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Cash Cows in a Changing Economy
Posted Sep 2, 2008 - September 2008 Issue Print Version     Page 1of 1

Are you nervous yet? You should be! The American economy is starting to look bleak. People everywhere are tightening their budgets—our prospects and clients included—and videographers are wondering how to best cope with the sudden drop in business that is the inevitable result.

September is upon us, and one can almost feel the slow winter months approaching. We all feel it: The phone doesn’t ring as much, the brides are not booking as far out as they used to, everyone wants a discount, and our bills are piling up faster than our wedding backlogs.

The glory days of the bridal couple coming to our studios and saying "yes" to every one of our higher-end packages are receding into memory as the American public realizes that higher fuel prices, ballooning mortgage payments, a descending stock market, and a sagging U.S. dollar means the tightening of the wedding budget across the board.

It’s hard to run a video company, in today’s poor economy, by just waiting for the bride to call. Videographers can no longer expect to succeed with a business plan that caters only to the traditional wedding marketplace. To be successful today, one must have a Cash Cow: a product that supplements your bottom line by delivering regular (and often quick) revenue and makes you stand out from your competition.

EventDV spoke to some of the leaders in our industry who understand the concept of having multiple products available to their clients to help offset a sluggish economy.

To help you fully understand how different videographers are coping with the changing economy, many of the videographers profiled in this article have created short video clips to give you an up-close-and-personal view of how they run their businesses, and a look at some of the Cash Cow products that keep their companies profitable during tough economic times. To see these clips, click here to go to EventDV-TV.com, and select the Article Tie-ins tab.

JC/DV Productions: Posters and Trailers
Jerome Cloninger of JC/DV Productions (Rogersville, Tenn.) (Figure 1) understands the concept of a Cash Cow. Though primarily a wedding videographer, he has done only two weddings in his small town in 5 years. Many times he has to drive 2 or 3 hours to Nashville, Chattanooga, or even Atlanta to perform and promote his work at a wedding.

In Cloninger’s market, times are tough. Many videographers, in his area are adding photography to their business plan while others are thinking of closing their doors. But Cloninger had no desire to do that.

Cloninger, who was a chef before he traded in his apron for a video camera, says that the key ingredient to his recipe for his current success was the introduction of cinematic trailers and wedding posters (Figure 2; photo by Dan Browning Photography) to his bridal couples. These are his Cash Cows.

Cloninger got the idea for his trailers and movie posters, appropriately enough, while standing in line at a movie theater. While looking at a movie poster he realized he could translate it into a wedding context and create the same sort of excitement for his wedding clients that a movie poster generates for moviegoers.

When he also started to distribute a cinematic trailer to the wedding guests he realized he had added value to his wedding product, and as they say in Hollywood, he started moving into the big time. "As videographers, we make movies," he says, "so why not adapt this Hollywood technique?" Cloninger will place small cards on guests’ tables at receptions, telling potential clients where they can view his wedding trailers online. "I usually get about 300 hits on the bridal couple’s private page the week after the wedding and another 200 hits the following week. It is really viral marketing targeting a specific audience."

Cloninger has booked numerous weddings all because of his 90-second movie trailers that he has available within hours of the wedding day. Before the wedding day he can also send out a tease for his wedding movie posters and showcase the poster at the wedding reception.

He charges $300 for a wedding movie poster and $3,200 for his Cinematic Movie Trailer package. His bridal couples will spend upwards of $8,000 for his top package.

"Sure, the economy is down. Gas is more than $4.25 a gallon [where I live] and I do a lot of driving for my business," adds Cloninger. "But I stay focused on my goals, dreams, and aspirations. Even though my expenses are up, I can’t focus on things I cannot change. What I can focus on are things I can change, like my business."

Cloninger’s business philosophy is a simple one that’s worked for him in good economic times and bad: "Invest in yourself and your education before you invest in the latest and greatest equipment." Good advice, and it seems to be paying off for this one-time chef and now creative "Hollywood-style" videographer.

Click here to see Jerome Cloninger's video on the Cash Cow video page.

Jensen Films: Virtual Reality Wedding Panoramas
Mike Jensen (Figure 3) of Jensen Films (Sacramento, Calif.) has been a videographer for 17 years, and was a 2006 EventDV 25 honoree. Even though he reports that his wedding videography business is down these days, he says he has a Cash Cow that helps promote his work. 

