What makes a great press photo?

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Earlier this month I attended a free photography workshop hosted by TNR Communications, part of the Press Association.

The workshop set out to “give a real insight into how to get national picture desks to run your PR photographs.”

I’d highly recommend the workshop – it was a great insight into one of the UK’s busiest news and picture agencies – and they illustrated the presentation with some really strong picture examples, as well as offering valuable insight into the day-to-day workings of a picture desk.

Here are some top tips from the day, to help make sure you get that perfect press shot – and the coverage it deserves:

1). Track record is important

Make sure that the photographer you use has a strong track record in securing national coverage for their photos – even if you have to pay more for it. They should have an intuitive eye and know what a national paper is looking for and how to get it. They should also know how to distribute photos – if you have no connections it can be hard to get your photo seen by the right people. Make sure they also offer solid insight and knowledge into the best times to send photos and the best resolution, file size and photo captions.

2). Know what picture editors want

When pitching photo stories, picture editors are your audience not newsrooms – you need to understand them. You need to know what they’re looking for and how they operate. Avoid clichéd photos (smiling business men holding big cheques are most definitely a no-no!) And remember that news is about people – the photos needs to reflect this.

3). Be more creative

Picture editors at national newspapers are inundated with photos – over 20,000 per day, and this is climbing everyday thanks to the rise in digital photography and citizen journalism. For a PR story to gain coverage this way it needs to be imaginative and eye-catching. Think of the wider story, and come up with creative ways of capturing it. If the story allows it try and be fun and humorous. And remember – a picture editor only sees thumbnails on screen – and hundreds of them at that. Your photo needs to be pretty special to stand out.

4). Try and sum up the story

An ideal photo for national press will sum up the story in one go. Even if you need to stage a shot which does this, then it could well be worth it. Often, strong photos aren’t run with a full story – just a photo caption. Make sure that your picture tells the story you want it to.

5). Manage branding

From a PR’s perspective getting branding into a photograph in the nationals is the holy grail of success. From a picture editors perspective it’s a nightmare. Try and find a happy medium – you can get away with branding but only if it looks natural within the setting of the photo. Don’t go overboard, and don’t try and make your branding the focus. Doing that will simply result in your photo not being used – or your branding being cut out.

6). Planning is vital

If you are planning a photoshoot or a photocall you must plan before hand. If it’s in a public place visit the site first; how busy is it? Is it too crowded? Can you get the right angles? Think about the environment and the background. What will be in your frame? If possible take your photographer with you – if not, take a digital camera and take a few snaps. You want your photoshoot to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible so planning is vital. You don’t want people hanging around on the day while you look for the perfect spot, or try to avoid the crowds.

7). Be aware of the news agenda

Pay close attention to the news agenda and time your photos well. Royal weddings, holidays, Wimbledon, hottest day of the year – all of these things can offer you hooks to get that perfect photo. BUT, it’s also worth sometimes going against the news agenda. For example election time, when picture editors are bombarded with man-in-suit after man-it-suit, it could well be worth doing something dramatically different to offer some light refreshment.

8). Move quickly

Once your photo has been taken get it re-sized, captioned and sent ASAP. But make sure that you pay attention to timings. Don’t send it on a Friday, and avoid afternoons if possible. The best time is around 10am in the morning. It’s also worth trying a Sunday morning – papers are often lacking content for Monday’s paper.

For some examples of great press photos check out TNR’s gallery.

Photo by graur razvan ionut

Churnalism.com – churning out what we know already?

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The website Churnalism.com was launched last week by the Media Standards Trust, and allows people to paste press releases onto the site and compare the copy with articles published by national newspaper websites.

I’ve found the site interesting, and had a bit of fun playing around on it, but I’m not really sure what the point of it is.

If Churnalism’s purpose is to highlight the fact that press releases are used in newspapers – then it will of course succeed. But the fact that press releases are copied by journalists will come as no surprise to anyone in the industry and is hardly front page news (excuse the pun!).

Nor do I think it’s a bad thing if press releases are copied – after all if a story is good (and accurate) then it shouldn’t matter where it comes from.

As a PR practitioner I feel a bit insulted by the site – as though it is suggesting that all press releases are crap which should never make it to print.

The other thing I’m not clear about is who exactly Churnalism is aimed at?

I expect PRs will love having a go – a fun, free way of tracking coverage anyone? Plus, if you find your release has been copied in its entirety then that is a PR score surely, and a sign you’ve produced something newsworthy?

I can’t imagine journalists wanting to check – after all if they’ve copied and pasted a press release do they really want to be called out on it?

