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Are you a wedding photographer looking to get more business? Have you been thinking about wedding and bridal shows, but don't know where to start, or if they're even worth it? In this tutorial, I'm going to show you what you need to know to market yourself successfully at a wedding show, and how to figure out if it's the right move for your business.
Disclaimer: Depending on your location and target market, rates and prices for everything from shows, to photographer packages, to printing materials will vary. Any dollar amounts used in this article are simply examples, drawn from multiple photographer averages for my location. Please find out what your numbers are for your area. Your research into your real numbers plugged into the framework below will give specific advice tailored for you.
How Do I Find a Show That's Right for Me?
This requires a working knowledge of your target demographic and some research. You'll want to look into as many shows in your area as possible. Next, use a set of filters to cull them down to the ones that fit you best.
First, with your current business, can you afford the booth space? If you're just getting started, a $2500 booth may be out of your price range. Doing two $700 booths may be a better fit.
Next, does it target the couples you want? Specialty shows can often have niche demographics in attendance. Make sure your brand fits with the audience.
What is the ticket price? This last one is important for several reasons. You want to avoid free shows like the plague. You will get nothing but tire-kickers. Some shows may be $15 a piece (or offer 2 for 1 tickets), others will cost as much as $50 per ticket. Lower ticket prices will attract more brides, but higher prices will attract brides who are looking to book at the show.
Depending on the ticket price, you can expect either higher volume with lower percentage bookings, or lower volume with higher percentage of bookings. Ask for the shows media kit. They should have information about what type of bride is going to be there, and more importantly, how many people the show attracts.
The Media Kit Says I'll Get 2500 Brides From the Show. Is That True?
Generally speaking, no. While the media kit from the show is a great way to get most of the information you'll need, many shows pad their attendance numbers. No matter if it is a erroneous projection or unsubstantiated hope, you can't always believe the marketing materials.
You shouldn't ask "how many brides will be there?" Instead ask "how many brides were there last year?" That way it is not a forecast and you get a real number based on facts. If you can't get an answer from the show, ask one of the previous vendors. A short, individual email asking if the show was a good investment is often an easy way to check out if that show is going to be worth it.
Another quick tip, if a show boasts an attendance of 2500, then you're probably looking at 1000 brides. Not everyone is going to be a bride. There will be grooms, bridal parties, parents, best friends, and even other vendors just checking out the show.
Do Brides Book at the Show?
Again, this is based on ticket prices. A show with $10 tickets will probably net you zero bookings the day of the event. If you are a more established studio, you may be able to get a small handful at a show with more expensive tickets.
Even if a show nets you zero bookings that day, don't write it off. Hiring a wedding professional is a lot of money, and people generally want to take their time and make sure they are making the right decision. A booking is still a booking, be it a month from the event or a year.
How Many Bookings Can I Expect From a Show?
Many people do a show and report booking zero weddings. Some people do a show and report booking 12 or more weddings. Depending on your price, the way you put together your marketing materials, your sales pitch, and your follow up, conversion rates will vary (and again, this is also based on show ticket price).
Just to give you a more concrete example, let's look at the most recent show I attended (two weeks prior to this writing).
- 500 brides attended
- 80 names generated genuine interest
- Six couple consultations were booked at the show
- Two couples booked during their consultation
- I realistically expect two of the other four couples to book based on how the consultation went
There's one more thing to think about when it comes to expectations for how many couples you should book. If your package price is $6000, then it's perfectly fine to book three to four weddings from a show. If your package price is $1500 then your aim will have to be significantly higher. Even if they don't book immediately, don't worry. More will follow.
How Early in Advance Should I Get a Vendor Booth?
Smaller shows, with prices around $500 per booth, may need to be booked two to four months ahead. Bigger shows, with prices around $1500 per booth, will be more likely to book six months to a year in advance. There is one show here in Seattle that actually has a seven-year wait list. Those are rare, but those are also ones you want to be in.
