure out, ‘How do I get my foot in the door?’” Vacca says. “One of my friends from high school I saw on Facebook was getting married, so I called her. And honestly I hadn’t talked to her in a while.

“It gave me a starting point and the confidence too,” she adds.

Last year the firm added a brand house to diversify its offering. The idea came while Vacca worked with Wendy Rockcastle, owner of Rockcastle Florist Inc. for a brief period. Rockcastle noticed Vacca’s talents in helping to brand her business—a need at many firms.

“In January of 2014 it was going so well and it really made the wheel keep turning so I (thought), ‘I’m going to do this,’” Vacca says. “It might not make sense to a lot of people—event planning and marketing—but for me I just made it fit.”

The brand house offers graphic design and marketing through social media and e-mail.

Vacca says owning a business means hard work and firm priorities.

“Definitely not everyone wants to own their own business, and the world is not meant for that to happen,” Vacca says. “But I think for those who maybe are scared to or are maybe not as successful they don’t have that willingness to make sacrifices. You have to; you’re not going to get everything handed to you on a silver platter. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Take the long view, she says.

“My mantra is you have to put (things) in perspective. It’s who you know, how hard you’re going to work. Things will come for you when you roll your sleeves up.”

Hard work still does not guarantee smooth sailing, she adds. During major life events, opinions abound, and she says managing relationships can be tricky.

“It’s really an exciting day and I think sometimes a lot of people want to get involved. The physical details and the organization and the planning for me are never the difficult part at all. It’s the relationships.”

Vacca says she loves helping clients create memories that will remain etched in their minds for years to come.

“My favorite part is more of the emotional feeling at the end of the day, seeing it all done and I know (that) I feel great about it,” she says. “But it’s even more great when someone else makes a compliment or the bride is happy.”

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