As with any phenomenon that evolves into a bona-fide industry, the moment there’s a set of problems to navigate, there will always be the emergence of specialists who offer solutions. Ten years ago we didn’t have smart-phones yet today there are thousands of companies specialising in mobile digital marketing strategies.

There’s nothing wrong with this of course, however as should be expected, when the good guys come out to play the game, the bad guys also appear and want a share. You should be very mindful of the faux experts masquerading as real experts.

Black Hats are those who generally seek the commercial aspects of formal work but do so without any of the equally important attention given to compliance. I know that all sounds overly melodramatic but many school formal “faux” agencies are actually quite ruthless in their quest for dollars over safety.

There are several ways to identify whether you’re dealing with a “White Hat” or a “Black Hat” agency.

Check their corporate history.

This can be as simple as running their name or ABN through the online ASIC registers to see if they have a bona-fide commercial history without any Trade Practices breaches or government actions against them.

Check the Venues they’re claiming to represent.

A bona-fide agency selling formals will be officially partnered with legitimate venues. If the venues are openly named on the agencies marketing materials (such as web sites), this is a good sign. If the actual logos and images of those venues are advertised, this is even better. This shows that the venues have granted written authorisation for the agency to represent them commercially. If you choose one of these venues through an agency for your formal,

you should call the function or events department of that venue and check that the agency is actually known to them, authorised to represent them and you can even ask their recommendation on how well the agency usually performs.

Conversely, if the identities and logos of the venues are being hidden or unnamed, you have spotted a faux.

Ask for their Certification and Accreditation documents in all the areas that concern you.

This should be Security Action Plans, Hazard Identifications, Harm Minimisation plans, Public Liability Insurance etc. If they plead ignorance on any of these sorts of documents – you’ve spotted a faux.

Ask for Testimonials from other school officials that have used their service for at least 5 years in a row.

These can be checked with a simple phone call to a colleague in another school to verify the truth of any claim and to get some background on what they’re experiencing with that agency, good and bad.


Formals are harder to organise than weddings. That’s a fact. I can hear your mind clicking as you challenge that thought. Let’s go through it together.

Statistically the average wedding in Sydney is 120 heads with a bridal party of 6. The normal accoutrements are meal, music, flowers, cake, photographer and place cards. That’s about the extent of it. Dresses, suits, hair, makeup, limousines and additional photography are all limited to the bridal party. The rest of the guests are on their own for all of that.

Statistically the average school formal in Sydney is 200 heads. Everyone on the guest list is in the “bridal party” so they all need dresses, suits, hair, makeup, limousines and extra photography.

In addition there will be many more inclusions in a formal package than the average wedding. Weddings don’t usually have gelato bars, balloons, photo booths, fairy-floss machines, slushy machines and other such inclusions that are all common at formals all the time.

The most critical difference is that a wedding is seldom full of minors without parents and the bridal couple pay for the guests so there’s no legal compliance issues about venue licenses or unaccompanied minors, there’s no chasing of ticket moneys from guests and there’s no security attending to keep the peace.

It’s when you see these differences for what they are that it becomes obvious why formals cost more than weddings and with the volume and complexity of them, why they turn over more money as an industry.

Anyone who has ever planned a wedding will tell you that it’s almost a full time job for at least a year of lead time.

Statistically the average 5 student formal committee will take an average of 10 hours of work each for every hour of the formal’s duration. That’s 50 hours each, which is 250 hours of students with their noses in formal plans and not in text books approaching their exam times. Nobody wants that.

If appointing a Teacher or Year Group Advisor to assist in this huge task, which I wholeheartedly recommend, this kind of time-hungry activity will also have negative impact on their work and home life.

Again, don’t be worried about this. 740 formals happen every year in Sydney and nobody’s died from over-planning yet. It is an issue that needs a solution though.

Statistically, a formal planned with the assistance of a reputable formal planning agency has numbers that look more agreeable. 10 Hours for a teacher and around 3 hours each for the student committee members to get everything done. The agencies do the rest and it can sometimes shave quite a bit off the cost of the tickets too. In most cases agencies have superior buying power for venues and suppliers and can pass savings on that you’d never get by trying to plan this yourself. This of course applies only to the real agencies, and not the faux agencies discussed earlier.