We don't have a very high "close rate" when it comes to email. We do great in person, not bad on the phone, but close very few deals on email. We've tried several different approaches and are currently using a boilerplate reply that includes some information about us, a link to a PDF on choosing vendors, and a link to our prices. We sent it to this bride, and she wrote back, "I appreciate the information but the cost is too high for our budget. I will continue to look." That was unusual. If they're only shopping on price and we're too high, normally we get no response at all. So I engaged, and replied back, "Thank you for the reply. What is your budget?"
In the past, we've had discussions in our local video association in Houston about marketing and pricing. Some members have their fixed prices and packages, and can't deal with the budget bride. They say they "can't do anything for $1,000." For us, we do have cinematic, multicamera packages that we charge appropriately for, but when faced with a bride that is holding $1,000 in her hand, we will try to take it. If the date's not too far in the future we will put together some type of service that has value for the client and is always fair to us. (The date in question was two months out, by the way.) This bride's reply, however, floored me: "Our video budget is $500, but we are not looking for a documentary coverage but more of a Cinematic approach. We want all the main focal points (highlights) of our Ceremony/Reception along with background music. Please let me know if this is something you can work with."
My first thought was "No." My second thought was what Ray Roman would say: "I'm sorry you budgeted for a $#&**@ videographer." I don't know Ray personally but this is what I've heard reported and I think it's funny and true.
What puzzled me about this was that she knew exactly what she wanted, apparently knew the difference between doc and cinematic-she even had the lingo down. But where did she get a $500 price? I had to find out, so I called her purely out of anthropological interest, with the sole intention of educating her and possibly turning her story into a case study: Whom did she ultimately hire, how much did she spend, was she happy with the company, and so on? I had no intention of selling her our services and told her that up front. I was prepared with some Matt Davis sales material—specifically, his phone script. I didn't follow the script from a sales perspective, but I did become her "Dr. Video."
Once we started talking, she told me she had already hired a company we'll call "Rinky Dink Video" for her wedding some months ago, featuring a shooter we'll call "Julius" (keep up, because our cast of characters will quickly grow). Julius canceled, with the wedding date just 2 months away. She was paying $500 for this video and it included (or so she thought) a cinematic edit. So that's where the $500 figure came from, I thought—she'd already found someone that she thought would do this for her at a very low price. But he canceled. When I explained to her that he canceled because he got a higher-paying gig—something he could do because he had no contract with her—she was surprised. There were several things that she didn't understand, such as why cinematic would cost so much more than documentary-style, and we spent 10–15 minutes going over things such as that. In looking at Rinky Dink Video's packages posted on its website, I could tell at a glance that she was not getting a cinematic edit, but it wasn't obvious to her. I became her consultant, and had long ago ceased any attempt at selling her our services.
As the story unfolded, I felt more like an older brother who wanted to kick the snot out of this clown that she had originally hired, although certainly she bore some responsibility for not investigating the company prior to handing over her deposit. I did direct her to our local PVA website for some trusted names but was pretty sure she wasn't going to find anyone as cheap as she wanted. I pointed her to a blog post on our website about, literally, a $500 wedding video. I wished her well and told her I would follow up after the wedding date to see how things had gone on the day, and again when she got her completed video.
Imagine my surprise when she emailed me a couple of days later, forwarding me a lengthy email chain with the original video company. The owner of this studio must use any mouth-breather who owns a camera. Now the company had found a replacement for Julius, the original shooter who canceled. This new shooter, whom I'll call Scooter, working by himself and armed with only one camera, told her he was going to produce her video in a cinematic style. He also mentioned that he has only shot two weddings—one "years ago" and another that wasn't a cinematic-style production because the camera he used "didn't have the depth of field that you need for cinematic." Here's one of his emails:
What you are asking for is well within my ability. It is a bit more than [our company] is known for, as I understand, having joined relatively recently, but Julius has a camera that should have the depth of field capabilities and manual control that is needed for the footage you've used as an example. The one caveat I have here is that, as you've requested, you want editing and music. These have extra charges. It shall be an additional $400 to edit, though music is included unless you're looking for a specific song. We have stock music, but one of the examples given is Beyonce's "Halo," and music like this would have to be licensed, the fee depending on the record label we contact.
