By Paul Pannone
Over the weekend hundreds of emails between Wedding Water Cooler members resulted from an eWedNewz story about Stacie Francombe. The story focused on fees charged for her services, raising the interest of wedding industry members that seem lost and seek help for their businesses. Francombe came under fire for what some feel is the improper use of the word mentoring that she admitted could be worded differently.
But the fireworks really began when Francombe accepted an invitation to join the WWC and what she thought would be the typical la-de-da discussions found in nearly all other wedding industry forums.
“Boy was she wrong; this forum is the first one I’ve ever seen that is brutally honest and doesn’t drop a discussion until a final conclusion is found,” said Jim Duhe of Bridal Guide.
Duhe joined other WWC members in trashing Francombe’s Saccharin statements in her efforts to separate from her past at Get Married. Francombe was viciously attacked by Samantha Goldberg citing issues with Francombe’s involvement with Get Married and Wish Upon a Wedding dating back several years. Onlookers in the group deemed “butt buddies” involved in various industry ventures with Francombe could do little more than say she was under non-disclosure agreements, prohibited from speaking openly about what was going on at the time.
Stacie Francombe was viciously attacked all weekend long but was remarkably poised and kept her cool during the entire pummeling, while fellow industry constituents looked on.
Monday morning discussions about the weekend events said the rants, raves and sometimes incoherent statements did raise some very valid points about fairy dust wedding marketing and advertising. Throughout the discussions Francombe skirted direct questions about her association with Get Married and at times tried to muddy the waters with proper etiquette, civility and the need to “be nice”– but to no avail. Her statements were consistently shot down and her refusal to discuss direct questions seemed to infuriate some of the members of the discussion group further.
Others that just observed the exchange came forward when assertions of impropriety came to light, including Get Married’s alleged fudging of website traffic and providing qualified leads generated from their site. Statements perked the ears of some WWC members, including the owner of the second largest dress manufacturer in the United States, Steve Lang, owner of Mon Cheri in Trenton, NJ. Some of Lang’s statements drew immediate response from other respected industry members that know him for many years.
“When you hear a guy like Steve Lang responding the way he did; wanting to know if he is getting his money’s worth from advertising decisions he makes– that’s huge,” according to wedding analyst, Christine Boulton.
Lang is a noted, sharp decision maker for Mon Cheri, recognized for their marketing prowess. Lang seemed taken aback by some of the assertions made against Get Married and wanted to know if there are other advertising companies– web or otherwise– that could be guilty of the same allegations. Lang interacted with David Fuhrer, the Julian Assange of the wedding business. Fuhrer blew the whistle on wedding websites in 2010 after concluding the business model did not work.
In a simple, one-word reply from Fuhrer, he defined the state of an entire wedding industry;
With Führer’s reply, Lang invited him to press on saying, ” Tell more please so we can learn from you.”
Private reaction from other WWC members feel a litigiously renowned Lang will not let go of what he feels is right. According to sources close to Lang his pursuit of the truth and what he feels is right far supersedes any monetary gain obtained along the way.
Monitoring the interaction are 32 members of the Wedding water Cooler, including wedding veteran, Jim Duhe. Duhe issued the following statement in the WWC consistent with years of discussion and questions he posed in various other wedding industry forums that never received any attention, much less an answer.
“I don’t pretend to know what many on this board know about online metrics. Comparatively, I’m a dinosaur. However, it seems to me that online advertising result expectations far exceed anything that can be delivered realistically. Like TV, radio, and print, an exact ROI or calculation of ad effectiveness may be technically impossible to decide unless you are selling a mail order product. Disregard unique visitors, unique page views, and even time spent on the site aside. The only thing that matters is response and conversion: the volume of product sold; the volume of services booked.
Again, I’m not in your league, David, however, it seems to me that analyzing internet advertising ROI is much the same as analyzing controlled circulation print (including magazines with high verified/free subscriptions). There is no legitimate way to track ad impact/results within some categories. At the same time, well-trained ad sales people make all sorts of assumptions and assurances about what the audience will and won’t do — all sorts of promises about what can be delivered. If your pitch is loud enough and if you repeat it often enough, prospects believe and buy — until they wise up and do the math. Count the hundreds/thousands of businesses that bought into The Knot. How many stay loyal today?
There’s no way to know exactly what the consumer is thinking or even exactly who the consumer may be when she visits The Knot, Wedding Wire, etc. It doesn’t cost a dime to visit a bridal web site. The viewer may be wishing/dreaming. She may be playing. She may be window shopping. She may be bored. She may stay on a site for an inordinate amount of time because she can’t navigate it — not because she’s absorbed by the content. When you compare the number of unique visitors promised by any of the major bridal sites to the number of weddings that occur in any given year, the calculation is laughable — as long as your dollars aren’t paying for the joke.
There’s a significant difference between the print and internet audiences. The internet is free. When a consumer reaches into her purse and spends $6 for a magazine at the newsstand, she means business. The consumer is paying for the information she obtains. Therefore, she views it differently. She invests a greater level of confidence/credibility in it. This isn’t to say that magazine advertising works for everyone in every category. It isn’t to say that print is all you need. However, it’s important to realize that print delivers a different kind of message than the internet. It delivers a consumer who may be frustrated by internet information overload. It delivers a customer who may be looking for guidance as to where to shop on the internet.
No. Magazines don’t (or shouldn’t) pretend to reach every bridal customer. Yes. There may come a time in the future when all print is obsolete. No. This doesn’t mean that print readers are exclusive to print products. The majority use the internet as well. No. There is no silver bullet. This isn’t about what will happen tomorrow or in 2012 or 2020. It’s about what has happened in the recent past and what is happening now. There’s always a grain of truth in every cliché: never put all your eggs in one basket.
All of us want easy answers to complex questions. All of us look to the experts for those answers. I don’t pretend to be an expert in all product categories — only in one: female bridal apparel and (to a lesser degree) accessories. I don’t know squat about travel, catering, florists, photographers, wedding planning or many other goods and services associated with the wedding.
While I can’t predict the future or guarantee advertising success, I can provide a historical prospective. I can offer a list of fashion manufacturers who walked away from print in favor of the internet and what happened to their businesses. Is there a direct correlation between these decisions? It can’t be calculated honestly but it seems very coincidental. It’s also curious that The Knot maintains a magazine as a supplement to it’s site. If The Knot’s internet superiority were enough to insure advertising results, why is a print product necessary?
Think about this: female bridal apparel images drive traffic to bridal web sites. Most fashion manufacturers PAY to include images on The Knot, Wedding Wire, Brides.com, etc. Most — but not all. The majority of sites feel as if they can’t possibly survive without brand names like Vera Wang, Monique Lhuillier, Reem Acra, et.al. In essence, moderately priced gown manufacturers are paying for the privilege of giving brand name designers a free ride. Again, I don’t understand the metrics but no matter how you twist them, it seems to me that these numbers don’t add up.
IF we are, indeed, the experts, it’s incumbent on each of us to know what the hell we’re talking about before we make recommendations to private business owners. You can get away with “I don’t know” if you’re an unpaid mentor. You should be ashamed of yourself for not digging deeper to unearth answers if you’re a paid consultant. Otherwise, you’re no more credible than a snake oil salesman,” said Duhe.
The honest assessment and open discussions in the Wedding Water Cooler this weekend has lasting implications for the wedding business. More than ever, wedding industry speakers and personalities combine their efforts, as the pool of unsuspecting novices dries and the truth emerges. This leaves less crumbs on the table for the growing number of slick-talking Hucksters of the wedding business to prey on.
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