10 tips for taking great photographs that promote your business

Wednesday 24th April 2013   by Andy Comber

It’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, if it is taken properly. With the latest digital cameras and image processing, it’s easier than ever to take a picture and prepare it for use in a press release, online or in promotional material. It doesn’t always have to be professional quality photography (shocking thing to say, but true), but it must meet certain standards.

A little while ago, I put together a 10 tips for a client to give to staff who have the opportunity to take a picture. Of course, there are times when it is essential to use a professional photographer. But if you follow these basic rules and use a decent camera, you may surprise yourself at how good a picture you can take.

Putting your business in the picture

Our top 10 tips for taking publicity photographs

We know we do a lot of great work for our customers. Where we can, we like to tell others about it, either on our website or in the news media, because this will help us to win more work and keep us busy and successful into the future.

Very often, an important part of telling the story is providing a picture to show how something was done or present the key people involved. This simple guide is designed to show how to take those pictures, so they look right when published in magazines, papers and online.

1. Quality counts

The quality of the picture, often called its ‘size’ or ‘resolution’, is very important. If possible, use a decent quality digital camera. However, some mobile devices now have good quality cameras. Set the camera to the highest possible resolution. A simple rule of thumb is – if the j-peg image the camera creates, when downloaded, is 1 megabyte or more in size, it should be alright.

2. Choose your location and background

Avoid taking pictures towards the sun. This results in darkened pictures. Avoid taking pictures that need flash. It is better to go outside and use natural light. Make sure the background is clean, uncluttered and appropriate. It should not show off other companies’ equipment or logos. It should not show unsafe practises. And it should not identify any person who has not given their permission to be in the picture.

3. Put our business in the picture

The story is about our business and what we do, so it makes sense to include the company name and logo in the picture. This can be done by placing a vehicle in the picture so a logo can be shown. In addition, logos on uniforms or other equipment should be prominently displayed.

4. Show us at our best

Make sure all members of staff look presentable and wear the correct, clean uniform, including safety clothing (PPE). Vehicles and equipment should also be the most up-to-date and best condition available. They should also be correctly displayed and clean.

5. Demonstrate best practice health and safety

Health and safety standards are critical to our work. To demonstrate this, pictures taken on operational sites should clearly show that proper health and safety procedures are being followed, so there can be no doubt in the minds of the reader or viewer.

6. Not too far away, not too close

When taking the picture, do not stand too far away, so the people and equipment in it look like dots on the horizon! Also, do not stand so close, that important elements of the story, such as the location, working conditions or equipment,  cannot be seen. Make sure key elements of the picture, for example people and equipment, are shown in their entirety, and not cropped at the edge of the image.

7. Create a focus

So the picture helps tell the story, it is important to pick out the key aspects and make them more prominent. For example, if the story is about the achievements of one or two people in a team, put those people in the foreground so they look bigger in the picture. If it is about a specific piece of equipment, display that more prominently too.

8. Show it off

A story may be about a specific piece of equipment. Or it may be about an employee winning an award, or the signing of an agreement. In such cases, where a ‘prop’ is available, make sure it is prominently and confidently displayed in the picture.

9. Look – and smile!

It is important that we create a professional and welcoming impression. Therefore, make sure everyone in the picture is looking at the camera. Make sure their eyes are open (closed eyes is a common mistake!). And make sure, that everyone has a confident, friendly smile. Of course, the exception is when the story is about something very serious, in which case a neutral expression is most appropriate.

10. If in doubt – ask!

If you have any concerns about how to take the picture, contact the marketing department for advice.

Old Abe’s lessons on professional copywriting and communication

Sunday 14th April 2013   by Andy Comber

I’m in the middle of reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, the book upon which Steven Spielberg based his film Lincoln. It is an excellence journey through a 50 year period during which the modern United States and a future super-power was born.

The book describes how Abraham Lincoln was selected as the presidential candidate for the new Republican Party, then invited three rival politicians he’d just beaten in the race for the nomination to become cabinet members to create a broad church political alliance as the northern Union faced the Confederate South in the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln - a brilliant communicator

Lincoln comes across as an extraordinary man: kind, humorous, self-effacing and generous of spirit to rivals and subordinates – yet hugely ambitious, calculating and single-minded in his approach to personal achievement and doing what he believed needed to be done to protect the nation’s interests. What is clear, is that one of the strands of Lincoln’s political genius was his communication skills. So here’s my view of some of them:

Story telling. Lincoln was known throughout his life, from childhood onwards, as a great storyteller. He always had an anecdote to tell to make a telling point and win an argument. He had the knack of being able to explain complex thoughts in simple terms, through telling a story that illuminated the point he wanted to get across. He also used simple, memorable language that caught the imagination. It’s no surprise his favourate playwright was Shakespeare.

Humour. Lincoln was a great joke teller and enjoyed making other people laugh. But often, he used humour to make vital political points. Also, he appeared not to use humour as a weapon, but to disarm critics and bring people onto his side.

