Building Mutually Beneficial Vendor Relationships with Sal Cincotta
After 12 years working as a professional photographer, I realize now more than ever the value of having working relationships with industry vendors. We all have a job to do, we all want to be successful, we all want to make money. I see a lot of businesses take an isolationist approach, which can be detrimental to the success of your business. Instead, I find ways to foster mutually beneficial relationships with vendors.
Recently I was looking at where my wedding referrals were coming from when I noticed that a venue I used to shoot at several times a year had completely fallen off my radar. We had not shot a wedding there in almost five years. How could that be? We picked up the phone, scheduled a meeting with their team and did something about it.
Below is how we went from an afterthought to front-runner—and rebuilt a relationship and our portfolio along the way.
Know what you bring to the table.
We are creatives. All businesses need creative talent. They need graphic design, photography services, video services and also someone with vision and the ability to execute ideas.
There is great value in what we bring to the table, and we have to parlay that into a winning situation for ourselves. That’s why we are doing this. Be transparent. I know I was.
We offered to stylize a commercial wedding shoot and promotional video in exchange for premium placement in this venue’s sales room. It was a lot of work to commit to, but in the end, it was a great way to position the studio as a premier partner. I was doing something no other photographer was willing to do. I bet correctly that the images we produced would drive new business to our studio and galvanize our relationship with the venue.
Think about what your vendors need.
Anyone involved in this project needs something. We are all in business to make a profit. Most vendors don’t have time to help you with a stylized shoot if there is nothing in it for them. We all need to be a little selfish here, and that’s ok.
So, what do they all need? Updated images for their marketing. This includes social media, print advertising and billboards—all of which require images. It’s easy to just photograph for yourself and not think about the other vendors involved. That’s a huge miss.
For this shoot, we delivered new prints for their sales room, a multipage flyer highlighting both the venue and my photography to be handed out to all new brides, and a video commercial. Of course, I got some incredible images for my portfolio to showcase at the next bridal show.
Own the concept and idea. Every piece of it.
This is your idea. Own it. If you want to just be a heartbeat with a camera, then let someone else run the show—but all you will have accomplished is to prove you are nothing more than a nerd who knows how to use a tool.
Instead, own the concept from beginning to end and showcase yourself as the director, producer and vision of the project. You will be bringing incredible value to the team. Who wouldn’t want to work with a rock star? Once the word gets out that you and your team pulled this off without a hitch, you will be received with open arms by any vendor on future projects. Screw this up, and, well, you know what will happen. But hey, no pressure.
We owned the entire concept from beginning to end. For more on this, read Alissa Zimmerman’s article in this issue, where she talks about pre-production and production the day of the shoot. There are a lot of moving parts to something like this, and you need to stay organized.
Bring in your tribe.
We all have vendors we like and who we have a good relationship with. Involve those people. This is the trifecta. You now add and galvanize your relationship with existing partners who want to be part of everything you do: florists, limos, tuxedos, models, hair and makeup.
We expanded the shoot to include a bunch of vendors we have relationships with. This shoot had a little bit of everything, so we needed help from our partners. In return, they got imagery. See how easy this is?
Bonus points: Once our local bridal magazine found out about the shoot, they wanted in as well. They gave us an eight-page editorial in their upcoming issue. Now, not only do we create incredible images for all our partners, but all our partners get free publicity in our top magazine. Again, who doesn’t want to be part of a winning team?
For this shoot, we enlisted the help of these partners:
Venue: Missouri Athletic Club
HMUA: Makeup Artistry by A&C and Hair by Hopper
Dresses: Clarice’s Bridal
Tuxedos: Savvi Formalwear
Florist: Poppies Design Studio
Bentley: Best Transportation
Bridal magazine: St. Louis Bride and Groom
Deliver on your promises.
Don’t you dare come this far and screw this up. You better deliver on all your promises, and deliver fast, none of this six-month delivery time. We had our images ready in two weeks from this shoot. We were sharing and tagging vendors in less than 24 hours after the shoot. Do not half-ass this. If you do, the resulting negative publicity will not be forgotten anytime soon. These are vendors that you have to see week in and week out.
Invest the time and energy needed to complete the project. Hire someone, outsource if you need to, but do it right.
Stay connected to vendors on social media. Thank them for their involvement. Share behind-the-scenes images and stories. You are doing this to keep the excitement and momentum going post-shoot. This is something everyone invested a lot of time and energy into, and you need to do everything in your power to make it worth their while and ensure no one leaves with a bad taste in their mouth. If they do, they will never do it again.
It doesn’t need to be complicated. Is it a lot of work? Yes, but trust me, the results are well worth it. Once you find your rhythm and formula, repeat it all over again.
Dominate your local market.