I've written a lot about cross-promoting with other vendors who have the same target audience, but here's one with an exciting approach that sadly happens very rarely. Three photography studios are working together to even out the peaks and valleys, especially during the first quarter of the year. A big thanks to Bruce Berg and Richard May for being so open and candid about this annual event, The Lane County Children's Contest!
Almost thirty years ago in Oregon, someone came up with a marketing idea that would bring together three competing photography studios to build their businesses during seasonal slowdowns.
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.”
ONE MORE WIN.
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
Ever had a conversation with somebody for the first time and walked away feeling like you've known them your entire life? Today's guest post with David Akoubian is part of a "daily double". His podcast on Building Your Network is airing at the same time. Prior to his podcast we might have had a minute to talk about the topics, but we didn't need any more time and just let it flow, just like his topic in today's post.
I've always said the best thing about the photographic industry are the friendships that come out of everyone's love for the craft. Well, meet a new buddy, David Akoubian!
You'll find a wide variety of stunning images in his galleries along with his workshop schedule. One of my favorite programs that David is involved with is Tamron's State Park Workshop Series. Follow the schedule and check out the program when there's one near you. In the mean time, enjoy David's guest post and his comments on the new podcast. Skip Cohen
Art is very individual and extremely subjective. All forms of art, while related, are very different for that matter. For instance a musician and a photographer are similar in the sense that they try to create something that keeps and controls the viewer’s attention, while at the same time trying to appeal to that viewer emotionally.
A photographer uses objects within the composition to welcome the viewer into the frame and then using other elements will try and lead them to the final point in the frame, the subject. A musician uses notes to form a melody which leads the listener to the eventual end of the musical piece. They differ simply in the median that they have chosen.
Do all photographers make good musicians or vice versa? I struggle to play a CD much less any instrument. I like to believe I compose music visually though. My goal when I start to create an image is to identify first a subject and then objects around the subject that allow me to lead the viewer through my frame. The only way that one can succeed in doing this though is to have a good “flow” to the composition.
When I use the word “flow”, I want to make the transition through the frame an easy one, not something that my viewer struggles with as they make the journey. I feel as a nature photographer that can be a challenge simply because you aren’t arranging notes, you are using a lens to either include or exclude objects within the frame. Zooming in or out, moving left or right, up and down to find the most pleasing view, watching for merging lines or objects, making sure there is no interruption in the “flow” of the scene.
Photographing rivers is my favorite place to practice my “flow” or composition in images. You really can’t go out and arrange rocks to alter the river; increase or decrease the volume of water to join lines within the frame. Creating the perfect amount of contrast and saturation is just as important to bond with the viewer emotionally as well. I do this in two ways; I photograph in the right light, typically overcast or drizzling, and I always use a circular polarizer to reduce glare and increase saturation.
I prefer using a slower shutter speed to make the water silky smooth and make the lines more smooth. Typically with an ISO of 100, I will have a shutter speed of about 2 seconds at f16. If I need a longer shutter speed, I will use a Variable Neutral Density Filter. A good sturdy tripod is an essential when doing slow exposures as well. Make sure you turn off your Vibration Compensation or Image Stabilization otherwise the image will look “shaky”. Also to minimize movement and vibration use a shutter release the self-timer.
Get down to the river, look and study the subject for flow, then create your next masterpiece!
All images copyright David Akoubian. All rights reserved.