Churnalism describes itself as ‘an independent, non-profit website to help the public distinguish between original journalism and ‘churnalism’. But do the public care (and how would they even have access to most press releases in the first place?).

I decided to find out, and as such did an impromptu survey with friends – specifically asking for people who didn’t work in the PR or media industries.

I asked the question ‘As someone not involved in journalism or PR – do you care?!’ Admittedly getting the answers from 20 friends on Facebook isn’t going to give in-depth analysis but it was interesting to see that actually, only half really gave a shit.

 

Churnalism - do you care?

Some of the ‘other’ comments also gave food for thought:

It depends on the press release. Every area of work allows for using work already done. If it is a large percentage of copied work it seems wrong that they should be allowed to do this, is it that hard to re-write something to say it another way? Isn’t that their job?”

I love this comment (and I must stress this was an anonymous survey – though I’m sure my friends will tell me who they are when they read this post!)

It’s a very good point – writing and researching is what journalists are paid for. But then on the flip side, it’s also what PRs are paid for – to create newsworthy material for their clients.

The issues surrounding the Churnalism website, and the reasons behind it, are age old – the love/hate relationship between journalists and PRs (many journos say they hate PRs but would then struggle to fill pages without them) and also the ‘purpose’ of a press release.

Is a press release a fully formed story, or a taster of a subject which the journalist should then embellish and build upon?

And if a journalist runs a press release word for word does that make them bad at their job, or does it make the PR good at theirs?

Or perhaps it doesn’t mean any such thing – perhaps it means that the PR/journo relationship is working.

Churnalism will clearly help demonstrate lazyness in the media (and indeed unimaginative PR) but it also makes it look as though every story comes from a press release. What would be a fair representation would be seeing how many original news stories there were on a day – COMPARED to those that came from a press release.

With regards to the effect the site will have I’m not sure – as I don’t think it’s doing anything that people didn’t know already.

It’s fair enough if they want to raise awareness to the public that this happens – but they should also make it clear that many press releases are well written, accurate and have a place within the news agenda.

What do you think of Churnalism.com?

Tips for selling your real life story

Thinking of selling your real life story?

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I read with interest a guest post on No Sleep ‘Till Brookland’s Blog earlier this week, which told a fellow PR Juliet Shaw’s experience of selling her story with a national paper.

For those of you who have ever been bored enough to click on the ‘about me’ section of this blog, you’ll know that I previously worked as a real life features writer at a news agency. A brief stint where I discovered I was actually pretty good at it – but also that I hated having to exploit people and tell the odd ‘white lie’.

Whatever your reason or motive, selling your story – be it as a case study such as Juliet, or your personal story (HAVE YOU BEEN THE VICTIM OF A CRIME? HAD A LOVE RAT HUSBAND? GOT A DISGUSTING DISEASE?!) – can be a rewarding experience, especially when you (eventually) get the cheque at the end.

But you have to think seriously about whether it’s worth it. There is no excuse for a story turning up which bears no resemblance to what you’ve said, but there is always the chance that things will get embellished, and that an ‘angle’ will be chosen that you’re not comfortable with.

With that in mind here are my top three things to remember if you’re thinking of gracing the pages of a magazine or newspaper anytime soon.

1). Most newspapers don’t do read backs

If you sell direct to a newspaper the likelyhood is that they won’t do a readback (read the copy over the phone to you to make sure that you’ll be happy). However, if you go through an agency many will. It’s one of the good things about going through a features agency. It’s worth remembering though that they will never send you the copy via email. Or at least that’s what I was taught!

2). You will be named and pictured

It’s very rare that newspapers and magazines will publish anonymous stories (unless incredibly juicy and contentious). They want real people, real places, real faces. If you’re not prepared to have your name, location and picture splashed across the nationals then it’s probably not for you. It’s also worth remembering that although ‘yesterday’s news is tomorrows chip paper’ it’s not the case with the internet. Not so much for women’s mags (unless the story gets picked up elsewhere) but if you do a story for a national paper be prepared for it to keep popping up every time someone Googles your name.

3). There will always be an angle.

Although the journalist may be being sympathetic to you and your cause (there is always a cause – it’s how they’ll persuade you to sell your story in the first place), ultimately their job is to keep their editor and the reader happy. That means delivering a juicy story by finding an angle and exploiting it – often at your expense. Husband died of a heart attack on Christmas day? Not enough. Headline reads ‘Husband died while glazing the gammon’. Gave up your big house and moved to Africa to help orphans? Headline reads ‘Gave it all up for sex in a mud hut’. (And yes, these are stories I actually had the pleasure of working on). Look at the publication that you’re being asked to appear in. If they’ve made other stories sensationalist then the likelihood they will yours too.

