How to run a charitable marketing campaign
HOw to make Celebration of Smiles work for your business
Marketing is essential to building a healthy business, and there’s a wide array of vehicles that can carry a marketing message. One method is charitable marketing, which offers a best-of-both-worlds win-win opportunity by doing good for a philanthropic purpose while showing potential clients that you’re invested in a community or higher purpose beyond your own commercial interests.
One of PPA Charities’ signature events, Celebration of Smiles Day, takes place in April. The event benefits the international medical charity Operation Smile, which is dedicated to helping children from impoverished communities receive corrective surgery and treatment for cleft lips and cleft palates. Celebration of Smiles Day typically takes place the first Saturday in April as a nationwide effort to raise money for the life-changing work of Operation Smile. Participating photographers provide customers with a 5x7-inch portrait print in exchange for a minimum client donation of $24 to Operation Smile. The program includes a step-by-step marketing guide, promotional materials, and other guidance from PPA Charities to help photographers succeed at hosting their own charitable event.
Of course, there are many different ways to run a successful charitable marketing campaign. Studios that do it well often receive boosts to their businesses in addition to making contributions to the charity. Here, we take a look at three PPA member studios and how they’ve made Celebration of Smiles work for everyone involved.
Hughes Fioretti Photography
Based in Orlando, Florida, Gary Hughes, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, does a lot of commercial work, as well as weddings and headshots for entertainers, business people, and TV personalities. Initially, he thought he’d have a tough time creating a Celebration of Smiles event, since they usually involve family or child portraits. Then it occurred to him that headshots could be the perfect product for a charity event.
Hughes contacted a company in Atlanta, Frat Pack Productions, that specializes in casting videos for actors and TV personalities. He offered to co-market a charitable event where he would provide discounted headshots to Frat Pack clients and donate the proceeds to PPA Charities. The event would be at Frat Pack’s location and involve 40 to 60 clients.
Using the PPA Charities event and marketing materials as a guide, Hughes created a model for a festive event where people could enjoy music, food, and networking while waiting for their headshot session. There would even be raffles and giveaways.
The company agreed, and Headshots for Charity launched in 2016. There were two events last year, each averaging about 50 attendees, which raised about $3,000 for PPA Charities. Hughes donates all the money raised at the events directly to the cause. His goal for 2017 is $10,000 in donations.
Not only has Hughes been able to donate substantial sums to PPA Charities, but his business has benefitted, too. Over the past 18 months, he’s seen a 50 percent increase in revenue, some of which he attributes to the larger audience he’s built through partnering with the Atlanta studio. “These events have introduced us to new clients we wouldn’t have met on our own,” he explains. “Also, for our existing clients, these efforts build our reputation as a studio that does charitable work. Having that reputation in your community makes people feel good about your business and the money they spend with you.”
Hughes points out that success in business leads to a greater ability to help charitable causes. “Some creative entrepreneurs have some guilt associated with using a charity to market their businesses,” says Hughes. “I think that’s a mistake. You can’t help anybody else if you have nothing to give. You don’t have to sacrifice your well-being to give. You can make it so you’re more prosperous and are better able to give. One can almost not exist without the other.”
Pete Rezac Photography
The way portrait photographer Pete Rezac, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, figures it, he’s in the business of smiles. And so is an orthodontics practice near his Reno, Nevada, studio. In fact, Pitts Orthodontics has worked with his family for years. So Rezac pitched the practice on working together to help provide as many smiles as possible for children in need.
Rezac worked with Pitts to set up an annual Celebration of Smiles event at the clinic. The setup is straightforward: Rezac establishes a temporary studio in the orthodontists’ waiting room and photographs as many smiles as possible during the one-day promotion. He charges customers $24 per “smile.” So if a portrait has one person in it, it’s $24. If a portrait features a family of five, that’s five smiles, or $120. Rezac donates 100 percent of the revenues to PPA Charities.
Rezac promotes the event using the precrafted marketing materials from PPA Charities. The orthodontists promote it through their channels as well as to several dental practices that refer patients to the practice.
Rezac does a different theme each year to keep people interested and encourage repeat participants. The participants are largely from outside his routine clientele, mostly friends of the orthodontics practice and others who come specifically for the one-day promo.
In 2012, the first year that Rezac and Pitts Orthodontics worked together, they raised enough to pay for five surgeries through Operation Smile. The following year they doubled the donation. In 2015, they paid for 15 surgeries, and in 2016 they paid for 18 with a total donation of more than $4,300.
“I don’t make this about me at all,” says Rezac. “I try to be transparent and make it about the kids we’re helping. However, I think by doing that, it comes back to you tenfold. It also opens up opportunities that I could not have otherwise gotten on my own.”
For example, Rezac has been interviewed about the program by all three local TV stations. The orthodontists also reached out to all their referring dentists to promote the event, which led to series of headshots and additional family portrait business throughout the year. “I think people appreciate that we are being genuine, that we are really invested in helping these kids out,” says Rezac. “That opens the door for a good working relationship with us down the road.”
Larry Lourcey Photography
The first year Larry Lourcey, M.Photog.M.Artist.Cr., CPP, tried a Celebration of Smiles promotion, it fell flat. He had gone into it blind, not really researching the event or what it would take to make it work.
Then his oldest son got involved. The high school student needed to do a long-term service project at his school and decided to take on all the promotions and logistics associated with his father’s charity portrait event.
Lourcey and his son switched the venue to the son’s school, where they handed out flyers, and the son personally promoted the event to people at drop-off and pickup at school each day. He also promoted it via social media and email.
For one day in April, Lourcey sets up an onsite portrait station at the school, where he conducts mini sessions for 40 to 50 people. Sessions involve a simple lighting setup and one pose. Lourcey retouches all the portraits, just as he would a full-price studio portrait.
At checkout, the customers are offered the option to make an additional contribution. “That’s actually how we get most of the donations,” says Lourcey. “After all, I’m only one person. I can only shoot and retouch so many portraits in a single day. But people are very generous. Many will just round up their checks to make an extra donation. For example, if they have a $48 bill for two portraits, they might write their check for $100.” Lourcey’s son also set up an online donation page to collect additional funds.
Lourcey, who’s based in Plano, Texas, donates all portrait proceeds, and his lab, White House Custom Colour, donates all the prints. With low expenses and additional contributions, Lourcey’s annual donation to PPA Charities averages $3,000 to $4,000, placing him among the top-performing studios for Celebration of Smiles Day.
Lourcey suggests formulating a plan and a set of objectives before getting involved in any charitable program. “Go into it knowing what you want to get out of it,” he says. “If you’re doing it as a way of marketing your studio to a larger audience or generating extra revenue, then your approach will be very different than if it’s strictly for charity. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but you need to have a plan and know what you want to get out of it. Ultimately, if you go into it with the best intentions, everyone wins.”
Jeff Kent is editor-at-large of Professional Photographer.