Wanting to express gratitude to people who’ve been battling the COVID-19 pandemic, Holly Howe, M.Photog.Cr., and Keith Howe, M.Photog.M.Artist.MEI.Cr., launched a promotion in January to offer free portrait sessions and a framed 8x10-inch print to healthcare and education workers and first responders. The Howes own Photographic Images in North Platte, Nebraska. Holly talks about the project:
Q: How did you fund the project?
Holly Howe: We went into this fully prepared to cover all the costs of those free prints and frames. But we also knew we’d probably see some additional orders. That wasn’t the important thing. We just wanted to express our gratitude. The very first client who placed an order more than covered our entire out-of-pocket cost for all the 80-plus sessions.
Q: What inspired this promotion?
Howe: We’ve had clients in the studio who haven’t had a day off in weeks and in some cases are working 12-plus hours a day. When someone is overworked and feels like they are at the end of their rope, if someone else says, ‘I see how overworked you are and I really appreciate everything you’re doing,’ it’s so much easier for those workers to keep going. I was not able to volunteer at the hospital or help out in a virtual classroom. I don’t have those skills. But I am a pretty decent photographer. I can do that and say thank you.
Q: How did you get the word out about the promotion?
Howe: We generally keep our marketing and advertising budget at 5% to 10% of anticipated gross sales for any promotion. Because we were giving the sessions and prints away for free, we didn’t feel like we could invest anything in promoting it. So we relied on social media and email. I also contacted the newspaper and the local TV station, both of which were thrilled to feature a story about this.
Q: What did you take away from making these complimentary portraits?
Howe: When you do the right thing, good things happen. … I have several stories where we walked out of the session feeling particularly good about what we could do for these people beyond just creating a great portrait. Like the single mom who told us she and her kids had just escaped an abusive relationship and were starting over. She said, “This portrait will mark our start as a new family.”
Q: How did this promotion impact your business?
Howe: The majority of these sessions have been new clients who’ve never been to our studio before or experienced what we do for them. Several of them are now our clients and have already made plans for future family sessions and senior sessions. There is a great benefit in staying busy. You stay creative when you’re doing a lot of sessions back to back. You keep your skill set fine-tuned. But most of all, your mood stays upbeat. Every day we were seeing four to eight new families, meeting new people, and making new relationships. It’s been a tough year for everyone, but somehow we’ve felt a lot more upbeat in what is usually a slow and depressing month.
Amanda Arnold is the associate editor of Professional Photographer magazine.
“If I heard her say it once, I heard her say it a million times: ‘If the house is on fire, we have to grab all those family pictures!’”