PHOTO FITTING: Allowing photographers to exercise their individuality
can make your photo call too good to refuse
THE CELEBRITY ANGLE: Soap stars and sports heroes who aren’t too
heavily branded make good focal points
PHOTO LIBRARIES: Putting images on-line allows easier user access and
lets agencies target specific markets
If you want your publicity shot to reach the page you’re going to need a
picture that is exciting and preferably individual. Nick Purdom gets
advice from the experts
‘We get 25 or 30 photocall notices a day from which we select four, so
they’ve got to be good,’ says Ron Morgans, picture editor of the Daily
With so many photocalls taking place, not to mention the plethora of
other non-PR generated news events, you need to get everything right if
your photocall is going to produce pictures in the papers.
So where do you start?
The key factor to the success of a photocall lies in realistic targeting
of the press. ‘One of the biggest problems I find is PR staff not
knowing about the papers they’re targeting,’ says David Jester, picture
editor of the Birmingham Post. ‘Grip and grin cheque presentations are
really local paper stuff and go straight in the bin.’
John Voos, a staff photographer for the Independent who also works on
the paper’s picture desk, advises getting the photographer involved at
an early stage, but not all papers welcome such an approach. ‘We haven’t
got the time to advise PRs how to get into our paper,’ says Morgans.
One of the most common complaints levelled at PR people is the tendency
to exaggerate the potential of a photo opportunity. ‘Often a photocall
sounds good, and the PR does a good job selling it, but when you get
there it’s nothing like they said,’ says Financial Times news picture
co-ordinator, Chris Lawson.
Coming up with a good idea, getting the photocall notice right, choosing
the right time of day is fundamental, but the most professionally
prepared plans can be undermined by bad handling on the day. ‘All too
often PR operators spend more time trying to lay down the law to
photographers, rather than their clients. PR people often seem to be in
awe of the people they are representing.’ says the FT’s Lawson. ‘They
should tell chairmen and chief executives about the value of pictures in
the papers, and advise them to expect to spend a fair amount of time
having their picture taken.’
Most photo-journalists recall good photocalls as those in which they
were allowed enough time to create a sense of exclusivity to their
product. Colin Beere, a freelance photographer for the Financial Times
says: ‘Too often the PR says you’ve got ten minutes, when another five
minutes could make all the difference to getting in the paper. You need
to ensure that all photographers have the chance to get a different
shot. If the picture desk only gets one decent shot they will suspect
that the other papers have got that too and are less likely to use it.’
Branding is another sensitive issue, particularly with celebrity-backed
consumer products - most papers react badly to blatant plugs. The
Independent was recently invited to a photocall launching the BT
Festival of Dance. The photocall notice advised that Wayne Sleep and
three young dancers would be appearing in a field with BT satellite
dishes behind them, forming the perfect backdrop. ‘I can’t think of
anything worse,’ says photographer John Voos. ‘The whole thing was
contrived, the satellite dishes were there to publicise BT and were not
the perfect backdrop at all.’ Needless to say, the Independent did not
attend the photocall.
Celebrities tend to be seen as a catch all, particularly when it comes
to consumer product launches and announcements.
Dan Holliday, account director at Hill and Knowlton, recently organised
a photocall linked to a Walkers Crisps ‘in pack’ sales promotion.
Realising that the tabloids were already swamped with stories of major
National Lottery wins and that a customer digging a Golden Tazo out of a
bag of Walkers Crisps wasn’t going to be a major draw, Holliday chose
the celebrity route.
He picked on Coronation Street girls Chloe Newsome (Vicki McDonald) and
Tracey Shaw (Maxine Heavy) to provide the necessary bait for the
photocall. ‘You need to understand the draw of different celebrities.
Coronation Street has such a strong pull that if you use people from the
show the tabloids will cover it if it’s a good story.’
Holliday provided the link between his chosen celebrities and the Golden
Tazo story with a ‘Streets of Gold’ strapline. The strongly tabloid
angle, together with the presence of Chloe and Tracey in short gold lame
dresses and long boots, ensured a good turnout by press photographers
and strong branded coverage in the Sun and Daily Star.
A larger than life personality, American football giant William ‘the
Refrigerator’ Perry, provided a perfect photo opportunity for Cohn
andWolfe on behalf of client the London Monarchs. The Fridge was used to
gain publicity for the start of the American football season in Europe.
Photocall notices went out to all the nationals with the angle ‘The
Refrigerator touches down in London’.
The photocall took place in Piccadilly Circus, and the whimsical
inclusion of a refrigerator as a prop. A subsequent press conference
enabled the press to meet the Fridge and find out more about the
Monarch’s ambitions for the season. Photo coverage appeared next day in
the Times, the Daily Mail, the Independent, the Daily Express and the
Guardian and later in the Sun, the Daily Telegraph, 1015 (the Times’
kid’s supplement) and the Young Telegraph.
‘We allowed photographers scope in the shots they could take, but at the
same time ensured the Monarch’s logo was clear in all shots,’ says Cohn
and Wolfe account executive Tanya Veingard.
‘We also employed a picture agency, Allsports, so we could have the
photo wired to the regionals and those nationals that couldn’t make it.’
This led to regional coverage in 12 papers, including the Eastern Daily
Press, Shropshire Star and Western Morning News.
A celebrity minus a story line, however, is likely to fall flat on his
or her face along with the client, and it is often unknowns, combined
with a news angle and a visual hook that create column inches.
Countrywide director Pauline Kent recently achieved coverage in all the
tabloids for a photocall about Safeway’s new advertising campaign. The
photocall used the stars of the campaign, Harry and Molly before the
advertising broke on television. - the story of ‘When Harry met Molly’
encapsulated in a carefully staged first kiss. ‘It was very simple, but
it worked,’ says Kent. ‘The timing was right, the characters are cute
and cuddly, and kids and sex appeal seem to work.’
