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PR and Photography: Is a Picture Really Worth a Thousand Words?

Published on April 19, 2023, at 10:38 a.m.
by Lauren Bingham.

The creative aspect of public relations requires a different set of skills than other elements such as strategy, writing and everything else that may weave itself into the practitioner’s workday. Sitting at the intersection of creativity and PR is the ability to effectively express brand value because audiences today are drawn to visuals that grab attention almost immediately.

A generation of doom-scrolling

Photo by manusapon via Adobe Stock

Our current culture is one of short attention spans, and apps such as Instagram and TikTok might be to blame. As a result, people are more visual than ever before. Brands hold the immense responsibility of grabbing audience attention in just a matter of seconds before the user scrolls to the next thing, hoping for instant gratification and small dopamine releases with every photo or video that comes their way.

As Miriam Naomi Brant, owner of Images by Naomi, explained, “We are no longer sitting on the couch reading a newspaper or physical magazine. We need fast nowadays. If you want people to stop on your article or advertisement, it has to be something that’s eye-catching, and that is photography.”

This new wave of visually driven audiences is exactly why PR practitioners must firmly understand the importance of photography within the industry. Whether a creatively staged product photo or a candid image that shows the audience exactly the story needed to be told, visual storytelling is here to stay.

Photography evoking emotion

Photography can be an effective PR tool because seeing a photo within a brand promotion requires a different level of involvement from the audience as a whole. Brant explained that “the audience has to envision themselves in the situation to connect with the brand.”

“You can evoke emotion through an image, and capturing the right picture can help the audience direct emotion toward what the brand intended to steer attention to,” Janet Walker, director of creative services in the College of Communication and

Photo by Rafael Ben-Ari via Adobe Stock

Information Sciences at The University of Alabama, said.

By giving the audience the chance to insert themselves into the situation, whether it be as simple as imagining a certain product in their hands or as complex as putting themselves front row at the concert displayed in the image, the brand has a huge opportunity to connect with consumers in a more personal way.

More than just a photo

Because our society is so visually based, it is important to note the benefits photography brings to the table through its ability to tell a story to an audience without the use of written words. Images serve as creative visuals that direct the audience’s attention, help viewers envision themselves in a particular situation, and give the brand a new avenue for establishing a connection with consumers.

Walker noted that “a lot of times in public relations, we can become message-focused and we lose some of the emotion. That’s what captures people and makes them care about a topic, and that’s how they relate to the topic in the first place.” Photography carries the message without the work of writing what is needed to be communicated to the audience.

It makes perfect sense when thinking about it through a personal lens. Most people would rather see photos of their favorite celebrity followed by words rather than solely read about the individual.

Representation through the lens

Through both diversity and transparency, the PR professional holds a unique responsibility of ensuring the consumer is represented within the photo, specifically within staged brand photography. This call to action might be seen in avoiding manipulative photos that would display the brand falsely or in the way many different kinds of people are represented throughout the brand.

Photo by vladimirfloyd via Adobe Stock

Walker emphasized that the practitioner is to be ethical in the way photography incorporates itself into PR, and that includes “being truthful with the image displayed. We should not be aiming to manipulate our audience. We also have a responsibility to represent diversity, and that goes further than just the color of our skin. People of all kinds need to be represented.”

Depending on who the target audience is, the professional should take steps toward ensuring all groups within such an audience have a pathway created for them that enhances their ability to connect with whatever it is they are looking at, whether it be an actual person or a brand.

Manipulative photography can be seen in numerous ways, and it has been proven to affect an audience negatively. Any model on the cover of a magazine could serve as an excellent example of how photographs impact people more than one may think. With edited faces and bodies, beauty standards have skyrocketed to unreachable heights, and this form of manipulation has negatively impacted mental health and the way people view themselves in comparison to the visually manipulated model staring back at them.

One of the pillars of ethics in the industry is bringing honesty and transparency to the public. It is the PR professional’s duty to ensure that the consumer is given the real thing.

Letting the photo tell the story

PR professionals must never forget the value a photographer can bring to a brand promotion. Great public relations starts with a

Photo by Tomasz Zajda via Adobe Stock

powerful message, but it can be further enhanced by a visual that not only looks pleasing to the eye but also lets an individual see a part of themselves within the photo itself.

It is time that the industry starts seeing creativity and storytelling as cohesive parts of brand promotions that work together for the betterment of not only the brand but the target audience as well. A picture truly holds the ability to speak louder than ever before in the 21st century, and it is crucial that the industry utilizes such a change to its advantage.

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