Preferred vendor lists...Ah, the name alone makes wedding professionals tremble. Getting on a reception site's list, or any other vendor's referral list, is definitely a benefit to your business. However, the ways that you accomplish this sometimes isn't a reflection on your skill, but on how much you're willing to pay.
Some reception sites hire companies to print glossy brochures for them, and include preferred vendors in the advertising for the brochures. The way this works is that the "preferred" vendors are charged a fee to be included in the brochure, and the venue doesn't pay for the first printing of the book. They get a nice shiny brochure to hand out to brides, and the vendors who buy ad space foot the bill.
You might think this is okay, because the venue will be sending business to the professional who
bought the ad space, so what's the big deal? Well, if you're a small business, and you have ten venues calling to say that they would like you to be included in their brochure, costs can add up quickly. Those ads aren't cheap.
So let's say that the venue has ten preferred vendors they like to work with, and the brochure company only gets two of them to agree to advertise. What happens then? Well, to pay for the brochure, the venues usually have to agree to allow the brochure company to start calling random businesses to see if they want to be included. They could be second or third-rate businesses, but as long as they're willing to pay to be in the brochure, they get in.
This makes brides think that the second-choice businesses are actually the ones that the venue endorses, when that isn't the case at all. I know a lot of venue coordinators who don't like these brochures for that reason. They have to hand it to brides, and they're not supposed to say anything about the origin of the ads in the book. The bride assumes that the vendors who are in the brochure are the ones who the venue likes to work with, when that might not be the case.
Another thing that happens, though, is that the venue coordinators who don't like the companies who show up in the brochure still want to refer the best vendors to their clients. So they give them the names of their actual preferred vendors "off the record." This ends up being unfair to the people who did pay to be in the book, even though they really only paid for the ad and aren't a preferred vendor.
It's not a good system, and most of the venues that I know of who use it aren't happy with it, but they use it because it's a corporate decision that they have no choice about. I do know a few coordinators who have publicly stood up to this practice, though, and I give them a lot of credit for it.
I want to be on preferred vendor lists because the site knows the quality of my work, not because I paid to be on it. I want my referrals to be dependent on my work, not my wallet. I do advertise with some venues, but I have to be on the "secret" preferred vendor list first, and it has to be a place that I like working with. If they're creeps, I'm not going to advertise there.
If I was a bride, I'd ask every coordinator at every site I was looking at who they'd hire for their own weddings. I'd also ask every other professional I interview the same thing. Once again, when you start hearing the same names over and over, those people might be the ones to hire. Preferred vendor lists are a good place to start, but do your own research in addition to that.