Back to Business

Is it me, or is 2019 already feeling a bit used? a bit secondhand? At least from tomorrow we can officially (because I say so) cease commencing every email with “Happy New Year!” and just get straight to business, polite niceties notwithstanding.

But what should that business be? In my case I’m already seeing the return of clients from last (and previous) years, booking me for repeat events or new corporate photography sessions. I’ve already landed work with new clients and am fielding enquiries from as-yet-unconfirmed new clients, so I can’t complain too much if 2019 already feels a little 2018. That, after all, was a pretty good year for me, so I’m looking forward to more of the same plus some.

If there is a small cloud hovering over the sunny uplands of 2019, it has to be the uncertainty of Brexit. But while businesses work hard to prepare for the unpreparable the one thing they have to avoid is a head-in-the-sand response to marketing.

Oh yes, that ol’ chestnut. Whenever things get tricky, be it recession, austerity, Brexit, bad weather, the season finale of Strictly, you name it, too many businesses batten down the hatches and decide to tighten spending. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but when marketing (which of course includes photography) is often the first victim of pulling the belt in a notch or three, that’s when the harm is done.

Businesses which market through the hard times always come out stronger. Of course the marketing has to be the right type, and photography may not even be what’s needed, but if you need it, you need it. There’s no getting around the fact that sometimes, and quite often, good commerce relies on good communication and good communication relies on really good photography.

An additional risk of suddenly pulling the photography budget (so you’re still marketing, but perhaps you switch to cheaper sources of imagery) is the KERKLUNK sound you hear as your marketing materials go from professional, personal and engaging to ubiquitous, remote and faceless.

I think it’s fair to say that most established businesses with a history, but which don’t want to become history, understand the vital importance of fresh, bespoke, exclusive imagery in their marketing and to suddenly pull the plug when the future looks dicey is the knee-jerk reaction of a business about to find out what free-fall looks and feels like.

So hard Brexit, soft Brexit, don’t make Brexit your exit. If you want to keep doing business, you need to keep marketing because if things do get tough, you need to be seen as the business that’s above it all; still focussed, still professional, still friendly and approachable and above all, still in it for the long-run.

Happy February everyone!

Women in Business

Have you ever noticed how male-dominated a lot of business imagery is? And then if there is diversity, it tends to be a rainbow nation of ethnicities and all genders in a slightly bizarre “aren’t we all just so happy to be here with our lattes and iPhones pointing and laughing into the middle distance” sort of a way.

My advice always is to avoid the cliché by featuring your own business and your own colleagues in the images for your website. That way, you’ll represent a natural cross-section of your team.

However there is one area of my own website where I will always favour an image of a female business person over that of a male. The reasons aren’t purely for promoting women in business, but that too is a factor in my policy when deciding which photo should be on the home page.

The thing is, my work consists mostly of corporate portraits, with editorial-style business pictures, conference photography and various other forms of corporate communications photography following in behind, so it makes sense to make my main image a portrait.

Following on from that, for the most part people looking to book me for the work I do will find my website through Google (other search engines are available, but nobody ever uses them) and more often than not it’s marketing managers, office managers and personal assistants who find me. And they’re overwhelmingly female.

So yes, perhaps cynically, I want to make sure that landing on my home page is a comfortable experience for those most often given the responsibility of booking me. Certainly I see no reason why the “hero/ine image” needs to be male, and there’s something to be said for offering a main image to which my core clients can relate.

There is also the practical consideration that if someone landing on my home page sees a male face, there’s a risk they’ll think they’re looking at a photo of me, which if not necessarily upsetting, might at the very least appear conceited. I save my site visitors that particular pleasure for the About page, which when you see it you’ll understand why vanity is probably one of the few vices I don’t suffer from. The reason I feature my face at all is because I believe in practicing what I preach.

This post was inspired by the person who is the latest to be featured on my home page, Hazel, who works for a firm in Bristol. The other week I asked Hazel if she’d mind being featured, and the points outlined above are pretty much how I framed my request. Hazel completely understood and had no qualms about being featured on my home page, which is great because not all headshots necessarily fit, but her company’s portrait requirements work well within the space.

So thanks Hazel! And to anyone out there I photograph in future, especially women, don’t be surprised if I ask you too – I do like to update that page whenever I can. Equally I’ll understand if you’d rather not be featured, but at least if you’ve read this article you’ll understand why I’ve asked in the first place.

 

Marketing Smarter

While my lovely Pentax S1a is off for a rebuild, I’ll return my attention to things more corporate photography related.

With doom and gloom headlines about the state and future prospects of the UK economy all over our news channels it might be tempting to think it’s time to tighten belts and hunker down for the long haul.

Often the first casualty of financial difficulty is marketing, and perhaps more specifically photography, but if that’s your plan you might want to hold fire because done right, good marketing and good photography, even on a reduced annual budget, can keep your company name in the frame and help you survive the economic Winter.

