Marketing Proms: Making the Most of a Challenging Market!

Proms, which used to be the golden goose of the Spring photo season, have now become a financial challenge for photographers in the digital age.  Proms are still being held all over the country, and expensive tuxedoes and fancy dresses are still all the rage at these events; but pre-paid posed photographs have taken a serious hit.

The cultural shift that we have seen in the college market in the sale of Party Pics, has worked its way down to the high school market, and the printed photograph is not the prized commodity it once was among the 14 -18 age group.  Combine that with the proliferation of digital cameras, camera phones, and other recording devices and you have a very steep mountain to climb.

Ah, but all is not lost.  If you are serious about cracking into the prom market or trying to make some lemonade from these lemon-scented events, then you will have to change the way you think about proms.  Though it’s true that the students may not be interested in photographs, their parents are!

A few years ago a CCS customer decided that he was going to change his marketing direction for proms, and instead of directing his efforts towards the students, he would now target the parents of the students.  Working with the administration of the schools, he enlisted their help in providing a mailing list with all of the parents’ names and addresses. He then sent out a nostalgic letter reminding the parents how important, fun, and prized their prom photos were when they were in high school; and wouldn’t they like the same valuable experience for their sons and daughters?

His success rate was instant and his stable of prom events quickly doubled their gross sales over the previous year. Marketing in advance of the event proved successful and it can work for you also, but it will require some work on your part. In the communication sent to the parents you will need to let them know in advance what the packages contain and their cost. In addition, you’ll need to include an order form, or provide a link to one they can print out to bring with them—with payment—the night of the prom. You may want to include a pre-order discount code that they can bring with them the night of the prom to receive a percent off discount.

Remember to display the background to be offered at the prom prominently on any flyers or order forms distributed. Create posters with samples to display around the school for a few weeks prior to prom.  Provide each school with website/password cards to be used as invitation/ticket stuffers.  Each card should include information about your portraits and candid service.

In Oklahoma City at our retail division we are still shooting many proms but how we execute the event has changed dramatically.  In order to photograph as many couples as possible we shoot everyone with no money collected upfront.  When our pre-paid sales dived to next to nothing we decide that, in order to get couples in front of the camera, we would have to offer a free sitting with many poses which would encourage them to view those poses online to pick the best one for their prints.

Depending on the school and the number of couples attending we will also include the Jump Studio as an alternative photo location at the prom where they can do whatever they want to do—photographically—within reason!

Now, if you’re looking for something completely different to offer consider green screen for your proms. Green screen will enable you to offer more background options—online—without the added investment of props. If you choose to go the green screen route it is imperative that you test, test, and test again for the correct lighting setups.  Green screen is not very forgiving when improperly lit so if you go this route you will have to TRAIN your photographers to execute perfectly.

At the prom make sure your shooting location is highly visible.  Your portrait location should be easily accessible and within sight of the dance floor to increase participation. If possible provide a short script to the DJ for regular announcements over the sound system on your behalf encouraging the attendees to have their photos made.

After the prom is imperative that you utilize an email campaign for at least three months.  Just because they didn’t buy shortly after the event doesn’t mean they won’t do so several weeks or months afterward.

For more information about executing proms, marketing or pricing prom packages call Brian at 800-336-4550 ext. 251.

Making the Most of Prom Candids

With Easter less than a month away it’s safe to say that Proms are just around that next bend in the calendar.  Though not the “cash cow” that they once were—especially from posed couple portraits—proms can still deliver decent revenue returns when you attack it from all fronts.

Though the explosion of digital cameras and camera phones has influenced our industry significantly, there are still some strategies that you can employ to maximize your income at proms, namely, get the most out of your candid photographers and the number of images taken at prom events.

It’s a proven fact that the more images taken at an event, the better your sales will be.  By just relying on the posed couple packages you may be leaving extra money on the table. Using the CCS PhotoMatch system for Party Pics® candids can influence the buying patterns of your school dances and proms.

PhotoMatch, a CCS software solution, can be used at Proms where hundreds of students are being photographed multiple times.  This combination software/hardware solution allows students (and their parents) the ability to easily find their images online. This system also gives photographers the option of sending home printed proofs of each student’s candid photos!  But, more about that later.