Kent also secured a page and a half feature in the Sun for the launch of
Safeway’s Kids Zone by giving the Sun an exclusive shot of young Harry.
Arranging a creative photocall for City news is particularly difficult,
but some City PRs are meeting the challenge.
‘In the last year there’s been a movement away from the dull head and
shoulders shot and an attempt to inject as much interest as possible
into pictures,’ says Julian Hanson-Smith, managing director of Financial
Dynamics. ‘We try to give pretty well total freedom to photographers,
but there is a cut-off point if they try to make senior managers do
something that is patently out of character.’
On the day Sainsbury’s launched its new ‘loyalty’ card, Financial
Dynamics sought to achieve counter-publicity for client Tesco linked to
the announcement of additional benefits for Tesco Clubcard holders. The
agency ensured coverage in a majority of the nationals by playing to
both consumer and City interest by parading Tesco chairman around one of
the stores clutching a basket of his produce.
‘There was a lot of consumer interest, because so many people have a
Clubcard, and there was a link to the financial pages given the impact
of the announcement on Tesco’s trading performance,’ says Hanson-Smith.
Well staged photocalls still stand a good chance of producing column
inches, but there are no guarantees against the unexpected.
‘Photocalls are risky, which is why I usually spend no more than pounds
2,000 on them,’ says Kent. ‘I’ve known people who’ve spent pounds 10,000
on a celebrity and got no coverage at all because a major news story
happened on that day. This leaves the client very disappointed because
they feel all their money’s gone up in smoke.’ l
Photo calls: Getting it right
Do choose your day with care - if England are playing in a cup final,
Do give enough notice - don’t expect photographers to turn up for a 2pm
photo call if you only informed them at 10am the same day
Do brief your client properly and don’t be afraid to tell the client
what to do.
Do book a celebrity who’s in vogue, sadly that doesn’t include Val
Do get permission to use the location - shots of policemen throwing out
the managing director have impact, but are not the sort of publicity
Do give photographers time to get the shots they want - mugshots are
Do ensure you give a contact name and for the following 24 hours so
picture editors can call you for more information
Don’t arrange your photocall for 5pm on a Friday evening just because it
suits the client
Don’t expect photographers to troop to the middle of nowhere
Don’t line up board directors with BS5750 certificate and ask them to
Don’t cover the subject in company logos
Don’t try to order photographers around
Don’t be afraid to ask the chairman to smile
Don’t think champagne and caviar guarantee a picture in the paper
Don’t confiscate a photographer’s film if you’re worried it’s got an
embarrassing shot on it - it may have a good one too
Don’t pester the picture editor by asking if your picture is going to be
used - you’ll probably make him say no
Photo libraries: The digital revolution
While most users still prefer traditional paper catalogues,
photolibraries continue to prepare for the expected digital revolution.
Getty Communications followed up its acquisition of Tony Stone Images in
March 1995 by buying the world famous Hulton Deutsch Collection in April
Nick Wilson, director of Digital Getty, is responsible for new media
strategy within the Getty Communications group. He plans to increase the
appeal of CD-ROM by improving the user interface and targeting releases
at specific markets. Getty is also looking at DVD (digital video disc),
which will be able to hold far more images than CD-ROM and have a more
sophisticated indexing and interface system. But it could be four years,
Wilson believes, before DVD has sufficient market penetration to make it
Hulton Getty already offers digital fulfilment for its black and white
images, but Wilson says it may be some time before clients can receive
high quality colour pictures on-line. ‘There are a number of
technological barriers to fulfilling client requests digitally - for
example colour calibration problems - but we aim to test a system in the
Signpost is developing its multimedia on-line business library, adding
about 300 images a week, and now has around 170 customers. The system
can be used as a media desk facility, but the company is still looking
for its first project in this area.
Corporate archiving is another target market for Signpost. British
Steel’s photo library, which contains shots of generic interest such as
suspension bridges and steel-clad housing, is now on-line and available
to subscribers. ‘The connection and service charge to get on the system
is pounds 10,000 and we then charge pounds 1,200 per managed gigabyte,
so you can effectively set up corporate archiving for pounds 11,200,’
says Signpost MD, Richard Johnson.
Another library to go on-line with Signpost is the Pickthall Picture
Library, which specialises in watersports.
A new service offering PR agencies a direct line into all national and
regional newspapers and magazine picture desks is being provided by
image.net. PR. Companies can buy time on the system at pounds 250 for
one hit for one week for up to 20 images.
Image.net can scan in photographs in any format, but prefers 35mm colour
negatives or transparencies. Images can be supported by captions and
press releases. Publications access the system free of charge, and are
sent a bi-weekly fax telling them what’s available. ‘Unlike existing
wire services, it is the PR company that decides what material they
would like to put on-line,’ explains image.net director, Aidan Sullivan.
Of the other major libraries, Robert Harding Picture Library is trying
to encourage people to use CD-ROM by releasing some images only on this
format. This spring it released a CD-ROM containing around 9,500 images
covering a complete spectrum from lifestyle to industry, none of which
are featured in its paper catalogues.
Zefa has just released its second Stock Market CD-ROM, containing around
6,000 images, and a new European people catalogue - ‘because our files
were looking a bit American,’ says director, Harold Harris. Stock Market
is digitising 50-60,000 images so it will be able to send selections to
clients on Photo-CD. ‘This is already being done in New York, I think,
but there is no demand for it here yet,’ says Harris. In Germany, Zefa
is also experimenting with low-resolution images on the Internet.