There’s a big trend in the business of weddings. In the old days, when venues had to walk to the bus stop uphill both ways in the snow, they also designed and printed their own wedding brochures. These handouts are given to every couple who comes into the venue. They typically feature some nice photos of the space, sample menu options, and a list of their “preferred vendors.” Lately, venues have started to contract out their brochure design process, and most of them are using the advertising firm Hawthorn Creative. Let's try and figure out if it's worth it for you to advertise in these handouts.
“Back in my day…”
When I first got up and running as a wedding photographer I viewed wedding brochures as the key to being successful. What could possibly be better than having my name and my photos in a book that’s given out to hundreds of eager couples every year? In a lot of ways I was right - it is a really great way to get your name out there. It does, however, come with a price.
Most venues charge their photographers to be in their brochure. I’m actually ok with this practice on the surface. It helps weed out the vendors who might not be as serious about their businesses by putting a financial hurdle in front of them first. The question I often ask myself is how much is too much?
Prices vary from venue to venue, but I’ve tracked the averages through the years. The costs are based on the physical size of your advertisement.
First, you’ll notice that the costs are going up every year, with some large jumps happening recently. What’s also interesting is that the costs of the smaller, less-expensive ads have gone up at a much higher rate than the others over the past four wedding seasons. The price of a small add has nearly doubled.
I should note that the data above was pulled from my own numbers. While I can’t specifically say this is a national trend, I do think it’s fair to assume that if I’m seeing these kinds of trends most other photographers are too.
Return on Investment (ROI)
The equation for calculating ROI is actually pretty simple.
ROI = Gains - Investment Costs / Investment Costs
This short formula allows me to see if my investment into the brochure marketing that I do is worth the money. I am on the vendor list for seven local venues in my area. Not all of them charge to be on the list, but four of them do (Note: All four of the venues who charge a fee contract out their brochure ad design process to Hawthorn Creative).
Weddings booked from paid brochure ads: 18
Total value: $65,592
Avg / wedding: $3,644
Advertising costs: $6,004 / year
ROI: 992.5% ROI
For me, paying out the $6,004 a year comes back ten-fold. I attribute this to a few things, but mainly that I am purposely one of the lower priced photographers in each brochure. That doesn’t mean that I’m cheap, it just means I’m less than the others. That pushes more couples my way, and increases the odds that they are going to hire me (I’ll do a future article on my strong feelings about pricing, that’s for another day).
Some Other Numbers to Consider
Let’s get fancy and assume some numbers (these would be hard to verify, so I tried to be conservative).
Take your local, multi-room, high-volume wedding venue. Most can do up to six weddings a weekend, and some even more. Let’s assume they average three weddings a weekend for 40 out of the 52 weekends in a given year, and it takes them three meetings per date to book it.
That's 360 meetings to book their 120 weddings
If it costs $1500 to advertise for one year, and they are conducting 360 meetings, then it will cost you (the photographer) $4.16 per couple to be in their brochure. Not a bad deal.
So, does it make sense to pay to advertise in a venue’s brochure? The short answer is yes. In my case I’m getting a ROI that is through the roof, and it is a major source of revenue for both of the wedding studios I run. That comes with a caveat though. I’ve had other venues I’ve paid to advertise with that resulted in zero total bookings. That’s happened multiple times actually, so there is an aspect of trial and error to this. It can be an expensive proposition, but when you finally land on one that works it can pay off nicely.
Morally, I’m fine with what Hawthorn is doing. They found a niche and they filled it. Their end product is nice, and I’ve found their brochures to be of the quality I would like to see my images displayed in. You can make the argument that their pricing is expensive, but if you end up booking even just a few weddings you will come out on top.
I’ve been in this business a while, and I always thought paying to advertise with a venue was something only beginners should do. After seven years, and these kinds of returns, I see no reason to stop. Whether or not it makes sense for your business depends on a lot of factors, but it just might be worth a shot.