This week’s message is simple: If you’re going to market less, you’d better market smarter. What does this mean in practice?

Of course I speak from the perspective of a photographer in this corporate world and what I occasionally see is businesses devoting a lot of resource to cutting corners. Not only is this a waste of their valuable time, it also leads to results which don’t hold the client in the best light, or images which have little real impact. It might look like the cheaper option, but at what cost to the business?

I know I’m not the cheapest photographer in my market, but then I wouldn’t want to be. Because quite apart from the quality I strive for in my photography, when a client approaches me I’m there for them from the word go until well after the project has been delivered.

The difference I offer starts with the helping hand and sounding board at the concept stage. Even corporate portraits or the “humble” press release require a level of creative input and the right photographer will be able to guide the project from the earliest stages, ensuring the end-result has maximum impact.

The other aspect you’ll want to consider when hiring a photographer on the sole parameter of cost is, will they help, guide and assist during and after the photo session?

All this help and input, from concept stage to post-delivery assistance, requires time, knowledge and experience, all of which have a value which should be factored into the cost of hiring. Of course this means a cost above and beyond simply that of producing photographs, but since you’re spending the money anyway (and almost certainly taking up your and your colleagues’ time doing so) you may as well get the best results possible.

And when the job is over, the photos delivered, is your photographer still there to help if you need it? I’m not just talking about up to the point they’ve sent the invoice. I’m often helping clients with follow-up assistance months, even years after the job was shot, delivered and paid for.

So, who’s the smart marketer now?

 

Anyone for Tea?

In February this year I received an enquiry from a completely new venture. So new, in fact, that it hadn’t actually launched yet, which is always interesting because it often means I have even more opportunity than usual to add some of my creative input into the project.

The client, Tea for Three marketing and communications, consists of three directors, Helen Rimmer, Debbie Clifford and Michelle Gordon-Coles, and together they make a very dynamic team with backgrounds in journalism, public relations, charities, corporate communications and education.

It also has to be said, I’ve rarely worked with a team so completely on the same wavelength as each other. It’s obvious their personalities just mesh perfectly and I think this will feed their undoubted future success.

I gleaned all this from the pre-shoot planning meeting I had with Helen and the few hours I spent taking photos with the trio.

We started in a beautiful stone-walled meeting room at Glove Factory Studios where, having arranged Debbie, Helen and Michelle around a table in such a way as to keep the composition tight, I just left them to chat, smile, laugh and drink tea while I captured a series of moments from different angles until there was a good selection of images to draw on.

They had also arranged a trip up the road to Merkin’s Farm cafe for more tea (clearly their fuel of choice) so I could take more individual shots as well as a couple of more posed groups with a less “officey” look, aka outside with some nice countryside in the background.

During both sessions I was keen to not only fulfil the brief, but also to look out for angles and details that would give them those extra shots which are so necessary on a website; you know, those photos nobody knows they need until it comes to actually building it and realising they don’t have quite enough!

The end result is a set of photos which really show the coherence of this vibrant team as well as their very relaxed, friendly (while still utterly professional) approach to marketing. And judging from the testimonial Helen sent through (shamelessly requested by myself), I think Tea for Three were either very happy with the results or had got slightly tipsy on Darjeeling.

We had a very specific brief for Tim to follow, we didn’t want to come across as too corporate or stuffy and wanted our photos for our website to show us as friendly and down to earth. We were a little bit nervous but Tim soon put us at ease. He was great fun to work with and very patient when we laughed too much!

“Tim has a great eye for detail and came up with lots of ideas we hadn’t thought of. We were really pleased with the end results and would definitely recommend Tim.”

Helen Rimmer, Tea for Three Ltd.

Case Study: Corporate Publication Cover Photo

One of the aspects of my photography work which really gives me a kick is seeing it used well in a corporate publication.

A typical example is this photo which I took during the 2014 Summer Graduations for University of Bath. I was inside Bath Abbey covering one of the ceremonies, getting shots of students striding proudly up to the stage to receive their degrees, but I needed more general shots too.

I took the opportunity during some applause to go quietly towards the rear of the abby where students were seated, watching the proceedings on TV monitors, while they waited their turn to be transformed from graduand to graduate.

It was the perfect situation for finding images of students looking happy and anticipating their own journey to the stage. Add to this the fact that they were looking up at screens and I had the perfect opportunity to get shots of them looking like they were anticipating their futures too.

During the course of those Summer Graduations (11 ceremonies over 3 days) I supplied a large library of images to the university. Some were for immediate social media use, some for press release and even more to be held in their photo library for future publications such as this, the Impact Report, which highlights the positive impact donations have on students and their research and studies.

Though I had no idea at the time I took it that this photo would make the cover of a publication, I think it works really well in this context. It has impact and it illustrates the concept of anticipation and potential, of a bright future for youngsters starting their graduate careers.

Much of the time I can’t be certain where or how a client will use the photos I take for them, but it’s always encouraging to see when a designer has used their own skill and vision to make the most of it.

