The photo library was often a backwater of the in-house PR
department, its dog-eared manila folders containing an ill-filed, barely
used set of out-of-date images.
But with improved digital storage and delivery methods and the voracious
appetite of the press, the photo library has become a central PR
resource and, in some cases, a nice little earner. The demand for
pictures and the growth of technology-based systems has inevitably meant
that photo libraries have become expensive to run. Organisations have to
decide whether they have the resources to modernise or whether to call
in outside help.
The picture library at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds,
for example, was itself in danger of becoming an endangered species and
last year the RSPB had to make the sort of decisions facing many charity
and cash-strapped organisations. Production manager Tim Norman explains:
’We had 60,000 pictures but only two per cent were being used. An
unacceptable number of pictures were being sourced from other libraries
and, since we charge for our service, this was coming straight off our
The library found that it did not have the resources to promote itself
and, with competitors digitising and taking advantage of fast delivery
methods, the RSPB could see itself being wiped out of the external
But as Norman says: ’These days it’s impossible to employ more staff
just on the strength of a marketing forecast.’
Outsourcing proved the answer. A joint venture with Interface Digital
Library in January provided an on-line service. The RSPB now offers ISDN
to transmit digital images, although not everything is digitised. Norman
points out that much of the press, particularly magazines, still depend
on processing physical images.
But it’s not just cash-strapped, low-tech organisations which see
outsourcing as the solution. BT has outsourced its ISDN on-line picture
library to ND Comtec.
BT’s visual systems manager Veronica Squires says: ’Outsourcing is
ultimately cheaper. Even if you have the technology in-house you need
the structure for it. Scanning, captioning and indexing are all labour
Squires emphasises that this is not a commercial venture, with charges
only levied for advertising and special usage. ’We ask journalists to
give us a credit and that in effect gives us a return,’ she says.
ND Comtec’s marketing manager, Kay Binns says: ’It’s an invaluable aid
to be able to hand over your picture library and have it captioned,
catalogued, digitised, stored, and transmitted for you. It’s quite a
task and makes it flexible for the press to get their pictures.’
Hi-tech outsourcing can also be useful for clients’ consultancies. For
instance, Louise Hurren, press officer at Hill and Knowlton for the BT
Global Challenge round the world yacht race, has found working with ND
Comtec invaluable in transmitting up-to-the-minute digital images of the
race to the press.
But can outsourcing result in the client losing control of its
At Greenpeace, campaigns director, John Sauven says: ’We did think of
outsourcing our stills and have already outsourced video. But we didn’t
because we have a huge internal demand for the library and it would be
complicated if it was somewhere else.’
Greenpeace runs its library with relatively low overheads, staffed by
just one part-timer. Sauven explains: ’It’s low cost, and mainly used as
a Greenpeace campaigning tool so it serves our internal needs. It could
be flogged more as a commercial venture but that’s not its main
But, like the RSPB, he believes charities should be hardheaded about
charging, ’Everybody wants everything for nothing and the press will
play every trick in the book. We make a judgment on charging. We do have
standard rates but also consider whether a particular article is
important to us or not.’
As a general rule, Greenpeace charges commercial organisations. News
images are free to the press, but subsequent pictures for features would
While budget restricted organisations such as local authorities appear
to be slow in modernising their photo libraries, large corporate
organisations are reviewing their technological options. ICI’s senior
press officer, Geoff Paddock says, ’We are not considering outsourcing,
but we are looking at streamlining our photo library, bringing it into
the electronic age and digitising images. We are looking to get advice
’We considered CD-ROM but are more likely to take the on-line route.
Our Internet site is being redesigned, and could be used for
We have fairly split businesses at ICI so we have to allow all our
companies, including those overseas, to access our images.’
Journalists are not charged for images and, in common with most
corporate organisations, ICI does not see that changing. At BP, press
officer, David Nicholas agrees. ’It’s part of PR. So it’s not in our
interest to charge, except when it’s used for advertising or commercial
gain. We look at everything on a case-by-case basis,’ he says.
At present, corporate organisations appear to favour using PR
consultancies to run their photo libraries rather than outsourcing. For
the consultancy, managing a client’s photo library can take many forms.
According to Jonathan Hemus, director of business-to-business
specialists The Reputation Managers, this usually falls into one of
three categories. It can involve just a section of the client’s library,
a complete duplicate library or the whole operation being run
exclusively by the consultancy.
Hemus says: ’It’s best if we manage it all ourselves, looking after it
here, and up-dating regularly. None of our clients outsource any of
their work to other third parties and that applies to large clients,
such as Royal Mail.’
This gives the consultancy complete control, integrating the photo
library into the whole PR package. ’This is especially important from a
timing point of view when working with journalists,’ says Hemus.
’Historically, the trade and specialist press has been content to use
That’s no longer true.’
Devolving complete control of the photo library can be particularly
useful for overseas clients. Burson-Marsteller looks after the picture
library of petrochemical producer Saudi Basic Industries Corporation.
Alison Meeson, senior account director, explains: ’Access to Saudi
Arabia is limited.
