"Money makes the world go around, a mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound, is all that makes the world go around..."
Money is always a tricky subject. No one likes to talk about it, and odds are someone will admit to doing some pretty scandalous stuff before they will be honest about any debt they are in or what's in their bank account. Proof of this is evident on wedding forums and social media where brides and grooms are looking for vendors that are "affordable," "cheap" and "inexpensive." None of those words are numbers because there is a fear of being judged if the number is too high or too low or anything for that matter. Talking about and dealing with finances is a common cause of anxiety, stress and depression.
I've written countless articles revolving around money and its role in weddings including when and how to budget, what the real numbers look like, etiquette "rules" about who pays for what, and so forth. But something I have never touched on, is how much control money really does have in the wedding industry, and the tight grip it has on your wedding plans. While you may think that the budget is all you have to concern yourself with (monetarily speaking), what is going on behind the scenes is very much worth paying attention to.
Not unlike other industries, the wedding industry is full of different types of people and personalities, with the large sum representing themselves to you as constantly happy because they are working in the business of love. At the end of the day, however, while most of us got started and stayed in this industry because we believe in love (and really good parties), it is a business. This saturated market is full of people that have to pay bills, just like you. There are the honest ways to make money in the wedding world, and then there are the politician ways. Take a break from the distraction of a newsfeed full of peony bouquets, and find out what lies you're being told and how money is the ultimate motivator.
1. How to Have a Celebrity Wedding on a $5 Budget Articles
Anytime you visit the wedding pages of Pinterest, or any of the wedding websites available, there are articles that claim to have money saving tips. As a planner, I can look at a reception table and tell my clients just how much the entire package will run them including the cost of the centerpiece, linens, chargers and even chairs. Between the sticker shock and the stages of frustration, denial, depression, anger, sadness and more, eventually adjustments are made where I can plan what my client wants without ignoring their budget.
However, somewhere in the middle of the denial stage, couples can fall down the rabbit hole of "why can't I have this wedding I pinned/I absolutely am having this exact same wedding for one-eighth of the cost and my planner knows nothing." Before they realize it, they are swimming in tips and tricks of how to get exactly what they want, make no concessions, and stay within budget. Except most of the tips are bogus and not based in reality, and some of the worst money saving advice is found in these articles.
But why is the advice wrong or misleading in the first place? Why would so many people write articles to lie to those that just want to plan a nice wedding? Well, take a look at these articles. Something they all have in common is typically a row of advertisements down the side, and/or links back to their own personal craft pages. A person will click on an article, which then drives traffic to someone's website, where they also can charge vendors to advertise. So basically, a bride or groom can save money by reading their articles, visiting their website and buying their stuff. If the bride and groom don't buy anything, at least the author got the kickbacks from the advertisers. Those advertisers will stay on that site too if the couples keep visiting their website via the banner ad they have set up...
And just so you all don't think I am just issuing a blanket statement that authors that write "how to save thousands on your wedding" are all liars without any proof, here are just a handful of money saving tips I looked up. This morning:
a. Cakes are expensive, so make your own wedding cake
b. Have your guests bring food, pot luck style
c. Ask a friend to step in as your photographer and you'll have to pay a maximum of only $200 for photos
These articles are a joke because they claim to save you money, while they are making money as you click.
2. Preferred Vendors from Venues
When visiting venues, couples are often presented with a list of preferred vendors. This piece of paper or fancy shiny book will list vendors in various categories that the venue thinks you should hire. Now if you trust the venue and the coordinator, then that means the recommendations must be ones to trust as well. Many times, this is true, especially since I know of zero venues that will recommend vendors that would make them look bad. Think about it, if your friend gave you a vendor recommendation that didn't work out, might that friendship then be in jeopardy? Well imagine if your photographer that the vendor recommended lost all of your photos and misplaced the wedding rings they were shooting. This reflects poorly on the venue and it can be a financial issue for them as well.
All of that aside, and knowing that these recommendations are taken seriously, did you ever wonder how these vendors made the cut in the first place? It's not just because they are working at that venue continuously, but they are paying to be on the list, often times annually as well as kicking back a percentage of whatever they charge the couple to the venue (this means you pay more to these vendors, by the way).
What that boils down to, is that the preferred DJ company throws a few grand at the venue each year, so that the venue coordinator that you just met and have to now trust, will essentially push them on you. It really gets out of hand when there are more than 3-5 vendors being recommended in each category. Why? Because the reason that is being done, is because clients like to compare and compare to death. If a couple doesn't like anyone on the preferred vendor list of the venue, they will hire someone not on the list. Which makes the vendors that are on the list re-evaluate whether or not it is worth it to advertise in this way. If the vendors stop paying to be on the list, the venue runs short on recommendations and then they lose money.
