Featuring Karen Walker, CPP
What's the most beautiful sound you can hear in the dead of winter? The phone ringing of course! And mine's been ringing off the hook.
I recently ran an ad in the newspaper asking for "models" and the response has been great. I realize this isn't a new idea but here is my suggestions for making it work.
Having recently given up the wedding photography business I needed a way to let people know that I wasn't closing the studio but was in fact expanding my portrait business. And since I truly needed new faces for my web site and other advertising, this seemed like the perfect time to put out a general call for models. I also hoped to photograph some students from the class of 2009 so potential clients will see their classmates on my brochure and web site.
I'm a big believer in direct mail, but this time I wanted to reach the average consumer that may not already be familiar with my studio. So instead of mailing to the usual suspects, I placed a display ad in my area's largest newspaper that read: "Models Wanted - No Experience Necessary - At Karen Walker Studio in East Jordan, we are updating our displays and are looking for high school students, children, families or anyone with a unique hobby or talent to be photographed for use in ads, brochures, web site and displays. There is no cost or obligation. Everyone that is photographed will receive a $50 credit and a discount on purchases. Attention Class of 2009! This is the perfect opportunity to get great photos by a Senior Portrait Specialist. Call Karen for more information and to reserve your appointment. 231-536-3663"
I'm only about half way through this promotion but so far here's the numbers: I booked about 50 appointments from this ad. My usual workflow is a maximum of 8-10 sessions per week so within a matter of days I was booked solid for the next 3 weeks with several people on a waiting list. I should also mention that I live in a small town of about 3500 and my market area is a population of about 50,000. So 50 bookings for me, especially in the winter, is very good. Of those 50 bookings, most of them are young children between the ages of 2 and 6 that would otherwise go to Big-Mart for portraits, about 12 of the bookings are from the class of 2009 (just what I had hoped for), a few more are teenage wanna-be models, and a few more are adults, including a state trooper that I hope will wait until the snow melts and we can photograph (I almost said shoot) out on the street with lights flashing and guns drawn!
So far my rate of no-shows is about 20%. Not surprising since something that is free is often seen as having no value. Sales have been about half of my usual average. Again, not surprising since these customers are not highly motivated. On the positive side, my studio is rocking when it's normally quiet. I'm bringing in people that have never been to my studio before and children that have never been to a professional photographer before.
The sessions have all gone exceptionally well. I've talked with the clients before the session to plan clothing (I don't just make suggestions, I tell them what to wear) and plan a direction for the shoot. (Thank you Jim Lersch.) I put a photo from each session on my web site as soon as possible after the shoot and email the client a link to the page with a reminder to brag about it to their friends and family.
Other points to consider: I make sure that any photo I use is one that the client likes. Using a monetary amount as a reward instead of a free print makes people feel more like a professional model. And most important, the reason for the model shoot needs to sound legitimate and not just a marketing ploy. Of course, everyone is treated like royalty and I let them know that I am truly grateful that they took the time to model for me.
The buzz that this has created has been priceless and my studio is "cool" because we photograph "models".
Working the Bridal Fair
Most wedding photographers attend bridal fairs to meet brides. I say, the best use of a bridal fair is to meet other vendors. A bride may spend a few moments at your booth, but if you establish a relationship with others in the wedding business, they can personally recommend you to brides for years to come.
When I attend a bridal fair I always have my booth ready well ahead of the starting time so I have a chance to say hello to my friends that are also preparing for the show. The simplest way to introduce yourself to the other vendors at a bridal fair is to give them a promotional type of gift before the show opens or during a lull in the day's activities. I bring along pens and/or note pads with my studio name imprinted and give one to each vendor to use at thier booth. It's a nice gentle way to say hello with a small gift that is always appreciated. Plus, there's a good chance that brides will see my name at other booths. Another idea would be to offer a cold bottle of water (with a personalized studio label) to the vendors later in the day as a refreshment. (Make sure it's ok with the venue.)
Compliment the other vendors on their booth and offer to photograph it for them. But remember, and this is very important: anytime you promise photos, MAKE SURE YOU DELIVER! I've heard time and time again that I was the only photographer that delivered on promises of photos. When I give, and I mean give at no charge, photos to vendors, my name is on the front. And if they have a web site I'll give them web sized photos on CD, again with my name or logo. If you know a fellow wedding vendor is getting ready to attend a bridal show you could offer to help them create their display, with your photos of course. Eventually, your photos and studio name will be all over the other wedding vendor's displays and advertising. And don't overlook the other photographers. If there are photographers that you've not yet met, don't be shy or stand-offish. Get over there and introduce yourself to them. Ask if you can send brides to them when you are overbooked. But be careful. You might start exchanging war stories and miss the brides that are walking by! If this happens, invite them to lunch later in the week so you can continue the conversation.
When you establish a relationship with the other vendors including helping them at the bridal fairs, you'll have one more friend at the next wedding that will happily to work with you and you'll both have a better outcome at the end of the day.
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