Though the original studios have changed, the Lane County Children’s Contest continues to thrive. I joined the program 15 years ago, although I was hesitant—I didn’t want to do formulaic portraits or attempt to be a high volume business. But I’ve been able to tweak the approach and do the creative work I love, and the contest has been great for business.
Richard May, of Richard May Photography in Eugene, Oregon, who participated for the last eight years, agrees. “It’s a financially welcome promotion this time of year. With many traditional portrait studios struggling in a down economy, it’s a great way to draw traffic to the studio, maintain cash flow in the slower portrait season, and add to my client base,” he says.
Last year, with 12 percent unemployment in our area, we drew 55 clients for 70 entries and took in $17,000. (Pre-recession, we averaged $23,000 though). My advertising cost was just $1,100.
Unlike some contests, the Lane County Children’s Contest awards prizes for the best expression, not for how photogenic the children are. We have had winners who had Down syndrome or who were pouting, crying, laughing or showing an innocent look of wonder. It is a celebration of childhood as a whole.
The contest features two divisions, Traditional and Storytelling, and is open to children 3 months to 12 years old, and divided into six categories: 3 to12 months; 1 to 2 years, 2 to 3 years, 3 to 5 years, 6 to 12 years, and siblings. The Traditional portraits are judged primarily on expression; mood and photographic style are secondary. The Storytelling portraits are judged on the intrigue of the outfit, props, background and overall creativity in conveying the story; expression is secondary. The highest and lowest scores are tossed aside.
There are seven judges, only two of whom are photographers, and none can be a contest participant. Having three photographers participating in the contest gives it legitimacy. “Sure we’re competitors, but we also want one another to be successful. Having just one photographer would be too self-promotional to gather the community support we have,” May says.
A local bank sponsors the People’s Choice award, a $250 savings bond, and displays the entries for several months in various branches. Our upscale shopping mall sponsor displays the contest entries in a prominent location for three weeks, and charges us far less the normal fee.
We print 1,000 6x9-inch promo postcards, which are distributed by 15 local businesses. These merchants—children’s clothing stores, restaurants, play centers, ice rink, public pool, toy store, candy store—provide $10 to $20 gift certificates totaling $100 to $250 for secondary prizes. They make no cash outlay, so they’re getting free advertising. The donations are noted in a sponsor section, along with the business’s logo and small ad. All contestants see the ads, and they’re posted at the mall display as well.
We photographers do our own marketing promos to clients. This year, in addition to mailing notices to past entrants, I started a Facebook contest on my fan page for each month of the contest. I post all entries, and every comment on a photograph counts as a vote. To be eligible to vote, you need to become a fan of Bruce Berg Photography. After seven days, the votes are tallied. After one month, the photograph with the most votes wins, and the family of the subject gets an array of prizes from my studio.
Our clients love the contest. They get stunning images at a discounted rate, a chance to win ribbons and prizes, and the excitement of seeing their child’s portrait on display at an upscale mall. No one can buy fame, but we sure can give it to them!
The sponsors get great exposure, new customers, and an up-sale opportunity via the gift certificates.
For the photographers, the contest fills the slow month’s schedule, is highly profitable, and it’s fun! Joy Taubner, of Joy Photography in Eugene, said of her first year with the contest, “My sales have doubled. It’s the best February I’ve ever had, and it’s been a great experience.”
We also use the contest as a fundraiser for Parenting Now!, a local non-profit that brings new parents together for support and education. We donate $25 for each February session booked. Most clients tend to wait until the last two weeks of the contest, and the donation spurs earlier entries. We raised $500 for them this year. It truly is a feel-good event.
Children are celebrated, businesses are supported, parents get gorgeous portraits, photographers fill up slow months, a non-profit receives donations, and the community comes together. What could be better than that?
I love the approach this contest takes in getting the community involved and then in turning it into a way to give a little back as well. Bruce has a great handle on so many different aspects of running a successful photography business. Follow him on Facebook and his website. Plus, if you're looking to meet him in person, check out his upcoming speaking schedule at PPNJ July 15th, PPOK Sept 9th, PMPA (Portland OR) Nov 1. Skip Cohen