The Art of the PR Photo Call

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Or so the old saying goes. It was apparently first used by, you guessed it, a journalist! The expression appeared in a 1911 newspaper article quoting newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane discussing journalism and publicity.

It makes sense of course. When processing multiple sources of communication and digesting complex data, our brains do that all the more quickly with images than large chunks of text, as a general rule. The rule has never been more appropriate than in our modern world where we are literally harrassed from all sides by a constant stream of information.

As this coverage round-up shows; the humble photo call, or photo opp, is a staple in the PR toolkit.

Photo Calls and Coverage via @Rumourmill_PR

For non-PRo’s, a photo call is basically a staged stunt created to represent the story, allowing photo desk editors to get images for their newspapers rather than using stock images or boring ‘line-of-suits’ corporate photographs.

It can go wrong of course. Google “worst PR photocalls” and Miss Price will almost always appear. Arguably, though an assault on the eyes, these shoots can’t be considered bad if we’re merely measuring column inches gained as a success factor. But we don’t. So they are bad.

Katie Price promotes ColourB4

In my opinion, photo calls are one of the aspects of PR Communications that we do particularly well in this part of the world. Possibly because it creates such a creative, colourful reprieve from our usually bleak/repetitive/frustrating* local news (*delete as appropriate). In my experience this is testament to the skill of both local photographers and their agency/in-house counterparts. I’ve been looking over some of my favourites recently as I sought out the advice I would give to someone staging their first PR photo call…

Where possible, use props!

I love a good prop, me. Not only is it visually appealing, (especially in oversized form if you were a childhood “Borrowers” fan like myself), but it’s also much easier to tell the story through the image.

@AikenPR Translink Ground Espresso Photo Call

And if it makes a local politician look like they have a fun side in the process, extra points!

@ASG_PR Safefood Photocall Stormont

The bigger, the better!

Big props aren’t enough if you’re promoting one of our most famous attractions; The Giant’s Causeway. For that, you need GIANT people drinking GIANT coffee. Job done.

@AVBgroup Giants Causeway Photo Call

Still not big enough, I want DIGGERS!

We’re all about agriculture, machinery and factories in Northern Ireland. If you’re promoting a development story it can be all too easy to just whip out the spades. What are we planting here, a tree?! No, no, we want DIGGERS! If you’ve got it, flaunt it. It makes for great angles and composition and, as far removed from the countryside or construction as I am, I still smile when I see someone go to the effort on a photo call like this.

Pulse PR GoAppleGreen Motorway Service Launch Photo Call via @grainnemcgarvey

Who needs diggers when you’ve got a whole FIELD?!

You could always take on the big boys across the water for a stunt to almost rival Paddy Power’s rainforest stunt by turning a field into a green ‘tache for the men’s health campaign ‘Movember‘. This is as eye-catching as they come in terms of aerial photos.

@MorrowComms Mortons Field Movember Photo Call

Failing props, big letters will do too!

I know the foam letters have possibly had their day, but it’s what you do with them that counts! I especially like the recent use of hashtag phrases in the imagery now as it quickly tells me where to get more information on the news item, being the avid Twitter user that I am.

@MCEnewsfeed Photo Call TedX Stormont

No props or letters? It’s grand, just use people!

It’s not the most original idea but it actually takes some work to pull it off, and takes me back to the days of “The Big Art Attack” with ol’ Neil Buchanan. I think it works best in instances like this when the heart of a sporting event is in the people and volunteers involved.

@JPRNI World Police & Fire Games Photo Call

Sun’s out, all out!

We don’t often get the weather here but when we do, it’s bloomin’ lovely! So often our photo calls are indoors and they just don’t have the same life to them as outdoor photos, even if you have someone standing on their head. This was one of my favourite photo calls because of the colours, the odd angle, the blue sky. It made me want to walk to school even though I know the reality is a wash-out nightmare most of the time. In that sense, it achieved a campaign message as well as a launch photo. Again, this will require a good photographer to catch light, reflection, glare and shadows so invest wisely.

@MCEnewsfeed Travelwise NI Photo Call Walk to School Week 2014

Go big, or go home!

Trust the folk at Smarts to go building big stuff out of hay! But honestly, the Harp angels hay bale art was one of my favourite stunts this year, not just because they did it where I work near Scrabo Tower, but because it was humble yet cool. It really embodied the values of the local beer. Of course I, being a bitter in-houser, could moan that I could do likewise with a similar budget, but instead I appreciate the creativity and celebrate it.

Smarts Communicate Harp Hay Photo Call @Smartscomm

Wings, Schmings… We can fly!

If there’s one thing that’s difficult to translate into imagery it’s technological advances like “the cloud“, so I loved this use of post-photography editing to create a really interesting and humorous photo. Assuming they didn’t actually fly. They’ve got skills, but not to that extent I’m sure!

@DuffyRafferty Photo Call Cloud Telephony cc/ Rainbow Comms

If all else fails, whip out some small people!

I’m a mum so yes, my own small person makes my heart flutter. However, like many parents, I have no interest in looking at other people’s children, who are almost always not as cute as mine. Yet for some reason it’s a rare occasion to open one of our local newspapers and not see a small person smiling out promoting something. It could confuse the story when used in a narrative that actually has nothing to do with children but for the most part, cute sells!

@LKcomms Belfast Restaurant Week Photo Call James St South

For inspiration on photo calls in press across Ireland, I recommend following @RNNcomms on Twitter who regularly post #pictureoftheweek that you could otherwise miss in your own media monitoring, and they make for great inspiration on your noticeboards/idea files:

@RNNcomms #pictureoftheweek via Belfast Telegraph

As for me. Well, I’d hardly torture everyone else and not highlight my own team’s work, would I? I would actually, but that’s only because in-house folk simply don’t get the budget and the creative environment that allows a loosening of the red tape to go all-out in this department. But we do what we can with what we have.

That can mean anything from doning a wetsuit in Winter because we can’t afford Miss Northern Ireland:

To using the much-despised-but-still-local-press-friendly-cheque-presentation photo despite the raking we’ll get for it (hey, I’ve yet to have one not printed in a paper, so sue me!)

To getting people pulling all sorts of weird and wonderful poses in a still shot that needs to look “active” - it’s actually harder than it looks to look like you’re running:

I think we do pretty well all things considered. And even if things don’t go to plan, or don’t work out, think of the laughs you have dressing up and getting into awkward positions, all to achieve that ‘golden photo opp’!

AMH Golf Day Photo Call Nuala McKeever

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