Here's How to Stand Out From the Competition
For decades, the youth sports photography market has been a stable income generator for thousands of photographers. It has proven rewarding for those specializing in portraits and weddings, school undergraduates and seniors, and to freelancers. Baseball, football, soccer, hockey, and basketball —which I call the "big five" of youth sports—have generated literally tens of millions of pictures over the years, all taken by professional photographers. And it's clear that parents' enthusiasm for pictures of their kids in uniform won't let up any time soon.
Because of the nature of league organizations, they present a unique marketing challenge to photographers. The challenge? At the local level, leagues are composed almost entirely of volunteers, who are involved primarily because their sons and daughters are playing ball that season.
So even if you did a fantastic job shooting the Morristown Majors last year, you will most likely have to win the league all over again this year. And even if you got a recommendation from an outgoing board member, you can't count on retaining that support. You have to sell yourself again to keep the business.
HOW TO STAND OUT
When you appear before a league to present your products and services, odds are that half a dozen other photographers will be doing the same thing on the same night to the same league. So what can you do to win that vital contract? The most important thing to remember is that you must distinguish yourself from the competition. You must be remembered, or, simply put, you will be forgotten!
The three essentials to convey when presenting to a league are: products, value, and service. If any are weak or missing, just pack it up and go home. Done well, these three factors give the league powerful reasons to choose you over other photographers. Just one may be the reason you get the job…
1. Offer unique and exciting new products. Sometimes just one "must-have" item is all it takes to win the league over. Graphically enhanced, personalized products definitely get attention and turn heads. Items like trading cards and magazine covers are very popular. One-piece digital memory mates are gaining in sales, as are bag tags, mouse pads, screen savers, key chains, and laminated products.
To help secure the league contract year after year, introduce new products regularly. And be sure you choose a photofinishing lab that can keep you up to date with the new products you need.
Since some league board members are also coaches, it's a good idea to include coach recognition items in your product line, such as plaques, mounted or framed team pictures, or other product designs that recognize their contributions.
2. Be prepared to offer something back to the league. Premiums, incentives, and package deals will increase your bottom line, while helping the league raise money for its favorite fund-raising projects. The league will view your efforts to help them achieve their goals in a positive light.
One popular incentive is for the league to "buy" a basic package, such as a memory mate, four wallets, and a button, for every child in the league, as part of the registration process. Offer the basic package to the league at an attractive price and, in return, you'll be given the freedom to market your other products any way you want.
3. Commit to the best in customer service for the league. Since everyone promises this but few deliver, this may be your single most important distinguishing factor. Leagues almost always feel they've been abused, ignored, or disregarded by their last photographer. Nearly every lost league has the same complaint: "It's not that things went wrong; it's what our photographer didn't do about it that bothered us. We felt we weren't important enough." If you can convince them that you are different, you may win the contract on that alone.
So if you remember the three essentials of a winning presentation—offering innovative products, something of value to the league, and the best customer service—more league contracts will come your way than ever before!
James Clark is president of Multi Visual Products (www.mvpcards.com), a Riverside, California-based photofinishing lab that specializes in youth sports, school, and group photography.