5 Steps for a Successful Senior Model Program

5 Steps for a Successful Senior Model Program with Jessica Robertson

I often hear things like, “What theme are you doing with your senior models this year?” And simultaneously I am hearing, “Senior model programs don’t work!” I believe the process of creating a theme and requiring each senior to dress in a certain way is confusing to your clientele. On the one hand, you are marketing a unique senior experience, yet you are lumping those same people into a concept of your choosing. The desired result does not match the process. Most senior photographers consult with each senior about who they are and what aspects of their personality they want to show visually. The goal is to create a customized session that reflects the senior. However, the group model shoot concept, in its essence, denies seniors the opportunity to be unique or even themselves, because a theme has been established and they must conform.

When we established our Senior Model Program, we wanted it to be true to our brand and consistent with our senior portrait style. The Program was intended to be an extension of our business, and in line with our brand. We photograph about 200 seniors a year, so a good start to the season is critical. Like with many programs, our goal was to have our Senior Models introduce us to their friends. With this goal in mind, we created our process.

We have found that we have a much greater chance of converting a potential client into a client if we can simply get face time with them. If we can get them into our studio to experience what we offer, there is a much higher likelihood of gaining them as clients. As a result, the five-step process detailed below was our answer to how we could create a Senior Model Program that actually works.

1. Model Call

So how do you get models? Here are our top ten ways:

  1. Ask previous senior models/clients to recommend their friends.
  2. Make daily posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, including videos and photographs. And be sure to personalize them by including yourself and some of your best accolades/qualities.
  3. Reach out to yearbook classes for referrals and applicants. We pay for an advertisement and teach a few classes each year, so we have good relationships with each of the advisors.
  4. Use the front page of your website to let everyone know you are looking for models. We photograph more than just seniors, so we want to spread the word to all of our clients that we are looking for models.
  5. Ask family and friends in your community. It is not just about who you know, but about who your contacts know as well.
  6. Encourage siblings of previous clients to apply. We keep a running folder of siblings for the future, so each year we reach out to those first.
  7. Create a mass email blast to all previous clients.
  8. Request referrals from teachers, club sponsors, and coaches that you know. Students who are involved in their school community are typically our best models.
  9. Talk about your search for models throughout your daily activities, like at daycare/school, at church, the grocery store, the gym …wherever you go, ask if anyone knows a rising senior. People feed off of your excitement.
  10. Ask for referrals from your local and regional businesses and business groups. If they don’t have kids themselves, they typically know someone who does. Small businesses naturally want to support other small businesses.

2. Model Meeting

Prior to the meeting, all models have applied, but they are not obligated to be a model with us until after they attend this meeting. The goal of the Model Meeting is to ensure that everyone is aware of what is required to be a model and to build their excitement. At every step, we always want to have clear communication about the process as well as complete transparency about our pricing and products.

For a time reference, this meeting takes place in early January so that the entire Model experience concludes in March. Our goal is to build the excitement and start photographing in April.

3. Friend Sessions

For three years, we have been doing Friend Sessions. To be clear, these are real friends and not just models grouped together to pretend they are friends. Ultimately, the Friend Sessions are where we get most referrals from our models. Our belief is that most seniors decide to use us because they have been able to view our work, experience our team, and have fun, and because they get familiar with our process.

Our Friend Sessions are tailored to the style of the group, and each one is unique. Again, this matches our storytelling brand and our business model. We ask each model to bring in at least five friends who are their grade level or younger. (We have stopped marketing to those above their grade level.) Each group can determine their own theme or concept. Therefore, the image we create will be a reflection of their friendship together. What brings them together? Maybe they are all on an athletic team, or maybe they have a common interest like theater or band. Maybe they have a certain style of dress or they associate themselves to be more boho, grunge or preppy. The options are limitless!

On the day of their assigned session, the friend groups arrive fifteen minutes early, dressed and ready to photograph. While they wait, they watch a video of our favorite images and get to view albums and other products. In the studio, we play whatever music they prefer and help guide them with posing that is most flattering for their body style. Most seniors really appreciate this aspect, and it helps to establish us as true experts. With each group, we do several compositions, but ultimately we select our favorite composition for the gift image we give to each senior who attends. It is a small thank you, but people really appreciate getting the printed image. Those images are distributed by the model, with our information on the back.

Before each friend group leaves, we give them a printed piece that further describes our services and includes answers to commonly asked questions. It is a quality publication, and it matches our high standards. We also give each rising senior an invite to our upcoming Senior Party.

To further market, we also create Friend Session videos with behind-the-scenes video clips and still images. This helps other potential clients get to know our style, because everyone shares them through social media. It is a great marketing push to kick off the year, and it is something the students really love! Once again, we are continuing the excitement and educating the new class that the spring of their junior year is when they should get started with senior portraits.

4. Elite Sessions

Elite Sessions are another added benefit to being a senior model with us. This is an additional session where each female model gets her makeup professionally done by our makeup artist to match the agreed-upon portrait concept. This session does not take place in lieu of their main senior session; it is simply an extra session. It is only 20 minutes in the studio, with only one look. We are very focused on telling one aspect of a senior’s story. A model may want to highlight a passion of theirs or even celebrate an aspect of themselves that makes them unique. For example, a senior may want to do an athletic look for their Elite Session, where they have their hair and makeup done differently than what they want for their main session. This is a wonderful benefit for the senior and it aligns with our storytelling brand.

An Elite Session is not a given. Students must qualify to get this added benefit. They must have five friends attend the Friend Session, submit a concept that they would like to execute for their Elite Session, and turn in a guest list of rising seniors whom they have invited to the Senior Party.

We once again create a behind-the-scenes video to highlight the experience of the session. Our Elite Sessions are really just a mini version of what we try to do on a daily basis with our seniors. The images we create are used for marketing and printed portraits in the studio. All models use the images for social media as well. With parents and seniors sharing the images, we get an awesome buzz in the community, and this is ultimately how the upcoming classes learn about our services.

5. Senior Party

This is the kick-off to our new senior season. Prior to this event, we do not book any upcoming senior sessions, so those who attend get first pick of dates. (Senior Models get to book in advance of this meeting as a model benefit.) Leading up to the event, we close down the studio and change out all of our imagery in the studio to highlight the previous year’s seniors. We also display our Senior Model images in our front window and throughout the studio.

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We do request that all rising seniors who attend our party also come with a parent. The Senior Models distribute tickets to the event, and each receives credit based upon the admission tickets turned in at the party. The Senior Party is an educational event to show how we are different, demonstrate how we make people feel welcome, establish our value, and ultimately convert interested individuals into booked clients.

During the Senior Party, we give away prizes and offer tiered discounts on our sessions in April, May and June.

5 Results of the 5 Steps:

  1. Through our Senior Models, we have created income in our off-season.
  2. The Senior Models have become a strong base of advocates for our brand through quality, consistent imagery.
  3. There is a positive marketing buzz in the community about our senior portraits.
  4. We photograph about 200 seniors a year, and 50 percent of our clients are secured through our Senior Models, their Friend Sessions, and the advertising from the Elite Session images.
  5. Our new clients get a glimpse into our style of photography, and best of all, we have stayed true to our brand!

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