The relationship between the public relations profession and photography has always been somewhat difficult and often factious, and things need to change for the good of everyone concerned.
Loading up with a healthy communications budget is an essential part of any ambitious entity’s armory. Having worked in all aspects of PR, one thing that seems to remain consistent is that few clients are willing to pay top dollar for killer photography.
Recently I was speaking to a client who explained they were delighted with a huge press conference turnout, but then later complained about not enough pictures being published. Clearly, the photographer assigned internally wasn’t competent enough. Looking back on campaigns, the concept and content may have been great but the pictures sometimes seem a little perfunctory, staged, and lackluster. In fact, of the countless events, media calls and profile shots I have been involved in, the ones that stand out are the ones where the client has asked us to recommend the best photographers and hang the cost.
Now, this is the difficult sell. If a client has an important activity that needs to be photographed – and the PR agency needs great shots to sell to the media – and ‘tight’ budgets lead to a reluctance to pay for a more expensive photographer, then clients get what can be expected: few decent pictures. These are rarely spectacular pictures, or even video content for that matter. The creative person concerned will likely be less experienced, less specialized and less motivated by a small fee.
The lack of symbiosis is exacerbated by the fact the PR agency generally makes little or nothing from the photography fees. Since this is a third party cost there is less incentive for the agencies to push back firmly on the all-powerful client. There have been occasions where I have provided different quotes with reasoning for photography or video production and it almost always ends up being the cheapest that wins. But sometimes, there are those surprising moments when a client says: “let’s go with the most expensive quote, if that’s your advice,” and it is these pictures that are proudly brought out time and time again, often over a number of years.
Don’t forget the fact that rich media is becoming much more important today, with digital PR coming to the fore. A talented photographer can often allow PR agencies to create more traction with a smartphone, a good brief, decent fee, time and some creativity than an old school news snapper with a zoom lens. So the next time the client asks what the photography options are, let’s not trundle out the same old deliverables and fees slide, but let them know what they should be demanding. There are more and more photographers and videographers on the market now because there is much more need. Undervalue it at your own peril.