Timing. Lincoln perfected the art of knowing when to make a point and when to stay silent, even when others around him were clamouring for him to get stuck in to a political argument. He showed a keen sense of when and where to say the right thing, for maximum effect. In politics this is vital. For example, when he announced that slaves would be emancipated, he achieved cricital acclaim, but said that, if he had made the same announcement six months before, he would have been lambasted and problably thrown out of office.

Audience. Lincoln was acutely aware of when to say what to whom. Many times, the audience he was giving a speech to was not the audiece he was actually trying to influence. He was also acutely aware of the power of the media and the need to take account of their prejudices and agendas, as much as his political rivals and public mood.

Surprise & symbolism. Just when your audience thinks you will do one thing, do something different. The Gettysberg Address is a speech given by Lincoln at the consecration of the Soldier’s National Cemetery, created to mark one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The speaker before him gave a speech that lasted for two hours, going into great detail about the battle and its historic significance. Audiences were used to very long speeches at that time.

When Lincoln got up to speak next, the crown of several thousand people would not have been surprised to hear Lincoln talk for an hour or more. Yet he gave a speech lasting just two minutes. In it he powerfully reminded the audience of the principles behind the Declaration of Independence and reaffirmed his belief that the war would bring a “new birth of freedom”. The subtext here is that he was talking about the freedom of slaves.

In this way, he used another powerful technique – symbolism – saying the soldiers who died at Gettysberg ensured the survival of representative democracy, and used the moment to cement in people’s minds the rightness of achieving another political and social objective, to end slavery, something that was still contentious, even within the Union.

It’s clear, then that Lincoln was a brilliant communicator, and he was using techniques that are just as relevant today, to anyone who wants to get their message across, influence others and achieve what they set out to achieve.



A press release service in Shropshire for stories that are used – safely

Wednesday 10th April 2013   by Andy Comber

Want to get a story published about a workshop to learn about risk assessments? Not the most catchy of subject matters for a press release. So, here at matm we found an angle that highlighted an interesting and counter-intuitive trend – recession makes business safer. The press release below was used in a substantial story by the Shrophire Star on April 2 and several other news publications.

Economic downturn is boosting safety standards – so learn how to do the job right, say Midland experts

The economic downturn blighting British industry is having one unexpected positive effect – it is improving safety standards, says a leading Midland health and safety advisor.

Marvin Owen, Chairman of the Midlands West District of the Institution of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH), is urging business managers to attend a major annual training event in Shropshire in June, saying good safety practice is becoming increasingly vital to commercial survival.

He said: “Many people might think that, when times are economically tough, companies are going to be tempted to cut corners and health and safety standards will suffer. However, we’re finding the opposite is the case.”

Mr Owen, managing director of Oswestry consultancy MBO Safety Services, added: “When the economy was strong, there was so much work that some main contractors were tempted to cut corners by hiring sub contactors who did not always use the right practices.

“Because there is less work around now, we are finding that main contractors feel they have the time and incentive to impose proper health and safety standards, and sub contractors who can demonstrate they can meet them have a real advantage.”

West Midlands IOSH is holding its one-day risk management event on Thursday 20 June 2012, at Enginuity in Coalbrookdale, Telford, Shropshire,

Business managers can attend a series of four workshops to learn how to carry out effective risk assessments in the workplace.

Emma Walker, event coordinator for IOSH West District, said: “Carrying out risk assessments is now central to safety at work, and for companies to prove they have complied with the law.

“Failure to carry out proper risk assessments is at the centre of many prosecutions which can result in huge fines, ruined reputations and the bankruptcy and even imprisonment of company directors.

“Many companies make the mistake of using generic risk assessments. The workshops will show how they can apply site and process specific risk assessments so health and safety procedures are correct at all times.”

The four workshops will cover the risk assessment process; noise assessment; control of substances hazardous to health; and manual handling. Each will be led by a Midland-based health and safety expert.

The keynote speech will be given by John Lacey, Vice-President of IOSH.

Marvin Owen said: “The increased emphasis being put on workplace health and safety during the downturn is welcomed.

“However, there are companies that, mainly through ignorance, are putting their staff, clients and the public at serious risk by failing to carry out proper risk assessments.

“Some people still wrongly see safety procedures as being a financial burden. But not carrying out risk assessments can be a major hidden cost.

“Companies that haven’t fully understood the full safety implications of the work they agree to can suffer huge financial penalties later on. Good health and safety makes good business sense.”

The IOSH West Midlands risk assessment workshops are aimed at all health and safety professionals; managers, directors and health and safety officers in small and medium-sized businesses; anyone who is responsible for assessing risk in the workplace; and anyone else interested in health and safety at work.

For more information or to book a place, email Leanne Lowther at IOSH (leanne.lowther@iosh.co.uk) or call 0116 257 3100.