So now we understand that our boy Scooter can negotiate with the record companies on her behalf. "It's usually only a few dollars per song," he goes on, "but some songs, like you are requesting, might be more." Yeah, right. (It's prohibitively expensive to get sync and publishing licenses, or record companies ignore event videographers altogether, which is the same as not granting permission.) He also added a new $111 travel fee. I did reply to her, again in the advisory role, and addressed each of these points—especially the music licensing fee. I recommended again that she find more money in her budget, or choose to spend a little more with a respectable company that would do a good, solid documentary-style video.
At this point in the email chain, the bride had realized the caliber of people that she was dealing with. She emailed the company that canceled her first videographer and expressed her unhappiness with the cancelation, the new fees, and Scooter's inexperience, and she asked for her meager deposit back so she could look elsewhere.
If you are still reading this, not to worry—you will be rewarded. I have told you this completely true tale just so I could share this email from the owner of the "company" that pulled the bait and switch on this bride, which supposedly operates in several states:
I tried to make things simple and also give you a really good deal above and beyond our already very low prices which you don't appreciate. Deposits are non-refundable. Thank you for helping God bless us with our future home here in New Mexico!
He even included a picture of his new home in the email.
The bride was fit to be tied, as we say in Texas. The arrogance of this guy was beyond belief. But folks, that's who you find down in No-Budget Land. To me it borders on scam and criminal intent. She emailed me again and was fuming, as you can imagine—not at the monetary amount, but at the gall. I told her there's nothing she can do about the $100 deposit; it's such a small amount that it's not worth fooling with. But I encouraged her to post about her experiences in every bridal forum she could.
I offered her only one other consideration with us, which is a monthly payment plan after the wedding. She says it's still too expensive, which is OK—again, we weren't trying to close the sale, just helping her get what she wanted. I wished her well, and told her she was now armed with a lot of information and she knew the risks of using a cheap videographer. I reminded her that she knew these risks better than anyone, because she'd already been scammed by one. I was very surprised that she was still looking for cheap video. She had a meeting with yet another company here in Houston that held their own "bridal fair" to market to a large group of brides looking for photo and video. This company has a reputation for high-pressure sales, using demos produced by a hired-out ad agency (not representative of their work), and delivering lower-quality final products.
The bride and groom left that meeting early and emailed us the next day:
I have to say you are good at sealing the deal! You knew that after all the research I did I would eventually get back to you. Well, here I am after several deal attemps. Setting up a monthly payment plan will really help us out since the wedding is so close.
They booked our complete services for $2,500.
What can we learn from this? Do we want to be like Rinky Dink Videos and build a business model around selling $500 raw footage shot by amateurs, while our customers think they're getting an edited cinematic video? Do we want to be high-pressure, sales-driven organizations that chant the mantra, "Just sign the contract," and deceive our customers? For that matter, do we want to spend our precious time talking ad nauseam to every $500 bride that crosses our paths?
The answer is NO on all counts. I'm not suggesting that we attempt to convert all budget brides that come our way. It isn't realistic, and that was my never my attempt in the preceding tale.
In America, we live in a wonderfully capitalistic society where the next Steven Spielberg—and, yes, the next Scooter—can, at any time, hang a sign outside that says, "I produce video." But true capitalism includes a component of moral restraint. We have a responsibility to treat people right. If you want to sell your work for $500, you have the right to do that, but you also have the responsibility to represent your work and your business accurately. It's interesting that Rinky Dink Video's site now plainly identifies the product it sells for its intro price point as "Unedited Video," where it didn't just a few days ago. Good for him.
This reminded me of a saying: "Business is like tennis; those who serve well, win." I'd like to think this is an instance where we served well, and both we and the customer won.
David McKnight (david at mcknightvideo.com) is half of McKnight Video of Houston. He is vice president of the Houston Professional Videographers Association (HPVA), has Sony Vegas and HDV certification, is the technical editor of the Vegas Pro 9 Editing Workshop (Focal Press), and is a contributor to the Full HD Book (VASST). He and his wife, Christie, are winners of multiple HPVA awards.