Over the past years, I have published my direct experiences with different modes of advertising. These are my personal decisions to either go with or pass on particular advertising, and any lessons learned. This is the 5th edition of this publication and as always I welcome comments. I hope this gives you some insight into potential decision making with advertisement dollars.
I put this information out there with a big caveat. Every person might and will likely experience a different outcome. In certain areas, some properties might be better suited than others producing a more favorable result for you. Some clients may frequent an expo more than another. Your overall pricing may work better with different types of advertising than the other. All I can provide is my personal observations as a single-op mobile DJ operation.
My Market Assessment
Below has a lot of detail on each aspect of marketing to consider. I felt it wise to condense this into a single section so you can quickly read my assessment.
▲▲▲ Word Of Mouth/Networking. Nothing beats having a good relationship and getting references from that.
▲▲▲ Quality Website. Even in the age of social, a quality website should be on the top of your strategy.
▲▲ Video. While it can cost some money it can help polish your image and stick out in a sea of DJs.
▲ Yelp / Wedding Wire / Knot (Free). People will still try to find you on relevant sites. Take advantage of it.
▲ SEO. Takes some effort, but can be worth the time and financial investment.
▲ Social (FB, IG, Twitter, etc). While sometimes it’s hard to qualify, exposure is key for your brand.
◄► Business Cards/Print. You still need them. Make them memorable to stick out.
◄► Local Web Links. If you have a local link site it could pay decent dividends.
◄► Wedding Expos. Can be hit and miss. But hitting your focus crowd directly can pay off.
◄► Pay Per Click (e.g. AdWords). Can get quite pricey with little return. However smart placement can pay off.
▼ Wedding Wire / Knot (Paid). Seems to only pay off if you are in your first couple years of business.
▼ Facebook (Paid). Generally bad for single-ops. Could be somewhat useful for multi-ops
▼▼ Yelp (Paid). Way too expensive to invest in unless you are a multi-op and where there is heavy Yelp use.
▼▼▼ Thumbtack & Bark. Stay away!
� Venue Books. Well…
And now, on with the details…
Word of Mouth/Networking
Networking can be one of your greatest investments and best of all it is generally cost-free. There is nothing like creating a rapport with your local peers in the industry, gaining trust for each other, and then when one is booked then the other can pass along that lead. And this is not only for lead generation, but to share ideas, to be a backup to each other; networking can be the ultimate tool. Make sure you socialize with fellow DJs, photographers, vendors, and venue owners who will recommend your services.
In the same breath Word of Mouth is the most powerful tool at your disposal once you are established. It’s part of the reason that every one of my main pages on my website and every blog post contains a snippet or a full review of my services from those clients. If you provide an exceptional service to your clients starting on day one they will likely become the greatest champion of your company. Now that I have completed four years of my business the majority (> 33%) of my leads come from past clients, DJs, venues, photographers, and other professionals in the industry.
You pretty much cannot have a business without a website. And if you do not have a sleek web presence then it could do you more harm than good. So if you don’t have a web presence or it looks like it was created with FrontPage ’98, it’s best to put a major effort into this or hire someone to do this for you. Sure it will cost some money if you don’t have the knowledge to deploy say a WordPress site, but it’s money well spent. And while someone may still be able to operate I feel they are not reaching their full potential, especially with the wedding crowd shifting fully towards the “millennial generation” where they look for an online presence of some form with social validation (e.g. testimonials), it’s more critical than ever.
In early 2015 I took a real serious look at creating the video that I now use as a centerpiece of my marketing. It was a complete “splurge” in my budget I decided to pull the trigger and made it happen. And while it’s hard to put a number for ROI, I have received many compliments on the quality and uniqueness of the video even now at the end of 2017. So while it’s hard to apply quantitative analysis to it, there is no question that this video helped elevate my branding. Since I have redone my overall branding in 2017 I think I will have to make a next-generation video in the near future.
And you do not have to make major investments in slick advertising videos. Anything from a couple of second videos shared on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or your website helps to elevate your brand. I put together a “best of” video for 2016 that I thought worked quite well.
Wedding Wire / Knot / Yelp (Free)
[Good-to-Great Value Since It’s Free]
It would be foolish not to take advantage of sites that offer free placement of your business. Sure they try to entice you to pay for advertising (more details on that below) but you do not have to take them up on that offer.
