Photo Finish: Make Sure A Picture’s Really Worth A Thousand Words


Picture this: A glistening celebrity posing for a camera, her long, fan-blown hair flowing behind her. A buffet of gourmet delicacies to please her palate - and those of her agent and her rock-star boyfriend - is set up against the wall in the back, and a photographer of Annie Leibovitz's stature exclaims, "Yes, you look fabulous, darling" between clicks. Now get real. Any PR professional who has coordinated, managed and/or attended a photo shoot in the past knows that it never is as glamorous as it is on TV but, even more startling, it never is smooth sailing. Take Tom Womack. While at Burson-Marsteller (he now is account supervisor for Levenson & Brinker PR in Dallas), he worked on a campaign for American Airlines that involved a media event and a photo shoot at Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport (DFW). The only problem? Well...everything. "We needed a permit to shoot at DFW plus there was a third-party vendor involved," he says. "There was not a clearly delineated line of responsibility. Nobody would take responsibility." In Womack's case, that particular photo shoot never happened because of too many complicating factors, and it's a prime example of how senior PR execs - on both the agency and corporate sides - need to be ahead of the game when it comes to orchestrating shoots for anything from CEO headshots to brochures to a client's product launch. "Senior PR folks need to really get involved in that process," says Andrew Hayes, director of communications and community relations for Baird & Warner, a real- estate agency based in Chicago. When he wasn't kept abreast of a photo shoot involving a CEO and his family, the result was dreadful: "The photo ran and it looked horrible - one of the CEO's siblings had her eyes closed in the photo and looked like she was dead," Hayes says. In David Grant's case, after his client's photo appeared in the New York Times, he got a distressed call from the client stating that the venetian blinds in the back of the picture were askew, making the visual appear sloppy and unprofessional. As president of the LVM Group in New York City, Grant admits that, despite his past experience as a photographer, the thought never occurred to him until it was brought to his attention. The lesson? "Look at it with a photographer's eye," he says. "Ask yourself if there's clutter, if there's anything clashing. Just put a photographer's head on your shoulders when you go to the site." Problems often arise when the PR exec is too far removed from the situation or does not play a large enough role in planning, leaving the face of the brand - in this case, a photograph - in the hands of an out-of-house photographer, a camera-shy CEO or - worst-case scenario - a combination of both. "It's absolutely critical that you keep the corporate positioning and key messages in mind when you are arranging photo shoots," says Steve Cody, managing partner at Peppercom (New York City). "Senior PR managers should be the stewards of the brand. You can undo a lot of good if you don't think through how your company is coming across in that photograph." Whether corporate or agency, PR execs with experience in photo-shoot successes and failures all agree on an essential to-do list: Make sure you are in the loop during all photo-shoot preparations so you're not caught off guard when the camera starts clicking. Know the context of the shoot beforehand, and make sure both the subject and the photographer agree on its style and setting. For a photo shoot involving a CEO or other "busy" figure, use interns as stand-ins and place them exactly where you want your exec. Then mark the floor with tape and situate the subject accordingly when he or she arrives. Make sure the photographer is open to suggestions - egos often collide, making for a very disappointing outcome. Make sure you have a production schedule and a budget prior to the shoot. Keep "style" in mind as it relates to the message you want the photo to convey. Make sure all photos comply with safety regulations. Be careful not to aggravate the opposition. For example, when doing PR for a logging company, Womack was sure never to include animals or backdrops of trees in a photo, both of which often incite environmentalists who oppose the logging industry. No matter how many precautions are taken, there never is a guarantee that a photo shoot will go according to plan, but it is essential that PR pros take the initiative in preventing disasters. The reputation of their companies or clients may hang in the balance. "A bad photo can be very embarrassing," Grant says. "You owe it to your own profession to make sure the representation is as positive as possible." Contacts: Tom Womack, 214.932.6077, tom.womack@levensonbrinkerpr.com; David M. Grant, 212.499.6565, david@lvmgroup.com; Andrew Hayes, 312.857.9919, andrew.hayes@bairdwarner.com; Steve Cody,212.931.6114 Photo Shoot Fashion Sense Photo shoots often are so hectic between the planning and execution stages that PR pros forget to emphasize one key element: fashion. "If you want to portray an image that's cutting edge or forward looking, you don't want to put your CEO in a stuffy setting wearing a blue suit, a white shirt and a red tie," says Steve Cody, managing partner at Peppercom. "You want something trendy, off the cuff and casual. You want it to match the positioning and the culture." To send the right message, it's important to keep a few things in mind when considering the appearance of the photo's subject. Senior PR execs seasoned in photo-shoot coordination recommend the following: No stripes or plaids. They aren't flattering on camera. Pastel-colored shirts/blouses are best. White shirts tend to wash out skin tones or they blend into the background. This also is true of black shirts. Keep baby powder or tissues on hand. They eliminate shine on the forehead/cheeks. Think about contrast. The tie should contrast with the shirt, the shirt with the jacket, etc. Following simple style guidelines helps put a CEO/client's best foot forward, and it can also contribute to the personality portrayed by a photograph. "It's absolutely classic - especially in annual reports - to end up getting a bunch of stiffs," Cody says. "It's a disconnect, and it really does the organization a disservice."

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