PR TECHNIQUE: Providing quality photos puts your story in sharper focus

Whether it's an up-to-date head shot or an online archive, providing quality, timely photos is a surefire way for a company to score points with the media.

Whether it's an up-to-date head shot or an online archive, providing quality, timely photos is a surefire way for a company to score points with the media.

Juanita Swedenburg appeared on the cover of the July 28 issue of the National Law Journal (NLJ). A Virginia vintner and plaintiff in a lawsuit to allow wine shipments directly to consumers across state lines, she was shown standing in a room with wooden barrels and examining a glass of her vino. But the weekly newspaper didn't shoot the picture. It was provided by Washington, DC-based Institute for Justice, which represents Swedenburg in the case. "Under normal circumstances, we would have sent a photographer to Middleburg, VA," says NLJ design director Doug Hunt. But the shot supplied by the institute "was as good a picture as I would have gotten if I hired a freelancer. The bottom line is, the better images people have to give, the better the chance they're going to run." These days, seemingly nothing could be simpler than supplying a newspaper, magazine, or other publication with a needed photo: just attach a jpeg to an e-mail and whisk it through cyberspace. And yet, it appears that many PR pros are still in the dark when it comes to providing photo editors with what they want - both the technical formats and the subject matter. Knowing what photos to use boils down to the cardinal rule of PR: know the publication. "I try to steer clients away from doing things they never see in the paper, like ribbon cuttings or someone standing at a podium," says Robin Weiner, staff photographer for US Newswire. Further, action shots are better than static, and products should be shown actually being used. Weiner says a client recently sent in a picture of a porch with light fixtures to promote energy-efficient light bulbs; she persuaded the client to do a different photo with someone changing a light bulb. Indeed, a photo should tell the story. Garrett Allen, SAE with Gregory FCA Communications in Ardmore, PA, says his agency is currently shooting the model home of client Charter Homes Group in Lancaster, PA. "The photo will play a supporting role to the story we've been telling in press releases," he says. That's because the demo house has unique features harkening back to a more community-oriented time: cobblestone curbs, garage in back, wide porches, and large front doors close to the sidewalk. As far as people, not products, go, Robyn Massey, VP of corporate media relations at Ketchum, advises to make sure head shots are up-to-date. If the CEO has grown (or shaved off) a beard, it's time to call in the shutterbug. She adds that if company photographs look outdated because of old-fashioned backgrounds, it could "give the impression that their business approach or style is outdated, too." The photo should have a caption that includes the five Ws - who, what, where, when, and why - and the news angle or message to be conveyed. Darrell Perry, photo editor of The Wall Street Journal, says he prefers captions in the body of the e-mail and also embedded in the file using Photoshop. Helen Dowler, director of photo services at PR Newswire, says that captions should be provided for head shots as well. "Some media will look at the photo first before the release, and if they only see a name they don't know what the story is," she explains. Not getting the technological requirements right is still a big gripe among photo editors. But the resolution density will depend on the type of publication. Websites sacrifice quality for speed of download, so they typically want images at 72 dpi (dots per inch). Newspapers can be around 150 to 200 dpi. And magazines usually want 300 dpi. As for size, both US Newswire and PR Newswire recommend that the longest side be nine inches; it's easier to shrink an image and maintain its quality than to enlarge one. Make sure the file is labeled correctly, with the name of both the person and the company. Scott Jacobs, photo editor at car-comparison site Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, CA, says that often the files he gets are not well labeled. "They're mostly numerical, in sequence, not descriptive. I have to go in and do a thumbnail view" to see what the pictures are. Then there's the timing issue: Photo editors need that art and need it pronto. Don't blame them for the urgency - often they're not told until the last minute what they must rustle up. Perry says it's common for him to need images the same day. For example, the front page of the WSJ's marketing section on August 1 carried a story about the bankruptcy of Pillowtex Corporation, a Kannapolis, NC-based maker of classic brands Fieldcrest sheets and Royal Velvet towels. Perry found out about the story at 11am the day before and needed to close the page at 4pm. He kept calling the company's PR department, but it never got back to him. "What I really wanted was historical images from the company," he says, adding that he'd always prefer a quick "we won't cooperate" than to be left hanging. (Pillowtex communications manager Karen Cobb said the company had to make responding to reporters a priority that day.) To prepare for such eventualities, many companies have their own online photo archives, which is a great way to ease a photo editor's burden. Companies also use major repositories such as AP Archive and Newscom for this purpose. Hunt of the NLJ says such archives are useful, but only a handful of firms and companies he deals with have them. "The best possible thing is for people to have good-quality, high-resolution pictures that can be easily downloaded from their websites, but very few people do it." Echoes the WSJ's Perry: "Have high- and low-resolution pictures on a page I can get to. Have clear phone numbers [on the site] of people who know about photography." Perry points out that easily providing pictures is to a company's advantage. "It's every company's opportunity to show their best side," he says. "Take the pictures that you want to take. I don't have time to send a guy out on a rainy day to make your company look terrible. Show me the most beautiful exterior of your company and some happy people working, and I'll run it." ----- Technique tips: Do make sure that new head shots of executives are distributed both to publications to keep on file and internally to those who might send out photos, such as administrative assistants Do educate journalists about your online photo archive and let them freely choose what image to use Do remember that supplying your own photos is a way to have some control over a story Don't use black and white photos. Color is more likely to make it onto the front page of a section, and color can be easily converted into black and white (the reverse isn't true) Don't neglect to shoot new head shots of company executives. Photos should be updated every year at a minimum Don't make a company logo prominent in a photo. If you must include the logo, try to do it tastefully

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