Jensen has mastered the art of wedding panography. These are wide-angle pictures composed of several individual photos digitally stitched together. When all the photos are assembled, they give the impression one would get by standing in one place and turning 360 degrees and seeing everything from one vantage point.

Jensen’s Virtual Reality Wedding Panoramas (Figure 4) are his Cash Cow. They help him stand out in the crowded Sacramento marketplace and allow Jensen to attract potential brides to his company. "The Sacramento economy has been hard hit," says Jensen. "The real estate and building industries have been devastated. Demand for our services has decreased somewhat this year, but the biggest change has been the money the bride is willing to spend on our services. We’re seeing much tighter budgets this year. Past brides would often use their home equity or dip into Daddy’s stock portfolio. Much of that money has disappeared." Jensen says the way to handle this challenging economy is "to find new and creative, inexpensive ways of marketing your company to potential brides."

One way Jensen is dealing with a tough market is to repackage his current offerings and make them more attractive to his brides. He now has a documentary-only package without a highlight chapter. This saves the bride $700 and also a day’s work for Jensen Films.

"The silver lining in the current economic downturn," says Jensen, "is that it has forced us to re-evaluate our business practices such as cutting back on our high-priced advertising."

Click here to see Mike Jensen's video on the Cash Cow video page.

Hal Slifer Video: The Same-Day Edit (aka The Wedding at the Wedding)
Speaking of advertising, the old adage is that when the economy is down and your business is hurting, this is the time to advertise more aggressively. Though that sounds like reasonable advice, when household expenses are skyrocketing and bridal bookings are down, where will one get the extra money to advertise one’s product?

My Boston-area company, Hal Slifer Video (Figure 5), has spent lots of money on every form of advertising, and none of it has done as well as the free advertising I get from showing a video at a wedding. We are no longer advertising in the phone book, on The Knot, or in our local bridal magazine. You won’t see us at bridal shows anymore, and we no longer pay anyone to give us a high standing in Google searches. Our advertising budget is selective and our business is steady as we promote and advertise ourselves every weekend with our Cash Cow: the same-day edit (SDE) (Figure 6).

Our SDEs, combined with our Legacy Biographies of the bridal couple, have been a great Cash Cow for our company since 1999. We branded our SDE product The Wedding at the Wedding. Since times are tougher and budgets are tighter, we find the bridal couples that loved our Cash Cow product months ago when they booked us are now calling back to say they need to cut their initial video expenses and will need to eliminate our special SDE production.

I won’t let this happen! I want to show my SDE the night of the wedding, regardless of what the client wants to pay for it. Making money for that production is not as important as showing my Cash Cow in front of 200 guests. Showing a video presentation at the wedding is the way I advertise my video talents.

I will drop the price of producing a Wedding at the Wedding from a few thousand dollars to a few hundred dollars if it means I can still "advertise" my product in front of a crowded reception venue. This room may include numerous potential bridal couples, plus prospects for other types of events, such as reunions and birthday parties for elderly honorees that may yield Legacy Biography business as well.

Glass Slipper Productions: Photography and SDEs
Rob and Natalie Neal (Figure 7) understand the concept of advertising their Cash Cow product in front of their wedding clients. Their company, 2006 EventDV 25 honoree Glass Slipper Productions, is in the very competitive Phila-delphia market.

"The economic slowdown has forced us to re-evaluate who our clients are and to compare that to what makes our company different," says Natalie. In recent months they "have seen more cancellations of weddings altogether and more inquiries for budget-minded packages."

The Neals have expanded their business Cash Cows to include more SDE productions. They have also added photography coverage to their video wedding packages. (For more on the idea of branching out into photography, see the sidebar, "Expanding Into the Imaging Business.")

"Yes, the economy is bad out there," says Natalie, "yet the wedding and event industry is one that always has its high and lows. It’s unavoidable. How you choose to ride the waves of success and navigate the lows of a troubled economy will separate the hobbyist and the professional. We’re in this for the long haul and we have enjoyed every minute of the ride."

