This promotion takes no paid advertising.  You read it right: a Christmas promotion with no paid media.  There is no need for special sets (unless you want to do them).  And no Santa Suit rental and then finding a jolly ol’ St. Nick impersonator to fill it.  Interested?  Keep reading.

Many years ago, Kodak ran a gift certificate program at Christmas time.  Basically, you called on area employers that employed at least 50 people, and offered to sell them gift certificates that they could give to their employees as Christmas gifts.  The certificate gave them a portrait session and an 8×10 portrait.  And I DID have a couple of businesses participate in this.  But one November, as I was preparing the script, it came to me:

  • Why charge for this?
  • Why only offer it to companies of 50 or more?
  • Heck, why just do it at Christmas?

DUH!  Why not approach area businesses and say, “We are offering an employee morale/loyalty building program for your business. The only cost to you is covering the cost of the package handed out to each employee. ”  We tried REAL hard to get the employees’ contact information, but sometimes all we could manage was the mailing address. We took what we could get.

For A Christmas Promotion, The Overall Cost Was LOW

The cost of the package was nominal.  It was a glossy black folder (we used a red folder at Christmas time) with our label on it. Inside was a letter explaining the program to the employee, and a letter of introduction telling the employee about our studio.  As I recall, the cost of the package at the time was under $2.00.  You might pay a little more today.  We did our normal Call-Mail-Call:

  1. Call HR (owner of a smaller company) and asked them to watch for our mail.
  2. Mail a letter outlining the program.
  3. Call and set up an appointment to present the program to the person/person who could say yes.

When you go to the presentation meeting, take portraits.  LARGE PORTRAITS.  Then have an album with 8×10 samples in it–nothing smaller.  Be friendly, excited, and low pressure.  Remind them many employees are not looking for more money, but they would like to feel that they are appreciated. This gets reflected in the letter from the company.

When “selling” the idea to the businesses, we suggested they get permission from the families to use a portrait on their reception room wall with a small sign reading “The Families of Wilbert, Inc.”  Bingo!  Print sales to the company!  With a little extra selling, you could move them into a collection using frames that clipped together and design the entire display for them.

You Can Do Variations On This At Christmas (Or Not)!

The Kodak promotion included a portrait and the companies paid more for this.  If I offered it at Christmas time, I would remind them that it was the Season of Giving, and the employees would think of the company’s generosity every time they viewed that portrait on the wall.  And don’t chicken out!  Start by offering the program with a wall portrait and work down from there.  Of course, you’ll show them your REGULAR price and then the SPECIAL price that you are giving them.  I used to chuckle a little and say, “You know, your employees know that I’m the highest priced studio in town. They’ll be impressed that you chose ME instead of one of the cheaper studios in town. But it’ll be OUR little secret that you got a deal.”  Talk about applying the velvet hammer!

You also don’t have to think in the vein of just a single portrait!  A portfolio of 8 portraits matted and framed can work as well…be creative!  John Hartman makes a set of Photoshop actions that let you “mat” a collage of images in Photoshop.  It is VERY realistic.  Then, you just frame it.  Here’s a tip: make it a non-standard size, so YOU can be the one with the frame sale.

Make It EASY For The Families–Hey, It’s CHRISTMAS!

The letter stressed that the photography would take place over two weeks.  During that two weeks I did sessions on 2 Saturdays. On 4 on the weekdays, I made appointments until 9:00 PM.  From time to time, someone would say, “Oh, Mr. Bohne…we would LOVE to do this, but our son, Biff, is away at Whasamatta U…couldn’t we do it when he was home?”  What do you think we said?

Sometimes, people said, “I would really like this done at the park,” or, “I’ve always wanted a portrait taken in my home.”  What do you think we said?  There was NEVER a charge to the family UNLESS they were outside Jackson County, OR they just HAD to have a Sunday.

We photographed the heck out of these groups: family, mom alone, mom with the girls, mom with the boys, mom with all the kids, dad alone, dad with the girls, dad with the boys, dad with all the kids, mom and dad together. If they had pets, we included them if they wanted to bring them.  We REALLY tried to get them to bring the Grandparents (if they weren’t already in Florida).  Oh, if they were in the portraits, too…this was like finding diamonds on the ground.  Fantastic sales!

If They Say “No”

Every once and a while a company would say no.  No problem.  I then would go into “stealth marketing mode.”  I “borrowed” this idea from Les Petersen.  Okay, okay: I flat out stole it.

If I really wanted to photograph their employees (because they were getting paid well) I would run an ad in the local paper that showed a family portrait with copy that read: “EMPLOYEES OF THE WILBERT COMPANY!  March 1 through March 12 is Wilbert Company Employee appreciation days. In appreciation of your service to our community, we would like to present you with a family portrait at no cost or obligation to you. Please call 517-555-1212 for your appointment.”

Now let me make it clear that I didn’t do dozens of families from this method, but with a my average order, I only had to photograph one to pay for the ad, and I never did only one. Sometimes one of my current customers would work there, and I’d get them to post an announcement on the company bulletin board and/or put little cards on their fellow employees’ desks.  We never asked the company, we just did it. They probably would have said ok, but I guess I’d rather ask for forgiveness instead of permission.   No company ever complained or reprimanded the employee.  Not saying it couldn’t happen…it just never did.

So if you don’t want to have to design and pay for a special Christmas set (which we already had and continued to use), this can be a moneymaker.  Not just at Christmas, but year round.  It just takes a little effort, and doesn’t cost much.  Best time to start calling on businesses? YESTERDAY!  For holiday sales, we normally called from the first of November up until the first week of December.

After Christmas, we concentrated on the smaller companies or any companies we missed during the holiday season.  We normally called on companies in January to do photography in February, February to do photography in March, and March to do photography in April.  Remember, the only reason you have a “slow season” is because you slack off.  This doesn’t cost much, but it takes some effort.   In my experience, my colleagues were not all that interested in working all that hard.

Will it work for you?

  • Yes.
  • No.
  • Maybe.
  • I don’t know.

I can tell you this: you’ll never know until you give it a REAL try.  By that, I mean go at it strong for at least three Christmas seasons.  I DO know that if you are not personable, it will fail.  If you don’t fancy yourself a real promoter, hire someone.  There are a lot of salespeople, community group leaders, and pastors from the community who have this skill.  There might even be a present customer who comes to mind.  Pay them a base pay of $x per hour to a max of 20 hours a week, then add a bonus of $25-$100 for every business they book.  The bonus would be based on the size of business and if the business pre-purchased portraits or just went with the certificate.

Have a great week, and watch for more ways to do Photography4Profit coming soon!