The first time I met the 4EVER Group’s Tim Ryan at NAB 2005, I recounted the peculiar history of EventDV predecessor EMedia, a history that eventually culminated in scrapping the whole thing and launching this magazine. Mostly, EMedia had fallen prey to changing markets (the dissipation of DVD authoring as a professional specialty, among other things), but there had also been some nagging “too many cooks spoil the broth” issues with sales guys monkeying with the magazine’s purview as a means of chasing this ad or that one. Reflecting that it was great to be starting fresh with EventDV, a magazine with a mission that (unlike that of the late-model EMedia) I really believed in and an audience of creative artists I’d be proud to serve, I told Ryan, “Here’s hoping the sales guys leave it alone this time.”
“You know, I’m in sales,” Ryan said. He went on to explain how running a videography business was like managing any other small business, and if you didn’t commit yourself to sales, all the artistry in the world wasn’t going to get you anywhere.
I suppose I knew most of that; we’d been nudging into the EventDV space for nine months at that point, first with EventDV’s six-month stint as a “section” of EMedia, then by turning our full attention to event video in January 2005, and we’d devoted nearly half our pages to business issues from the outset. But it didn’t really sink in until I’d heard a videographer with more than his fair share of artistic cred state it so succinctly: “I’m in sales.”
Fast-forward to mid-July of this year. I had the pleasure of welcoming Ryan to my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, where he’d agreed to present his popular “The Real Value of Wedding Video” seminar to our nascent local PVA (Wisconsin Digital Media Group) for the last time before retiring it.
Ryan arrived on the VanGalder bus from Chicago following a presentation at the IVA the night before. Shortly after setting up his laptop for the presentation, I noticed Ryan checking the VanGalder website for departure times the following morning. Noting the CoachUSA logo atop the VanGalder homepage, I mentioned that I’d been hip to VanGalder’s acquisition by CoachUSA months before it happened because I had a friend whose father had been a New York City bus driver for 40 years and had remained an authority on the machinations of the motor coach industry worldwide. Even today I couldn’t tell you exactly how a city bus driver would benefit from following national developments in his trade. But having seen the difference in videographers who make some connection with the industry beyond a circle of influence circumscribed by a yellow pages ad, a local bridal show, and occasional competitive website-snooping, and those who avail themselves of a wider sphere of professional development opportunities via local associations, the 4EVER Group, WEVA, Video University, EventDV, and the like, I believe in the value of professional development in any business, and can now take it on faith that my friend’s busman father enriched his career by staying connected.
But is business really about faith and belief? Interestingly, a rather concrete notion of belief was at the core of Ryan’s presentation. The first thing he did was give away the ending: Essentially, he was going to spend the evening talking about the problems faced by videographers who feel underbooked and underpaid, and then conclude by saying that if the world undervalues our work, it’s our own fault. We don’t get paid more because we don’t believe we’re worth it.
He then showed 2006 EventDV 25 honoree LaDonna Moore’s award-winning demo video, with its striking voiceover testimonials like the one from the bride who says “I would have paid twice what I did for the wedding video” and “Not getting a wedding video would have been the biggest mistake of our lives.” Naturally, it’s an uphill climb trying to put these words into your clients’ mouths or these ideas into their heads—who really believes this stuff before they’ve seen their wedding video? But according to Ryan, making your clients believe it is only the second step. You have to believe it first.
Naturally, not everyone was buying it. One association member dismissed the notion of cultivating a more receptive wedding video market out of hand: “You’re from New York,” the videographer told Ryan. “You don’t know our market. Here, brides pay $500 per video. Period. And $500 videos are exactly what I sell them.”
In one sense, he’s right—some brides do pay $500 per video, and won’t go any higher. That’s true in every market. But there are also a few wedding videographers in the Madison area (okay, I believe the exact number is two) who are getting $2,500 and up, and have steadily increased their average bookings over the last few years. And in a perfect world, the budget brides would gravitate to the budget videographers, and the ones who might want more than a $500 video and be willing to pay for it would seek out the higher-end guys and consider what they offer, rather than throwing the budget videographer’s $500 price tag in their faces.
But as I said, our local market is showing signs of growth, and it’s the videographers who are making it happen. At least one of the $2,500-and-up guys is succeeding for all the reasons you’d expect him to: active participation in national associations and videographer forums; careful study of the instructional DVDs and seminars of successful videographers, which have in turn helped inspire his own creativity and award-winning work; aggressive selling of same-day edits and the like; and marketing that emphasizes artistry and emotion over equipment and technology (another key issue of Ryan’s presentation).
But belief in the elasticity and growth potential of a given market—and the ability of videographers to influence it, rather than blaming its shortcomings on, say, the ignorance of brides or the prevalence of photography—remains a tough sell. Good thing we’re in sales.
Stephen F. Nathans is editor-in-chief of EventDV.