The idea of branching into the photography marketplace as a Cash Cow is one that has proven successful for many videographers. Taking that particular Cash Cow concept one step further, HD imaging technology is getting to the point where our video industry may move toward eliminating the separate jobs of videographer and photographer. Why not have one vendor, "The Imaging Person," shoot both moving images and still images?

That concept may seem a bit futuristic, yet many videographers who are now shooting in HD can produce photo images from their videos that arguably rival the quality of the photographer's images. Many videographers are starting a Cash Cow business of creating photo books of images produced from their wedding footage.

As someone who maintains close business relationships with many photographers in Boston, I do not want to advertise my new still-image offerings. The way I promote my imaging business is in the production of my wedding DVD cases. On the wedding DVD case I will have between six and 10 wedding images on the packaging I give to my bridal couples. Many times the bride will enjoy seeing these images and ask if I can give her the images as a hard-copy print. That one print can easily be upgraded to a 30-image album that we promote as Visual Images. This is an easy Cash Cow to promote and one that will add value to your bottom line.

Whit Wales Wedding Films: Rehearsal in Stills, Wedding on Video
Whit Wales (Figure 8) of Massachusetts-based Whit Wales Wedding Films has perfected a Cash Cow of selling a weekend wedding package where he will photograph the rehearsal dinner one night and videotape the wedding the following day.

"This allows me to cover both media elements while forming a bond with the wedding family," says Wales.

Click here and select the Article Tie-ins tab to see Whit Wales' video on EventDV-TV.com.

Fat Cat Productions: The eXtreme Session
Barry and Stephanie Guinn (Figure 9) of Fat Cat Productions have found a Cash Cow niche that allows their company to prosper in a down economy.

The Guinns work out of Wichita, Kan. "We are very fortunate," says Barry, "that our local economy is still strong, with six major aircraft companies and many opportunities for jobs in marketing and the health care professions."

This husband and wife team has started to specialize in a few creative Cash Cows niches such as their "eXtreme Sessions" where, along with a photographer, they take the bridal couple out for a one-of-a-kind photo/video session. Other Cash Cows, says Guinn, include Love Stories. "At one point I could not give them away and now it is one our biggest upsells," he says.

Barry’s business philosophy is to "put on your creative thinking cap and brainstorm new services and products," he says. "Don’t be complacent [and assume] that work will always be out there. Be open to the thought that you may have to offer discounts or specials from time to time to get through rough times until the economic situation improves."

The Guinns practice what they preach and are reaping the rewards with a new product called Announce My Child. This is a continuation of the wedding Love Story produced for the parents of a new baby. "So far," says Stephanie, "this product has not boosted our income, yet it does boost the interest and buzz in our company and in getting clients through the door for a consultation for our other Cash Cow services." (For more on Fat Cat Productions, check out Elizabeth Welsh's article Road to Success: Shooting Out-of-Market Weddings.)

Click here and select the Article Tie-ins tab to see the Guinns' video on EventDV-TV.

2nd Generation Video: School Events, Photo Montages, and More
Jerry and Penney Malcolm (Figure 10) of 2nd Generation Video Productions in Austin, Texas, know exactly what to do once they get their clients to come in that front door. "As soon as we are contacted by a bridal couple," says Jerry, "we immediately offer, at no obligation, to take them out to dinner at a convenient restaurant. We’ve found it is much easier to talk about weddings and videos, face to face over dinner, rather than mail or email. It gives the bride the opportunity to get to know us in a casual environment. In a competitive market I never underestimate the little things that might push a bride’s decision our way."

The Malcolms enjoy a high success rate with their multiple Cash Cows: producing school events, photo montages, Love Stories, Bridal Spotlights, and outputting everything to Blu-ray Disc.

Jerry’s philosophy "is to convince the bride, even in a bad economy, of the value of preserving her wedding memories. The only way I can convince her to choose us over a cheaper competitor is to be the best videographer around, produce the best videos, and have the top reputation among venue owners and bridal consultants that recommend us."

Click here and select the Article Tie-ins tab to see the Malcoms' video on EventDV-TV.

Vantage Point Productions: Personality Goes a Long Way
An excellent reputation in the video marketplace is very important, as fellow wedding specialists will pass your name along to potential clients. Besides a good reputation, videographers need to project the kind of personality that will give your family-oriented business the image it needs.