3. Real Weddings Features
I love when my work gets published both online and in print. Personally, I think it is very validating when an experienced editor or editorial team thinks that your work is good enough to grace their publication. From the "I planned a wedding of my own once too" side of things, I drew inspiration from the real weddings I saw in magazines. The reason that couples gravitate to the real weddings that are featured, is because all of the vendors are listed on the same pages as the pretty pictures. So if you love those flowers, or think that venue is the one you're searching for, the names and contact information will be in the article.
But how are these features chosen? Just like the insane amount of vendors working in the wedding industry, there are a significant amount of publications available for couples to choose from. As "niche" weddings become the norm, there is a publication for every style of wedding now.
As different as the magazines are, there are just as many differences with regard to what and whom they will publish. While there is an assumption that weddings are simply selected to be published because they represent the best of the submissions received, that isn't always the case. Along with being a place for couples to draw inspiration, the magazines and blogs have to consider their advertisers. Sometimes, a wedding will not be featured because the venue and/or the vendors involved do not advertise with the outlet. And no one will ever know (unless you're me and you've been rejected and a few times this was the reason you were given after you demanded one).
Does the outlet truly have the best interests of the couple in mind? Not always. But if the couple doesn't buy the magazine, the advertisers will go somewhere else. You're one wedding and won't buy anything wedding related, including magazines, when the day is done, while these vendors will always need a platform on which to advertise. With so many platforms available for vendors to choose from, many outlets will reward their advertisers with a real wedding feature even if it's just "OK".
4. Things We Love
Perhaps slightly more unsettling are the articles in the magazines pitching products to people getting married. As I mentioned earlier, the majority of the personalities you will meet in wedding world represent as bubbly and excited for you. Of course, that is the job and while yes, many of us are legitimately happy for you, weddings aren't always wine and roses and all of us are still looking to keep a roof over our heads. Some of the super sugary language comes in the form of "girl talk" that a bride can relate to and words that she could hear her best friend saying.
I'm talking about the "things we love" sections where a bride can stumble across that hair product she had no idea that she absolutely had to have for her wedding day. There, dozens of products sometimes spanning up to 4 pages, is everything that a bride must buy or else her wedding day will be a disaster and she will be left at the altar. The language varies based on the magazine, however, the writers know their audience. This means that they are selling to someone that doesn't need much convincing in the first place.
Referrals, reviews and word of mouth will always be what people trust the most before they buy a damn thing. If a bride's sister (assuming they actually like each other) recommends the perfect line of hair extensions, the bride is roughly a billion times more likely to take her word for it and purchase the product than if she just saw it an ad. The magazines understand this and they understand their reader, so they know just what products will sell and the words needed to sell them. Hate to say it, but it's not always that the writer/reviewer truly "loves" the product, it's that they were given the product for free to try, and the product is paying to be featured. So they damn well better like it and say lots of nice stuff, right?
Brides are more likely to buy from that article than if the same product has a full page ad on the next page. What does that mean? The product and company behind the product will keep coming back to the same outlet to advertise long after your wedding is over. So is the product really that great? Eh, possibly.
5. Undercutting Vendors
Just like you can't cross 6th Avenue without seeing a Starbucks on each corner, you can pretty much throw a rock and hit 4 photography offices, 9 florist storefronts, and 297 DJ companies. The industry has changed a lot over the years and without going into the evolution of the wedding world (different post at some point), one thing that hasn't changed is the existence of competition.
When I plan for my clients, it is very important to me that I get the vendor list correct. The reason I want my clients to use my vendors is because I know that I can trust them and I basically am playing matchmaker in the sense that I am working with their style and budget but also their personalities. Just because I can list 10 photographers I work with, that doesn't mean that they all will be the right "fit" for all of my couples. Much like I am not the right planner for certain couples, and that is totally OK.
But because there is that competition and because there are so many options (some clearly better than others), there is this nasty practice of undercutting going on. Undercutting prices and haggling have their places. Those places include back alleys of Cabo when purchasing cigars, house hunting and divorce court. Instead, we are seeing full proposals being given to couples, those couples then taking proposals to other vendors, and those vendors saying they can do the "same thing" but for less. Frankly, the couple is at fault in this situation just as much as the vendor.
