Pictures paint a thousand words…almost

Man with camera

As a writer, I shouldn’t downplay the importance of finding the right words. But, in truth, sometimes words aren’t needed. Or at least, like most things, they work better when they’ve got some company.

They say a picture paints a thousand words. They (whoever ‘they’ are) are almost right. There are loads of stats out there showing that people are more likely to engage with a brand if they use good images, particularly on social media channels.

But what makes a good picture? Sure, stock photos will do a good job, and if you have the budget I’d recommend hiring a professional snapper to take some pictures. But instead of reaching into your pocket for your wallet, reach for your camera phone instead.

Most smartphones can produce some fantastic quality photos these days. Here are some tips to getting some good snaps:

1)    Strike a pose

It may be tempting to go for the easy option and simply take a picture of background action in a group but, unless you’re a very talented photographer, these pictures usually aren’t that interesting. Spending a little time asking a few people to pose for a photo and setting the photo up is time well spent as the resulting photo is much more likely to be a hit online.

2)    Move closer!

If you’re setting up a group photo, move in close like you like each other. It might sound daft but if people are too far away from each other in the picture it can look very stilted and unnatural. Get in close so that the picture is nicely framed and contained.

3)    Background

It’s often tempting to stand someone in front of a plain white wall and ask them to pose – however these photos usually turn out terribly dull and only worthy of an ID badge. Look for an interesting backdrop – perhaps a sign or a landmark to make the photo livelier.

4)    One direction

It sounds obvious but try to ensure everyone is looking at the camera when you take a group photo – if lots of people are taking photos all at the same time no one knows where to look so take your time (and your turn) so that people know where to look and are all looking in the same direction. Happy photos are good photos, so remember to smile.

5)    No flashing!

Unless you have a good quality camera (and know how to use it) photos with the flash used often result in washed out pictures, red eyes and strange reflections. Even better – go outside for some natural light.

For more tips, and for help hiring a professional photographer, get in touch.

Quick fire media training


You’ve been called up by a journalist to give your take on the hot story of the day. You know the opportunity will be a good chance to raise your profile but you’re worried that you’ll forget what to say, fumble your words and start to sweat.

Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

Here’s some quick guidance to help ease those nerves, make an impression and make sure you’ll get invited back to talk on your chosen subject again.

  • Write down your key messages that you’d like to get across during the interview. Depending on the length of the interview, you might have three to five key things that you’d like to get across. Think of it as a success if you managed to get most of these out during the interview.
  • Always try to answer the question. You don’t want to be ‘Paxmaned’ by evading the question, but you can try and weave in your key messages in answers that might not answer the original question. This can sometimes be hard to do, but using a technique called ‘bridging and steering’, you can move the conversation onto something you’d rather talk about.
  • Remember that you are the expert. You’ve been invited to talk on the subject for a reason – you know the subject better than the interviewer, and most probably better than the intended audience. Try to treat the questions like any other enquiry but try to avoid using lots of jargon.
  • Speak in paragraphs. Nobody wants to read a block of text with no breaks, so they’re just as unlikely as to want to listen to someone speaking like that. Just like you’d write in paragraphs, speak in bursts of sentences. This allows for natural breathing spaces to carry on your point or gives the interviewer an opportunity to ask the next question.
  • Smile. Unless you’re talking about a crisis, you’ll be a lot more amenable to the interviewer (and audience if it’s a broadcast interview) if you look happy. Smiling, happy folk are a lot easier to listen to.

Of course, there’s a lot more to this than these five tips. I offer media training for all types of organisations, all tailored to their area of expertise. For more in-depth advice, get in touch to see how you could benefit from some bespoke training.

When is PR not PR?

A big part of my job is shouting (not literally, I’m not a town crier) about all the good work the company I work for does. To do this, I engage with journalists to provide them with interesting stories to tell.

As a former journalist myself – nothing major, just regional print journalism – I like to think I know a good story when I see one, and equally I know when I shouldn’t be wasting a journalist’s time. And when I know I have a decent story and I’m positive a journalist would like to see it in their publication, I get annoyed when it doesn’t get coverage. But that’s the game. I might give them a couple of nudges but I’m not going to hound the journalist until they print or broadcast.

That’s how it was when I was a journalist, at least. Nowadays I hear way too many stories of PR people pushing stories down journalists’ throats or promising exclusives when they’re not exclusive at all. There’s a real problem generally about PR folk not understanding the life of a journalist. I know I’m in a privileged position to have tasted life on both sides of the fence, but I wouldn’t hire someone in my new field if they hadn’t had real life work experience working in the media.

But it’s not just PR people who don’t get how the game works – or worked, anyway. I recently offered a story to the food production trade press – and yes, there are quite a few publications that’d be interested in this type of thing – and got a few bites, if you excuse the pun. But to my amazement, two editorial-led publications came back and said they were interested in the content but wanted me to pay between £50-£150 to get it published. I’m sorry, but that’s not journalism.

These ‘editors’, and yes they called themselves ‘editors’ not ‘sales managers’ or whatever, wanted me to pay for coverage. I don’t do advertorials, they just don’t work. People rightfully see through them. If my content is good enough, it’s good enough. End of conversation.

So is my industry changing? I hope not, because we’ll be left with pathetic paid-for editorial gracing the shelves of newsagents instead of insightful industry news. So perhaps I shouldn’t be worried with PR people not having journalism experience and more concerned with journalists not having journalism experience.


Is the press embargo dead?

Newspaper fire orange

With many ‘news’ articles now starting with a question, I thought I’d give it a go myself. Is the press embargo dead?

For those of you not in the media world, a press embargo is a way of giving journalists a good ‘heads up’ ahead of information – usually a report of some kind – being published officially, provided to them on the understanding they won’t publish it until a specified day. This way, they can gather all the relevant information necessary and release their stories on a specific day and not get left behind.

I ask the question because I’ve noticed many journalists not obeying embargoes recently. It’s not a crime, after all. The worst punishment would probably be the issuing press officer not looking fondly of them in the future and may give stories to competitors. But given that everyone in PR wants as much publicity as possible, it’s very hard to keep grudges against journalists.

I never stepped out of line when I was a journalist. I always adhered to embargoes. But did it get me anywhere? Probably not. I was probably just thanked kindly by a press officer over a cuppa while they gave me an exclusive story that would eventually run on page 59. Could I have stolen a march on my competitors, and should I have done so? Probably.

Of course, you have to plan your life as a public relations professional, and try and achieve certain coverage about certain topics at certain times. But does that have to translate to the journalist? They don’t care about what’s coming next, they want the story now. News is different now, even from when I was a reporter ten years ago. Back then there was no twitter and my paper hardly even had a working website.

To my colleagues’ amusement, my mantra is ‘news never sleeps, news doesn’t know when your birthday is…’ and so on. Best laid plans could often come undone by breaking news. I’m sure companies planned to release reports and information on the day Margaret Thatcher died, or the day of the Boston bombings but never got the desired coverage. You know what they say about best laid plans.

So when I issued an embargoed press release a couple of months ago and one outlet ran it immediately two days ahead of ‘launch day’, did I have a pop at him? No. I had this whole conversation in my head and I reckon I’m going to ditch embargoes and set my news free. Anyone with me?

NB. I’ve noticed it’s hardly a question anymore and it’s turned into a rant. Apologies.