November 6, 2013

Pancake Session: To Bridal Show or Not to Bridal Show?

Nate asked:

Hi Justin & Mary!
I’m relatively new to wedding photography. I’m shooting 5 weddings this year and looking to build on that. Did you or do you do any of the Bridal Expos, and if so which ones and were they worth it? I think at the very least it would be a learning experience and I can see how other photographers present themselves. Also, do you have any advice on what someone new to the industry could do to help build some interest? I’m basically word of mouth right know. I finally have enough material for a website, which I’m building. Thanks! Your work is fantastic!


Ahhh Nate!! That is SUCH a great question! And I know there are a wide variety of feelings on the topic (we have friends in other parts of the country, mostly the South, who swear by bridal shows and book most of their couples that way) and I don’t think there is necessarily any one right answer. But as for Justin & I we are actually emphatically against bridal shows for our own business. And to really explain WHY & to give you the back story, I think an excerpt that I wrote in our ebook The Guide will best do the trick!

From The Guide:

When Justin & I were first getting started in this business, we looked around and we said “Great! We’re wedding photographers…, what are we supposed to do? What’s everyone else doing?” Here’s a really great tip for your business and your life: If ever you find yourself saying, “What am I supposed to do? What’s everyone else doing?” you’re probably already on the wrong track. We definitely were.

We looked around in our market and asked “what are we supposed to do, what’s everyone else doing” and we came up with the following four-prong approach that we used to start our business: print ads, bridal shows, cold calls, and email blasts.

First, we spent $10,000 taking out print ads. Money that we did not have. So we did it on credit. Which in effect, proved to be like taking this brand new baby of a business that we had and tying a 10,000 pound lead weight to the back of it. And then wondering why we weren’t picking up any speed. Since we were spending all this money we didn’t have, we went ahead and spent $3,000 more signing up for bridal shows. Which got us in to exactly two of them. And then from those mailing lists we got after the shows we would spend days trying to reach out one on one doing cold calls and emails blasts to all the brides who had come by our booth.

Not surprisingly, most people never wrote back. Let alone hired us. And to this day, we have a $0 (zip, zero, nada, GOOSE EGG) return on those $10,000 print ads.

And of the few people who did want to meet with us from the bridal shows, they were the very same ones who were keeping us in those “job interview days” of our business. These were the couples who were finding us as one of 25 photographers in the back of a magazine or one of 30 photographers at a bridal show, and they were being trained right off the bat to think of us as just one of many, lined up one after another after another. A photographer is a photographer is a photographer. And all they had to do was compare us apples to apples, and find the biggest bang for the least amount of buck. But looking back now, we know it’s not surprising at all that they would think of us this way because….

So going back to your question Nate, when a couple stumbles upon you in a way that says to them, “a photographer is a photographer is a photographer” it makes it really hard for them to every really value & appreciate you in particular. For this reason, we’ve sworn off bridal shows and print ads. And we also for the same reason don’t spend a lot of time on SEO either. I don’t want a client to hire us because we were on the first page of results & Google told them to. I want a client to hire us because someone told them they HAD to have us in particular shoot their wedding, and when they came over to our site they fell in love with how Justin & I SEE love. With how we see light. And mood. And emotion. Because we’re storytellers. And they can’t imagine for one single second not having us be the ones to tell their story. Because they believe 60 years from now, they will still be as much in love with their images as they were the day they got them. And because their grandchildren will look at those pictures one day and know without a doubt that their family started with love. That’s why I want someone to hire us.

Not because we were giving away an I Do Ipod at booth #547.

The way your clients find you, trains them on how to THINK about you.

So we better be giving them something really good to think about.
Rock it out!

***If you would like to grab a copy of The Guide (our ebook with over 60 pages on Branding, Marketing, Pricing, Building the RIGHT Kind of Word of Mouth, and Booking the Ideal Client) you can do that by going HERE!! And when you buy a copy TODAY, the code “JM50” will get you $50 off!

  1. Jordan Demos

    This is phenomenal. Seriously. I read your blog every day, never comment, but found myself yelling, "Preach it, girl!" with nearly every word. Plus, the last line about the "I Do iPod at booth #547" had me laughing out loud. Well played, Mary, well played.

  2. Irene

    Agree – but I have to say that SEO does help me a LOT! And it is a fairly easy and free option. I don’t spend a ton of time studying SEO and trying to maximize, but I do try to a few things that help. And I have been hired by quite a few clients who find me online and then love my work.

    I would never do a bridal show either though…reminds me of my old days as a Marketing Mgr in an industrial mfg…nothing worse than hours in a room standing in front of a booth!!! ARGH!!!!!

  3. MM

    @Irene: totally agree!! We do a little bit of SEO, just in case someone happens to stumble upon our page and then connects with US! I was speaking more to the folks who feel like they have to be on the first page of Google to ever book clients! :)

  4. Stephanie Booth

    Wow wow wow! My husband and I were LITERALLY just talking about this! We invested in one print ad and were talking about whether it really gets our foot in the door or just puts us on a list of photographers. We really appreciate this so much. We don’t want to be "better than the competition." we want there to be no one else but us in the bride’s mind. I think we have made our decision about next year’s ad renewal!

  5. Natalie Norton

    AMEN. Times infinity. Brilliantly put.

  6. Ron

    Hmmm. This doesn’t seem right. Wouldn’t make sense for me to buy 3 copies of the same ebook?

    "Invalid coupon code.
    This coupon (JM50) is only available on orders over ($350.00)."

  7. Anna

    I’m SO glad I’m not the only one who’s a little sick of the whole bridal show SHOW. I did 2 and really found the whole process stressful and the outcome yawn-worthy.

    Do you do any other advertising, though? You’ve said you don’t do shows or print ads – do you do online ads or have you ever done sessions for free to "get your name out there"?

  8. MM

    @Ron: whoops! that was a typo…it’s all fixed now!

  9. Ron

    Thanks, all set! Order is placed!

  10. Dedra Lamb

    I love the quote "The way your clients find you trains them on how to think about you" It’s so true!! Thank you for your honesty and help in navigating through this field. Thank you!

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