An Open Letter To PR Folks: Include More Photographers

Serengeti Savannah Impact.  As a PR professional, that’s what you are looking for when selecting people to come along on your press trips.  Impact.  Otherwise, why have anyone there?  I’m guessing you look for writers who can convey your company’s story, or that of your client, in a compelling way.  To weed out the levels of good and slightly better and even better… takes a long time.  Who’s going to convey the look and feel of location X or hotel Y best?

It’s a daunting task.  As the PR juggernaut keeps catching this crazy social network vibe and figuring out how to get more bang for their press trip buck, I want to point out an often overlooked asset: photographers.

Everyone likes their press trip attendees to spread the word any way they can.  Most who are invited bring along small point and shoot digital cameras and some bring decent DSLRs (those bigger clunky ones with interchangeable lenses).  The photos that are shot typically end up on Flickr, Twitter, Facebook…you know the routine.  This is, for the most part, a bonus to the anticipated word based tweeting, article writing and blog posts.

Why not turn those bonuses into more of an asset?  It’s all about impact.

Take a look at the photo with this post.  I’m a professional photographer and I also get paid to write.  What this one photo says about the Serengeti National Park is, indeed, worth a thousand of my words.  Not only that, in today’s short attention span society, it locks you in and makes you want to learn more about where it was taken.

I’ve been on press trips in the past where my quick photo posts, made easy with today’s technology (as long as there’s wifi!), get far more attention than a 140 character tweet.  Imagine your client is Serengeti National Park.  Now, imagine the photo above being tweeted with the text, “The sun’s starting to set here on the Serengeti and I hear lions in the distance. The savannah is amazing!” Which has more impact; those words alone or with the photo?  Which do you think will be shared more readily?

You don’t need to bring a professional photographer, just someone who really loves photography and is damn good at it.  You also need someone who knows the social side and can get the word out (as you want writers to do).  Ideally a photographer who also writes well.

The main discussion point with this post is in regards to photo rights and I understand it can be a gray area.  What’s important in bringing along a photographer is making clear before the trip who owns what.  From a PR perspective it’s as simple as stating, “You retain the copyright to your images and we (or your client) will not use them in any promotional way without your consent”.  Actually, that statement is overly simplified, but cuts to the quick.  It’s very important to make things clear up front who has rights to the photos and from my perspective, the photographer should retain copyright.  It is up to them to then negotiate with the hotel, tourist bureau, etc… that sponsored the trip if any images may be used in further promotion (website, brochure, etc…).  But others may have differing ideas and I suggest you use the comments section below to voice them.

I see the benefits working both ways: Your PR company or client gets better photos of their property/locale presented through social media.  Much, much better photos in most cases.  You will also often have access, on a per item basis, to work with the photographer to fill other promotional needs.  This is after the photos are taken with no additional risk to the client other than would have been allotted in filling the photographer’s spot with a writer.  And ideally you would be able to find a photographer with decent writing skills to fill both roles.  The photographer receives the normal benefits of access to a new location for their own portfolio building and possible revenue.

Impact.  Consider letting a photographer help deliver it in spades on your next press trip.

9 Replies to “An Open Letter To PR Folks: Include More Photographers”

  1. Lisa Gerber

    Peter –
    Such a good point- oh yea the photographer! It makes a ton of logical sense. i mean, of course – a picture says so much more. But I will be the first to admit, I skip over the name when I see it’s a photographer, so help me out, and perhaps others in the same boat. If you are a photographer and not a writer, what will you do with the images to get the story out? my client expects an article, not an intangible. (of course, we know the intangibles are sometimes more valuable, but it always gets back to my job – justifying it to the client)
    Your right that it is critical to have clear language on usage. I hear it too much on the client side – there is never a budget for photography – always for design, print ads, brochures, PR, but not photography. This provides a great opportunity for photographers to get additional revenue to sell limited rights to some images to your host perhaps at a reduced rate.

  2. Keith

    Interesting post, but photography is very subjective without the words. Often words can be just as descriptive as a picture, if not more so, and can help you to see what you are looking at. With regards to the photo above…if you hadn’t told me that it was a photo of the Serengeti National Park, I probably would never have made that connection, but having READ what you WROTE, the two complemented each other. PR is all about the message, and I think that the message needs to come from the words, or have the words drawn out from an image.

    Pictures by themselves often say very little, especially to an audience that does not have an eye for “reading” photographs. And some photographers can write, and some writers can photograph, but how many can do both very well? If you want your audience to come away with a specific feeling or attitude, you have to feed it to them so that they come away knowing exactly what you are trying to say.

    Just my two cents! 🙂

  3. Angela Berardino

    Hate to admit this, but like Lisa, I usually pass over photogs on press invites for the reasons she cites: in order to justify the investment (of rooms, flights, and time), I need to be able to evaluate the impressions that will be garnered from the content created. I’m not necessarily all about quantity; quality matters too. A small but very specific or niche audience can be more valuable than a huge generic audience. However, there does need to be an audience, and most photogs can’t guarantee where the images will run. Also, they can’t promise the credits will attribute the location (IE, paying for someone to come shoot images that could be sold as stock doesn’t make sense as an investment). There are also logistical issues. A photog needs more time to find and shoot, which doesn’t mesh with a blog or print media schedule. That said….there are some photogs that I know produce amazing images, and that regularly work with major outlets. If I know someone well enough to vouch, not opposed to the idea of hosting photog press trips – but relationships are key. I’ve been burned more than once by photogs who shoot and then hit up my clients for payment, landing me in trouble with my clients.

