Building a Successful Senior Model Program

Building a Successful Senior Model Program

Building a Successful Senior Model Program with Curtiss Bryant

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

The biggest obstacle we face as senior photographers is keeping ourselves in front of our target audience, the seniors. There are so many photographers out there vying for the same business that we can get lost in the masses. We can create amazing images and provide an amazing service, but sometimes that is not enough. In a digital world, the seniors are bombarded with hundreds of images a day, so they are becoming immune to good photography.

To them, it is just another image. We need to do more than take pretty pictures to stand out. Enter senior model programs.

Senior model programs have been around for ages. The old paradigm of doing free shoots and giving free prints for referrals no longer works. You have to create a program that they want to be a part of. We have created a model program that provides clients with an amazing senior experience for an entire year. They no longer get just a single session and rep cards to pass out. They get a year of pictures and a senior experience to remember.

Let’s look at how we do it.

Step 1 – Create the Framework

The framework you create is the most important aspect of building your model program. This is what sells your program to the seniors. Create a program that they want to be a part of.

Our program includes their senior session with hair and makeup during the summer. The senior session is the main reason they are doing the program. Mom wants those senior portraits, but we need to do more than that to create that amazing experience.

Starting in September, we do monthly themed shoots. These are essentially mini-sessions, and each of the models gets a 20- to 30-minute time slot. The shoots are creative, and are meant to provide them with a fun experience. We offer our models a variety of shoots, including underwater, powder paint, newspaper/trashbag dresses, pumpkin patch/fall sessions, ugly Christmas sweaters, black light, stylized sessions, sports, night shoots, cold weather shoots and wildflower shoots.

Be creative and think outside the box. The more creative and fun the shoots are, the more interest you will bring to the program. These images are purchased in addition to the senior images at the end of the year.

Step 2 – Create a Rewards Program

The one thing we loved from the traditional paradigm was the opportunity for the models to earn rewards for sending referrals to you. It is not required, but when they do it, we want them to know they are appreciated. We created a points system by which they can earn points not only for referrals but for other tasks, like sharing images on social media, tagging friends in comments on our flyers, taking selfies while wearing our T-shirt to different events and posting them on IG with our hashtag, or even bringing their sports teams to us to create sports posters. We do not restrict referrals to only seniors. We allow them to refer people to us for any genre of photography we shoot.

At the end of the year, they can cash in their points for various prizes. We have found that cash is the biggest motivator with seniors, so we have reward levels that include cash payouts starting at $25 and going up to $200 (cumulative). If they reach the top level (1,000 points), they can earn an iPad, plus all the cash prizes.

It takes 10 referrals to reach 1,000 points, so it is a goal within reach for all of them. The way most get referrals each year is by referring the current juniors to us for the next year’s program. We host our meetings in November, with signups due in December. Our program is exclusive in the sense that they have to be invited by one of our current models to participate. Rather than our having to market our program to everyone, the model team members are the ones who build it for us. We just send out the invitations once we get the names, and in return, the models get the referral credit for anyone who signs up.

Step 3 – Offer Something Big

Add something big to your program to make it more enticing. Each year we give away a cruise to one senior model. We are located in Florida, so cruises are plentiful (and cheap). If you cannot do a cruise, maybe do a weekend getaway and shoot in another city. If you cannot do that, maybe a VIP experience to a concert or theme park. The options are endless. The idea is to offer something that is a big reward that they all want to win. This ends up being a huge marketing tool for us because we post images and videos to social media while we are on the cruise, which builds excitement in the community. Plus, it’s a vacation and tax write-off.

Step 4 – Make Them Pay to Play

The biggest error with model programs is that photographers don’t charge for them. They do all the work for free in hopes that the models bring in paying clients. If you go to a restaurant, will a chef cook a meal for you for free in hopes of you telling your friends? No. So why should photographers be any different?

Charge to participate in your program. Models are much more active when their parents have paid for them to be in the program. They come to the monthly shoots, they refer people, etc. When they have skin in the game, they are much more active. We have four participation levels they can buy into. The only difference in the levels is the bonuses we include (a second cruise entry, a day at the spa, a destination shoot, etc.). The amount they pay is returned as a product credit toward their senior session, essentially making it a minimum order amount. If you don’t want to do that, fine. Make it your own and do what works for your studio.

Step 5 –Offer Destination Sessions (Optional)

The future of senior photography is destination shoots, so why not start now and get ahead of the curve? It is a lot simpler than it sounds. Just ask them to notify you of any trips they are taking. Many seniors travel throughout the year, so you can maximize those opportunities to provide them with an amazing experience while they vacation. Each year during spring break, we offer a weeklong destination shoot overseas as an additional travel opportunity (and a vacation).

We also find cheap trips throughout the year and announce them to our model team. Whenever we find a cheap flight, we message all the senior models and their parents about the opportunity.

The main thing with destinations is to just offer them the opportunity to do portraits in another location. It doesn’t have to be far. It doesn’t have to require a flight. It can be within a couple hours of your location. Most seniors have no idea that travel is even an option, so as soon as we mention it, their eyes light up. We do a separate sales session for destination shoots to maximize our sales potential. If they travel, they will buy images, guaranteed.

Step 6 – Party Time (Optional)

At the end of the schoolyear (April), we host a huge party for our seniors. We provide a full meal, a dessert bar, a DJ and our photo booth. It is similar to a mini-prom, and we require formal dress. Guests of the seniors have to pay for their own meals. We use this time to announce our cruise winner and pass out the rewards they have earned, and we provide each with a little thank-you gift. It’s a night out they can enjoy with their friends.

These steps give you a foundation to start building your program. You do not have to structure it exactly like ours. Take what we have provided and make it work for your studio. Make changes as you see fit. There is no right or wrong with model programs. They are constantly evolving. The goal is to provide your clients with an amazing senior experience that is much more than a single session.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Tracy Melchiori

    Do you use special software to keep track of who recommends who, how many points, etc? And how many seniors do you allow for in your senior program?

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