Steve and Laura Moses (Figure 11) of Vantage Point Productions both possess that magic personality that has consistently made them not only a success in their business but also a success among their peers.

The two-time EventDV 25 honorees work in Southern California. "This densely populated region," says Steve, "is affected by the slow economy, yet it provides us with a huge pool of clients to draw from which works as a safety net for us in rough times."

"Our diversity of products—including photo transfers, DVD duplication, and corporate work— has always been part of our business plan and has seen us through two recessions," adds Laura.

"As the economy weakens, don’t lower your prices," Steve advises. "Taking such a step backwards will impede your march forward. It’s better to add a lower-end product to your product line than to undervalue your primary packages."

The Moseses are heavily involved in networking, as Laura described in her June column, Plugging Into the Video Network. "Your advertising dollars can be scarce," says Steve, "so use them to advertise yourself by attending ABC, NACE, and local PVA meetings. Additionally, a blog can work well in the realm of promoting yourself to other vendors."

Click here and select the Article Tie-ins tab to see the Moseses' video on EventDV-TV.

Robin Greenwood of Advanced Video in Chattanooga, Tenn., says his company supplements its wedding business "by relying on the production relationships we’ve built over the years with private schools, dance schools, and community theaters to fill in the gaps." Robin, a 2005 EventDV 25 honoree along with his wife, Donna, adds, "We are also adding corporate work to our Cash Cow mix of products."

Corporate productions are a fabulous Cash Cow add-on to your existing wedding business. Once you have proven yourself as an excellent wedding videographer, someone in the bride’s family will easily open some doors for you to pitch them some ideas for the family business and next corporate production. Adam Forgione of Pennylane Productions in the New York City area enjoys "trying to work with an upscale wedding client so they lead my company into the corporate world of video production." He jokingly adds that videographers should "be thankful that the wedding industry is a bit more resilient in a recession and start charging more for gas."

Forgione, who has been a videographer for 8 years, shares the same outlook on the video wedding production business as Philip Hinkle of Stoughton, Wis.-based Frogman Productions. They both are looking into the world of corporate videos to supplement their income as Cash Cows.

Hinkle, in an effort to try and reduce the impact of a changing economy and a growing backlog, has recently partnered with Paul Christensen, another videographer from the Madison area, to form a company called Wisconsin Business Media that will do more corporate productions.

As he tries out the corporate marketplace, Hinkle continues to run a top-notch wedding video business. With the economy on shaky ground, Hinkle’s business philosophy is "to be smart, only make purchases for equipment that will make you money, and to be open to different ideas that may be able to set you apart from others." (Click here to see Philip Hinkle's video on the Cash Cow video page.)

For me in my own Boston-based business, pricing has always been an issue regarding corporate jobs. In the wedding marketplace I have a good idea what to charge a bride that allows me to make a good return on my time to produce a wedding. In the corporate world, videographers like myself whose background is primarily in wedding video are often not sure what to charge. We all do the famous "budget dance" as we try and guess what price to charge, because there are four videographers that the marketing director is also talking to. (For more on making the jump to corporate video or adding it as an alternate revenue stream, see Elizabeth Welsh’s June cover story, Going Corporate.)

WEVA Chairman Roy Chapman summed it up when I went to one of the first WEVA Expos. I was impressed when he talked about raising prices and getting paid what you are worth. It was at this convention that I realized, as a wedding videographer, that running my company as a business and not as a hobby meant I also needed to look for additional niche markets.

Change of Seasons
Sure, times are getting tough. Business may be off, but would you trade in the creativity of wedding video for another type of business? In what other type of business environment do people give you a big hug and a big check for capturing memories of an important event?

Videographers talk in terms of "seasons." We are always checking in to see how this season is progressing and calculating how business will be for next season. As our businesses slow down because of the current economy, we can spend part of the next quiet season in re-evaluating our businesses and trying to figure out what Cash Cow product will work best for our individual bottom lines.

There will be a season, in the not-too-far-off future, when videographers will get together and talk about how the last few seasons were tough, but we got through it. Somehow we always do!

Hal Slifer (hal at halslifervideo.com) is a Video Historian who has produced thousands of family histories for clients throughout New England for more than 25 years. He is a 2006 EventDV 25 honoree and 2007 WEVA Hall of Fame inductee.

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