MEDIA ROUNDUP: Digital advancements revive interest in photography

From memory-seeking moms to hi-tech enthusiasts, digital cameras continue to excite many audiences. In turn, a broad range of media outlets have sharpened their focus on photography.

From memory-seeking moms to hi-tech enthusiasts, digital cameras continue to excite many audiences. In turn, a broad range of media outlets have sharpened their focus on photography.

The art and skill of taking still photographs, once thought to be on its way out when consumers began to flock to disposable cameras with film that's developed and printed at the local pharmacy, is suddenly on the comeback trail. Not only has there been an explosion of new enthusiast titles that have joined stalwarts such as Popular Photography, American Photo, and Outdoor Photo on newsstands, but there's also more coverage on everything from choosing the right camera to restoring old pictures in the general-interest and lifestyle press. This current renaissance can largely be attributed to one thing - the introduction of digital cameras. "Digital has been great for photography in general, including film," says Brian Williams, senior account executive with The MWW Group, who represents Nikon. "Throughout the 1980s and early '90s with point-and-shoot cameras, people kind of lost focus, but with digital they can take, edit and print pictures. That has made photography more of a hobby again. That's what sparked a renewed interest among the media." Digital elicits greater interest Since digital cameras are considered hi-tech, a lot of this increased coverage is being handled by both general technology and personal technology reporters. But thanks to the cachet of all things digital, along with some innovative new designs, cameras are breaking out of the enthusiast segment and are being covered by a surprisingly wide variety of lifestyle outlets. "The morning TV shows and the lifestyle sections of newspapers are running more and more coverage of digital," notes Peter Kolonia, senior editor at Popular Photography. "In 1996, we were pitching digital cameras to the trade press, and then came the PC magazines," adds Karen Thomas, president of Thomas PR. "Last year was the first year you could really get into all the women's magazines, as well as places like InStyle, so the interest is growing." Most of these general-interest outlets don't have dedicated photography sections or beat writers, and much of the coverage is limited to the consumer product pages. MWW Group EVP Alissa Blate says, "When you're talking about a low-end digital camera, for instance, you're really not just competing against other photography products, you're competing against all other consumer products." There's also a bit of general media bias toward new hardware. "Because they're more interested in the latest and greatest in cool gadgets, we have a little bit more of a challenge pitching film stories," says Kathy Rauschenberg, PR director with Eastman Kodak's Consumer Imaging division. "One of our target markets is the snap-shooter mom who wants to capture those moments of her kids. So we'll try to tell a story on how to make mom's life easier, which we can pitch to the lifestyle pages or maybe some of the dedicated family columnists." Outside of the trade and enthusiast outlets, Steve Rosenbaum of SIR Marketing Communications suggests most photography-related PR people usually don't spend a lot of time educating reporters on the technology behind the camera. Instead the focus tends be on consumer-friendly features such as ease of use. Media gains hands-on experience Allowing reporters to try out a camera before they write a story has proven an effective tack for Rosenbaum. "We maintain a pretty active loaner pool," says Rosenbaum, who represents Minolta. "There's still something magical about getting your hands on a camera and experiencing it, similar to the way the consumer is experiencing it." Among the leading reporters covering photography are Popular Photography's Kolonia and Mason Resnick, American Photo editor-in-chief David Schonauer, and high-profile personal technology reporters such as The Wall Street Journal's Walter Mossberg, David Pogue of The New York Times, and USA Today columnist Jefferson Graham. Like a lot of hi-tech consumer products, what many camera manufacturers most want from their PR staff is help in getting good reviews, although some of that depends on the price point of the camera. "When you're at the high end the answer is, yes, they want reviews," says MWW's Blate. "When you're at the lower level, however, it depends on who you're going after, because a consumer who's looking at a $250 digital camera is probably going to make their purchase decision at the store and might not have done research or read a review." MWW has also worked to position Nikon as a trend brand. The agency recently got a placement in US Weekly's product-driven Hollywood Have to Haves column. In addition to all the consumer coverage, there is a separate media market aimed at the professional photographer. But Ketchum Chicago account supervisor Brian Peiritsch, who represents Kodak's professional division, says even these outlets have some consumer impact since "it also includes what we term the 'advanced amateur' who likes to use what the pros use and read what the pros read. So there's a lot of PR that goes out to the pro market that also has that appeal to the advanced amateur." Kory D'Angelo, who works with Peiritsch at Ketchum on the Kodak professional account, adds that reporters at professional photography outlets such as Rangefinder and Professional Photographer tend to be detail-obsessed and want to know the most minute technical information on the camera, film, or development products. "Not only are they writing about the subject, most of them are serious amateurs or professional photographers themselves, so they have this deep passion for this," she says. "So from that perspective, they're interested in everything they can get their hands on." In addition to print, PR professionals note that the internet, and especially sites such as DPReview, has emerged as a platform where consumers can research photographic equipment before they buy and gather helpful information on everything from printing to storing images. Opportunities on the air There are also opportunities on television, both on lifestyle programming and dedicated cable networks, such as TechTV. "Generally, TV tends to be hardware-focused and easy-to-use features generally win out," says Rosenbaum. As for radio, Rauschenberg says, "Radio can help you tell a longer story, but it's really harder to paint the picture since there's no visual." As for PR tools of the trade, Rauschenberg recommends SMTs to penetrate local media markets. She also stresses the importance of having the right spokesperson for your products. Kodak spokespeople include professional photographer Rick Sammon and television lifestyle expert Katie Brown, who offers advice in easy-to-understand consumer terms on everything from decorating tips using photographs to choosing the right film speed. "We look for spokespeople who are relevant to our target consumers, "says Rauschenberg, "ones that can deliver the simplicity message in a way that our core mom audience can relate to." ----- Where to go Newspapers USA Today; The New York Times; The Washington Post; San Francisco Chronicle; LA Times Magazines Outdoor Photographer; Digital Camera Shopper; Digital Photo; EDigital Photo; PC Photo; Travel Photography; Aperture; American Photo; Lenswork; Blind Spot; Popular Photography & Imaging; Maxim; Stuff; FHM; Time; Newsweek; InStyle; The Robb Report; US Weekly; Rolling Stone; Cond? Nast Traveler; Life Trade titles Photo Trade News; DealerScope; Photo Industry Reporter; TWICE; EGear; Chain Drug Review; Studio Photography & Design; Photographic Processing; Rangefinder TV & Radio TechTV; Fred Fishkin's Boot Camp radio show; network morning shows; E! Internet Imaging-resource.com; Steves-digicams.com; Dpreview.com; Popularphotography.com; Shutterbugmag.com

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