Have you ever sold a story or been a case study? What were your experiences?

Social media doesn’t just break the new latest news – it IS the latest news

Having a flick through the papers this week I noticed an article on celebrities who are using Twitter to promote products – without letting their followers know that they are being paid to do so.

Now, to me, that’s not a particularly interesting story.

But it got me thinking – we all know that more and more frequently news is breaking on social media instead of via traditional news channels – but when did social media become news itself?

Below are 10 examples of social media hitting the headlines:

1. Man arrested for threatening to bomb airport on Twitter:

Paul Chambers, a 27-year-old accountant from the UK, was arrested under the terrorism act for ‘threatening’ to blow up Robin Hood airport in Doncaster. The tongue-in-cheek tweet, which was sent after the airport was closed due to snow, said “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!” Despite appealing the judges decision Chambers was made to pay £2,000 in legal costs and lost his job. The judge called him a ‘menace’.

2. Foursquare stalker:

An anonymous 26-year-old male from Edinburgh in Scotland said he was stalked relentlessly by a female admirer for nine months on location-based platform Foursquare – sparking a warning from the Crown Prosecution Service which now promises a ‘tougher crackdown’ on cyber stalking.

3. Celebrities threatened with suing after promoting products on Twitter:

Celebrities including Lily Allen and Liz Hurley face possible court actions after tweeting about products and failing to mention to their followers that they (may) have been paid.

4. Facebook friends blamed for woman’s suicide:

Simone Back, a 45-year-old woman from the UK, killed herself after posting her suicide note on social networking site Facebook. At 10pm on Christmas Day she wrote “Took all my pills, be dead soon, bye bye everyone.” There has since been controversy around why none of Back’s 1,048 Facebook friends raised the alarm.

5. The general election – how social media swung the vote:

The 2010 general election was called ‘the social media election’ and there was speculation throughout the campaign about the role it played. Of particular note was the use of Twitter during the first ever televised election debates.

6. The Social Network:

Social media didn’t just make the news last year – it made the big screen too. The Social Network was the hit blockbuster film about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and it sparked a series of newspaper reviews and features.

7. Woman sacked after abusing boss on Facebook:

One of the older examples but a good one nonetheless. Back in 2009 a woman known only as ‘Lindsay’ was sacked after moaning about her boss on Facebook – forgetting he could see her comments. I have one word. Doh!

8. Tory Councillor arrested after stoning tweet:

A conservative party leader was suspended after publishing a racist tweet. The offending comment said “Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really.” The comment, which (now ex) councillor Gareth Compton, described as an ‘ill conceived attempt at humour’ is a stark reminder to think before you post.

9.House trashed after party advertised on Facebook:

I’m pretty sure that kids trashing a house isn’t particularly newsworthy. But thanks to Facebook it is! The above link is just one example of this sort of story hitting the headlines.

10. BP oil spill:

The BP oil spill was one of 2010’s major controversies – and the multi national firm’s poor handling of public relations also hit the headlines – especially after a fake Twitter account @BPGlobalPR was set up. The account, which still has 180,000 followers made a mockery of the oil giant’s already dwindling reputation.

 

What we say and what we mean – PR clichés

I was having a chat with a business owner over the weekend, who has just taken on a freelance PR to do some ad hoc work for his company.

He said it was all going well, but why did ‘us PR and marketing lot’ have to use so much jargon?

And it’s true.

There are far too many people in this industry (and most others) who talk in riddles – what’s wrong with just saying what we mean?

Here’s a few of the best PR clichés – and what I think they really mean.

If you’ve got any to add let me know.

1. Smoke and mirrors

It’s not quite the truth but we’ll make the journalist think it is.

2. Take a view

We’re busy and don’t have time to talk to you right now. Either that or we simply don’t know the answer.

3. Pull out all the stops

We’ll work extra hard, or at least try to.

4. Thinking outside the box

We’ll try and be original. This one makes me laugh though – if we weren’t original, we wouldn’t be very good at our job now would we?

5. Moving forward

There’s no need for this one – ever. We just mean ‘in the future’, and half the time even that isn’t needed.

6. Touch base

We’re calling to say hello and to show you that we are still working hard for you, even though press coverage might not be as high as it was in previous months.

7. Hit the ground running

We’ll start straight away. Again, it’s pretty pointless – I don’t think we’d have clients for very long if we didn’t.

