20/20 Wedding Confidential: Negativity Sells

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20/20 recently ran a rather negative hour on weddings, the wedding industry and, frankly, the depths of human depravity. (You can see the full episode here). The episode understandably got a lot of attention from inside the wedding industry, mostly because of its one-sided, negative depiction of wedding professionals.

I decided to wait prior to commenting on the episode, because after watching it, I felt angry and a little depressed. I didn’t want to lash out at the producers to tell them what I thought about the lopsided manner in which they reported about weddings. Our industry was depicted through extremes: a wedding where everything that could go wrong went wrong; Groomzillas, which displayed grooms with the most deplorable behavior; and a woman who faked terminal cancer so that her fiancé would marry her. 20/20 edited sound bites from wedding professionals, making it look as though all of us in the industry are out to empty the pockets of every last bride and groom until there is nothing left but lint.

The broadcast heavily featured authors Denise and Alan Fields, whose book is about helping couples navigate the pitfalls of wedding planning. From their perspective, the wedding industry is filled with greedy business people who are full of nasty tricks to beguile unsuspecting brides and grooms until they blow their budgets and wind up in debt before they return from their honeymoon. While I can appreciate the Fields wanting to educate couples on how to cautiously shop for wedding items, I think that the grand wedding conspiracy theory was a bit overstated.

I’ve been thinking about the wedding industry from my vantage point. I’m a business owner whose company helps couples plan their weddings in just about every price range imaginable, an advocate for couples as the wedding expert for Perfect Wedding Guide, and a motivational speaker to the event industry. Every day, I encounter intelligent couples who know what they want to spend and how they want to spend it, wedding professionals who need to make a living but are also dedicated to giving couples the goods and services they want for a fair price, and an industry that would benefit from getting a positive message out about who we are and what we do.

Positive stories may not get ratings, but if I were producing the show, here is what I might have changed:

  • The “Hot Mess Express” featured a couple whose New Orleans wedding was a disaster. In the end, the couple was very happy, a fact that was a minor footnote at the end of the segment. The video clips of their wedding were beautiful. The story behind the wedding professionals who helped the couple fix all of the disasters would have been a compelling addition to the piece.
  • In “Scammed at the Altar,” the bride faked cancer to get her fiancé to marry her. Not only did she dupe her husband, but she also fooled many in the wedding industry into giving her free products and services. I’m sure we can all agree this was a deplorable act. But rather than putting the emphasis on the con artist, why not focus on the wedding professionals who donated to her wedding with the best intentions? Better yet, why not do a story on Wish Upon a Wedding, a non-profit group of wedding professionals nationwide that gift weddings to couples where one is terminally ill?
  • Finally, in “Wedding Confidential – The Secrets the Wedding Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know,” 20/20 threw out statements like we “treat brides and grooms like human ATM’s,” and terms like the “Mercedes Syndrome,” insinuating that we charge more based on what car the couple drives. Another one was “The Wedding Markup,” which suggested that we charge more for weddings than other events for the exact same services.

How about doing an in-depth report about the hours and hours of preparation wedding professionals do prior to the wedding to make sure that everything runs smoothly, or the additional time that is given at no charge on the wedding day if things run late, or if the couple needs extra time? The cost of continuing education for us to keep up on the latest trends or the money spent on expensive equipment to make sure that our clients have the best of the best would also be insightful.

The bottom line is this: unscrupulous people exist in every industry. Moreover, every industry includes people who charge various prices for goods and services, i.e. Mercedes or Volkswagen, Neiman Marcus or Target, a $150.00 an hour attorney or a $450.00 an hour attorney. Let’s concentrate on educating couples on how to stay away from the shysters and help them understand what they can afford to spend when they shop for their weddings. Let’s also recognize the wedding industry as a group of hard-working small business owners who are entitled to fair compensation for the stressful, detailed work they do day-in and day-out.

Maybe 20/20 doesn’t think that would be good for their ratings…but I think it would be quite sensational. What do you think?

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Showing 3 comments
  • Suzanne Haire

    I fully agree with you Susan – and I thank you for your comments of how they could have changed it up to show both sides of weddings. I think the biggest thing we have to do is to continue to educate those brides to what things cost and why.

    For example, as a planner of many years, I know that “back in the day” a photographer would charge a lot less. However, they were dealing with actual film and taking somewhere around or between 6-10 rolls of film per event (topping out around 300 photos). The couple would then select 25 or so to be printed and placed into a slip-style wedding album. Today, we have, usually 2 photographers, and they jointly take three to four times as many photographs. Not that going through 300 photographs, selecting, and “correcting” wasn’t challenging, but it obviously does not take the same amount of time as 900 +/- photographs and correcting goes far beyond the “smoothing out of a blemish or two” that used to be done. Not to mention the books are actually photographs printed right onto the many options of hard papers (metallic, linen, gloss, non-gloss, etc) and then bound into an Italian leather cover, making it a one of a kind book rather than a simple photo album.
    Additionally, Cakeries….A wedding cake used to be a pretty simple item, with the majority of the decor done with columns and pedestals, lace, flowers, and plastic figures. Today, they are masterpieces, true works of art that could compete for design as well as taste.
    Planning…what used to be the standard event could simply be described as a church wedding with a pitch in gathering in the basement or hall. Today, they are elaborate productions, one topping the next in detail, often mirroring what could be considered nothing short of a full fledged theatrical play….orchestrated to the minute with a cast of well over 200.
    I believe most brides have no idea what things should cost. Many of them have never even had a private birthday party or attended a formal business event. They may TRULY believe $3,000.00 is enough to spend on a wedding when really, the average is closer to $30,000.00 per event.
    Education of vendors is important but education of the couples should be all of our goals!
    Suzanne (Suz) Haire

    • Susan Southerland

      Thank you for your input, Suzanne. Another thing to consider is that there is more information available to couples than ever before. If a bride wants something inexpensive, there is no shortage of available professionals easily found on the Internet who can accommodate her price. No one needs to feel swindled if he or she just puts in a little research. On the few occasions in my career when a couple has been cheated by a dishonest service provider, many legitimate professionals jumped in to save the day. Those are the stories that need to be told.

  • Ashlie Shea

    Where to begin… I agree with you Susan… that with the way they portrayed the hard working business owners who help Brides and Groom’s achieve their dream day was quite skewed. Negativity certainly sells. And I was going to mention the same thing you mentioned… where is the documentary on the 2 minute procedure at the hospital that costs upward of $30,000… couldn’t that be seen as the hospital/dr treating the patient as a human ATM? No… they are highly trained and the only ones we would trust with those procedures… we don’t go around meeting with different Dr’s trying to obtain the best price… it is what it is… and we trust them to do their job. Now we may not be Dr’s but you are right… we spend time/money/years investing in our business’ and in our brides. We truly desire for their dreams to come true. And it’s true that they do have more access to information about planning their wedding than ever before. But yet they still are very uneducated on what it really costs to have a wedding. I tell my clients all the time, of course they could find a vendor to offer that service at a less expensive price… but you honestly do get what you pay for… not that they have to choose the most expensive vendor… but find vendors based on referrals. I recommend vendors based on personal experience with them… their pricing is fair based on industry standards, and I try and educate my brides on that basis.
    While this special was disheartening… it was helpful for me. I’m glad I watched and I will be more aware of educating my brides… continuing to let them know that they can have their dream wedding… and stay within budget… but their are things that need to be cut. I was an education major in college… perhaps thats why I do enjoy educating my brides… thank you Suz for the reminder!!

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