Opinion: Be wary when arranging that photoshoot

Rarely is the maxim of a picture being worth a thousand words truer than when a 'clever' PR shot is turned on its head, placing the subject in a derogatory context. A case in point is the almost daily use by the Daily Mail of a picture of Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell draped across a roulette table.

Doubtless it was created by PR advisers as a way of showing Jowell’s familiarity with gambling: after all, for a former social worker, this may have been a perceived problem. So, what better than a picture showing her entirely at home – shovelling the chips across the green baize?

Unfortunately, the Daily Mail’s ferociously brilliant campaign against the super-casinos has used the picture as a repetitive and damning metaphor for what it sees as Jowell’s all-too-easy relationship with the gambling industry.

She, and her advisers, must now regret the shot with similar emotion to those responsible for making William Hague pose in a baseball cap, in a desperate attempt to make him seem in tune with young people.

Similarly, Gerald Ratner’s PR aides must have cringed when they saw their branded PR shots being turned into virtual cartoons after Ratner publicly derided his own brand as ‘crap’.

Indeed, many pictorial disasters could have been avoided simply because they stretched credibility too far. Was there ever any chance whatsoever of the unlikely Cabinet lothario David Mellor playing happy families with his wife and children after the publicity around his bedroom antics? Deservedly the notorious ‘five bar gate’ picture became a by-word for Mellor’s mendacity, and for media consultants as perceived purveyors of false witness.

Similarly, did former agriculture secretary John Gummer’s image makers ever seriously expect the public to swallow (in any sense) the picture of him force-feeding his young daughter with a beefburger at the height of the mad-cow disease scare?

Almost a decade on, the picture still stands as a monument to the occasional follies of PR.

This is not to say that all these pictures haven’t added to the general gaiety of the nation. Some made Private Eye front covers and a few of their victims even learned to share the joke.

That said, PROs should remember the perils of image creation through posed pictures. Every shot carries its potential mirror image, its own nemesis.

Advisers should maybe have asked: was William Hague ever really ‘young’? Did Gummer really allow his daughter to eat beef in the late 1990s? And would Tessa Jowell really play roulette?

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in