We all know that visuals are a compelling part of your communication toolbox. They draw the reader in, they engage the audience and tell an important part of your story. They make a connection between the storyteller, the story and the audience. And thanks to leaps forward in technology, it’s no longer a challenge to create strong visual elements for your communications pieces.

While we are big fans of using professional videographers, photographers, illustrators and other visual medium professionals, the fact is there’s not always a budget to do so. That’s why it is important to identify ahead of time when it is necessary (sometimes even crucial) to bring in the professionals and when you can get away with using an image you took or a Flip-style video clip.

The way we see it here at AHA, if the communication piece is more casual, you can get away with a little when it comes to the visuals. For example, if it’s an update from the project manager, you can likely get away with a more basic shot of this person in action, on location somewhere. A message from the president, managing director, CEO or executive director needs a professional photo – in my opinion.

For social event photos and fun photos, someone at your organization who has an eye for photography can take them. They still need to be done well. I can’t tell you how many times we have had to go back to clients and tell them that they can’t use a blurry image or have important people half cut out of images. Even if you aren’t using a professional – you do need to have someone who has some skills in this area to take the photos.

Newsletters are obvious venues for images; you can also link to an interesting Flip-style video, if that medium resonates with your target audience. A blog needs visuals, as does your website. Don’t shy away from video; it is an effective medium.

Using just images to tell the story is another good way to attract attention. Finding five to seven good photos and letting them tell the story is a compelling way to communicate.

Depending on what news you are sharing, a photo or link to a video, as a component of your news release or pitch to a specific journalist, is also a good thing. We often send out photo releases – a great image with two or three sentences explaining the context. Media love great visuals.

As communicators, we often see ourselves as writers, editors, internal communicators, media relations specialists, corporate communicators and storytellers. At our PR agency, we have shifted that perception. We see ourselves as strategic advisors and storytellers, because at the heart of it all that’s what we do. And that includes a big focus on telling the story through images.

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A picture is worth a thousand words…

Images, photos, illustrations and visuals – they matter now and, the fact is, they mattered back in the “old days” too. When I worked for Maclean’s magazine, standing over the light table going through images was an important part of the storytelling process. You didn’t just hand that off to a photo editor or photographer (no matter how smart or talented that person was). You were involved because you knew that a great photo drew people in to the story; that it communicated what you were trying to share in a different way.  And today, some of our strongest assets at our PR agency are our relationships with exceptionally talented (and reasonably priced) photographers, illustrators and videographers. These creative professionals are an important part of our AHA crew.

These days, images are crucial to telling the story of your organization. Not only do they tell the story in a different way, they help you to humanize your organization, show behind the scenes and engage with your community in a different way. And, if you embrace this approach, your community will use images to communicate with you. It really is a two-way street. User-generated content is incredibly informative and valuable.

On Wednesday, I will talk a little bit about the different ways you can incorporate images (still and video) into your communications initiatives, including when it’s important to bring in the professional photographer, illustrator or videographer.

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