How Low Can LowePro Go?

This might seem like a relatively trivial point considering the state of the world, but something which has been irking me with increasing frequency is the use of certain words and themes in photography and the marketing of photographic equipment.

What prompts me to write this today is seeing the mini-site promoting LowePro’s latest camera bags, the ProTactic 350AW and 450AW.

For the sake of clarity, I’ve been a long-term fan of LowePro and use their bags almost exclusively now. I have a large roller case for one of my portable studio lighting kits, a shoulder bag for occasions when I just need a few pieces of kit for a specific job, a belt pack for when I can really whittle things down, and my current workhorse, a small rolling backpack. So it’s not as if I don’t like their products, but the marketing angle taken for these bags seems to positively encourage a connection between photography and combat.

Starting with the product name, why has the word “professional” been conflated with “tactic”? Tactic could be a reference to football, but let’s be honest, all the text and visuals surrounding these products are nudging us into thinking about confrontation otherwise the models would be shown freezing to death in the February sleet on the touchline at the grounds of Tottenham Athletic FC (I know nothing about football, but I used to cover it for various papers so I know the pain of photographing a deep-winter evening match).

Screengrab from LowePro ProTactic camera bag mini-site showing two models in distressed urban setting taking photos.

I see four camera bags, only two photographers. Perhaps two fled when things got dicey.

The models used in the stills on the site appear to be “shooting from cover”, even though they’re dressed for an evening at a trendy loft bar rather than coping with some kind of urban riot, but that’s just slick marketing and I have to give credit for them not being dressed in desert boots and camouflage.

The text reinforces the macho, military messages with the phrase “Mission-Critical Access” which I take it means these bags have zips with which to access the various internal compartments. Really? Mission-critical?! How about weapon-ready compartments for putting your cameras and lenses in? Or an ammo pocket for memory cards and batteries?

There’s a video to accompany the marketing. It’s got some young, trendy-looking photographers leaving their studio apartments, traveling by skateboard and motorbike so they can get some mission critical shots of erm… graffiti, or accessing the top of a high building (hopefully legally) to take photos of lightning on the city skyline while drinking latte from a flask (or is it freeze-dried army surplus broth?)

I don’t like photographers referring to themselves as “shooters” and I’m uncomfortable with companies marketing their equipment or accessories in a way which promotes photography as some kind of conflict game. Last week I watched McCullin, the documentary on Don McCullin’s life as a photographer of conflicts and famines. He didn’t mention what bags he used in Vietnam, but I suspect he didn’t buy ones called War Junky 101 or something.

It’s in poor taste to harvest phrases from such terrible events as wars and commercialise them to attempt to make photography seem cooler by associating it with conflict which, while seemingly still very much in vogue, is definitely not cool.

Taking the long view.

 

austrian mountains

Gratuitous pretty photo as metaphor for taking the long view.

 

It’s all a bit doom and gloom in light of the latest government spending review (aka GSR, or gun shot residue since someone will have to pull the trigger), so I thought I’d offer an opinion from my own perspective as well as show you a pretty photo that might help calm the raggedy nerves.

I know I’m “only” a commercial photographer, but the benefit of what I do is that I get to see inside a variety of businesses, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and difficulties to face as we all find ourselves caught between the axe man and the tax man. Of course, what is common amongst the businesses I get to visit is that they all want to update their marketing with fresh designs and imagery because not to do so is to risk becoming invisible amongst the welter of competing businesses on the web.

Now I don’t want this to be yet another article extolling the virtues of online marketing. There are enough web, e-marketing and search engine optimisation gurus out there to fill the Titanic many times over, and many are about as useful as a busted lifeboat as the economy lists hard to starboard and the icy waters of recession fill the steerage class quarters and… enough of that analogy, you get the picture.

The problem for businesses that need a decent website or brochure and don’t yet have them is that as we face massive public sector cuts AND the hike in VAT, the company budget will never be there to turn a poor or non-existent website or brochure into a useful marketing tool. Those businesses that have delayed too long may have to fare this storm with nothing but whatever they have right now, which might be no more than a poorly designed flyer which does nothing but demonstrate the startling array of text fonts and colours available on the MD’s nephew’s computer.

Alternatively, companies can start to spend not less, but more wisely. Taking the time and effort to find the real experts in whatever needs doing. Of course I mean finding the right commercial photographer (not a mate’s wedding photographer), as well as the professional web designer, graphic designer, copy writer and marketing expert so that the resulting website, brochure or leaflet, all work much harder and have a much longer shelf life.

I know this all sounds dull and isn’t producing belly laughs, but however ghastly this recession is or continues to be, one thing is certain; it will end one day, and businesses that have invested carefully in whatever areas of marketing work for them will find themselves stronger on the other side, and without Leonardo Dicaprio’s frozen, lifeless fingers still gripping whatever piece of driftwood has kept them afloat while they await rescue or the receivers.