There’s been a lot of interest lately for wedding videographers, but not necessarily for the best of reasons. One particular urban wedding company promised much and delivered little. Then they took the money and ran, and violated the trust of unfortunate engaged couples who believed them. They have now disappeared, and the wedding industry is better for their absence.
For me, the story began over a year ago when I got an email from a person I knew as a wedding videographer to meet with him and hear about a proposal he had for me. He wouldn’t discuss it on the phone, other than to say it was a “great opportunity” that I “would not want to miss out on.” I decided to set aside the time to hear what he had to say.
After arriving at the time and place he designated, I was greeted with a big phony smile and introduced to a colleague of his who supposedly had flown in just to meet with me, or at least that is what I was led to believe. The hair on the back of my neck was already beginning to stand up when the wedding videographer (we’ll just call him “Thad”) said that his friend (we’ll just call him “Mr. Creepy”) was there to observe, and for the remainder of the meeting Mr. Creepy just sat there with a disturbing look on his face listening intently as Thad went through his passive/aggressive presentation. I later learned that I was not the only one to receive the sales pitch that day, but that’s beside the point.
He began by complimenting me on what a great job I was doing as a wedding and event DJ, and my wife and I as wedding videographers (he was not aware of the fact that we had already branched out into wedding photography) while pointing out that his company dominated the wedding business and were taking over nationwide with Mr. Creepy. Apparently there would be no room for other wedding vendors after their plan to take over, and this would be my only chance to get in on the ground floor with them. He noted the accolades and awards that my wife and I have gathered in our almost 10 years in business, and even acknowledged that he was aware of my ability and dedication. He then warned me it was all about to come to an abrupt end unless I went along with his offer. Cue dramatic music bum-pa-bum!
Mr. Creepy smirked at me when Thad said they had a plan to expand their power and that basically any Videography, Photography, or DJ job in any state they were doing business would go through them as brokers. He claimed to have a crack team of SEO experts who would insure that their website would be the only one seen on Google. The only perceived threat to them was WeddingWire, and the strategy there would be simply to buy out all of the top spots to gain preferred placement. Besides, he figured that any potential client looking at them would be crazy to go anywhere else. I guess they figured there was no such thing as free will in the marketplace.
Here’s where I fit into their plan. I would close my business, and surrender any existing or future jobs to them. In return, I could be their DJ manager. They would lowball the price to get all the available work. He claimed they had all sorts of DJ talent waiting to fly anywhere to fulfill the jobs. When I questioned this, he actually said “we can get all the chumps we need because they are desperate for work.” They would collect the deposits from clients (half up front,) pay the DJs a pittance, and give me a salary to insure that everything went smoothly.
He thought that they already had all the videography and photography jobs wrapped up for themselves, and expanding into domination of the DJ field would be their next logical step. He pointed out that I would not be able to get any more wedding video, photo, or DJ work on my own, as that would all be going to them now.
He may have said some other outrageous things, but I was already done listening and looking for a way out. I may be old-fashioned, but I believe honesty and integrity mean something and there was none to be had here.
As I was leaving, I remember Thad saying we would be out of business as soon as they implemented their plan, and this would be the last chance I had to join their team. Shortly afterward, I saw their ads begin to appear on the internet and their website promising the best DJ, Photography and Videography service for the lowest price. It appeared their conquest had begun.
I’ll admit they took a lot of work away from us for a while. I would call or email with prospective Brides and Grooms who told me they decided to book with another company offering a great deal. They had already put half down on a deposit and were convinced they were choosing the right vendor to help with their special day. I worked alongside this company on a few occasions when the couple had chosen us for one service and the other guys for another. I even had a few of their independent contractors tell me about all the money they were going to make with this wedding company. They had been promised to be paid well for their hard work, although most of them had yet to receive payment for their services.
Then it came. They collected as much money as they could while paying out as little as possible. They kept people happy until they decided to strike. Suddenly they were gone! Phone disconnected and no response to emails, no-show at contracted events and no recourse for customers. They seemingly disappeared off the face off the earth, but apparently indicated to WeddingWire that “they are no longer in business.” According to multiple complaints, the money is gone and the clients have been left high and dry. To add insult to injury, their many website listings now redirect to porn websites. Ouch!
The good news is that the previous story is an extreme and unfortunate example, as most reputable companies want to do a good job and maintain a positive reputation after your event. A legitimate business has little interest in legal difficulty, but the sad fact is there are bad guys out there who are more interested in pulling a fast one. Fortunately, there are several measures that can be taken to minimize the risk.
First is using a contract signed by both parties. It does not necessarily need to be complicated, but should include the basics of date, time and location of event, and terms. It should also include a clause concerning what will happen in the event of illness or unforeseen circumstances that would prevent performance.
Second is working with an established business that has a history measured in years, not months. The longer a business has been around, the more likely they will be there when your event comes around.
Third has to do with integrity, which can often be indicated by reputation. Personal recommendations from friends and family are great. In the absence of that, online reviews from a trusted and verified source can be quite helpful. On a side note, many brides and grooms review a group of vendors after an event, so looking for a set of reviews on a certain date can be a good idea.
Another good line of defense is using a credit card for the deposit payment. Disputes can be mediated through your credit card company and often resolved to your benefit if your vendor does not show up to your event or has otherwise nefarious intentions. PayPal offers some measure of protection, but is currently limited to 45 days from the transaction date.