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Turning your wedding into a commercial

Once television reality shows started commercializing romance, it was only a matter of time before it came to this: Sponsored weddings, a trend grabbing attention everywhere from bridal magazines to ABC News broadcasts.

The concept is to turn your wedding into a commercial, with everything from the bride's bra to the cake knife brought to you by local merchants in exchange for their name plastered on programs, seating cards and even T-shirt giveaways at the door. The occasional daring couple promises two verbal mentions during the evening, cleverly working business names into their toasts.

So far, the approach has saved Christina Vincelli and Jevon Gantner, an Atlanta couple planning to marry in May 2005, approximately $15,000. This past June, Todd Weiss and Debbie Lay tied the knot in Kansas City without shelling out cash for the tuxes, candles, decorations, catering, reception hall, wedding cake, videography, rehearsal dinner, DJ, programs, mints, attendants' gifts, a Web site host and a dog sitter. Even Todd's wedding ring was sponsored.

"A lot of people think it's tacky, but we don't care," says Vincelli. "We're going to have a great wedding." She claims she's not as motivated by the money as she is by the thrill of a challenge and the lure of a gamble.

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But you know there's a catch: Pulling off a sponsored wedding isn't exactly easy. In fact, Weiss figured it was a lot more work than planning a regular wedding. Of the 2,000 vendors Vincelli had approached at press time, she corralled 16 into saying yes, for a less than 1-percent success rate. She still lacks tuxes, her gown, the cake, a photographer and horse-and-carriage transportation.

Part of the uphill climb lies with the fact small business owners need to sell to the wedding market to pay their bills. According to Diane Niebuhr, owner of Hope's Bridal Boutique in Atkins, Iowa, she received a better advertising return giving away a gown in a trade show drawing than she did lending her name to the Weiss' wedding festivities.

"I did get some promotion in the local papers -- and Todd tried hard to deliver on his promises," she says. "But after the wedding I had to ask myself what I got out of it, and it came up 'not much.' Even all the groomsmen were from out of town, so they weren't likely to rent from me again."

That's why successful sponsor seekers need a business plan, says Leah Ingram, author of "Plan Your Wedding in No Time." "Any business that advertises will look at which medium will allow it to best reach its target audience in a way the audience will be most receptive to the message," she says. So on the surface, table cards saying the centerpiece is from Joe's Florist and the munchies are brought to you by M&M Candies would get attention from bored folks waiting for the next round of fun to start.

But you're not finished with the sales pitch. Ingram suggests couples research to get their ducks in a row before asking for support. For instance, you anticipate 300 guests, 80 percent of whom live within a 60-mile radius of the business, and according to research the average American sends flowers six times a year. "You may not get everything for free, but if you're really smart about approaching the business this way, you may be able to negotiate at least a discount," she adds.

You also need to promise a large wedding; Niebuhr admits she's nixed several sponsored pitches because the guest list included only 50 folks. "What am I going to get out of that?" she says.

Vincelli discovered wrapping your wedding in a theme helps sell it. Her "Gone with the Wind" setup won over the florist, whose great-grandparents grew up in the same neighborhood as Margaret Mitchell.

Weiss first mailed introduction packets featuring color photos of him and Debbie, along with online articles about sponsored weddings. He busted his butt to get media to cover the story -- e-mailing media outlets across the United States and a few international ports to boot. He regularly informed sponsors of new interview opportunities and any ideas he had to help them shore up their synergies.

For example, the woman who donated the mints now collaborates with Hope's Bridal Boutique. He got the jeweler a gig writing articles for groomsonline.com, which put up the gifts for his attendants. He printed coupons that rode along in either the invitations or program to help sponsors track the traffic. And he printed T-shirts for each guest listing all the sponsors on the back.

It took a little less to impress Marty Zatcoff, who owns Kincus Fabrics in Philadelphia. He says of his one foray into sponsored weddings a few years ago, "The bride was not a pig about it. She didn't pick out $100-a-yard fabric for her wedding gown. I didn't give her junk, but she was just happy to get what she could."

Still, Zatcoff looks at the experiment as more charity than advertising. "People said they read about it in the paper, but some of them were regular customers. It wasn't a great boost, for sure," he says.

"You have to hold up your end of the bargain. Free isn't free," Ingram adds. "The truth is some people may look at this like selling your soul to the devil. This is not right for every person."

-- Posted: Nov. 1, 2004
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See Also
Budgeting for a wedding
Bridezillas can bankrupt wedding guests
Financial advice glossary
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