One thing that my good friend DJ Bri pointed out is that many clients could end up running into these sites during their search for a DJ. So it’s imperative to funnel at least some reviews to these sites so the interest level is either immediately drawn if this is the first of them hearing about you, or maintaining interest if they run into these sites during the research of your business.
Bottom line, put effort to make your presence available on these and similar sites.
What good is a website if people don’t know you exist. Now you can decide not to invest a dime in SEO, and if you have a majority word-of-mouth lead generation source then maybe SEO investment falls to the bottom of the priority map. But for the burgeoning Mobile DJ, it will take some time to get to that stage where everyone knows you by name and is creating a constant revenue stream off of that. And if acronyms and words like SEO, AMP, Penguin, Mobilegeddon, and the like are foreign to you, you probably should just invest in an SEO outfit to help get everything in check.
Now the world of SEO has changed drastically over the years. Just recently Google has changed its algorithms to be far more localized which can be a blessing and a curse for a wedding DJ. On one hand, if your service area is pretty small, with proper content you can keep up with first-page placement pretty consistently.
But if your service area goes out 10, 15, or more miles like most DJs are, then new challenges arise. So what is the secret sauce? Well first ensure there is great content on your site for people to read. Google will know if your content is “thin” and you can be penalized for that. Make sure that you are using a responsive design for your website so it looks great on mobile. Google is trying to push a new protocol called AMP that is still in its infancy so it’s hard to write if it’s beneficial to design AMP pages for your site.
In my opinion, SEO is something that should not be ignored. If you have a website you should at least be educated on being optimized or invest in professionals to do it for you.
Social (Facebook Posts, Instagram, Twitter, etc.)
If you do not leverage social media you are leaving a potential source of leads and brand exposure untapped. Now in many cases, these social posts that you make can be a bit tiresome to maintain, and a lot of times it seems you are just talking to the ether. In a lot of cases, even with say public Facebook posts, their algorithms are such that unless you pay to boost posts the exposure to potential new clients is limited. Instagram seems a little bit fairer in that realm, while Twitter is still a general free-for-all.
Keep the buzz of your brand going. Even if you are preaching to the choir it still is reminding people that you are there, and those people can be an invaluable tool in your Word of Mouth campaign.
Business Cards & Other Printing
It’s time to mention one of the more old-school methods of advertising, the business card and more generally print mediums. The reality is you will likely not get much ROI from a business card, however, that does not mean you should not have any. This still is an important piece of your branding, especially when you are talking about business-to-business exchanges. Just make sure you come up with a clean design that works well and conveys the exact message you need.
But beyond the business card, you should ensure that some of your budgets is dedicated to print products. This could be handouts that you give at an expo, display material, and the like. These are all small but important pieces to ensure your branding and message works to your advantage.
Local Web Link Sites
[Can Be OK Value]
One thing you should investigate is if you have any local websites that cater to your specific market. Here in the Hudson Valley, there is a site that does have specific DJ listings and I do list there not only to draw in the occasional lead but also to help with SEO. Sites like these can be free so make sure you take advantage where you can.
[Hit And Miss]
Wedding Expos have been around for ages and for a long time it was the go-to place to see a bunch of vendors at once so you could contrast and compare from the crowd. For 2013 and 2014 I was pretty dismayed at the overall outcome of Wedding Expos. Enough that on my first version of this article I did not recommend it.
In 2019 I started to see some venues turn away from hosting the traditional wedding expo. Many started to realize that these events were costly and their conversions were not where they wanted them to be. A couple started to turn more to a smaller open house concept and having any vendors that are representing their brands to have much more scaled back presence. The benefit is the guest list is more cultivated, primed for needing quality vendors.
In 2020, thanks to coronavirus the Expos and Open Houses are almost non-existent. While they will come back I do think the trend is going to be towards smaller affairs.
Google AdWords & General PPC
[Hit and Miss]
Google AdWords and other PPC mediums can be a real hit or miss in advertisement investments. This issue is exacerbated by Google’s focus on a sometimes hyper-local listing algorithm and an ever-changing landscape on SERP.
The metrics end up being pretty clear on my end. AdWords for small businesses are very expensive. But with a more competitive landscape and Google constantly tweaking organic searches it becomes more of a requirement if you want some search traffic turning into potential leads.
If you do AdWords I believe they can be effective in certain situations, if targeted properly, with limited budgets, specified areas, and constant supervision. This is really going to be a hard choice to make for some and I take a small-campaign-at-a-time approach. If I had to make a choice if for or against, I would trend against AdWords.
