Welcome to instinct insider our regular interview spot with the industry’s biggest and brightest influencers, sharing what makes good PR.
By his own admission, there isn’t much that Craig Gunn doesn’t know about the world of photography.
As an Executive Picture Editor at the Daily Mail, where he worked for over twelve years, the 41-yr-old was responsible for commissioning, directing, editing and researching images for lifestyle, food, showbiz, fashion, interiors, finance and features.
A previous stint at Hello! magazine was a chance to hone his celebrity skills.
And today, after seeing the light and making the switch to PR, Craig is Head of Photography at TNR/Press Association where he manages a portfolio of 40 photographers and advises agencies, brands and charities on how to create the best picture news stories. And which he describes as a world of ‘sweetness and light’ after his time on the frontline of the possibly not so sweet Fleet Street.
This month he’s sharing his insights into the world of the deluged picture editor with the instinct PR team and readers.
His advice for nailing that sell-in? Ditch the branding, choose your timing, be militant about the edit and don’t ever forget that ultimately it’s all about the news line.
WHAT MAKES A DREAM PICTURE?
“Is there any such thing?! It needs to be unique, concise, different. Picture editors want an image that is standalone, that tells the story. We ask ourselves; is it different? Have I seen it before? Is it too branded? Anything with branded, fake signage or wording (giant hashtag messages for instance) is a real turn-off from a picture desk perspective.
“We want pictures to be simple but to tell the story. And that are definitely not advertising.
“As picture editors we love to see images that are POV (point of view). Take us somewhere that we have never been before. It could be at a very elevated position – maybe from a birdseye position – a destination that we’ve never seen, or simply photographing something average from a new perspective. POV is especially interesting right now; recent research from Getty shows that there has been a 6,500% increase in ‘POV’ as search terminology. Picture editors and the audience both want something that is unique.
“And always look at the artistic merit of the photo. Sometimes I think people get so blinkered by all the stakeholders and brand mentions they need to get in that they forget that what they’re supposed to be creating is a lovely image.
“When you open up your newspapers in the morning you will see that most papers have chosen the same image to go with a story, and that is because there is usually just one picture that captures everything.”
WHY DO PICTURES AND VIDEO PLAY SUCH AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN TELLING A PR OR NEWS STORY?
“Photography and Video are much more memorable than words. A decently composed image or a subtitled video can tell a story instantly and across a multitude of handheld device formats.”
WE ALWAYS HEAR ABOUT HOW ‘BUSY’ THE PICTURES DESKS ARE (actually, we assume that, as they never seem to answer their phones or even leave their desks), BUT CAN THEY REALLY BE THAT BUSY?
“When I worked on The Daily Mail we received between 40 and 60,000 images each day, on an average day. And national newspapers may have 10 picture editors working across and sifting through everything. But spare a thought for the one-man band on a regional newspaper for instance, who relies on wire service like PA to select the best content – whether that’s showbiz, news, royals or weather – and deliver a concise edit and a good mix of what’s actually important.”
ANY INSIDER TIPS FOR THE ’SELL-IN’?
‘With that much noise it’s very difficult to stand out, but not impossible. As with everything, there’s a good way to approach picture editors and there’s a bad way.
“Firstly, keep the pitch short and snappy. As a picture editor I don’t need your press release recited to me on the phone. Just a short punchy expression of what the photograph shows.
“And what I really try to impress upon PR clients is to establish exactly what your main news lines are WAY before embarking on creating a photo story or stunt. This is where as a PR you need to wear a ‘journalist’ hat and think about the who, what, why, when and where. Why are we doing this? Who is going to be in this picture? Why are they relevant to the story? You really have to be able to tell that story entirely visually, without the need for a caption and without the need for a load of copy.
“If a picture desk receives a photograph of a politician being licked by a dog outside Westminster we know it’s the Westminster Dog Of The Year Show. It’s about storytelling visually, and my advice here is always to ask: ‘can I tell the story without a caption?’
“Of course, for PRs there can seem a conflict of interests as they need to get a brand mentioned – and that’s where captions can come into play -, but trust me, picture editors don’t care about the caption and they don’t care about the brand, they just want to see a good picture.
“And when it comes to selling-in you should know that it’s a huge misconception that your PR story will be discussed in the editor’s morning conference. That is never the case so it’s not worth rushing it through at 8.30am. At this time the picture editor is only really concerned about the Front Page and the Back Page and he/she is not going to talking to the main editor about what will be seen as light and fluffy PR stories.