So we make regular updates of our photo library for journalists not able
to go there.’
Similarly, Mulcaster Public Relations and Marketing runs a picture
library of 4,000 slides for its client, German Wines. ’We have to
respond quickly to requests and try and give everyone original slides.
This involves regularly updating pictures of all the wine estates,
getting good photographers and briefing them,’ says managing director
Tan Harrington. ’In fact, one of our biggest problems is that
journalists do not return the slides.’
As she points out the fact that they do not charge means that magazines
are keen to use this service rather than commercial libraries.
But it’s not just pictures that consultancies need to look after in the
photo library. Graphics and logos are increasingly important too as
Steve Gebbett, director of marketing at Charles Barker, stresses: ’It’s
important to maintain up-to-the-minute changes in brand packaging and
corporate identity in the photo library. You often see old company logos
being used in the press. Continuity of all images must be assured.’
COLOUR FOR MONEY: WE HAVE SEPARATIONS
’Well over 50 per cent of magazines we deal with ask for colour
separation charges and it seems too late to turn back the tide,’ says
Jonathan Hemus, director of The Reputation Managers, voicing a common
concern of many other consultancies.
Hemus says: ’We don’t like it, but it’s becoming a fact of life. We are
frequently told, unless you pay there will be no coverage.’
Small consultancies are particularly under pressure to pay up and
reluctant to go on the record for fear of offending magazines. One
managing director said: ’The decision over whether something goes in is
based more on financial considerations than editorial ones. I’m an
ex-editor and totally against that, but what else can I do?’
He believes that colour separation charges amount to paid advertising
and that magazines should at least state that the material is paid
The National Committee on Editorial Independence, backed by the IPR,
PRCA, NUJ and Chartered Institute of Journalists is trying to channel
this growing concern. Co-ordinator John Rose, estimates that the annual
market for colour separation charges is worth pounds 60-pounds 100
million. The Committee is collecting evidence and complaints with a view
to putting pressure on publishers.
Rose says: ’These charges are unethical and not related to the costs of
the process. It’s being hyped by up to 3,000 per cent. It’s a hidden
form of revenue, meaning that editorial is not distanced from
International Building Press, which represents journalists, PR people
and consultants in the property and building industry recently held a
seminar on the subject. Brian Corthine, director of consultancy Taylor
Alden told delegates that 25 of his clients pay out a total of pounds
200,000 a year in colour separation charges.
’The money is now taken straight out of advertising budgets. I don’t
think the National Committee will get anywhere and once a source of
income like this opens up it’s unlikely to stop,’ he says.
Peter Hancocks, editor of Contract Flooring Journal, unrepentantly
levies the charge and frankly admits: ’It’s not correct to call it a
colour separation charge since that cost usually amounts to just pounds
12 to pounds 15 and we charge about pounds 90. Some publishers say they
will not use a piece if you don’t pay but I’m against that. I use any
money from it to create extra pages in the journal.’
Hancocks charges pounds 500 for a front cover product picture but does
not regard this as advertising. Brian Corthine is in no doubt. ’As far
as I’m concerned anything over pounds 100 is an ad,’ he says.
SNAPPY SNAPS: PICTURES IN AN INSTANT
Photo library browser sites are spreading on the Web but libraries have
yet to exploit its direct delivery capabilities.
Pictor International site is typical of many browser sites in offering a
limited selection of low resolution images. Visitors can e-mail requests
for images and catalogues.
’The Web serves as a taster rather than access to our whole library of
over three million images,’ explains sales and marketing coordinator
Julie Wicks. ’Increasingly it’s proving a way of putting us in touch
with new clients.’
Image Bank is pushing the boundaries further according to managing
director, Mark Cass. ’We see the Internet as a delivery method for high
resolution images,’ he says. ’In the second quarter of this year we’ll
be allowing some of our larger clients to pull down high resolution
images from our Web site.’
Tony Stone Images is now on-line and Images Colour Library and Robert
Harding are finalising their Web sites. Diana Leppard of Images Colour
Library says that in the UK digital delivery methods like ISDN and the
Web are not much in demand. ’We feel that the UK market is not ready and
does not have the access points. The market here is still
catalogue-dominated,’ she says.
While CDs are supplementing catalogues, both methods can be out of date
almost as soon as they are published while Internet sites can be
But competition is coming from other technologies, too. For example, at
the end of last year the Press Association launched PixElect. Head of
Syndication, Bridget Coker explains, ’Clients who are not electronic can
put their pictures on to our own digital delivery system and we can
provide their pictures to all nationals and broadcasters.’ The service
may move on to encouraging PR consultancies to put their clients images
onto the system.
The specialist libraries are also gradually moving on to the Web. The
RSPB opened up for business last month with a browser site, while
another specialist, the Bridgeman Art Library, which provides fine art
images on behalf of museums, galleries and artists is considering
expanding its Web site.
It is receiving EU support for a new project, Image-In, which involves
working with partners in four other countries to evaluate delivering
on-line fine art images from the Web and by ISDN.