The Knot & Wedding Wire
[Yes if you are new / No if you are established]
I was very hesitant to invest in The Knot or Wedding Wire. Both services are quite pricey for was amounts to a link-site. Both have a tiered pricing model, providing a free listing, a basic listing, a mid-level, and a top tier. Wedding Wire goes a step further with a “spotlight” listing but basically was 4x the price of their top tier listing. Their pricing also is dictated by regional demand, so if you are in a highly saturated market expect to pay more.
As a pure lead generation option both can be effective. In my area, The Knot dominates over Wedding Wire, but there was no question I got a lot of leads from the site. Now ask me if those were quality leads. Unfortunately, there are a lot of tire kickers, lots of “how much are your services” questions without any follow-through from the customer.
With the Knot, my leads steadily declined to go well under the baseline metrics (The Knot does give you some interesting metrics to examine) after some time. Nothing could be explained. My ad was the same and still looked fresh. I had been gaining reviews. It just did not make a lot of sense and even my account manager could not come up with a good answer. I decided to nix my investment with them.
With Wedding Wire my leads were miserable. I had 5 leads on 2015, 4 were with my free listing at the time, 1 with the paid listing which was more expensive than The Know. More entertaining I booked one of those 4 from the free listing. The good thing about Wedding Wire is I was able to end the contract after only 6 months.
Now there is another thought process that contributing financially to one or both of these sites since they represent an amount of synergy between your services and your client base. This is a totally relevant viewpoint and you should take that into consideration. Personally for me, with the downturn in quality leads, there was less of an advantage for me to maintain a paid presence with them.
In 2019 Wedding Wire and Knot merged into The Knot Worldwide (TKWW) and they merged their advertising services into The Wedding Pro. The merging of this duopoly into a singular juggernaut has produced expected results, increased advertising costs now that there is no direct-to-couples marketing. In 2020. I was getting hounded by calls so I decided to hear them out and the result was nearly doubling of the rate for my area. Not, naturally, they will discount to get people on board for a year and hope that those people stay on. But even these discounted rates are more expensive than what they were combined. And they try to sell their advertising as a combined The Knot plus Wedding Wire. You can demand they remove it, but they will not do that just willingly.
If you do experiment with a paid advertisement with either or both I would suggest talking to your peers in your area to see where they are getting more of their leads from. Most likely one will dominate over the other. You will likely find over time that your networking and word of mouth leads will well exceed your availability so when that happens it’s likely best to cut off this advertising.
[Depends to No Way]
You would think with the ability to create hyper-focused ads that Facebook would be a wedding DJ‘s (or any marketer’s) dream. I had even heard some claims that some DJs were getting a lot of business from Facebook ads. So I decided to invest some money into it, numerous times, with numerous styles of ads. What were my results? Zip. Nada. There isn’t a single attributable converted lead to any of my ad pushes. Now I did get a couple of inquiries, but nothing serious. And the one couple that did convert into a booking happened when I was not running any ads.
I did have an interesting conversation in early 2018 with someone who poured serious money into Facebook ads with positive results. For one campaign that cost a little over $650 for 4 days, he got 47 leads and 8 conversions, costing a bit over $80 per converted lead. In the grand scheme, this is not a bad cost-per-lead source. I would submit that this could be an effective solution if, and only if, you have a very light calendar filled or you are a multi-op who can accommodate all the dates being requested. This particular person’s success represented a 17% success factor in converting leads, which is on par counting every one of my incoming leads regardless if I am booked or not.
So if the conditions are right, where you can accommodate multiple bookings per day, and have a sizable budget to work with, Facebook could be a source of leads. However, you really should do the math on what your other ad investments are producing to see if this is a strategy with competitive ROI. If you run similar strategies throughout the year it would cost nearly $60k for just Facebook. If you are a $1M/yr business that is only 6% of your total revenue, which may make sense depending on how other sources are performing. For a small solo-op business, the math just does not compute.
One side effect of running Facebook Ads are those clicking on the ads are “phantom clicks”. Clicks that either don’t get to my landing page at all or if they do they spend 0 seconds on the page. This issue has been echoed time and time and time again. Also, I believe that those successful campaigns that generate likes are generally phantom clicks as well.
I should note is that because Facebook has not resulted in direct sales via ads, you should still leverage it from a pure Social Media perspective. Draw clients to review there, still cross-promote your content, engage your current and potential customers. Do not ignore this very powerful platform, even despite ongoing changes to the platform. But paying for views for me has not resulted in anything meaningful.