Here is how it works! The PhotoMatch system revolves around a wireless scanner, barcodes, email addresses, and the time clock present inside all digital cameras. By synchronizing a camera’s time clock with a barcode scanner, PhotoMatch is able to pinpoint the exact time customers are photographed, and then match their email address to the time they were photographed.
After taking a photo, the photographer simply scans a barcode which has been pre-printed on a perforated two-part form. A card is scanned for each person in the photo. The photographer can also take multiple photos of a couple or a group and then scan as many barcode cards as they would like.

Barcodes can be distributed in several ways. Each attendee could receive one half of the two-part card containing a barcode before entering the event. The photographer would keep the other half of the card that also contained the barcode and the attendee’s contact information such as email and mailing address. 

 
Alternatively, photographers can create wristbands for each student attending. The wristband would contain a barcode to be scanned and student contact information would be collected when wristbands are distributed.  This method was successfully pioneered by our current CCS Customer of the Year, Leslie Broadland of NorCal Candids.  Her fresh approach to maximizing results has given a big boost to the candid market at special events. 

The PhotoMatch system was created to make it easier for the end customer to find their images online, thereby creating a more timely purchasing opportunity by sending a link, via email, that will take them directly to their photographs. The ability to get images in the hands of parents is also a way to boost sales! The scanning and “competition” to participate in more photos also creates excitement at school events like a Prom.  Additionally, Leslie figured out that she could mail out printed proof sheets that would include all the images of one person!  This also contributed to better sales at events.
The PhotoMatch System provides an easy and reliable method for roving photographers to match customers to their photographs. PhotoMatch works with almost any digital camera by using a non-tethered bar code scanner to tag the images. It is a simple and easy process but does require some training.  If you are interested in discovering more information about this method contact Tech Support at 800-750-0494.

An Updated Look at Proms: Pre-promotion and Marketing alternatives

Proms were traditionally a lucrative market but were extremely competitive to book.  The common marketing method utilized was Pre-Pay for Portraits, and online View First (speculation) for Party Pics® candids  Many studio competitors did not offer candids or, if they did, took only a few.
 
In recent years, sales at some Proms have declined by 50% or more.  Students are not as excited about posed portraits or candid prints.  Part of this is the surge of personal cameras taken to proms and the preference by students for digital images instead of prints.  Despite this trend, we still believe the parents are quite interested in prints.  In the past, most marketing was directed to the students and not the parents.  Parents should be included and be a major focus of any marketing efforts concerning photographs at the prom.
 
To successfully book proms and maximize their sales, you are going to have to change your mindset and your marketing methods. 

Obtain cooperation from the school so that you can reach the parents BEFORE the prom with your marketing message.  Send information to parents by email or mail so that they know what you are offering at the Prom and at what price.  If the school will not provide you with emails or mailing addresses, they may be willing to send out a broadcast email on your behalf or include links to your website and info in their newsletters or other correspondence.  Offering a unique portrait discount code to be used at the event in the pre-promotion can increase participation.  Pre-printed sports-style envelopes can be used for pre-orders and can be collected at the school a few days prior to the event or they can be brought to the event sealed with the payment from the parent inside.  We know of one parent who specifically gave her daughter cash (not in an order envelope) to purchase pictures at the prom. The daughter failed to even have her picture taken and the cash was used elsewhere.  Providing methods for the parents to preorder and/or seal their payment can eliminate this type of calamity.  Pre-orders can also be taken online for portraits prior to the event.  A gift certificate code is then sent by the photographer to the purchaser for the amount of purchase and also kept on file at the prom in case the attendee did not bring the code.
 

Display the backgrounds to be offered at the prom prominently on any flyers or order forms distributed.  Create posters with samples for display around the school.  Provide each school with website/password cards to be used as invitation stuffers.  Each card should include information about your portraits and candids.
 

 prom stuffer

Events-Prom-Flyer-2010

Shoot additional poses of singles and couples; when photographing couples at the prom, photograph the female first, then the couple and finally the male.  Shoot full length and half length.  Regardless of what is pre-ordered or ordered at the Prom, you can still I.D. these pictures and send an email link to parents, providing them the opportunity to order pictures of just their child.  Ask for a student and parent email from each person photographed.
 
For larger proms, offering a separate background for group pictures can be a hit.  Usually created with two 10×20 backdrops hung horizontally for maximum width, this prom setup can eliminate the problem of shooting off the background on a primary couple setup and reduce your couples’ waiting time.  Typically 5×7 or 8×10 prints at a fixed price are offered on this group line.
 
