May 8, 2008

What's A Kickback?

{Reminder: What's Your Wedding Style contest ends at midnight on May 16th. Pass the word and don't forget to vote for your favorite wedding style!}

Check out this GREAT post from a new photographer friend of mine...Patrick Lockwood out of San Diego. He has given me permission to reproduce it here on my blog and to encourage others to read it. It's long and directed mainly at photographers, but worth the read. He makes a good case and I learned some things I didn't know. Sit back, grab a cup of tea and educate yourself. Then leave me a comment and tell me what you think.

To My Fellow Photographers, A Word On Kickbacks In Our Industry

This is a message to my fellow photographers, but brides and grooms might want to know this information, too, so I am posting it on my blog:

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So you are a photographer, and you are faced with a wedding planner, or some vendor who is asking you for a commission if he or she is to refer you business.

Now, first off, the vast majority of planners do not do this, but, occasionally, there is one who might.

So, what is wrong with this arrangement, you ask? What is the harm in it, you ask? Is it any different than a salesman who earns a commission on a sale?

Well, that depends.

When the bride or groom goes to a booking agent (say, for example, they want to hire a musician), they know that he or she is an agent, which is to say, any referrals they are given from such a person it is understood that the agent is working on commission, and by virtue of the title, it is obviously the norm for a booking agent to receive a commission. With this information known up front, the bride and groom can properly judge the value of the referral. Let me state that more accurately, we (in the wedding industry) have given the bride and groom the proper information, and the bride and groom are not being deceived as to the truthful relationship between the booking agent and those the agent refers to the bride and groom.

If you were to ask a doctor, whose specialty was diseases of the foot, if the doctor knew of a good eye doctor, you’d expect that the referral was based on pure merit, and that type of referral will be weighed quite differently than the referral given by someone you know upfront who is a broker for others, who gets a commission.

There is nothing wrong with either set up, as long as the bride and grooms know, up front, what is going on, so the whole idea is honesty in the relationship.

Enter the wedding planner who asks for a commission on weddings from the photographer she gives the referral to.

Often the photographer will raise the wedding fee by the amount of the commission so as to be left with the same amount that the photographer would have charged had the photographer not paid a commission to the planner.

This is a kickback. This is definitely NOT a commission. This is a unethical act committed on the bride and groom.

How so?

Two unethical acts have been committed on the bride and groom in this circumstance.

The bride and groom believed the referral to be on merit, since there is nothing about the wedding planner’s title, nor is it a particularly generally accepted practice for a wedding planner to act as a broker. Thus, if the wedding planner refers a photographer, the bride and groom have every reason to believe it was based on merit.

Therefore a deception is taking place.

Some wedding planners might argue that, although they are accepting a commission, they wouldn’t work with any photographer who doesn’t meet a reasonable standard.

It doesn’t matter if the argument is true or not, the wedding planner is depriving the bride and groom of the opportunity to make a more informed decision. Surely, a bride and groom would weigh a referral based on pure merit differently than one that was fee-based; the bride and groom would be more cautious towards the fee-based referral. Let the bride and groom make this determination, not the wedding planner, about the quality of the referral, and let all facts pertaining to the referral be known. It’s in the bride and groom’s best interest.

That’s the first unethical act perpetrated on the bride and groom.

The second unethical act has two components: in the case of the photographer who raises the fee to compensate for the wedding planner’s commission, what is essentially happening is selective pricing, which is to say the photographer is not applying the same fee structures to all brides and grooms across the board (thus treating his non referred clients differently than his referred clients who are charged more), but more importantly, the bride and groom are being charged twice by the wedding planner: Once by the wedding planner’s fee, twice by the photographer’s raised fee (the raised portion of which is the planner’s kickback), a cost which is passed on solely to the bride and groom (and not other photographer’s brides and grooms). What is unethical is that this fact is not revealed to the bride and groom. How would you (the photographer reading this) feel if you were the bride and groom and this was done to you?

Ultimately, if the agency relationship between the planner and the bride and groom is not on the up and up, it is a kickback, and as such, it can only be bad for our industry, and I urge all ethical photographers and wedding vendors to do their best to EXPOSE any planner, any vendor, as well as photographers who are willing to go along with the scheme, who do not publicly announce to the bride and groom that commissions for referrals are being paid and being charged to the bride and groom.

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If you are a bride who is asking a vendor or wedding planner for a referral (could be a venue, who sometimes charge vendors for access to the “preferred” list), make sure you ask that vendor whether or not he or she is being paid a “commission” on the referral by the photographer or other vendor. Expose them, and let’s stamp out this practice, it is not good for the bride and groom, nor is it good for the wedding industry on the whole because it is a deceptive practice, and it tends to promote selective pricing to brides and grooms, and double billing, as well.

{Written by Patrick Lockwood of Patrick Lockwood Photography. Reproduced by permission}