[No, just no.]
For a couple of years I had Yelp! approach my business to do paid advertising on their site. I was always hesitant, part in due because of their policy of “algorithmic publishing” of reviews. I had a number of the first-time Yelp! users sign up and post a review of my business only for Yelp! to selectively hide those reviews. Now I don’t have any negative reviews of my service but I have heard many stories of Yelp! leveraging negative reviews to push people to not only buy ads but to help expose more positive reviews. Just sounded totally shady.
When they pushed a free $100 credit for ads, I decided to give it a go. I mean it’s free money, right? The programs they offer are based off a maximum number of clicks you will get per month plus a fixed cost. The number of clicks is number published, and the pricing is scaled from (in my case) $400/mo ($4800/yr) to $2250/mo ($27,500/yr). Exceptionally high price compared to services like Wedding Wire or Facebook. This is clearly aimed at high budget businesses.
So I went through the $100 free credit in February 2016 in literally a week and they did not have an alert program to inform you when you exhausted that credit. I immediately canceled when it started to deplete real money from my account. I complained about it to Yelp and they refunded me the extra monies taken out. And of all those clicks, not a single one resulted in an inquiry during that period.
Now in all fairness, I have had DJs on the West Coast tell me they have gotten far more leads from Yelp! over there, and that makes sense since much of the West Coast were far earlier adopters of the platform so I could see potential clients using that as a possible source. But I am also guessing that pricing could be even more expensive out there given its popularity.
So the Cliffs Notes version of all this, for me at least, my free listing has done far more for me than any Yelp! paid ad. If they do offer a free credit, you might as well take advantage of it, but don’t get trapped into it unless you are willing to spend $4k or more a year on Yelp ads.
Thumbtack & Bark
[Literally The WORST]
As I was entering my 4th month of business with Paris Creative (at the beginning of 2013) I was trying to explore different avenues to get more business and grow my company. One thing that seemed to pop out of nowhere was Thumbtack. It originally started in 2009 but it seemed in 2012 and 2013 it had gained a foothold in the DJ market. I started to check it out more because search wise it was starting to appear on the first page of organic Google searches.
The concept really isn’t original. Customers put out a request for an event for free and vendors pay to put out bids for it. So I decided to invest some money into it, going somewhat blindly at how I would bid out for events in 2013. In 2014 the results seemed pretty bad so I tried to be more selective. However, the price-per-lead with Thumbtack increased so the end results were generally pretty bad. Worse most of the people on Thumbtack are typically seeking the sub $1000 and in some cases the sub $500 DJ, and that is a market I do not cater to anymore since my business has grown.
So what can you gauge from this? Well, in general, there is overwhelming evidence that the bride and groom that use Thumbtack are either price shopping. Or they are so overwhelmed by the choices that they go into the process with a blank slate. As soon as they see budget DJs out there quoting bargain basement prices they think that is what the typical price should be.
I created an article, part in due to the Thumbtack-type customer to try to explain what a typical price of a quality DJ is (Why do DJ Prices Vary). It actually worked on a couple of clients I have been able to talk with to give them a reasonable expectation of budget, but for the most part, if you are in the expected pricing tier the average Thumbtack client is going to think you are too expensive.
The prevailing evidence is that Thumbtack is a pretty bad choice to spend your advertising dollars. Worse Thumbtack helps to bolster the idea that DJs should be cheap given cheap DJs are hawkish on the site.
OK time to address the elephant in the room. Some venues keep a “book” of their preferred vendors, which essentially means that you have to pay to play to get a referral. Now for some, this is a serious breach of ethics, others see it as a cost of doing business. I have generally tried to stay away from “books” but you may find yourself wanting to perform consistently at a venue, and the cost of the placement is worth it.
I am now participating in a vendor book in 2018 with a venue that used to do bridal shows. They are now refocusing their marketing efforts and given they have a short and great vendor list, and they are one of my favorite places to work at, I decided to give it a go. Again these could be an extraordinarily great source but check your ROI.
Advertisement money can be a real head-scratcher. You want to measure your performance and determine the best ones and stick with it, but there are ancillary benefits to some forms of an advertisement than others. My advice is to experiment. As you can see there are few options I personally have not explored to see if they can result in some surprising value. There is no silver bullet out there but there are some that are money pits and also some hidden gems out there. Find the right formula that works for you!
This article was originally released in October 2017. This is the latest iteration released September 2020.