What do people think of when they hear your business name? When you hear McDonald’s you think
burgers, KFC means chicken. What about Acme Video? Does this guy sell TVs, or what?
Photographers don’t have as much of a problem with identification. “Acme Photography Studio” tells a
potential customer that a professional photographer is available to shoot weddings, graduation pictures,
family portraits, passport photos, etc. People see the photographer as a professional who understands
composition, lighting, psychology and image quality.
Where do people get this association? It may have to do with the fact that photography studios have
been around so long. Remember, people have been putting on their Sunday best and sitting for portraits
since the mid-19th century. That’s a heck of a tradition.
“Portable” video equipment arrived on the scene in the mid-1970s, and was either too expensive or of
such low quality that it wasn’t practical for a video business to market to consumers. Now, of course, the
equipment available to anyone creates pictures that rival those seen on network TV just a few
years ago. But if the consumer can buy the equipment and create the video themselves, why should they be
willing to pay you to do so?
What Have You Got?
These same people probably own a high-end 35mm camera and take decent pictures with it. But when an
event comes along, such as a wedding, they call in the professional. Why? Because they see the
professional as someone who “brings something to the table.” The professional has knowledge,
and the customer is willing to pay for it.
Tradition has given the customer the confidence that the still photographer knows her stuff, but such a
tradition has not had time to build up for video professionals. Therefore, you have to work harder to prove
that it is worthwhile to hire you, the video professional.
We Are Family
Let’s use the family portrait as an example. Mom and dad are willing to pay the money it takes to get a
decent picture of the whole family. They can use these photos in Christmas cards, send them to distant
relatives or enlarge and frame one for Grandma’s mantle.
The photographer makes the family look their best, by providing makeup if needed, or by combing
down a stubborn cowlick. The professional should also be able to make everyone smile at once and to use
the perfect light to bring out little Sara’s dimples. This is part of the service that the professional
What else do people buy when they pay a photographer to create a family portrait? A memory trigger.
When Grandma walks by the mantle and glances at the portrait, she thinks of all the great times she has had
with her family. The memory trigger is instant (Grandma sees the photo–she remembers) and low
maintenance (Grandma dusts the frame once in a while).
On the other hand, to trigger a memory with video, someone has to remove the cassette from a box, put
it in a machine and play it back. A video is more work for the user than a photo, especially for Grandma,
who isn’t comfortable using a VCR. In order to compete with a still family portrait, a video memory has to
give more value to the audience, in order to justify the extra work that the audience must do to enjoy it.
Obviously, a video has movement and sound, making it a much more complete record than a still
picture. With a video, the client not only sees the family members, he or she hears the children laughing
and can listen as the adults make small talk. You can tell potential clients these and other advantages of
video, but if you want to make an impression it’s always best to show them an example.
It may be that you don’t have an example, which is often the case if you are just starting out in the video
business or are branching out into these types of services for the first time. If this is the case, you might
consider creating a family portrait on your own time and expense. This will not only be good experience
for learning how to do this type of project, you can also use the finished tape for promotion in the
Create It from Scratch.
What exactly is a video “family portrait?” I suggest that it isn’t as much a specific product as it is a product
category. This category might include a reminiscence, a day in the life, the special event or an add-
on to one of your existing products.
A reminiscence could be a video created to commemorate a member of the family, such as
great-grandmother, on her 90th birthday, or Junior as he finishes medical school. You could instruct the
family to show up at your studio, one at a time (or maybe in twos or threes, depending on your audio
sophistication) to do a short interview.
You could ask these people questions about the subject, or they could prepare speeches for delivery
directly to the camera. If two or three were on camera at a time, you could merely capture the discussion of
the group as they talked about the subject.
After you finish all the interviews, you could edit them, showing first one interview subject and then
another as they covered different events or personality traits of the subject. You could also edit in
photographs or films or videos created by the family where these elements supported what is being said by
the interview subjects.
The client could then show the finished video at the big event (the 90th birthday party, the graduation
celebration). Because people will often make nicer comments about a relative on camera than they are able
to do in person, the subject may get some touching moments. Also, Great-grandma or Junior will be able to
watch the tape in the future, when they can concentrate on what everyone is saying.
This Is the Life
A day in the life video might be the hardest sell. It would follow a family through a normal day.
You would need to orchestrate things, of course, so that you or your employees would be present to capture
on videotape–breakfast, getting ready, daughter at dance class, son at little league, the big barbecue with
all the friends, etc. The potential client could prepare a list of these events.
