By Ashley Naftule, January 2019 issue.
When asked what’s the biggest misconception people have about event planning, Sway Events founder Gary Guerin chuckles and says, “It’s glamorous, easy, and a nonstop party.”
Over the course of our conversation, Guerin paints a picture of event-planning that is miles away from the image of “attending parties all day” that so many of us probably have of his work. “It’s a lot of paying attention to details and hard,” Guerin says. “For me, it’s art — I live in it and I think about it all the time.”
For party animals and Valley denizens with a fondness for glitz and glam, the name Sway should ring a bell. Started back in 2006, Guerin and his team have been putting together ambitious events around town—Iconic blowouts like the Sway summer pool parties and the Swagger Awards (an event that awarded some of the Valley’s most outrageous and distinctive trendsetters). “We were around for about a decade, in which we covered literally hundreds of events,” Guerin says. There’s a faint trace of awe in his voice, like even he can’t believe how many things Sway did during its original run.
If it seems odd to talk about Sway in the past tense, it’s because the organization went on hiatus for a long spell. “A few years back, I decided to step away and take a break from working in that format,” Guerin explains. For anyone working in the culture industry, burn-out is an eventual fact of life. You can only juggle so many balls before the urge to embrace a bit of stillness in your life becomes overwhelming. Guerin, like so many other people who excel in their chosen fields, had to take a breather eventually.
But he hasn’t been idle. “I went to work in a more corporate agency environment, so for the past three years I’ve really been working on corporate events with some large and recognizable clients like Pinterest and Instagram. I’ve been really sharpening my skills as an event planner during that time.”
Guerin’s interest in event planning stems from a lifelong association and interest in the entertainment industry. “I worked for Disney for six years,” he says. “I’ve always been a bit of an entertainer.” Guerin also has a long and distinguished background in marketing; he used to the be the marketing manager at Phoenix New Times.
“Once I started to narrow my focus on what I wanted to do, I realized that events and event marketing was my niche,” Guerin says. “It’s what I’m naturally talented at; it’s the thing that I’m super passionate about.”
After years away from Sway, Guerin felt he was ready to pick up that mantle again. “I just really wanted to get back to my roots and do what I love,” Guerin says. “A lot of people had asked me when Sway was going to do something again or when we were going to come back, and I didn’t really have an answer for that until recently.”
Part of what fueled Guerin’s interest in reactivating Sway came from another business he had just started: Stem Swag. A floral company, Stem Swag focuses on crafting custom centerpieces, floral decor, and flower bars where folks can build their own bouquets. Combining florals and events seemed like a no-brainer for Guerin.
“One of the original concepts of Sway Events was to be able to offer up a higher caliber of event planning to the community,” Guerin says. Adding florals to his bag of tricks is one of the ways he hopes to distinguish Sway 2.0 from its original incarnation. “We’re working to specialize in florals and decors, so we can really tell the story of events through that. It’s a new medium for us.”
“Storytelling through events” is a concept that Guerin brings up throughout our talk. For Guerin, an event isn’t just an excuse to congregate and clink drink glasses; it’s an opportunity to share a narrative, to thread events together with just the right thematically resonant details. It’s a chance for him to paint a picture that people get to live inside of for a while.
“I consider events to be my art,” Guerin says. “And the inspiration for that art can come from all sorts of different aspects. Sometimes the theme for an event will come before the planning; sometimes we’ll meet with a client or a venue and they’ll let us know their goals and the themes will blossom from that.”
And like any good artist, Guerin is self-aware and critical of his own process. “Over the course of our first decade, we did a large volume of projects. So, one of our goals now is to lean more towards quality than quantity.”
Guerin has been busying himself over the last few months planning the event that is “essentially, a comeback for the Sway brand.” The event is a New Year’s Eve party at Stacy’s @ Melrose. “A perfect storm of events” led Guerin to collaborating with Stacy’s. “For the kind of event we want to do, Stacy’s is the perfect place for it,” Guerin says.
For the New Year’s bash, Sway and Stem Swag are working together to transform Stacy’s into a floral wonderland. “There will be cool edible flowers, a botanical-infused drink menu, a buzz-button bar, and a petal drop at midnight,” Guerin explains. According to Guerin, the edible flowers will be able to alter people’s palates and let them experience whole new flavors with their drinks. A beauty bar also will be set up in Stacy’s, along with elaborate floral installations.
As with other Sway events, there’s a story being told in the flower garlanded Stacy’s. Flowers are all about the transience of beauty, a lesson from Mother Nature for us to appreciate lovely things while they last. Like parties, they aren’t meant to last — they’re to be enjoyed in the moment. And they’re also about growth and renewal, which isn’t a bad theme to keep in mind when you’re ringing in the New Year.
“The tagline we’ve been using for the part is ‘Everything’s coming up roses’,” Guerin says. “It’s an old saying, a connotation, of wishing somebody great success.” Here’s hoping that 2019 is a year of roses for Sway Events.