I got a call recently from a wedding planner acting on behalf of a couple who were looking for a photographer. During the course of the call, I was told I wouldn’t be able to contact the couple directly.
The planner explained that the bride was very busy, that the couple had hired her to provide a “full service” experience, and that everything (client correspondence, contract, fees, and product fulfillment) would be done through her, rather than through the bride.
The planner, I learned, intended to add a surcharge to my fees. Essentially, she was charging a “finders fee” for every vendor the bride and groom hired. Whether the couple knew this or not, it struck me as wrong to allow the planner to mark up my fees.
I subsequently told the planner that I would not do business with her.
Putting the Client Last
Here are some of the reasons for my decision:
1. I don’t believe the bride should have to pay more for my services because she retained a planner to help her with her wedding.
2. The bride has no way to address any issues about her wedding day photography with me directly.
3. I normally offer a discount to couples who use a qualified planner. It’s an incentive for them, and my discount effectively goes straight into the planner’s pocket.
I work regularly with several planners. None of them add a surcharge to my fee or prevent me from interacting with wedding couples directly. So I called my planner friends to ask about this planner’s approach.
One of my friends explained that while the planner’s business model is common, it is more often associated with event production companies. Event production companies may “produce” the event for a client and add a fee for every subcontractor they hire to produce the event.
“But in wedding photography?” I asked.
“Most of us don’t work this way,” she said. “I don’t want to limit myself to one or two vendors. I want to be able to refer people to a number of different vendors based upon the client profile.”
I then asked her if kickbacks are common in the planning business, too.
“All too common,” she said.
Standard Operating Procedure?
Kickbacks are even worse than surcharges, because they are deceptive.
That’s when a photographer charges a fee to the wedding couple, then pays part of that fee to the planner for bringing him the business — generally without the couple knowing about the transaction.
After my experience with the planner on the phone, and after talking at length with my friend, I decided to post a question about surcharges and kickbacks on an online forum for event planners. The responses confirmed my friend’s view that these business practices are all too common.
Interestingly, after I had received several responses, my question was deleted from the forum.
Personally, I think that surcharges and kickbacks are unethical, particularly if the client is unaware of them. It seems to me that the planner and photographer are putting profits above their clients’ best interests.
What do you think?