Why would anyone pay for such a product? That would be up to your sales technique. Although most
people think of big events like weddings for professional video services, the bulk of life consists of
simpler, and more commonplace activities. And yet, once the kids get past a certain age, these common
days will never return. It might be worth the price to be able to experience these memories once again.
Another way to create the day in the life product would be to take the videos shot by the family
themselves and edit the various activities into a cohesive unit. By using a “day” as a motif you could put
together a presentation that would have thematic glue to hold the audience’s attention, rather than just
random events strung together.
Why not cover the special event? Your clients may be ready to invest in video
memories for certain events, such as weddings. So it might not be too much of a jump for them to believe
that they should preserve other events in this way as well. Maybe the high school has a videomaker
covering the graduation ceremony, but what about the preparations that the grad makes before he or she
goes to the event? And who will cover the hugs and handshakes after the grad leaves the formal ceremony
and joins back up with the family? Who will capture the surprise party planned back at the house? Package
this service correctly, and it could be you.
Married With Children
How about a 1st anniversary party for newly married couples, especially if it is a surprise for them?
You could sell this service to parents or friends, which might include a large-screen showing of the
couple’s wedding video from the year before. As these memories are being shown, you could be
videotaping the reactions of audience.
You could also get quick interviews with the bride and groom–“how’s married life? What’s different or
better than you thought it would be? Who’s the boss?” Or you might try a version of the newlywed game,
where you ask the questions of the husband and see how close his answers match the wife’s and vice-versa.
After you capture all this hilarity on tape, you edit it down for the couple’s video memory collection.
If you are a really good salesperson, you could make this an option sold at the time you cover a couple’s
wedding. Sorry, no refunds for divorces or annulments. Even if you don’t pre-sell this service, you can
keep the date of the weddings you cover on file, along with the parent’s address and send them an offer in
the mail a month or two before the couple’s anniversary date.
You might try to sell the children of a couple on a anniversary video that hits one of the big numbers–
like their 25th or 50th. This package might include getting interviews with old friends or family members
who were at the wedding, and then editing the comments together with wedding photos and music. They
could then show the video at the anniversary party while you videotape the reaction of the couple.
Afterwards, you would cut all the footage together for a deluxe anniversary video.
It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like…
For another “family portrait” on video, you might be able to sell the idea of a video Christmas card. Let’s
say the family has taken lots of video of the kids, Brad and Sue, over the years. You could put it together
like this: we see several shots of Sue, from when she was a baby until recently, edited to Christmas music.
Then the scene changes to Sue as she looks this year (for added fun, the background could be a studio
holiday set). Then we see the same format for Brad, starting young and so on. Finally, the parents go
through the same routine. But when we get to Mom and Dad in the present, the camera moves out to
include the entire family. Each can then make a speech, or you can frame the shot with a wreath and they
can all say “happy holidays.”
If the family has deep pockets and lots of friends, you can get the copies of the “video Christmas card”
made at a professional dub house. Mom and Dad might find that the cost of one of the copies would be less
than a fancy printed card. The cost of your producing of the video would, of course, be up to you.
All Together Now
An obvious event for a video family portrait is the family reunion. Sure, someone in the family will
probably own a camcorder and could do the job for free. My advice is this: find an existing family reunion
video which was produced this way. It will probably lack in what we call “production value.” Showing it to
prospective clients who want a memorable video of their reunion may result in a sale for you. Don’t make
negative comments about the amateur tape, just show what a professional job looks like in comparison.
If no one wants to pay you to come and videotape an event, don’t give up on the idea of video family
portraits. Sell the idea of editing down existing memories, whether these are in the form of still photos,
motion pictures on film, or video shot by the family members themselves.
Many of the ideas I’ve already mentioned include editing. This is because most amateurs are not
comfortable with this task. It’s not their fault. It’s just that learning editing and investing in equipment can
be time-consuming and expensive, unless they plan to cut together a lot of video. If the client has only a
few projects to do, it may make more sense for a professional, like yourself, to handle it for them.
Whatever service you offer the client, make sure that you include an aspect to the job that they couldn’t
(or simply don’t want to) do themselves. This will show that you are worth what you are asking for, that
you are providing extra value through your expertise. If they aren’t sold on this simple point, they may ask
themselves, “Why should I pay this guy for something I can do myself?”
And it won’t matter if they really can do it themselves or not. The mere perception that they
might be able to will keep them from trusting you. Be a professional. Prove your worth. And with your
help, someday video business people everywhere will get the respect they deserve.