To get coverage, a picture can be worth even more than a thousand
words. Gideon Fidelzeid discovers how PR pros get the best photo - and
photographer - for their needs.
"When I entered PR 20 years ago," says David Shank, president of Shank
PR Counselors in Indianapolis, "a wise senior told me, 'The only
responsibility a photographer has is to get you a well-exposed, in-focus
shot.'" This rationale just doesn't work today, Shank explains.
A smart PR exec knows how crucial the right photo is, even if their
client may not. "My number-one priority," says Ann Dickerson, senior
counselor at JohnstonWells PR in Denver, "is convincing clients that
they need to budget for good photos."
Ronnie Lippin, president of The Lippin Group in LA, has found a great
opportunity in the fact that news outlets in today's cost-conscious
world want to avoid spending big bucks on taking shots themselves, and,
as such, are more receptive to getting pictures from PR agencies.
"Increasingly," says Lippin, "I'm asked to provide artwork in cases
where outlets used to send out photographers." This enhances PR firms'
value to media organizations. In turn, they must give more thought to
the photographers they use, and - with clients who have their own
financial concerns - to how much is spent on photo shoots.
Of course, you always want the best photographer, but you don't want to
remortgage your shop for it. When posed with these concerns, almost
every PR exec pointed to choosing photographers with digital
"You'll save $1,000 per event, minimum," claims Lippin.
Lester Cohen, EVP and co-founder of WireImage, a NY- and LA-based photo
provider, concurs. "You'll save on making and processing film, duping
slides, and even basic charges like messengers and express delivery," he
explains. Even those who won't give up taking old-fashioned shots ("Some
find a 'warmth' with traditional photos that you just can't get with a
digital camera," says Lippin), can convert those digitally and reap some
of the savings.
"Digital photos have allowed us to become photo agents to the world,"
says Cohen. "The media has embraced the fact that we can deliver quality
images fast. And PR firms see that we act as an extension of them."
Digital technology can also help keep the most sensitive client
Lippin, who deals with celebrities, shares this story:
"Bonnie Raitt insists on approving all her pictures. Before digital,
this cost a lot of time and money. Now that we can send images
electronically, what used to take days, now takes minutes. This keeps
everyone - the star, the PR firm that reps her, and the photographer -
Technology aside, the photo still has to meet a client's needs, which
can often be very specific. Mike Donnell, president of Chicago-based
Donnell PR, says the best way to find the right photographer and
determine cost is by asking other PR people who they use. Since most
photographers have a website, the internet can also be a good search
tool, but word of mouth is still the preferred method.
Of all the photo categories PR people deal with, headshots can often be
the most exasperating in terms of style and personality. Nancy
Tamosaitis, SVP and tech division manager of GCI Group, likes using
photographers who have worked with actors because they tend to be most
experienced in getting the best angles, lighting, and cooperation with
Laura Peet, director of marketing services at Rizco Design in New York,
places great stock in the first meeting between PR pro and
"Pay close attention to how the photographer interacts with you," she
advises. "They'll likely treat your clients the same way."
Once you find the photographer, you need to establish fees, timeline,
and details of what you want the photos to capture before going any
further, says Lisa Bernfeld of Lisa Bernfeld & Associates in LA.
Generally, a major market photo shoot will cost about $500 an
hour. (The figure drops in smaller locales.)
If a shoot lasts very long, you may have to give the photographer a per
diem for travel and food, says Peet. A fair price is $75 a day.
But be specific on what you'll pay for, she cautions.
"I once had a photographer submit a bill for a $30 breakfast at a
Greenville, SC waffle house. It's almost impossible to eat that much.
Specify what you will and won't reimburse for."
Most photographers, particularly on longer shoots, require assistants,
which you pay for too. To limit this cost, Peet suggests finding an
on-site assistant. If, however, the photographer insists on using a
specific aide, don't push the point too hard.
A point which does need to be addressed diligently, one which can create
the largest chasm between photographer and PR firm, is photo rights.
According to Shank, a copyright law was passed in the late 1990s giving
the artist rights to all images, unless a contract was signed specifying
To avoid any dispute and protect both sides, Shank hires photographers
on a "work for hire" basis. The firm pays a bit more, but the PR
agency/client will own all the negatives, prints/digital images, and
How much is "a bit more" exactly? Dave Schemelia, media practice manager
at Burson-Marsteller in New York, says, "An extra $75-$100
will often do." That's a small price to pay to make both sides
"Photographers see PR as a cash cow," says Schemelia, a former
photographer himself. They realize that a good relationship with a PR
firm can ensure consistent work, so they're more than willing to give
photo rights up for a slight fee increase. For the PR agency, it's worth
paying a little more for rights because the photos from one shoot can be
sent to many more outlets. Plus, you'll have a photographer that you can
use again and again, which is invaluable .
Another way to build good faith is getting the photographer as many
credits within publications as you can. This can be more valuable to
them than money, and they'll remember this the next time you use
"Above all, once you have a good photographer, never let them go,"
Similarly, PR firms that know the value of the right picture, and how to
get it, often find that clients will never let them go either.
1. Do clarify costs, time, and all specifications before you start
2. Do attend the shoot yourself and be a liaison for everyone
3. Do make sure you get the type of shot your client wants
4. Do seek photographers with relationships with photo editors. It can
help increase placements
1. Don't micromanage the shoot
2. Don't hire a portrait specialist for an event shoot. You need to find
the right person for each job
3. Don't forget it's your shoot. The photographer is working for you
4. Don't accept anything but the best. You've agreed on the fee, make
sure its lived up to