US Capitol wedding party

Bridal show. The words often inspire polarized views within wedding photographers. Some loathe them, others love them. I happen to be a big fan. Yes they’re expensive, yes they are looooong days, yes there is a lot of competition, but I still feel that they can be worthwhile if you make smart choices. Before you do your first show here are some things to consider:

Target Market

Not all shows are created equal. They all have their strengths, target markets, and type of client they attract. Don’t sign up for a show at a beach side resort if you hate photographing beach weddings. Avoid shows that promote DIY ideas if you prefer working with lavish, over the top weddings. If you’re looking for clients with a larger budget, consider whether or not the show has free, small, or large entry fee. It could (though not always) be an indicator of the seriousness of the client (less window shopping) and an indicator of buying power.

Bottom line: do your research on the show to ensure the show’s target market encompasses your own target market.

Entry Fee

In my D.C. market you can find a wide variety of shows from small, boutique shows (generally tied to a specific venue) for anywhere from free to $500 to high end, glamorous shows costing $2-$6,000 and that’s just your booth space.

Bottom line: make sure you research your costs and payment terms before you commit to a show and get in over your head.

Booth Design

Show booths can range from bare bones to plush, silk lined areas. Be sure you have a clear picture of what is already furnished and what you would like to add to the space.

Do you have an elaborate style? Or maybe a vintage vibe? How about minimalist?

There will be people who don’t add anything to the booth and there will be people who bring in floors and build temporary walls complete with wallpaper and framed hanging photos above sofas and make the space into a mini apartment.

When I exhibit, I tend to furnish my booths more on the practical side:

  • I add linens that coordinate with my branding colors.
  • I have a commercial grid system that I can easily change & hang my featured enlargements.
  • I bring an extra table to allow for room to spread out my sample photo albums.
  • For me, this aligns with my brand message of delivering a straightforward service that pays attention to details but doesn’t go over the top with frills and extras it doesn’t need.

Bottom line: make sure you decorate your booth in line with what your branding represents. It will silently communicate your brand’s values to perspective clients and attract the right ones while deflecting the wrong ones.

Competition

One of the biggest complaints of wedding vendors with bridal shows is the competition. Some shows don’t put a cap on how many vendors of each category can be exhibiting at the show whereas others will have anywhere from a singular exclusivity, or 3-5 vendors per category.

While it can be nice to have a smaller pool of photographers, it shouldn’t be an automatic deal breaker for your attendance. Having competition offers a prime opportunity to really set yourself apart from your competition. You’d be very surprised how many vendors do not engage the potential clients (or are obnoxiously relentless) both of which are opportunities for you to capitalize on being personable and making a real connection.

If you can forge a real connection with a bride or groom to be, you are well on your way to converting into a sale. Also, competition gives your potential clients a chance to see all the options they don’t want before they get to your booth and have their “ah-ha!” moment. Because they’ve seen the other options, it can further motivate them to book a consultation or ask for a contract.

Bottom line: competition is an opportunity to shine; don’t discount a show just because there will be other photographers there.

Dedication

Bridal shows can be loooooong days. Many don’t allow you to set up the night before which means loading in during the wee hours (often with hundreds of others) of the morning, standing on concrete for 8 hours, then loading out (again often with hundreds of others). There are also no breaks.

Bottom line: don’t man a booth alone, wear comfortable shoes, and invest in those gel kitchen mats to stand on (they’re lifesavers).

Mailing Lists

Many shows offer having access to their entire list of attendees as a major benefit to being in their show. Be careful of jumping on this; not every attendee needs your services and you can be wasting considerable time spamming potential clients who aren’t really even potentials. Wastes your time and annoys them.

One thing I do is have clients interested in my “give away” enter their email into a jar for the drawing. That way I know for certain that each email I have is of a person who would be interested in hiring me.

Bottom line: ensure that you’re emailing people who even need photography services. This may take slightly more effort, but it won’t be wasted effort.

Marketing Plan

Just showing up isn’t going to be enough to reel in clients. Show attendees expect perks such as a discount, free item, bonus items, and/or raffles. While there’s no rule saying you have to join this tradition, choosing a marketable bonus that’s right for your business can help you stand out and pique the interest of more potential clients.

In my business, I find raffling a free engagement session has landed me a contract nearly every time, with a few even switching photographers after seeing the photos I gave them compared to the person they originally hired! That being said, I’ve talked to other photographers who find offering a percentage off works better for them, or an album upgrade works better.

Bottom line: make sure clients see a little something special in your offerings to seal the deal. If you’re making that real connection with them AND offering a sweet bonus, you’ve got it in the bag!

Keep these things in mind when considering your next exhibition and you’ll be on your way to maximizing your investment.

Lisa is D.C. based wedding & portrait photographer with her company SoftBox Media Photography.  Follow along on Twitter!


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About Lisa Robinson

Co-Founder and Lead Photographer of SoftBox Media Photography in 2006. We provide top-notch, award winning wedding & portrait services to the D.C. area & beyond.

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Business, Wedding

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