You have the perfect stallion. He is gorgeous, has a fantastic show record and is producing winning offspring. Why, then, can’t you fill his book? Perhaps your promotional efforts need some improvement.
Showing Your Stallion
Opinions vary on the need to continually show your breeding stallion. Some of this discrepancy may be due to breed/discipline differences. For example, if your Quarter Horse has won a world championship, why risk him placing lower the following year? Nobody can win all the time, but unfortunately, people tend to remember the loss rather than the previous win. On the other hand, a dressage horse can compete for years, continually attaining higher and higher goals. In that case, you may want to keep your stallion in the show ring.
Jean Brinkman of Valhalla Farm in Wellborn, Fla., feels strongly that her stallions should continue in their dressage careers. “It proves to the public that our horse can be trained and compete at the highest level. Also, if you keep him out there, you are constantly showing him to people that may not already know him.”
Regardless of your decision, your stallion’s name must be kept out in front of the public. If he will not be showing, you can achieve this recognition with offspring that make a splash, as well as with effective advertising.
Over and Over and Over...
Whether you are selling toothpaste or stallions, a key promotional weapon is brand recognition. You want people to think of your stallion when they begin to look at breeding animals. But don’t blow your advertising budget on a big, flashy, one-time ad. Research gurus will tell you that you need to keep your name (and the name of your stallion) constantly visible. Your advertising efforts are more likely to be rewarded with numerous smaller ads placed over several months.
For example, Sally Longenecker of Saralin Farm in Versailles, Ky., uses the stallion issue of her breed journal as her primary advertising vehicle. However, she also includes ads in several other issues. “People used to start advertising in January (stallion issue), but I think many are starting to advertise earlier now.
“We begin advertising in the Grand National program in October because we are gearing ourselves toward the show home. In January, we give each stallion a full-page ad, and then in February, March, April and May, we divide the pages up among the stallions. We want to keep those stallions in front of the public.”
The Perfect Ad
Once your budget has been set (Longenecker suggests applying one stud fee toward advertising) and you have chosen the best magazines for your ad, it is time to write the ad. What should it say?
The old advertising axiom KISS (keep it simple, stupid) will help draw people to your horse. You don’t want to crowd the page with so much text (or photos) that readers are overwhelmed and skip your ad entirely. You want just enough information to entice people to pick up the phone and call for more information.
What must you include? “The most important thing is a great picture,” says Longenecker. “It is also imperative to have the pedigree in the ad because you are breeding for the family. You should list the stud fee, if semen transport is available, who the contact person is and if there is a live foal guarantee. Pictures of offspring are also good. Show records are important, but you don’t need to go into great detail.
“In certain markets, it is also a good idea to let people know who bred to the horse the previous season. When a stud is hot, breeding to him becomes contagious.”
Say It With a Picture
Just as a good picture will draw people to your horse, a bad picture can ruin your whole ad campaign. Don’t be cheap; hire a professional to get the best photos possible. Brinkman suggests having several people available during the shoot to handle duties such as holding the stallion, grooming, clearing background clutter and to perhaps bring another horse forward to get the stallion’s attention. “You don’t want him with his neck hanging down and half asleep, you want the horse to look alert,” Brinkman says.
Conformation pictures are quite popular, as are shots of the horse trotting down the rail. Longenecker has found that non-standard shots, however, can have greater impact. “People remember dynamic pictures. Something exciting that shows the thing about your stallion that you feel is his greatest strength, whether it is his charisma, ability or beauty.
“I prefer a non-show picture. When you read through breed journals, you see the same type of pictures over and over, but the one where the horse is running across the pasture or leaping in the air is the one that grabs the imagination. And that’s what breeding is, imagination.”
Advertising in Cyberspace
With the advent of the Internet, websites promoting stallions and their offspring have sprouted almost overnight. Do they work?
Sites that are never updated, are cluttered with too many large pictures that take forever to download, contain horrible color combinations within the text or background and/or are difficult to navigate may do more to unsell your stallion than you thought possible.
In contrast, a clean, well-organized site, with clear, crisp pictures that load quickly, an e-mail address that is easy to find on the page, as well as all other pertinent information can do wonders for your promotion.
Brinkman’s website is an excellent example of a professional site that draws customers to her stallions. “I’ve actually cut back a little on my magazine advertising because of the Internet,” admits Brinkman. “Because the Internet is visual, you need to have lots of really good pictures. And not just of the stallions, but of the offspring, too.
“Keep the site current, and that is a lot of work! If not updated, then the site becomes useless.”
Brinkman cautions people not to just create a great site, but to be sure to promote that site. Get it listed with search engines and consider placing classified ads in various magazines to advertise the site.
Here are a few more suggestions that will help promote your stallion:
• Don’t be cheap and get a free website. These normally come with a long, cumbersome URL?and are typically full of irritating pop-up ads. Register your farm name and avoid the unsolicited ads. It will look far more professional and be far more useful to potential customers.
• Answer e-mail inquiries quickly. The Internet is popular in part because of instant gratification, so there is nothing worse than having to wait for a response.
• Don’t use the same photo in your ads year after year. Change it from time to time or add pictures of foals. Otherwise, people will wonder why the horse hasn’t done anything new.
Stallion promotion is an important part of any breeding operation. With a great stallion and a well-organized promotional campaign, you should have many customers knocking at your door.
Speaking Through Photography
Here are suggestions for getting the perfect picture, offered by Tami Johnson of Masterworks Advertising and Photography in Marthasville, Mo., a company that specializes in promoting horses.
1. Disposable cameras will not produce the sharpness, color quality or depth of field that a good 35mm will produce. A 70-210 zoom lens is ideal for horses.
2. Use good quality film, no higher than 400 ASA speed. I prefer Fuji as the blue tones work well for horses, which have base coats of red generally.
3. Make sure your horse is spotless, well groomed, well fitted (no nylon or rope halters or dirty tack) and the tail is washed. If anyone is holding the horse, he or she should be nicely dressed.
4. Scout out your background. Avoid the sides of barns, houses or garages and dark trees like evergreens, as they tend to swallow up the horse unless you’re photographing a light-colored horse.
5. If you’re not a techie with a camera, make sure your camera is on auto-exposure setting and keep the sun on your back, so the horse’s body is in full sun.
6. Lastly, cull your photos ruthlessly. Throw away all the unacceptable ones (which will probably be most of them). Don’t be tempted to use anything less than the best! —EF