Pay to Play: Were Your Wedding Vendors Recommended for Merit or Money?
For many years, there has been an ongoing practice at certain facilities (country clubs, hotels and other event sites) commonly known as ‘pay to play’. Essentially what this means is that in order to fund marketing costs (or in some cases just because), venues will ‘ask’ the vendors (bands, DJs, Photographers, Planners, etc) to pay for advertising in their brochures or marketing materials. What this means is that the vendors at certain venues are not recommended necessarily on merit or quality of service, but on their willingness to fork over money – typically in upwards of thousands of dollars – in order to be recommended.
This presents two problems. Speaking from first hand experience, our DJ Company is recommended at over thirty venues across the Delaware Valley. Now imagine if we were required to pay $1,000.00 to each of these venues. That would mean we would have to pass on these costs to our customers, making it harder to be competitive in this market. The second problem it poses is that the client is led to believe that these are the best possible choices based on service and quality, when in fact it has nothing to do with either, but instead which vendors are willing to pay.
Towards the end of 2010, I was approached by a company in Lower Bucks County that represents about five venues. Upon my initial contact with them, I genuinely believed that our services were being sought out by them based on the caliber of our work. It wasn’t until a second meeting that I was told that in order to be recommended at their facilities or attend their open houses that my company would be required to pay. After a good night’s sleep, I emailed them to decline, explaining that I was uncomfortable paying to be recommended. A few days later they responded telling me my company would no longer be welcome at their open houses, which we had been diligently attending for several weeks.
I am against ‘pay to play’. I believe that facilities that require it are not forthcoming in disclosing that their list of recommended vendors are paid advertisers. No warranty is being made in regard to quality or excellence of service or product. I am not alone in feeling this way, as many well-respected wedding and event industry vendors share the same sentiment.
What if the rest of the event industry decided to turn the tables on the venues? What if each photographer, planner, florist, DJ, lighting and entertainment company decided to charge the venue a fee to refer them? This one-way attitude of referral is not only misguided but shortsighted on the facilities’ part. With all the means of marketing available today, is this the best you can do? Perhaps a magazine-quality brochure isn’t the most sophisticated manner of exposure in which you can increase your bookings. It all comes down to business ethics. If you insist the return on investment is significant, than man up and disclose in writing in the brochure that all are paid advertisers.
Below are examples of how a few other respected and talented Philadelphia area event professionals responded when being approached by event venues to participate in ‘pay to play’.
We are firmly against pay to play. These magazines are sold to venues and paid for on the backs of wedding professionals, we work (occasionally at some) with over 300 venues across the greater Philadelphia, South Jersey and Delaware region as a small consulting business we could NEVER afford to place ads in all of those books.
We are referred to couples based on the quality of our work and the relationships we’ve worked hard to build.
I’m hoping that venues wake up and steer away from these pay to play ad books – as if the reverse were true and I and other wedding professionals who refer venues to couples asked a referral fee every time I brought a wedding to a venue the venues would not be happy.
~Mark Kingsdorf, Queen of Hearts Wedding Consultants
Don’t get me wrong – I do understand the benefit to your venue. You get slick marketing pieces for little to no cost because the fee is picked up by your vendors. But please look at it from our perspective as a small business.
I don’t know what these publishers charge these days to be a “preferred vendor” but years ago when I was approached; it was in the $1000 range. We are already a preferred vendor in more than 30 venues around Philadelphia – all by merit. Imagine if the precedent is set that we had to pay to be on everyone’s list. $30,000 per year would choke us. Or we would have to raise our prices to our clients who are already feeling a pinch in these times.
If we are removed from your list because we are not supporting the ‘pay to play’ model, that would be a shame. We will continue to deliver the best productions in the Philadelphia area and hope we are on your list by merit and nothing else. A merit-based system is more honest and more cost effective for us and our clients.
~Dave and Sheryl Williams, CinemaCake
Be sure to ask your facility or venue if their “preferred vendor list” is comprised based on relationships, or if it is made up of paid advertisers. Do your own research and due diligence in researching the vendors and services you hire for your wedding or event, and be certain that they are being recommended on merit, or instead in fact for a kickback. Most successful vendors who deliver a quality product do not need to participate in strong-arm pay to play, because their work speaks for itself.
Cutting Edge Entertainment