“So I would advise choosing your timing carefully. Send your pictures via PA or whoever in the morning, then give the Desk a nudge at midday; ‘we sent this in this morning, what was your reaction?’. They’re much more likely to take your call then than before morning conference. And also they are probably now looking for something to fill the pages between the front and back.”
ANY STYLE/TECHNICAL TIPS?
“Don’t burn your bridges by crashing people’s inboxes. Send in a lo-res attachment of the best picture. Don’t just send a WeTransfer link with a huge selection. Nobody has time to download those. Don’t embed images – sometimes they don’t show up – instead, send a lo-res jpeg as an attachment for the team to have a quick look at and include a download link as needed.
“On live jobs I always advise clients to choose no more than 6-10 photos in the edit. Be ruthless. Any more than that will at best get lost and worst turn the picture editors right off the story and you.”
HOW IMPORTANT ARE RELATIONSHIPS AND – MORE IMPORTANTLY – HOW CAN PRS ESTABLISH THEM?
“If it’s your job to sell into picture desks it’s really important to nurture good relationships with the editors.
“As a good PR you know when you have a great story with dynamite visuals that will blow people away. This is the time when you really want to utilise those contacts and shout about your story. You don’t need to mention the brand, just tell them what you have. Often as soon as you mention the brand it can turn them off. And when it’s something that might be a bit naff be honest with them and don’t waste their time promising the world.
“Often it’s not the picture editor but number 2/3/4 on the desk who are the people you want to target and the relationships you want to foster, as they will generally be more junior and have more time to take your call as well as being the people tasked to find those picture stories that will fill the middle of the paper.
“And journalists can be your biggest ally. Being totally honest, in the 12 years that I was a picture editor at The Daily Mail I rarely entertained a call from a PR. What happened more was that the PR would first get in with the journalist/reporter and then it would filter through to me. Don’t forget that picture editors still need to pitch stories to their editors and it’s a much easier conversation if they can tell their boss that a picture is to go with a story that e.g. John Smith is writing for the motoring section. If the picture desk knows that there is a journalist within their organisation writing about a story they are much more likely to address it. So even if selling in pictures is your priority as a PR make sure you build relationships over time with the relevant writers too.”
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST BEST EXPERIENCE WORKING IN PICTURES?
“Sometimes the buzz of a newsroom can be really fun when there’s a big national event. When Kate and Wills got married, for example, it felt like we were in the building for three days solid trying to create more and more content around the wedding.
“Sadly, when there is a disaster, that actually really focuses the mind and news team on finding the best content and telling the story in the best possible way.
“And, on a more light-hearted note, I’m lucky enough to have been to the Cannes Film Festival several times over the years. The first time I went in 1999 I had to look after Victoria’s Secret models for a photoshoot and the last two years I have been there with one of our clients, Magnum, looking after Kendal Jenner and Cara Delevingne. On this kind of project I’m also looking after a whole team of photographers creating a multitude of content, and for me that’s also pretty cool.”
WHY DON’T PICTURE STUNTS WORK AS WELL AS THEY USED TO?
“This year the news agenda has been very challenging for consumer PR and I generally advise against PR stunts.
“Readers are savvier now, and stunts can come across as quite old-fashioned. Experiential activities work better because we all want real, authentic experience.
“And the big question with a stunt is always: ‘Is it actually newsworthy?’ If it’s just a fun picture it’s not a story and therefore not interesting to the picture teams. You need to be prepared to put a lot of production value into them and offer something very different and unique to get any pick-up. And there’s often an easier and cheaper way to get the same – or even better! – result.”
ANY BIG PR NO-NOs YOU CARE TO SHARE?
“Don’t overbrand. PR is traditionally given the thin end of the wedge when it comes to budget so don’t do the job for your advertisers. PR photography and video need to appeal to editorial teams, and overbranding is the easiest way to turn them off. Most editors when doing their publications’ flat plans will see the sold advertising space and so feel aggrieved if they are then seeing the brand in a piece of editorial, so communicate with your advertisers and don’t cannibalise each other’s activations.”
AND FINALLY… WHERE ARE YOUR GO-TO PR BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND/OR DINNER PLACES RIGHT NOW?
“We have been blessed in Victoria recently with lots of re-development so bringing clients to us at the Press Association building has never been easier.
“Jason Atherton’s ‘Hai Cenato’ delivers great pizzas whilst Stoke House does the best melt in the mouth lamb. If I’m heading to Soho one of my close friends Ross Shonan is the owner-chef of Bones Daddies and also Flesh and Buns, if casual Japanese is your thing?
“And for a reliable bistro the Foxlow in Clerkenwell has been frequented a couple of times this year.”
Words – Toni Jones