By Lara Bell –
Houston is known for some of the most philanthropic people in the country, so being a party planner in this giving city can keep a gal busy. Memorial resident and owner of Francisco & Co, Ellie Francisco, knows how to throw a party, and here are some of her secrets!
AM: You have been chairing events since I’ve known you and raising money for worthy charities. Is there any one event that has stuck out in your mind?
EF: The most memorable was also the first: the 1998 Ronald McDonald House Gala that I chaired with my friend Hilary Purcell. It was on the floor of the Astrodome, and I believe was the last large gala in the Dome. We raised $1 million for the event; the TSU marching band started the action, getting everyone to their tables, and our auctioneer rode up the center aisle on a motorcycle. We used all of the screens, entertained over 1,000 people and introduced the big boards for the first time to a major fundraiser. It was an amazing and successful evening for a great organization.
AM: Several years ago you turned your talents into a premier event planning company in Houston. What made you to decide to start a business?
EF: I had been working in the oil and gas business for over 20 years, traveled all over the world and had many great opportunities. When I left my last company in 2004, I was sure I would stay in the corporate world, but then, people started asking me if I could help on this event, can you offer advice on that event, and I started to think maybe I could do this for a business. Francisco & Co was established over eight years ago, and I feel fortunate to say we are very busy, have offices in Houston and Dallas and continue to grow every year. We have recently started event planning for summer functions in Colorado.
I thought I would just be planning events, but we have evolved into an organization that offers more. Our differentiator from other event companies is our contacts in the community that enable us to guide non-profits, not just on how to take their events to the next level, but also with ideas for chairmen, honorees, committee members and guide them as they establish or enhance their database. We give back to the community in a different way. Our clients, with our help, have raised millions of dollars over the last several years to help so many people. That really makes you feel good about what you enjoy doing.
AM: When people are planning an event, whether a simple dinner party or daughter’s wedding, what is some advice to make it successful?
EF: Start planning well in advance. Stay true to your vision and what you like; don’t get talked into something you are not happy with. Francisco & Co is very much about timelines for the day of the event. We work with you and plan how you want the day or evening to go. We try to stick with the timeline so the event flows well, and your name is favorably associated with the event. Also, bring in help so you can enjoy your event; we can assist with that also.
AM: What trends are you seeing in the event planning business?
EF: Less silent auctions definitely. Technology is being used much more for fundraising, via either mobile giving or mobile bidding where ipads are used at events for auction bidding. There is an increased use of eblasts to communicate about events in order to save the organizations money on printing and postage. Bringing in speakers/celebrities to add buzz to an event on interesting topics is also popular. People are willing to include this element by finding underwriters to pay for this. I see larger, less formal, more fun events that appeal to a variety of ages. In times past, people thought you had to be in black tie to raise money and that is just not true any more.
AM: Are there any corporate or special events that you are dying to produce?
EF: The christening for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s royal baby; that could be the ultimate event. Unless, of course, it was Prince Harry’s wedding!