Even in the age of VR, don’t underestimate the power of photography - The PR Doctor

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Face the facts: a visually interesting photograph can help boost you press release performance.

The Drum Network’s consultant journalist Michael Feeley explains how thoughtful use of photography can deliver real PR results…

“Do you have any photography to go along with the story?”

If I had a pound for every time I’ve said that to a PR who has just sent me a press release, I’d be so rich that I wouldn’t be writing this column today!

It always surprises me that many companies and their corporate comms departments, having spent considerable time and resource having a press release drafted, cleared internally and dispatched to their selection of media targets, then manage to totally overlook the major role that photography continues to play in the world of print and online media.

Take a few minutes to look through your own target media publications and websites and consider how they use photography on their title. What sizes and formats are they using? How much does the photography add to the look of the story on the page? How does the photography help readers to quickly understand what the story is about?

At a bare minimum, a brand looking to engage in any form of media relations should have a range of good quality, high-resolution photography available: namely, hi-res headshot photography of all your key media spokespeople – and preferably shots that your spokespeople are happy with and won’t complain about once they see them in print. In addition, I’d advise having stock of other shots, showing members of your team in action, delivering your services to customers.

This gallery of stock photography will be extremely useful to you in terms of illustrating blog pieces and also for accompanying commentary from your senior execs to reactive media opportunities. However, if you have the time and budget, and you’re hoping for a good return in coverage from a particular news release, my advice would always be to shoot some dedicated photography relating specifically to that individual story. Let me explain why.

Face value

One day around twenty years ago, during my early years as a PR agency account manager, I was asked to prepare a news release on behalf of one of the agency’s bigger clients, a major UK recruitment company. The focus of the release was to alert employers to the introduction of a new EU Working Time Directive and the fines that would accompany any failure to comply.

Fearing that the story had the potential to be a touch on the dry side, I tried to inject a bit of drama into it and, ultimately, drafted a release entitled ‘High Noon for Employers over Working Time Directive’. With the client’s approval secured, I organised a photoshoot with the quoted exec to accompany the release.

On the day of the shoot, I arrived with a highly-experienced freelance news photographer and a circular wall clock with the hands set a couple of minutes before noon. The idea was for the exec to pose with the clock, illustrating the ‘High Noon’ of the title.

The exec, despite being an experienced and dapper gentleman, was nevertheless quite uncomfortable in front of camera, so while the initial shots were OK, they weren’t what you could call ‘red hot’. Then something totally unexpected happened. As his discomfort with the shoot rose, the exec jokingly lifted the clock up to shield his face from the camera.

The pro photographer froze. “Hold that,” he told the exec. “That’s good.” There was a flurry of shutter clicks and we had our shot: the exec, in a suit and tie, holding the clock face directly in front of his own, with just his eyes poking out over the top.

The photographer’s instinct was entirely correct. The photo and the accompanying story were picked up by all of the client’s key target media. The photographer knew that giving the photo editors something unexpected, an image that was unusual and striking, would give the story’s chances of publication a massive boost.

So, if you’re hoping to secure some coverage for material that may be either a bit niche or involves laws, regulation or other complex information, my advice is to dedicate some time thinking about how the story could be illustrated in a clever, original, visually engaging way and consider hiring an experienced, professional photographer to help capture the killer image you need.

Read The PR Doctor's advice on using quotes in press releases.

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