A Wee Bit of PR Goes A Long Way

At the start of last week I was asked by University of Bath to come into the Department of Chemical Engineering for a photoshoot with a difference. They needed pictures to accompany a press release for their research into urine-powered fuel cells (see what I did in the headline? So droll…) So, forget rechargeable batteries, these new cells take a trickle charge!

It’s not easy working in gown and goggles (a prerequisite of being in the lab) and there was some time pressure and not a huge amount of space to work in, it being a working lab, but by the end of the session I’d captured a range of shots suitable for different outlets.

What I perhaps hadn’t appreciated was just how far and wide the images would go. I knew they were being distributed by the university press office and Press Association, and they appeared on the BBC and Sky News websites, many newspaper sites (as well as in print) and on industry and tech-oriented websites.

So next time urine the need for some PR, why not give me a call? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Below is a selection of hits from around the web. Click to enlarge.

Press Space for Storagebase

At a time when online marketing seems to dominate marketeers’ minds, it’s worth remembering that the local press still has the power to communicate your business to a well-targeted audience.

This is where the press release comes into play. Sometimes maligned, often mis-used or treated like a slightly grubby, distant uncle to all the shiny online marketing channels, press releases often fail through lack of appreciation of their importance.

Done properly though, a press release will get your business valuable editorial space. You can pay a high price for an advert, and while adverts are another good way to get in front of your audience, they’re viewed and treated differently by readers. Editorial is more trusted and allows you to get more of your business’ story into your message.

As an example, I was asked by Avalanche (a creative PR and social media agency, so local to me that we share an office) to work with them and their client, Storagebase, on a press release about their new self-storage facility and head office in Frome, Somerset.

The brief was to take press release photos to introduce the management team, the brand and the building to the local population.

I popped along to meet Storagebase’s MD Ben Morris and Jennie Wood from Avalanche for a pre-shoot site visit so I could get a sense of what shots would work best. Plus I love seeing the insides of buildings before they’re fitted out. This one had some really eye-catching internal structures and I couldn’t resist popping off a couple of shots during the visit.

On the day of the photo session the weather was a little tricky. It had been lashing with rain that morning, but it was dry by the time of the shoot. I’d hoped for blue sky so I could get some dramatic wide shots of the facility, but the sky was the same colour as the building and there was still a lot of construction going on, so I opted for something tight and punchy.

Making sure I included only the important elements (manager, assistant manager, hire van and the branding on the building) I ended up with a couple of photo options to put forward to the local press. Importantly, these included upright and landscape-oriented photos to ensure they would have a picture to fit any available page space.

The result was a picture and copy across three columns of the printed edition as well as an online article, again including the photo.

So when thinking about PR, don’t dismiss the press release. Done with care and skill you not only get eye-catching coverage in print press, but it’ll go in the online editions too. Plus you can often use the same images for other areas of your marketing such as newsletters, tweets, Facebook pages and so on – not always so easy with an advert, even less advisable with poor quality content.

Case Study: PR photos for multiple titles.

Although I still take the occasional magazine assignment, I don’t deal directly with newspapers as often as I used to, their rates being low to non-existent. However, the many years I did spend working for newspapers means that when I’m commissioned to undertake public relations photography for a corporate client, I have a pretty shrewd idea of what’s required.

This case study centres on a recent assignment for EDF Energy, which is working with its charity partner ParalympicsGB to find ways to help reduce the environmental impact of multi-sports events and related training facilities. In this case, EDF Energy were working with ParalympicsGB athletes, coaches and managers and the University of Bath.

Over a period of two weeks in August, members of staff from EDF Energy sites around the country came to the ParalympicsGB preparation camp to assist as athletes trained at the rather excellent sports facilities of University of Bath.

What EDF Energy required of me was an individual photo of each of their volunteers that would go to the local paper in their respective home towns as a local interest story. Of course this would also give EDF Energy some PR too, as well as ParalympicsGB and the facilities at University of Bath Sports Training village.

For a couple of hours a day on three separate dates I attended the training camp and went around getting the required shots. We’d hoped to get pictures of the EDF Energy volunteers working closely with the teams, but for the most part this wasn’t going to be possible due to the tight schedules and the intensity of the training, so it seemed the best option was to work as inconspicuously as possible to get the job done.

What I ended up with was really a series of portraits with something of the training in the background, or a relevant backdrop to try to tie the portraits in with the context of the story.

The results, some of which I’ve featured here, got good showings in the regional press, so I’d say the whole exercise was pretty successful. I wish the ParalympicsGB teams all the best in 2012.

EDF staff member volunteering at ParalympicGB team training, Bath

Teams busy with training makes a good backdrop to the portrait.

EDF staff member volunteering at ParalympicGB team training, Bath

EDF customer service advisor from Hove, Louise Foreman of Newhaven, gets to chat with ParalympicsGB powerlifter Adam Alderman during a break in training.

EDF staff member volunteering at ParalympicGB team training, Bath

Sometimes a banner backdrop was all that was available, but a smile lifts the picture.

EDF staff member volunteering at ParalympicGB team training, Bath

These groovy banners also made an interesting backdrop for a simple press portrait.

