Have you wondered as a wedding vendor where to spend your money on advertising in Houston? Here is my opinion based on my experiences. Often, as a Houston wedding vendor, you want to get a good ROI (return on investment) for the money you spend to being clients to you. You get the phone calls and emails from different companies who all promise the same thing – they will get you found by brides and get you bookings. Well, having done this for a while, I wanted to share my experiences with some of these places, good and bad. I will let you know what I did and what worked for me and what didn’t. This is not a slam against any company so as you read this, YMMV and if any of these businesses find this post, I hope they listen to a former client and make changes.
Bridal shows are probably one of the best ways to get brides because you get instant results. The brides are right in front of you, they see your work and can ask you questions. you get to engage them, see their personalities and you can judge for yourself if that is the type of bride you want to book. I have done three of them and here is my opinion (again, my opinion so what works for me may not work for you and what didn’t work for me, may work well for you)
Bridal Extravaganza Show
The Bridal Extravaganza Show is probably the biggest one in the Houston area. It is held at the George R Brown Convention Center and they do two shows a year, one around January and the other around July. While a big show, when I first started working with them, they were very organized and listened to their wedding vendors and that made the show great. Over the years (I think the management company changed), it appears that they are all about the money. The first time I did the show, they gave me a lot of assistance and support. I was able to get a good booth space and I booked 4 weddings from it, which for my very first show with only one album and two 16×20 prints was huge for me! Over the years, I would go back and bookings increase but started noticing service changing. The last time I did the show, they had no limit on vendors and in my category as a photographer, there was WAY too many of us and some brides even complained about that. Even though I had good placement in the show (I was on an end cap), by the time the brides had gotten to me, they had seen so many photographers that they wouldn’t even look my way. Yes, this show works for some still but for someone who could only afford a 10×10 booth or smaller, it was no longer worth it. If they would limit the number of vendors per category, they would probably do better.
Houston Wedding Showcase
This was one of the better companies to work for. while they may seem small, they are well organized and they do a great job working with wedding vendors and giving you the most bang for your buck. They do put a limit on the number of vendors so sometimes there is a waiting list depending on the category you are in. If you get in the show, STAY THERE and it will pay off. Booth space is a good size and they work with you to get the brides to come to your booth (now once they get there, the work is on you). They only do a one day show, but the numbers and turnout are good for that one day. Like most shows, you have the option to pay for the listing of brides that attended so you can reach out to them later. You can also get placement on their web site, either as a listing or with an ad that links to your site for even more traffic.
Wedding Planning sites
I call them wedding portals, but I’m sure they are known by another term. These are the places that the brides go to as a one stop show on the internet. All the vendors are listed, there are tips and articles, and some even allow them to create their own page to share publicly. The most popular ones in Houston are Weddings in Houston, The Knot, and Weddingwire. I have never advertised with The Knot so I cannot give an opinion on them, but I have heard good and bad (lately it has been mostly bad) so I would check with your fellow vendors and see how well it work for them.
Weddings in Houston classifies itself as marketing to the “high end” bride. they claim that their average bride spends around $70K on her wedding. Well, if you look at that, what vendor wouldn’t want a piece of that action! they have a magazine, a web site, and an annual show. I will admit, I was lured in by the great sales pitch, the compliments on my work and the ego boosts, but I honestly was not ready for them and what I needed from them I could not afford. I paid close to $6000 for a 1/4 page print ad and placement on their web site and access to their bridal list monthly. The listing access only included names, addresses and phone numbers, BUT no email addresses. If you wanted email addresses, they were not given, but you had to pay an additional fee for an eblast that they would send out for you. They also host a bridal show called the “I Do Bridal Soiree” and they put a STRICT limit on the number of vendors that attend. You have to be one of their clients and it is a first come, first served availability and an additional cost. I never attended the show as a vendor because I couldn’t afford it, but I covered it for a magazine one year and if you can get it, it is the place to be seen. Weddings in Houston seems to work for those vendors that already have the “high end bride” as their clients, but if you are looking to break into that market, this is not the way to do it
Weddingwire is similar to The Knot and caters to more of the mid range bride and in some cases, the budget bride/ You may find a bride there that wants to spend $10 grand for a photographer, but most only want to spend $1000. No magazine and no bridal show, but their web site gets a lot of traffic and they are placed high in the Google searches so if SEO is important, that may help. They have three categories for their vendors, Spotlight, Featured, and Professional. Spotlight is the most expensive and the most limited as there are only a certain number of slots and they sell out quickly. Spotlight is a guaranteed first page and top listing so when a bride searches for a vendor, they are the very first to be seen. Featured is right below Spotlight and guaranteed first page so while you may not show at the top, you are still among the first seen. Professional listings are rotated on the remaining pages so you may be on page 2 for one search and page 4 for another. You have options to post images, get reviews, offer deals, etc. but for me it still seems to boil down to what page you land on when it comes to getting found by brides. Get as much as you can IN WRITING because they will change what you are offered and call it an update later
There are some things you can do on your own that will get you found as well and they don’t cost as much. Social media is key and the more you use it, the better it is for you. Post work on Instagram and use good hashtags, make sure that you cross post to Facebook and Twitter as well. If you have a Google + page, work that also. While you may not get the traffic that Facebook has, it is still Google and it will help with SEO. Put a bridal session or engagement session on Periscope and lets potential clients see how you work. Google Adwords work for some, so take advantage of those also. If you blog, make sure you write well and post good content and images and link to places that brides are searching for. You may not be found as fast as some of these other places, but you WILL be found. Word of mouth is still the best way to advertise, so get your past clients to brag about you. Speaking of past clients, keep in touch with them and offer discounts for family sessions – not as much as a wedding, but a maternity session, a family portrait, a high school senior and it adds up. When you post on Facebook, tag those clients and let them share your work.
These are some of the lessons I learned and some of the things that worked for me. Unfortunately in this business, it is often trial and error so if I can help someone learn from what I have done, I think I’m making the industry better.