  4. Kara Williams

    I’m not a photographer by any means, so you can tel me where to stick it…. but would it work to invite a photographer on a press trip, with the understanding that the client (hotel, resort, destination) could perhaps get something super tangible out of the deal? For example, photog would furnish 5 photos to client to use as he/she wishes — photog gives up all rights to photo, and client can use in advertising, on website, etc.

    I want to say I heard this suggestion at PRSA Travel & Tourism conference in Aspen — in a small group setting among PR folks. Would this be offensive, Peter, to ask for something like this from photographers? That is, since travel *writers* never have to give ad copy or brochure copy to their hosts for “free” after a press trip, so maybe photos shouldn’t.


  5. Kayt Sukel

    Peter, I agree with you that photography is underutilized. But, I don’t think photographers on a writer’s press trip works so well logistically.

    Here’s why. As the photographer, you need that shot. And if it’s a shot requested by the magazine or PR itself, you may need to wait, to set up, to try a different angle, to spend time at that one place. And then the next one. And the next one. And the one after that. And that could be in just a single site or location.

    I’ve been on press trips with photographers and this can be frustrating for all the other members of the trip. You aren’t pointing and shooting – you are making art. Since we writers can do that later, at the end of the day or even once we’re home from the trip, we don’t end up having the group waiting on us. (And believe me, the writers that do request to sit and take time to write more/delay us/etc. at the expense of the group get the stink-eye, too).

    But perhaps PR should think about photographer only trips. See what happens.

  6. Ben Fullerton

    Hey Peter!

    Nice post. I definitely agree that photography is very undervalued in this sense. People always seem to have budgets for copywriting and bringing journalists on trips, but cringe as you as you mention paying for photography. Everyone seems to think, “Hey I’ve got a digital camera, I can take photos, why should I pay money for that?” It’s a valiant campaign trying to re-teach people the vlaue of quality images.

    Nothing sells better than quality images. High end advertisers know this, but it’s hard getting the message down to lower end clients. There’s a reason why high end advertisers are willing to pay $100k for a single photo from the right shooters, and then pay twice that to get a full page ad in a major magazine, when there will only be a few words on the page. It’s because they know that that it’s a worthwhile investment. The few words on the page aren’t worth anything to them, and no one would read them if it wasn’t for the captivating image that drew attention in the first place.

    But the danger in what you are sort of proposing, is that people don’t learn the value of high quality images by getting them for free either. while it would be worthwhile for clients to bring pro photogs on their PR trips, they should also be paying to license whatever images come out of that trip. Unless there was a fee up front that covered the usage of images, there should be additional compensation. Otherwise we fall into the other side of the photography devaluing problem.

    It’s two sides of the same coin. One side of the coin is that everyone has cameras and thinks what’s the big deal. But the other side of the coin is that there are alot of people out there willing to give their work away just to get to go on a cool trip. It’s so tempting, I know it! I would love the chance to go to all sort of places, and if someone threw all expenses paid in my face to somewhere cool, it would be mighty hard to turn down. But jobs need to be going for more than just travel expenses.

    No one would hire a carpenter, pay their travel costs, buy them all their meals, and then expect them to build a house for free. But that’s what a lot of clients are starting to expect from photogs. “I already paid X amount of $$$ to fly you out here and put you up in a hotel. Why should I have to pay for using the images too??” It’s so tempting to get to go on awesome trips and have your way paid to go places you’ve always wanted to go, and it totally seems worth it, and in a way it maybe is. But the logical extension of how that would play out isn’t good for anyone. I wrestle with this all the time. I would love to go on stuff like that. But if everyone starts taking jobs for expenses paid to cool places, then there will ultimately just be a bunch of photographers traveling around for free, but no one will be making a living, or able to any bills that aren’t getting comped.

    Keep fighting the good fight!

  7. kimba

    As both a writer and a photographer I wouldn’t give up the rights to any of my content or photographs, even the bad ones. Not even for a fully-paid press trip. Instead I would negotiate usage rights and allow for the PR folks to use some of the photos for some projects, but that would be on a per photo basis.

    It would also depend on if I shot anything they liked or could use, and if I was also writing, which I probably would be …

    If there are any PR folks reading this, I do agree that you’ll get more online coverage from a good photographer on a press trip. My daily photo posts are some of my most clicked on links in tweets. Online readers LOVE to look at good photos, and if someone is known in a category like travel as a good tog, their links get clicked a lot.

  8. David Whitley

    Kayt hits the nail on the head for me (and I’ve blogged on pretty much the same topic – Writers and photographers are not a natural mix on a group press trip.

    That said, I find group press trips inherently flawed and don’t do them any more. I get the commission and then try and set up an individual trip tailored to my needs.

    I’d suggest that’s the way forward for a photographer too: get a commission for photos on place X, then try and organise with the Place X tourist board to help you get those photos – and more that you can sell elsewhere afterwards.


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