What Should My Booth Look Like?
Your booth should be a space where prospective brides have a chance to get to know you and see your work. Everyone has their own style and approach to how they do that. Many photographers who are into the vintage trend have old writing desks and vintage suitcases stacked with props like typewriters and old film cameras.
I prefer a more clean and modern approach, which I try to reflect throughout my brand. I want to fill the limited real estate I have with large photos. I want every photo to be a show stopping image, and I want to be able to tell a story about each image.
Let me point out the most important aspects of the booth here. Notice how the table is pushed back. There is nothing more impersonal than talking to someone over a table. Let them talk to you like people, and not like customers at a fast food joint. There is a bistro style table out front. This catches their attention, holds your best album, and has your jar for giveaways. Everyone wants free stuff! Plus, this is your chance to get contact info for the people who are actually interested in you.
Who Should Be at My Booth?
Larger companies, such as caterers or venues, can have anyone trained work their booth. For the individual photographer, who isn't running a large operation, it is absolutely imperative that you are at the show. When it comes to photographers, they are hiring you for your personality as much as they are your work.
If you have a stand in, I guarantee you will not get the kind of response you were hoping for. I know when I was booking my wedding, I was at a bridal show and there was a photography booth we stopped at to chat with the person. As soon as they said "oh, my friend does all of this, I'm just helping them today," we no longer had interest in that photographer. When it came down to the two photographers whose work was so close we couldn't decide, we picked the one that we enjoyed being around.
In addition to you, you should have a trained assistant. This assistant doesn't have to know anything about photography. They need to be a people person, know what you represent as a brand, know your sales pitch, and know the stories behind your art displays. Training and paying this person is absolutely worth it if you can get just one more couple to book because of it.
Much of the time, there won't multiple couples at your booth. However, at one recent show, there were a few minutes after the lunch rush where I was showing my album to six people while my assistant was in the booth behind me talking to four more about different packages.
Can you imagine ten people crowding around an album? It simply wouldn't happen. If you can't give personal attention to more people, they will simply pass your booth and hire someone else. For all the down time an assistant will probably have, they are worth than worth it when a rush when brides blitz your booth.
What Do I Need to Bring With Me?
Here is my personal comprehensive wedding show checklist:
- Two tables (long table and bistro table)
- Two albums
- Pens and Paper (to capture leads)
- iPad w/ Square
- Promo handouts
- Drawing bucket
- Price list
- Snacks and water
What Can I Expect the Day to Be Like?
During the show, you will be standing the whole time. It will be a long day, but standing says you are approachable and willing to interact. There will be an ebb and flow of activity. There will be a lot of activity right when the show starts, when people start waking up mid morning, right after lunch, and again after the fashion show. Most shows have a runway to show off dresses.
Brides will walk exactly in the middle of the aisle, avoiding eye contact, as far away from each side of vendors as possible. You want to be forward enough to invite people to stop at your booth, but laid back enough that they don't see you as a pushy salesman.
If you have never been to a bridal show before, I suggest buying a ticket and attending one before diving in and purchasing a booth.
What Should I Have Prepared Before the Show?
Clearly, planning your artwork needs to happen before the show, but there is more planning required for a bridal show than uploading pictures into your online portfolio. First of all, online you have unlimited real estate. You can show as many images as you want. In a booth, you are limited in physical space of what you can show. Yes, you could use a large monitor and have a slideshow if you choose, but inevitably you are going to be showing physical prints.
When you are putting together your print selection, think about it as if you are curating a museum exhibit. What is most representative of you? What pieces show well together in the space? What is your focal point? Is there a balance of color and tones throughout the display? Your photos should show the full range of imagery that you can create.
You may have a gorgeous photo of a couple in a field, but you aren't going to book the bride at the downtown hotspot venue if you only have those shots. Show your work in contrasts: urban and nature, winter and summer, good weather and bad weather. Then no matter what the brides asks for, you can point to one and tell the story. All of your photos should have a story.
