Media relations: Let your pictures do the talking

A good image can make or break a business story. But what makes a great news picture, asks Peter Crush

The press release was succinct, the quotes were approved and the 'corporate message' was spot on. But how many times has a story not run because the accompanying picture appeared to be an afterthought?

According to research by image library website, PR photography is an issue that has journalists and picture editors reaching for their stress balls. Of the 352 journalists questioned, 63 per cent said PR-supplied images had resolution problems. Fifty-nine per cent complained pictures were too small while a third had composition defects. Most worrying, a fifth thought PROs 'fail to understand what is needed', while 36 per cent said they 'regularly' demote stories due to poor images.

'Images often come in too small or in the wrong format,' confirms Susie Weldon, woman's editor for the Western Daily Press. Jo Moody, practicals editor on Woman, adds: 'It's frustrating to find the picture you've built your whole page around can't be used bigger than a postage stamp.'

Knowing what picture editors require will cut the rejection rate. According to Scott Shillum, ex-picture editor on The European and Sunday Business and now MD of photo agency VisualMedia, 60 per cent of pictures are rejected on the spot. A further 15 per cent do not have archive details attached – a frustration aired by 41 per cent of prshots' respondents.

'Picture desks receive more than 3,000 images a day,' says Shillum. 'A good picture will generate cut-through; a great picture will rescue a bad story.' Even simple advice – such as knowing the time picture editors are most busy (10am-11am) and that newspaper pictures need to be 200 dpi while magazines require 300 dpi –  will help the PRO's cause.

As the broadsheets have reduced their formats, demand for smaller, eye-pleasing photo-stories has risen. And those who can accurately fulfill the changing needs of picture editors will be rewarded with greater coverage. 'My gripe is not getting enough people pictures,' says Denise Reeves, consumer picture editor for The Times. 'Most product shots arrive on their own and out of context, so they won't get used.'

Getting the message across
What remains unchanged is that the picture must tell a story, and PROs should persuade clients to be brave. Last year Financial Dynamics convinced the Dairy Farmers' Council of Britain to ditch the idea of its CEO drinking a glass of milk to announce its acquisition of Associated Co-operative Creameries. Instead they took him to a field and captured the moment a cow licked its lips at a glass of milk being held. The result was picked up in The Daily Telegraph and Financial Times.

A book featuring the best PR-supplied pictures to have made the nationals has been put together by Image-making Publishing.

PRWeek selected four of the best, and traced how the photos made it from the brainstorming session to the business pages.  You can view the pictures via the links at the foot of this page.

Project Age Concern – Silver Surfers
PR team In-house (2003) Photographer Jason Alden
Press coverage gained: The Guardian and regional press

How it happened
The photograph was taken as part of a campaign to break down traditional stereotypes of older people. 'We wanted to challenge the
typical "fuddy-duddy" image,' says senior media officer Grant Imlach. 'We also wanted the picture to convey that technology is not something to be afraid of.

The location was Brighton beach, and the photographer first met the PR team three weeks before the shoot to discuss possible approaches.' This was a closed shoot, with Alden commissioned to take the picture on an exclusive basis. According to Age Concern, the picture was used in a quarter of all coverage – which is higher than average for its press photographs.

Why it was picked
Guardian head of photography Roger Tooth says: 'This was used in our Online supplement and broke up the normal boring product shots. For the main paper it would be considered too literal, but it's a good example of what supplements need. It is jolly and colourful with movement.'

Project Southern Water  
PR team In-house (1996) Photographer Stewart Goldstein
Press coverage gained: The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, Daily Express, FT Business, regional and trade press

How it happened
'The picture was taken in black and white as well as in colour. However, the lighting worked better for the black and white photo, and I suggested this should be the final image,' says Goldstein. The picture later went on the win the Guinness-sponsored UK Picture Editor Award for best use of black and white photography. Geoff Loader, head of communications at Southern Water, says: 'Commissioning creative and imaginative pictures is high on our agenda. We know it will determine pick-up on a story. This picture, taken as we were preparing for the annual sewer tours during the Brighton Festival in 1996, has since appeared in dozens of internal and external publications and was painstakingly planned and executed.' PR manager Jo Osborn adds: 'We try to ensure that when people empty their sinks or flush their toilets they are more aware of the day-to-day running of our business. Photos such as this help to educate people about the hard work that goes into making sure everything runs smoothly.'

Why it was picked
Richard Taylor, picture editor on the Brighton Argus, remembers using the shot, saying 'this is the sort of image a picture editor wants – imaginative and creative.'

Project Lloyds TSB 3.2 per cent interest for current accounts

PR team In-house (2003) Photographer Felix Clay
Press coverage gained: The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Sun, Daily Express and regional press

How it happened
The picture was co-ordinated by Kirsty Clay, senior manager, media relations, Lloyds TSB Group. She says: 'Halifax had just launched an aggressive campaign for an account with a much higher rate of interest than its competitors had. We wanted to hit back with our Plus Account, offering 3.2 per cent gross, which beat Halifax's rate. Such an intangible product needed a strong visual. We were located opposite the Royal Exchange in the City of London and thought the iconic horse would work well in a financial setting. We used the stables that provided horses for our TV0 ads, and arranged a number of complex permissions to set up the shoot. We actually invited picture editors to use their own photographers – about half used their own pictures and half used our official image.'

Why it was picked
The Times picture editor (business) Guy Lane says: 'Lloyds contacted me directly to offer the picture. When I saw the photograph I realised the team had made quite an effort, and used a degree of imagination. Furthermore, the picture is mercifully free of
'in-your-face' logos and branding, yet it still manages to refer to Lloyds.'

Project Uvine's acquisition of wine distribution business Michael Morgan
PR team Westbury Communications (2001)  Photographer Stewart Goldstein
Press coverage gained: The Times, Evening Standard, Financial Times, The Telegraph and The Scotsman

How it happened
'We knew most journalists would not have heard of Uvine, and the deal was very small. But we were also confident that wine would make an attractive picture,' says Jo Mason, associate director at Westbury. 'We brainstormed ideas with the photographer, and eventually came up with this one for the shoot – which took place at our own offices. Both men were willing participants and when we saw the results we targeted the story directly to picture editors.'

Goldstein, who took the photograph, says: 'We built an MDF table with two holes for each of the directors to stand in. More than 1,000 glasses were used – not filled with wine, but with Ribena.'

Why it was picked
Evening Standard picture editor David Ofield says: 'City shots are generally dull but the photographer took time to set up an interesting picture. Two men just standing there would have been mundane and not have been published. A thinking man's photographer is worth their weight in gold.'

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