(by Ian Hainey, Managing Director, IHC)
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.
PR agencies are paid to elevate the profile of clients and their activities and loading up with a healthy communications budget is an essential part of any ambitious entity’s armoury. However, having worked in all aspects of PR – from freelancer, to big budget in-house and agency owner – one thing seems to have been consistent over the years: few clients are willing to pay top dollar for killer photography.
Only the other day I was speaking to a PR colleague who explained her client was delighted with a huge press conference turnout, but had later received a complaint because not enough pictures were published. Looking back on campaigns, the concept and content may have been great but the pictures sometimes seem a little perfunctory, staged, lacklustre. 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 – ‘hang the cost’.
However, this is the difficult sell. If a client has an important activity it needs photography for (and the PR agency needs great shots to sell into the media) when budgets are ‘tight’ and there’s a reluctance to pay for a more expensive photographer, then they can get what can be expected – some decent pictures. These are rarely spectacular pictures (or video content for that matter). The creative concerned will likely be less experienced, not as specialist and under-motivated by a small fee – these are the facts.
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 to be potentially prickly and push back firmly enough on the all-powerful client. There have been occasions where I have provided three quotes 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 and often over several years.
Don’t forget the fact rich media is becoming so very much more important today than a decade ago, with digital PR coming to the fore. A talented photographer can often allow PR agencies to get more traction/ coverage 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 for this creative input in the digital age – undervalue it at your peril.