A Visual Feast: What PR People Should Know About Multimedia Use

Posted At: September 2, 2011 10:54 AM
by Kara Udziela, Contributing Writer

The lasting truth in any communication medium is that examples, testimony, statistics and perhaps most important in today’s media-driven society, visual aids, breathe life into anything from your sales pitch to a marketing brochure or a speech. One of the tremendous benefits of the Internet and the rapid advances in technology that we have seen in the last 15 years, is the availability and access to fantastic imagery, sometimes free or at very low cost. These help populate and enrich our work and our client projects. In fact, imagery is so much in demand that if you go without it, you and your company or service might be seen as cheap and unsophisticated.

For the last several years I’ve run international PR programs for a great company called iStockphoto and, as a result, have learned many things about images and their use in communications materials that have helped me choose better images for my work and my clients. This knowledge has also kept me and my business safe from legal repercussions, while at the same time, ensuring the artist who created a beautiful or useful photo or illustration was fairly compensated.

Common misunderstandings

Thanks to search engines like Google Images, finding relevant and entertaining multimedia is extremely easy. But just because you can find, cut, copy and paste it doesn’t mean you have the legal (or ethical) right to use it without permission. All images are subject to copyright, whether or not the images are marked as such. And, contrary to popular misconception, the fact that just because someone decides to post an image online does not mean they have chosen to relinquish their copyright. Obviously, depending on the situation, you can use images snatched from the Internet without repercussion but it technically is still stealing and stealing is lame.

This leaves three other options: create your own, find images that artists have chosen to make available for use by the public or purchase stock. Each of these has particular pros and cons.

Create your own

Today, thanks to inexpensive digital SLR cameras and easy-to-use editing software virtually anyone can learn to create a photo that is technically good enough to be used for a variety of applications. Obviously, there’s a lot more to the art of photography than simply learning to use a camera properly. Sometimes, however, “snapshots” taken with the proper equipment are more than good enough for things like a blog or content for social media.

Creative Commons

Should you need something beyond your own abilities as a photographer, there are other no cost options. A growing number of artists do choose to make their work available to the public for private or commercial use. Creative Commons licenses provide simple, standardized alternatives to the traditional “all rights reserved” copyright. Through Creative Commons, an artist may choose variables relating to personal or commercial use and reproduction and whether or not develop and use derivative works.

For example, an artist may choose to make an image available for commercial or non-commercial use provided the image is not altered and he is given credit for the work. Or an artist may choose to make an image available to be tweaked, reworked and built upon provided the modified image is also made available under a Creative Commons license. One of the best ways to find Creative Commons work is to use the Creative Commons search engine at http://search.creativecommons.org.

By shooting your own or using properly licensed images shot by others, you can easily overcome the issue of copyright infringement. However, it is important to know that, beyond copyright, there are a number of other intellectual property and privacy issues that also must be considered – particularly if the image is going to be used for commercial purposes.

Usage considerations

For example, images that contain logos, trademarks, company names or even specific buildings, product designs or landmarks may not be used in commercial way. Also, if a recognizable person is in the image, that person needs to have given permission for their likeness to be used.

Royalty free stock image and video options

Depending on how you plan to use the image, these issues might or might not be a major concern. However, the way I see it, I never want to put myself or my clients at risk, so when I plan to use images for commercial purposes I always err on the side of caution, and the best way to do that is to choose a good stock provider.

Stock imagery is created specifically for the purpose of being used by publishers, marketers and advertisers and others for both commercial and non-commercial purposes. You can find a few free or very low-cost sites out there, for your simpler projects, such as Stock.xchng, or Photos.com. For consistent use, important projects, international subjects and heavily art-directed content, sites such asiStockphoto carefully inspect every image they sell to ensure they meet extremely high quality standards. iStock also guarantees that its creative files do not violate any copyright, moral right, trademark and other intellectual property laws or guidelines.

On top of that, because these images are shot with re-use in mind, they often have uncluttered backgrounds, empty space where copy can be easily added and other attributes that make them well-suited for a wide range of tasks. Check out the cool “CopySpace” feature under the advanced search filters on iStock to search for images that are filtered by color, and where on the photo you might need to add text.

With a huge selection of images, illustrations, videos and audio clips, many of which can be purchased for very low cost, it’s no wonder iStockphoto and other leading stock providers have become the de facto standard for those looking to achieve the perfect balance between quality, cost and usability.

So, how to know what option to choose? Let your conscience, the project, the budget and the projected return on investment be your guide. I recently pitched a client knowing I was the dark horse, so I put more time and energy and thought into my pitch than I believed any competitor would, and I chose the perfect images to exemplify outcomes and the “feeling” buyers of this beauty product would have when our PR hit. I certainly found good images for a few dollars each, but for the most important slides and transitional slides, I spent a bit more, and I won the business the minute the client saw a suggested byline slide with an image that captured her imagination. Remember as PR people our job is to persuade. I wish you fantastic luck in using imagery, video and sound to help you do so safely, whether for yourself or for your clients.


Kara Udziela is the owner and principal of Vibrance PR. She is a 20-year veteran of the PR industry with agency, nonprofit and corporate experience with Fortune 50 brands. Udziela founded Vibrance PR in 2006 to specialize in launching start-ups, particularly in the social networking, imaging and beauty industries. She holds an M.A. in Communications, has taught public speaking and television news writing, and has also been an associate news producer for an NBC affiliate. Udziela resides in Mission Viejo, Calif., with her husband and two young sons.

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