Having something physical that the couple can take away with them is a must. Many brides will be picking their vendors from the materials in the show bag. As a photographer, I think we should all be doing our handouts in color with at least one photo on it. It should be a photo that was prominently on display somewhere so they remember what that photo looked like large. Handouts could quite possibly be the biggest range in costs.
A simple small flyer could cost you mere pennies each, while a large booklet can cost up to $3 each. There is price range that yields cheap junk that makes you look unprofessional. Jumping up to the next level means your handout is still relatively cheap, but nice and gets the point and name across.
If cost is a major concern and you want a budget flyer, go as cheap as you can without falling into the "junk" category. If you would rather be in the high end zone, then go big or go home. I have a 8.5x11" 8-page full color booklet that I give to everyone that stops long enough to talk to me.
If the bride is dumping out the bag at the end of the night and you are mixed in with all the other cheap flyers, how do you expect to be picked out of the other 20 photographers at your show?
Email Follow Up
Follow up is imperative. If you don't follow up, then you just wasted a lot of money on a show that will yield no return. When you get home after the show, the last thing you want to do is more work. It is important to have already crafted your email follow up to the show so you can send them out that night. If you can follow up with brides in a professional, thoughtful, and non-pushy manner, then you will be rewarded with quicker feedback from leads and eventually bookings.
Don't try to just "wing it" when it comes to your sales pitch. Be sure to have practiced enough that it is second nature. Be sure to train whoever else will be helping you at the booth in your sales pitch.
How Do I Do the Sales Pitch?
There are many different approaches to marketing that may or may not work depending on your brand and business model. However, if you're just starting and not sure how to craft a sales pitch, here is what I do at the show.
Generally, your potential customers will be standing in the aisle staring at your pictures, not wanting to speak to anyone. If they look interested, ask them if they are interested in your free giveaway. While they are writing down their info, you can ask them about their plans. A smooth way to do this is to ask "how far along in the planning process are you?" This will bypass the awkwardness and allow you to skip to the parts that are important to them.
I just talk with them and try to make a connection on anything that will allow them to remember you, and you to remember them. If they mention something related to one of the stories you've crafted, like "our wedding is in April, I hope it doesn't rain." Then you have the opportunity to tell one of your stories. "It was hailing golf balls in this photo." When they ask for prices, now's the time to show them your flyer. Don't just hand it to them. Walk them through it.
"All of our collections come with..." "We also have..." This is the opportunity for you to give your one-minute elevator speech and talk up why they should choose you. One of my biggest selling points is that I offer a very high end album not offered by any other photographers at my shows.
I don't hand over a booklet until they've seen the album. If they love the album, then I know I'll hear from them. If they aren't impressed, then I probably won't, but that's okay. That's not the bride I'm looking for.
When they leave, I take the paper they filled out for the giveaway and write down any notes that I can remember about them. "Colors are blue and white. Venue is at Smith Hall. We talked about her two dogs." All of this generally happens within two minutes. If it goes longer, then they are genuinely interested! You should ask if they have their calendar on them and book the consultation. Rinse and repeat.
Are Other Photographers My Friend or Foe?
At any given show, you will be one of many photographers. Let's say there are ten photographers at your show. Now it looks like you have a one in ten chance of getting the brides you want from the show. But let's look at this another way. Of those ten photographers, some are going to be budget photographers, some are going to be really high end, and some are going to be in the middle.
A budget bride will never hire a high end photographer and vice versa. Now there are only three photographers competing for the brides you want. Now if I shoot modern and Bob Smith Photography shoots with a vintage style, a bride is either going to really like mine and hate his, or vice versa. Once you insert the human personality factor, there are now almost no other photographers competing for your brides. The bride that loves you and your work will hire you.