8.       On the same page

We’re thinking the same thing as you, or vice versa.

Do I regret leaving journalism?

It’s been one year since I ditched journalism for PR, aka the ‘dark side’.

It’s not something that really dawned on me to write about or publicise until I stumbled across the young journalist’s blog section on journalism.co.uk

There are so many great posts here from budding journalists itching to get into the field of journalism.

They remind me of myself just 2 years ago – desperate to be a features writer and see my name in print.

If only I’d known the truth then – that actually, after all that university studying and unpaid work experience, when I actually got there, when I actually landed that ‘dream’ job, I would bloody hate it!

Admittedly my career as a journalist (a paid one at least – if you can call it that!) was short lived – a mere 9 months at a news agency writing features for woman’s magazines and tabloid newspapers.

So many people ask me ‘Why did you leave journalism – that sounds so exciting!’ and sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision.

But honestly? That was enough for me. The bulging press cuttings book and the thrill of seeing my name printed in national press wasn’t enough to cancel out the death knocks, the incessant phone calls to bereaved and upset mothers, wives and children, and the hours of sitting outside victims houses to get them to ‘sell’ their story.

I couldn’t take the complete lack of privacy for victims of rape, assault and adultery and I haven’t bought a single woman’s magazine since I left the job the year ago.

I enjoy my job now – I am writing everyday and the topics I write about are wide and varied. Of course the rush of seeing something you’ve written appear in print isn’t the same as the one you get as a journalist – after all it hasn’t got your name on it.

But there is still a rush.

And I don’t regret my stint in journalism – having that insider knowledge has helped me to understand the industry and has been an integral part of shaping who I am and how I tackle public relations for my clients.

I’m about to celebrate a very odd anniversary.

It’s been one year since I ditched journalism for the ‘dark side’.

It’s not something that really dawned on me to write about or publicise until I stumbled across the young journalist’s blog section on journalism.co.uk. http://www.journalism.co.uk/young-journalists/

There are so many great posts here from budding journalists itching to get into the field of journalism.

They remind me of myself just 2 years ago – desperate to be a features writer and see my name in print.

If only I’d known the truth then – that actually, after all that university studying and unpaid work experience, when I actually got there, when I actually landed that ‘dream’ job, I would bloody hate it!

Admittedly my career as a journalist (a paid one at least – if you can call it that!) was short lived.

A mere 9 months at a news agency writing features for woman’s magazines and tabloid newspapers.

But that was enough for me. The bulging press cuttings book and the thrill of seeing my name printed in national press wasn’t enough to cancel out the death knocks, the incessant phone calls to bereaved and upset mothers, wives and children, and the hours of sitting outside victims houses to get them to ‘sell’ their story.

I couldn’t take the complete lack of privacy for victims of rape, assault and adultery and I haven’t bought a single woman’s magazine since I left the job a year ago.

I enjoy my job now – I am writing everyday and the topics I write about are wide and varied. Of course the rush of seeing something you’ve written appear in print isn’t the same as the one you get as a journalist – after all it hasn’t got your name on it.

But there is still a rush.

And I don’t regret my stint in journalism – having that insider knowledge has helped me to understand the industry and has been an integral part of shaping who I am and how I tackle public relations for my clients.

So many people ask me ‘Why did you leave journalism – that sounds so exciting!’ and sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision. After all, I know that a news agency life is very different to the one you experience once you get onto a magazine or news desk.

Full interview transcripts online? No thanks.

There has been talk across the Atlantic this week about making journalist’s primary source material and transcipts more readily available online.

Washington Post economic and domestic policy blogger Ezra Klein has called for transcipts to be used alongside traditional write ups, and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has criticised the media for not making use of the huge amount of space available online to host source material.

Klein says: “It’s safer to have your full comments, and the questions that led to them, out in the open, rather than just the lines the author thought interesting enough to include in the article.”

I couldn’t disagree more.

The main point of a journalist is that you, as a consumer, don’t NEED to read through 10 pages before getting to the point.

It is a journalist’s responsibility to tell you the who, what, where, why, when and how in the first couple of paragraphs – not hidden within a 15 minute interview spiel.

Also, there may be the space there to host the material – but what about the audience to read it?

I have no idea who would read a transcript – which often (if you’ve had the pleasure of transcribing anything) doesn’t make sense, has people talking over each other and is full of pauses, ums, ahs and corrections.

So, what it would perhaps mean in reality, is that  journalists would need to turn every last word of an interview into a feature, or at least write it up in a way that is easy to digest for the reader.

