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Should a Wedding Photographer Do a Bridal Show?

November 8, 2012 - Business, Photography

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Dear Jasmine,
I was wondering if you ever did bridal shows, and if so how'd you go about doing it? I hear some people go all out with renting furniture and decorations, but I don't have the funds to go all out like that. Would it be a total waste if your booth isn't extravagant like this? I know first impressions are lasting ones, but I don't want to lose money I don't have.
Thanks,
Less Than Extravagant

Dear Less Than Extravagant,
Before I answer your question, I need to be clear about something: some wedding photographers spend $2,000 on a bridal show and walk away with a lot of weddings booked…and some wedding photographers spend $2,000 on a bridal show and walk away with squat. Without a doubt, I'd fall into that latter category (for reasons I'll get into in a minute), but it's important to know that what I say is just my opinion and isn't meant to be sacrosanct. Some photographers will likely disagree with my opinion, but their strengths aren't my own, so let's get into the details…

I've never been a fan of bridal shows for two main reasons: 1. The cost; and 2. The motive.

1. THE COST
I've mentioned this before, but when I started my business, I didn't have any money. The little money I could save was spent on camera gear and there wasn't room for extras. The first bridal show I was asked to join has an admission of $1,250 for a standard 10×10 booth. At the time, my fees averaged $1,500 per wedding, so I need to book two weddings from that one show to make it worthwhile (had I booked just one, I would've broken even and that's a mediocre investment at best). Once I added in furniture rentals, transportation, printed goods (price lists, business cards, promos, a sample album), and snacks/goodies, it added another $1,000 to the bill (at minimum), so that meant I needed to book three weddings in order to make it worth my time.
I knew the odds were stacked against me because other wedding photographers had elaborate booths, multiple digital displays, and cool gifts (THEY'RE GIVING AWAY CUSTOM BREATH MINTS?!), while my booth would have looked like Little Orphan Annie and the Bad News Bears had a were in charge of my design.
At the end of the day, my booth could have done more harm than good, and that's a risk I wasn't willing to take. And let's be real, I didn't even have $85 to paint the hood of my car, where was I going to come up with $2,000+ for a bridal show?

2. THE MOTIVE
I can't speak for every bridal show, but for the ones I've visited (both as a bride and, later, as a wedding photographer), I've felt like they were pointing brides in the wrong direction. Fill out a card to win a free engagement session!…Book today and receive a 15% discount!…No tax if you pay today! And, truthfully, some of those tactics worked because those brides went to bridal shows looking for bargains, a photographer who fit in their budgets. Sure, great connections and lovely weddings can come from a bridal show, but the strongest seller fares the best. Smart, savvy photographers can rise above and profit, but there are few.

And I'm not one of them.

I'd say I'm downright awful at sales. JD jokes when he says I couldn't sell him water in a desert…but it's the truth. I don't want to sell someone on the idea that I'm the best photographer for her wedding…I want her to come to that conclusion on her own. Brides go to bridal shows looking for photographers, but I want brides coming to me for me. I want them to know that I'm the best fit for them far before they pick up the phone to call me or send me an email. And that doesn't happen at a show.

So, Less Than Extravagant, those are the reasons why I don't do bridal shows. Sure, my business has grown to a point where I can now afford to pay for a bridal show booth, but I'd rather do something different…sell my own way, if you will. I'd rather take the money I'd invest in a booth and apply it towards Hurricane Sandy relief efforts…or, heck, offer my services at cost for a deserving couple who wants to marry, but lost everything during flooding. This might not be for everyone, but it works for me. If you don't have money to lose, then I heavily suggest you don't waste the money you have unless you know you can rise above the rest.

Stay Fabulous,
j*

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