If you see your fellow photographers as friend, not foe, then not only do you make the whole experience a lot nicer, but you may even get referrals from ones who are over booked. It pays (in both dollars and good mojo) to be friendly and helpful to everyone at the show, even if at first they seem like competition.
The Show Is Over. Now What?
Just because the show is over doesn't mean the work is done. Now it's time to send out that follow up email, call everyone who was interested, and get those consultations. If you skip this part, you're missing a lot of work. Be sure to follow up. Clear the whole week after the show out of your schedule if you have to. Make sure you are able to get back to everyone in a timely manner.
How Much Does a Bridal Show Really Cost?
If you assume that the show cost is simply the cost of the booth, you're missing a lot of factors. Let's take a look at what a booth really costs. I'm going to fill in some example numbers from my experience, but you can follow along with numbers that are realistic for your business. Here is the cost for a $1200 booth.
Initial One-Time Costs: $420
- 2 Tables ($80 each)
- 2 Tablecloths ($20 each)
- Easels ($200)
- Square (Free)
- Drawing Bucket ($20)
For your annual costs, you want to update your sample albums and prints every year. You don't want any of your work going stale on public promotional materials. You definitely don't want to be telling clients you don't have any work shown less than several years old. You are only as good as your last shoot.
Annual Costs: $2600
- Sample Albums ($2000)
- Prints ($600)
Per show, you need to replace all of your expendables. For your handouts, you can do anything from cheap quarter page black and white prints to full color magazine style brochures. Price per handout varies wildly, so I will put down what I order for each show. I order in bulk which significantly drops the price, allowing me to have a high quality product for a low per show price. If you do only one show, it would have been $500 just for my handouts. As for the booth price, this was my average price per booth for the last booking season.
Per Show Costs: $1880
- Booth Payment ($1200)
- Pens and Paper ($10)
- Promo Handouts ($350)
- Snacks and Water ($20)
- Assistant ($300 for two-day show and training)
Is It Worth It?
This is the question we've all been waiting for, and it's one that I cannot answer for you. But what I can do is tell you how to answer this for yourself. To answer it, you need to know how much average profit you make from each wedding and what your current cost of acquisition is. That is, how much money does it cost you in marketing for every wedding you book? For example, if you book three weddings from a magazine ad that cost you $2100, then your cost of acquisition for those weddings is $700.
That's a lot to work through, so let's put together an example using the info above. Let's assume you do four wedding shows a year, two in fall, two in winter (and we will ignore the one-time only costs).
Your cost for that year of shows is $2600 + (4 x $1880) for a total of $10,120. If you determine that you make $2500 average immediate profit from each wedding package you book, and you book 20 weddings from those four shows, then you gain $50,000 in profit specifically from those bridal shows.
It's important you know your profit so you can determine a reasonable cost of acquisition for your business. Your cost of acquisition for each wedding is $10,120/20, or $506. In this scenario, not only are you booking 20 weddings, but you are booking them for $194 cheaper each than your magazine ad.
In this case, we would have to say it's definitely worth it. Is it expensive? Yes, but when you crunch the numbers, it is still a very cost effective way to build new business.
Now I know you're looking at my numbers and saying, "but I don't spend nearly that much on some of those things". It's not the numbers in this blog post that is important. It is the formula, and you have to fill in the numbers to see if it's right for you. Here's how to figure your cost of acquisition from a bridal show, but it's important to remember that you'll never know how many you will book until you try it!
So you don't spend $2000 a year on sample albums? No problem. If you only spend $400, then put that in. If your booth space is $650, put that in. If you opt for cheaper handouts then you may be looking at $50 a show instead of $350. There are too many factors for me to say with absolute certainty "yes, it's worth it," but you can do the math for yourself.
Many professionals do very well at shows. Many professionals swear on the power of networking instead. If you've read through this blog post, and think bridal shows are for you, I would love to hear how your next show goes. Sound off in the comments and let me know if you have any tips to add.