The challenges of event planning during a pandemic

The bride and groom stand together outside at their wedding venue. The groom is holding a microphone and there is a camera visible in the foreground. They are addressing their virtual guests watching from their computers.

As a certified meeting planner for Amway North America, Janielle Moss Peacock is tasked with planning experiences around the world for top-performing Amway Independent Business Owners (IBOs).

Whether it’s Scotland, Thailand or closer to home in California, Janielle and the rest of the special events team work together create unforgettable adventures that are not available to the to the typical tourist.

“I love to immerse myself in all of the local goodness of the country I’m in,” Janielle said. “I enjoy the challenge and opportunity of infusing that culture into an event or experience.”

Pre-pandemic travels

In Scotland, for example, the IBOs took on the roles of lords and ladies of a castle and had dinner on the Royal Yacht Britannia served by the queen’s staff, she said. “Where else in the world can you go and have all of the executives and IBO leaders voluntarily put on a kilt?”

In Thailand, she was blown away by the beauty and culture of the temples but, of course, planning an event in one was out of the question. “We ended up building one,” she said. They rented a dome tent, projected images on the surface to recreate the temple and built out artifacts.

In California, they rented out an old theater and created their own version of “Dancing with the Stars,” complete with the band and three professionals from the show.

A small vase of flowers and a bottle of hand sanitizer sit on a table at a wedding next to a card reading: "Janielle and James love you and want you to stay healthy. Please wear your face mask if not six feet apart."

Change of plans

Her work in its usual form came to a screeching halt in the spring of 2020 when the global pandemic of COVID-19 shut down or discouraged air travel and large gatherings. The team’s efforts were shifted to virtual or hybrid gatherings and finding new and creative ways to reward IBOs.

But there was one event that she was not willing to move to the virtual world: Her wedding. Janielle Moss became engaged to James Peacock in the fall of 2019 and she immediately began planning what she saw as the most important event of her life.

She was engaged in September, booked the JW Marriott Hotel in Grand Rapids for the ceremony and reception by November and said yes to a dress in December. The big day was slated for September 11, 2020.

“Planning the wedding was easy pre-pandemic,” she said. “I was very matter of fact and decisive. I knew what I wanted. I think at times I forgot I was the bride and this was my wedding and not another event. All details, especially the small ones, mattered, so I probably became obsessed at times.”

A white bin is filled with individually wrapped items for wedding guests. "Peacock Est. 2020" is printed on the outside of the bin.

Watching and waiting

Janielle said her biggest challenge in her 15 years as an event planner is dealing with factors beyond her control, which usually means things like the weather. A global pandemic is something she never could have predicted.

“When this first started, everyone said things would be better by fall, so we were watching and waiting,” she said. But in June, her bridal shower had to be moved outside and adjusted for social distancing.

“By July, I knew it was time to make some decisions on what we’re going to do in September,” she said. “The planner in me couldn’t continue to sit back and cross my fingers.”

A groom waits at the altar for his bride. The guests, all wearing masks, also look back toward the bride.

That’s when her “re-planning,” began, and she was grateful to have her fellow Amway event planners – Sue Vanderlaan and Kayla Zane – join her wedding planning and coordinating team. Even though an outdoor wedding was something she never even considered because of the uncertainties of weather, she saw it as her only option.

Thankfully, she had the perfect location. Janielle’s aunt is Amway Chief Reputation Officer Candace Matthews, and she was only too happy to host her niece’s wedding. In fact, she and her husband, Bruce, had been hoping to host it from the start.

“When I got engaged, I had to tell them that my anxiety level couldn’t handle being a bride and planning an outdoor wedding,” Janielle said. But the coronavirus changed everything: The event was no longer about capturing her vision for her special day.

A bride walks with her father toward the altar at an outdoor wedding.

Safety first

“When COVID hit, my priorities changed. The ultimate goal was to ensure everyone remained safe,” she said. “My dad has preexisting conditions. So, I wanted to make sure we followed all of the CDC recommendations.”

They cut their invite list by more than half and only a portion of those were invited to the ceremony; the rest came for the reception. They had sanitation stations, required masks and placed tables six feet apart. Seating was determined by families or social groups that they knew were together during quarantine.

The week of the wedding she sent out a “very forward” email detailing all the safety precautions and protocols that would be expected of people. “Some of them said it was a threat,” Janielle said, smiling. “But I was very kind. I said if you’re not feeling well, please stay home.”

A bride and groom posing for a picture outside stand together and stare into each other's eyes.

A magical day

She was able to keep her original caterer and had the same live entertainment and deejay. Instead of the hotel, they rented a tent and a dance floor. As she looks back now, she said everything turned out perfectly and there were no reported illnesses after the event.

“We were on pins and needles for the first 10 days. I don’t know what I would have done if someone had gotten sick,” she said.

The hardest part of changing everything was facing the disappointment of friends and family she could no longer include in person, although they watched the wedding virtually. But, she said, the end result was better than she could have imagined.

“With hindsight being 2020, if I had to do it all over again, I would choose my plan B option without a doubt,” she said. “It was a magical day.”

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