Writers, like teeth, are divided into incisors and grinders

Walter Bagehot

Mar 1, 2016

Picture perfect

Putting your clients in the picture for good PR

“A picture is worth a thousand words.’’

It’s embarrassing for a writer to admit this, but it’s true.

And it’s a truth which, in my experience, most people in PR are fully aware of – it’s just the clients who don’t seem to get it.

Or, if they do get it, it’s something they think can be done on the cheap, often by themselves. In fact - notwithstanding the rise of citizen journalism and news websites’ willingness to use a contributed pic to illustrate a story – there’s no substitute for using a professional snapper who knows what the press wants.

The problem often is that the client, having committed to paying a monthly retainer for PR advice, baulks at being asked to fork out again for photography. I know it’s easier said than done, but this is an issue that should really be addressed when the client is first signed up. After all, in the long run, use of decent photography will result in much better media exposure and to the retention of the client. I lost count of the number times when, as a business editor or news editor, I devoted a quarter page or more to an indifferent story purely on the basis that it had a half decent pic and I couldn’t get the page away without an image.

Assuming you do manage to persuade the client of the importance of photography, what are the rules?

  • Avoid pictures of people wearing hard hats. I know elf and safety makes this impossible on a building site, but how interesting is a photo of a building site anyway?
  • Cheque presentations. Per-lease. However big the cheque, this is so 1990s local weekly.
  • Avoid firing squads. This is a line-up of more than three people. Usually in suits. It’s often difficult to avoid because there are usually political reasons behind it with everybody wanting a piece of the action. If the client agrees, one way round it is to get the photographer to take a couple of line-up shots to satisfy the extras and then to take the one that you intend to use.
  • Don’t keep submitting pictures of the same person. I used to receive press releases with accompanying pics on behalf of a regional enterprise agency highlighting businesses which had received investments. The quality of the pics was fine but I finally had to tell the – perfectly sensible and competent – PR consultant that I couldn’t use them, or at least had to take a long break, because the publicity hungry director of the organisation insisted on being in every shot, month after month. She glumly accepted the point and said that she had tried tactfully pointing this out to the client on a number of occasions but without success.
  • Watch the background. This is one for any competent photographer to look out for but avoid lampposts growing out of heads, or signs for toilets, or political symbols or…you know what I mean.
  • Avoid overly staged or contrived shots. I once received one to illustrate the story of a law firm that had formed an association with a US firm. The shot showed various grinning lawyers sat round an office, wearing cowboy hats, surrounded by stars and stripes and a handwritten notice saying `Good day, y’all’. What’s not to like? Everything.
  • Remain aware of what papers like. I worked on one paper for example, where the editor had a strong dislike of pictures featuring earth moving equipment.

These are just a few. If you follow these rules and your pictures aren’t being used find a convenient moment (convenient for the paper that is), ring the news editor/business editor and ask them why.