Of course, there may be some exceptions – you may get the odd interviewee who is full of top information, which they express in a way that is interesting and engaging.

But it’s highly unlikely that there are enough of them to enable publishing transcripts online to become the norm.

Also, what about the interviewees themselves?

They are trusting (sometimes naively it must be said) that the journalists can turn their rambles into something useful.

Many would cringe at the thought of their unpolished answers being bared for the whole world to see.

Oriella survey – are the findings really that surprising?

A report, which studied over 770 journalists from across the globe to find out how digital technology is affecting journalism, has been issued by Oriella PR Network.

 A lot of the findings are to be expected; nearly half of journalists surveyed expect the print press to decline even further, and many realise that future editorial opportunities exist online.

 There were a couple of stats that made me chuckle though.

Around 46% of journalists said they were expected to produce more work, 30% said they are working longer hours and 28% have less time to research stories.

So, realistically, 54% of journalists are working the same amount as before, 70% are leaving bang on 5.30pm and 72% have loads of time to research stories!?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining.

A busy journalist is far more likely to accept a (decent) PR story than one who is brimming with their own ideas, and the time and resources to develop them.

The Guardian breaks down the report quite handily into ‘the good’, ‘the bad’ and ‘the ugly,’ and for me there were two findings that I found particularly interesting:

1. PRESS RELEASES STILL THE BEST WAY TO PITCH STORIES TO JOURNALISTS

Surprisingly – in my view – The Guardian has put the fact that 75 per cent of journalists still want emailed press releases and photographs into the ‘bad’ section of their report:

Journalists are less interested in receiving multimedia content from PRs; 75% want emailed releases and half want photographs. Does this mean less imaginative and experimental editorial?

Now, I know there has been all this talk about ‘the death of the press release’ but for me, and the clients I work with, it’s still a vital part of a successful PR programme.

As long as it’s done well and features targeted content, a strong news or local angle and a decent supporting photo, it can, and does, get great results.

2. PAID FOR CONTENT COULD BECOME THE NORM

There was huge controversy when The Times announced they would be charging for their online content (check out my previous post here).

But it looks as though, despite the outcry from The Times’ competitors and readers, that more newspapers may be set to follow, with 30 per cent of publishers exploring paid-for websites and 22 per cent looking at charges for smartphone apps.

Personally, although I don’t like the idea of having to pay (when I can still get it for free), the fact that journalists contributions are being given a tangible value I actually find quite refreshing.

The joys of work experience

There has been a lot of talk in blogs and on Twitter today about two particular work experience job adverts, both within the journalism industry.

Work experience? In journlaism? But that’s nothing new right? But the reason the backlash has been high is because they are both for freelancers.

One of the adverts under scrutiny is for a work experience person (or ‘workie’ as they are affectionately know in the industry) to help source real life features.

Before getting my first job in journalism (selling real life features very similar to those mentioned in the advert) I would have jumped at the chance for a work experience placement like that.

The only line I have a problem with is Previous experience within the Real life sector is preferred but not essential.’

Really? An experience intern? Surely that is one of the worst contradictions.

But I still would have done it.

Journalism, more so than any other profession, seems to rely incredibly heavily on work experience. It’s no good having your NCTJs or a journalism degree if you haven’t got a cuttings book full of clippings to back it up.

I’ve done my fair share; four weeks at Cosmopolitan magazine, four weeks at a local Southampton paper, two weeks at a paper in Bournemouth and two weeks at BBC Southern Counties Radio, not to mention countless student papers, websites and hospital and community radio stations.

PR seems incredibly similar – my colleague worked for over six months, completely unpaid for numerous agencies before landing a paid position.

But we both agree.

It sucks, but it’s worth it.

The media is an incredibly competitive industry and to succeed you need to make sure that you’re willing to do whatever it takes – which includes working for free and, excuse the cliché but its true, learning to make a bloody good cup of tea.

What is the relationship between PRs and Journalists really like?

I recently blogged about the PRs perfect journalist – a post which has been the cause of a few interesting conversations with friends in the industry.

It’s also got responses from as far as America, with one PR professional in San Francisco contacting me to see if I could help with a survey they are currently undertaking to try and get to the route of the relationship between journalists and ‘the dark side’.

The survey, which looks at skills within the profession, is here. If you’ve got a few spare minutes please do fill it in.

It’s currently aimed only at Americans but they are interested in international responses.

Unfortuntely there’s not an international option on the survey – so just pick a state!

I’m also planning to write the ‘other side’ of the story with a post about the ‘journalist’s perfect PR’.

If you’ve got anything to contribute let me know!