Shoot Green Screen or High Key portraits to offer a unique background or look to your images.  Traditional style backgrounds with props may be considered cheesy by some schools.  Green Screen will enable you to offer more background options at the prom or online and without the investment in props.  Be sure to display a variety of options in your marketing materials and displays at the prom to generate excitement and greater participation.  Shooting white high key portraits will give your images a cleaner and more sophisticated look that many schools prefer.   If you choose to shoot Green Screen or High Key, test your lighting setups and train your photographers thoroughly before prom season to ensure that you will have satisfactory results.  Contact Customer Support for instruction on green screen or high key photography.
 
Prom CoupleProm CoupleProm Couple

 

 

Be very visible at the prom.  Your portrait location should be easily accessible and within sight of the dance floor to increase participation.  Provide a script to the D.J. for regular announcements over the sound system on your behalf, to encourage people to have their picture taken.
 
Candids need to be taken in large quantities and, ideally, need to be projected large on a screen to create interest and encourage others to have their pictures taken.  Eye Fi, Canon Wireless and Nikon Wireless, as well as tethering can be used to accomplish this.  It is well worth the effort because it makes having the pictures taken cool to the participants.
 
After the prom, utilize an email campaign for at least three months to maximize your sales.  A significant amount of sales can be generated with these campaigns.  Weekly reminders should include a on focus pearlized paper, unique print products and ordering deadlines.

Green Screen for Proms

If you are looking for a competitive edge this prom season, which will be upon us in a matter of weeks, then green screen photography may be something that you may want to explore.  Rather than opting for the traditional, prop-heavy background you may want to consider green screen as a way to offer a myriad of backgrounds from the same image(s) with a minimum of props to complete your scene.
Green or blue screen photography is a technique by which foreground elements, like high school prom couples, can be separated from the green background and then composited against a new, photographic background.  Blue or green are commonly used because there is less blue or green in human flesh tones.
If you are planning to use green screen at any of your dance events this spring, it’s important to do it right to avoid any refunds or unhappy customers.  Green screen backgrounds suitable for a full-length photograph can be purchased at B&H Photo; Calumet Photo; EBay; or at www.chroma-key.com.  A 10×20 chroma-key muslin background will cost in the vicinity of $165.
We suggest using real flooring, like carpet, with the green screen behind any props you may use.  Doing it this way eliminates the “floating couple” in a background look, where their feet don’t seem to be anchored to the floor.


As far as lighting, your objective is to minimize, or, totally remove any shadows falling onto your green screen background.  It’s crucial to use diffused lighting created by an umbrella or a soft box to control shadows. The light source should be above the camera if you are using a single light source.  Full-length shots may require the use of an additional light aimed at the background to fill in shadows if you are using a single main light.   (See diagrams below)

As far as a workflow for CCS and to achieve the most efficient results you need to follow the following:
1. Shoot the event.
2. Send green screen images to CCS via CCS Transfer software.
a. Verticals in first folder
b. Horizontals in second folder
c. Backgrounds in last folder
i. Vertical and horizontal backgrounds
3. Contact Customer Support
a. Send order numbers and rolls to be converted
b. Background(s) to use for each roll
4. Images will be converted and then reloaded to event number
a. Roll 00001 will be uploaded as 10001 for first background
b. Roll 00001 will be uploaded as 20001 for second background
c. Roll 00002 will be uploaded as 10002 for first background
d. Roll 00002 will be uploaded as 20002 for second background
5. Call Customer Support to schedule your conversions
a. We prefer at least a week’s advance notice
b. Allow time to test your process and see image results
The cost for cutting out your green screen images and placing them into your background image is $.10 per image.  If you are placing them into multiple backgrounds, it is $.10 per each background.   So, if you submitted a photograph of a couple and had them placed into three different background images the cost would be $.30.
A good source of background images is www.photobacks.com.  It’s important to note that background images with more content hide potential flaws such as wrinkles in the green screen. Also, background images are better if slightly softened and darker images are better than lighter ones.  Remember to conduct tests on your background images to make sure they look good.  Backgrounds that look good for close-ups may not work well for full-length shots.  Finally, the aspect ratio of your background image must match the camera ration.  Most cameras are 3:2, but some manufacturers have 4:3 ratios.
Green screen can add a whole new look to your prom program, but success will come in the details!

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