Inspiration Shoots: Worth the Investment?

Most wedding pros have their opinions about inspiration shoots, typically based on their own experiences in the past. However, with industry publications increasingly prioritizing real weddings (even to the point of refusing shoot submissions), the big question is: What makes a styled shoot worthwhile?

The short answer is that shoots can certainly provide value to your business. However, it has to be carefully planned for success; styled shoots done on a whim are rarely advantageous.

The truth of the matter is that they require a fair amount of collaboration and teamwork, along with considerable costs if you want to pull off a spectacular shoot. So, today’s content is fashion-forward, featuring gorgeous tulle gowns, over-the-top blooms, stunning venues, and other top-quality details. It doesn’t come cheap, but it can be worthwhile if you blow it out of the water.

Follow these best practices to put on a styled shoot that will be as valuable as it is enjoyable!

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How can I create value with an inspiration shoot?

Inspiration shoots serve more than just shiny press features. They are an effective networking tool to help establish relationships with other creatives that you don’t typically get the chance to connect with on a day-to-day basis. Since you’re working together on the shoot, you know that you have like-minded brands that can ultimately evolve into a greater partnership.

Additionally, those who are new to the industry will find it’s an excellent way to meet creative partners and produce content for their portfolio and marketing materials. Stock photography doesn’t cut it when you’re promoting a business that touts your vision and expertise. You need to show your handiwork and, if events are slow, a styled shoot can be just the answer.

Even for those who have been established for many years will find that an inspiration shoot can help them get out of a rut and expand their work creatively. If you’re ready to move on from the business you typically attract, you will need to create your own content to diversify your portfolio. You attract what you put out in the world!

What do I need to consider before planning an inspiration shoot?

If you intend to submit your shoot to an industry publication, do your research before planning aesthetics, hiring models, or sourcing décor. When you set your sights on a specific media outlet, it helps to align the team’s vision, influences the design, and keeps you on track without giving into shiny object syndrome. When researching publications, consider these questions:

Do they publish inspiration shoots? If so, how often?

If they do feature shoots, does it seem like they are only coming from advertisers?

What kind of styled shoots do they feature? How can you stay ahead of the trends?

Additionally, you need also to consider who you will bring on board as collaborators. All of your vendors should be on the same level in terms of quality and professionalism. On one hand, you don’t want a shoot where the designer puts together all these stunning and cohesive details, but the cake looks like it belongs in another shoot.

On the other hand, you also want to avoid selecting creative partners based on quality only. It’s not just about the end result but the process as well. All of the pretty details in the world won’t help if your florist is unprofessional and always running behind. If you use current trends for a styled shoot, time is of the essence — you can’t tolerate team members that hold up the process. 

What are editors looking for in a winning submission?

While every editor is on the hunt for content specific to their publication, there are a few general tips to improve your chances of earning a feature. First and foremost, editors want creativity! They want to promote content that isn’t seen anywhere else. Try building out the personas of a pretend couple to create an authentic mindset as you form your vision and create the plan.

They’re also looking for details — and lots of them. Everything should fall into place perfectly. Like a wrinkle in a linen or an incorrect place setting, what may seem small to you are noticeable to editors that sift through submissions all day, every day. Don’t miss out on a technicality!

Beyond the photos, editors also want a story behind your shoot. While real weddings writeups are easy to pull from the couple’s story, you’ll need to get creative with your styled shoot submission. Dig into the inspiration behind the shoot and how it’s unique from anything else they’ll see. Tell them what you love about it and why you chose specific colors and details. You spent your time and money on it — why were you so passionate to do so? Get them excited!

Your writeup doesn’t need to be long — 1-2 paragraphs will suffice, as long as it builds the story up interestingly and movingly. For extra guidance, look at the other shoots they’ve published to see how it’s formatted and the details typically included. And, of course, make sure to credit all of the vendors involved in the project, including their websites and Instagram handles. The easier you make it for an editor, the better chances you’ll get picked up!

When should I submit my shoot?

Timeliness is everything when working with editors, and it’s important to recognize that the average publication is preparing and scheduling content two to three months in advance. If you send in a Valentine’s Day shoot during the first week of February, you’ve already missed the train — they’ve likely had their themed shoot planned since the holiday season.

If you plan your shoot around a season, a holiday, or a pop culture reference, earlier is always better. There’s no way to know what an editor has in their queue, so try to stay ahead of the curve and get in front of the line.

Of course, styled shoots don’t have to be time-bound! Evergreen content is always a great choice because it will pay off in the long run. Since you are investing a fair amount of time and money into it, you might as well be able to use those images for years to come.

How do I bring life to a styled shoot beyond submitting?

The content produced from a styled shoot belongs to you, so why not make the most of it? If you do plan to submit, be very mindful of exclusivity rules, so you don’t exclude your shoot from consideration.

When the time comes that you have been featured, make sure to leverage that. Add it to your press page, the “as seen in” section of your home page, and your blog. Be sure to promote it on social media, too! The average feature does ten times better when shared by all of the vendors, so share away — the more you promote, the more eyes you get on it!

Once you have moved past the exclusivity limitations (or if you aren’t submitting), get creative in using the content. Naturally, showing it off on your blog and social media is easy— but take it a step further by telling the shoot’s story.

You can highlight the details, but go ahead and walk through the planning process and how it all came together. What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them? What was surprising? How did you find inspiration? Who helped, and what did they do that was great? In this way, you can demonstrate your expertise behind the scenes and praise your industry peers simultaneously — winning over your clients and creative partners at the same time.

Or, turn your experience into educational content with how-to guides and best practices. The beauty of inspiration shoots is that you have the time to pause and, say, film a TikTok about how to create a great flat lay. You can’t do that at a wedding, and it’s not the same if it’s forced in your living room. Take advantage of your time at the shoot by creating strategic content you can use indefinitely.

So, are inspiration shoots really worth the investment? In many cases, YES — but only when done with careful planning and forethought. While they are fun to put together, don’t lose sight that they are a strategic means of building your portfolio and marketing your business. Make sure that everyone has their eye on the ROI prize so that you can get the best bang for your buck.

Meghan Ely

Regarded as one of the leading wedding publicists in the US, Meghan Ely combines in-the-trenches event experience with a love of wedding PR. She has earned coverage for her clients with the New York Times, People, Brides, Bridal Guide, The Knot, Martha Stewart Weddings, CNN Money, and more. She is a WeddingPro Expert and long-time contributor to Catersource.com and SpecialEvents.com.