Case Study: Conference Photography

Conference venues have had a rough time in recent years. Events can be expensive to run, and sometimes they’re expensive to attend, so where businesses have dared spend the money at all, they’ve often seen photography as a luxury bolt-on.

In my role as conference photographer I noticed a decline in appetite for this particular service in 2008/2009, but looking back over 2010 I’d say demand has increased again.

Getting quality photography at a conference has often been pretty low on organisers’ lists of priorities – that is until the conference is over and someone wants to “PR” the event. At which point they discover that all they have are some iPhone snaps which aren’t much use for anything at all except maybe viewing on an iPhone.

scientist delivering conference presentation

Balancing lighting on the speaker and their presentation takes some effort.

I can tell a client hasn’t given too much thought to photography prior to the event when I get the call the week before it’s due to happen to ask if I’m available and what the cost would be. They booked the venue about a year in advance. They booked the speakers, sound, lighting, video, staging, caterers, cleaners door staff etc etc. And (relatively speaking) at 5 minutes to midnight, somebody thought: “Oh! I think we might want some pictures from this event!”

Now I applaud these people for thinking so far in advance because as I said, some don’t think of it until the event is over, by which time it’s a bit too late to go back in time to shoot what should have been shot in the first place.

So if your organisation is considering a conference, which after all can reap great benefits in public relations, client relations and exchange of ideas with partners and clients, I would urge you to consider the benefits of getting coverage, and of getting that coverage done professionally.

Conferences can be very useful in that unlike most other events or times of the working year, they tend to be the one time when a significant number of staff and executives are in one place at the same time. So think about getting fresh headshots done – a small setup in a side-room or quiet corner is ideal for this.

Regen SW conference debate in Bath

More obscure shots can be useful later on.

A conference with industry-wide or even public interest, has scope for extensive PR. Pictures of key speakers talking passionately at the lectern, or as a panel of experts can add spontaneity to what might otherwise be a dull PR shot. For other PR uses it’s handy to get a relaxed portrait of key speakers at the venue, perhaps with relevant props visible in the shot.

Employing a professional (like wot I is) means not only will you get the vital shots you need, but you’ll get quick turnaround and you’ll also get the shots you never even realised you needed. Those little details that others would walk past, but which come in handy for future uses such as brochures, annual reports etc.

Of course you might find you have a keen photographer amongst your staff, but do they know how to handle the difficult lighting at these events? Balancing light on the speaker with the slide behind them isn’t always easy. They’ll also tend to miss the details I mentioned, and they often can’t turn the work around quickly. Finally, using a member of staff is all very well, but shouldn’t they be paying attention to the conference rather than the settings on their camera?

I cover conferences of all sizes, taking pictures which clients can then use for internal and external communications, press releases, websites, brochures, future presentations; the list is limited only by one’s imagination. In terms of cost, the photography has to be one of the better value ingredients of a good conference. The food can only be eaten once, while the photography can be used again and again, long after the taste of plastic ham sandwiches and greasy tea has passed.

Captain Caption to the Rescue!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? NO! It’s CAPTAIN CAPTION TO THE RESCUE!!!!! (hooray!)

One area of photography you don’t hear too much about is captions, and yet they are very important and pretty useful. So here’s Captain Caption (if only you could see my splendid cape and lycra stockings) to explain a bit more about them.

In the good old days, a caption was a little slip of paper stuck to the reverse of a photo. It would say the date the photo was taken, state the photographer’s (and/or agency) name and contact details, give the who, what, where, when and why of the content, and the copyright status of the image.

Of course it’s quite difficult to stick a piece of paper to the back of a digital photo. I tried once and it broke my laptop. So instead there is an embedded file (or table for the computer pedants) into which the photographer can and should write all this information. It’s called the IPTC , Metadata or File Info field of the photo and is accessible through Photoshop and other photo editing and viewing software, but not in standard image browsing software that comes with a PC, which is often why people don’t know about captions. For simplicity I’ll be talking about the IPTC table as used within the Photoshop File Info menu.

Within this table, there are various fields which can be filled in, the main one being Description. Here the photographer, or anyone with the right to add and alter the text, can enter a title, name of the author (photographer), description (the who, what, when, where and why), keywords and copyright notice.

IPTC file info field

This pane is accessed through Photoshop/File/File Info. Click to see more detail.

Taking press and PR as an example, it’s good professional practice to send properly captioned photos with press releases because it means that the photo can always be matched up with the right story. Remember, it’s not difficult for the photo and press release to become separated at the other end. You can also put other useful information in, such as how to contact the PR person handling the story if it’s a PR picture. It’s a good idea also stipulate in the caption that the photo is only to be used in conjunction with the original article, to prevent it being used as a stock image if the PR client is involved in an embarrassing future story.

There is another, even more up-to-date and compelling reason to have informative, descriptive captions on photos and a good reason to use the keywords cell of the File Info table, and that’s when it comes to using photos online. This being a blog of limited length I’m going to leave you on a cliffhanger, and you’ll have to tune in next week to hear how Captain Caption gets those dastardly Web Spiders to crawl to a different tune…