Pricing is a very real thing and should be a factor in the decision making process, but it should not be the deciding factor. As long as you are within your budget, there is no reason to pick the cheaper version just because the vendor is exactly that: cheaper. What happens here very often is that a vendor will make promises to a couple solely to get the job, and the more they will allow you to haggle, the worse their product and service will be. I guarantee it. You do not want the vendor that is more motivated by your money than by you and your wedding.
6. The Wedding Website Concierge Thing
I recently wrote an article essentially pulling apart this ridiculous new offer that many wedding websites now have. If you missed it, please take the time to look it over as it will break down into painful detail how pointless this service actually is. On the subject of money and your wedding, this is very similar to those must have products and real weddings I mentioned above. Where this differs, is that you are "speaking" to a real person about your wedding needs and they are essentially acting like your wedding planner.
Where the money comes from varies from site to site, but regardless, it is the motivation behind every helpful tip you are getting from these concierge people. While I encourage my clients to create a wedding website, I cringe (full lemon sucking face) when they tell me about interacting with a wedding concierge operator. My motivation as their planner is to work with them and get them the best vendors for their day. The concierge and the wedding website are motivated quite differently.
Like venues have their preferred vendor lists, concierge programs will recommend vendors to couples based on various factors such as location, style, offers, etc. Also like venues, the only vendors getting recommended are the ones paying to be on the list. Interestingly enough, however, if you ask some of them or read their well hidden FAQ sections, many claim that venues and vendors they recommend are "invite-only". What is incredibly misleading about that is the fact that yes, there is an invitation, and attached to it is a credit card form. None of them are turning away money. Believe me.
Unlike venues, the concierge program holds zero accountability for their recommendations and proof of that is the countless amount of times where they wave their hands and say "no, no, we're not wedding planners, we're just trying to help!" It's a little sad when a wedding website (or 4), which is supposed to be the ultimate engaged couple cheerleader is more interested in making money off vendors than getting the right vendors for the couple. It's not about you, it's about the cha-ching and if venues and vendors get more business by participating in this program, they will keep advertising long after you're down their aisle and out the door.
7. Spotlight Rockstar Better Than Every Other Vendor Listing
The last item is more lying by omission and less slimy than some of the others, but it's still worth mentioning. First and foremost, I am pro-wedding website having used one myself during my planning, being an advertiser and truly understanding the value that they hold. The bottom line is there are the good ones and the bad ones but they cannot all be lumped together because that's really unfair.
One thing they all do have in common is a venue and vendor book where a couple can search for everything they need, click through to websites, and more. How the listings appear will vary depending on the site, but the one thing that many of them are guilty of, is using specialty words to emphasize that some vendors are better than others. In addition to that, the way the vendors appear on the screen is calculated as well. The reason I hate all of this is simply because many couples don't realize this and could be passing up a perfect choice because of the way the vendor is presented.
For instance, I used to advertise on a site and above my listing there was some word like "preferred" or whatever. At least half of the time that I was contacted by a bride through that site, she mentioned to me that it meant a lot to her to know that the site was endorsing me. But the site isn't endorsing me, or anyone with a special heading. Actually, anyone with a gold star next to their name is paying more than the ones without it. It appears as an endorsement, when really it's just a more expensive way to advertise.
In addition to being labeled as a preferred vendor, there is the real estate of where the listings appear. No one ever goes to the second page of google, and many people like myself will work on their SEO to not only be on the first page, but within the first few links. Wedding websites existed before SEO became such a huge deal and they capitalized on this knowledge. Vendors then could pay extra for a positive adjective ahead of their listing and for a little more, they could appear on the first page and first few lines (which get rotated generally). It is like turning off a light switch and the inquiries take a nose dive when you remove the "endorsement" words and leave the first page.
So while you're searching for the perfect venue and vendor on these sites, it's important to understand that you might have to ignore the neon signs and maybe click to the second or third page. What I just don't care for with this website practice is that the couple many times believes that these people are on their side and working for them to put forward the best, when in reality, these listings are motivated by....you guessed it: money.
Money is always a motivator. It's why we work, it's how we shelter ourselves, feed our families, and it will always be a driving force. When the wedding day comes up for my clients, I pass out their gratuities before any of the vendors lift a finger because I know it will push them to give 115% instead of 110%. It's just the way it is, and there's nothing wrong with that. What's wrong in these scenarios is that you have to be a bit of a cynic and wonder (or just ask) what is in it for them. Is it really about you both and your wedding, or is it about taking care of their next car payment?