Years ago, in a former life, I was part of a magazine redesign process. One matter we needed to settle was what to do about our covers: Should we continue to publish photographs of our cover subjects, or, New Yorker-like, opt for illustrations, instead?
We opted for the second option. One reason: As an industry trade publication, we weren’t getting George Clooney or Scarlett Johansson on our covers. We’d get a middle-aged guy named Lou who’d spilled coffee on his shirt, and we’d have to shoot him under fluorescent lights in an office building with cream-colored walls. After a few years of covers featuring Lous, we’d had enough.
The switch to illustrations was risky. There weren’t a lot of trade magazines using them, at least not at at that time. But we knew we’d never be able to craft high-impact covers with photography because we didn’t have the budget to bring people into studios. We never regretted it.
Sourcing good imagery is likewise a challenge for companies managing their own content-marketing programs. Why? For starters, there’s often no budget for art, because inexperienced content creators don’t realize until too late that good imagery isn’t free or necessarily easy to obtain. And many marketers, frankly, don’t have a great idea of what they’re looking for; they might not recognize a great image if they found one. And finding that great image does, in fact, require some time and resourcefulness.
But the image does matter — a lot. It affects how readers relate to your content, and in turn how they feel about your company. It says something about your company’s culture, too. The right image supports your content and draws the reader to it, entertains or informs your audience, and just looks nice on your website.
The wrong image can look tacky, shallow, or tone-deaf. And it can make you look that way, too.
So how do you get great images for your content? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Have a vision. You’ll notice that all of the images on our blog have a similar “look and feel.” That’s not coincidence; it’s because Yvonne Lyons, our VP of Content Marketing, has a very specific idea of the tone she wants for our images: bold, fun, creative.
- Think creatively. Another thing you’ll notice about our images is that some of them make you think a little; you can’t always draw a straight line from the headline to the image to the article. The image needs to be relevant, sure, but it needn’t necessarily be a literal image of the thing you’ve written about. It’s clear why a photo of an empty theater for “Why No One Is Reading Your Content and How to Fix It” makes sense, even though no one creates content marketing for the stage. The point is the image is relevant, and draws you in.
- Dig Deep. Assuming you’re not hiring a photographer or a professional illustrator whenever you publish content, you’re most likely relying on a stock-image supplier like Shutterstock. And that’s fine. Just be prepared to dig deep and to use several different search terms to find the image you need.
- Search the right way. When I search for an image, I always start with the most specific term possible, no matter how obscure, and I’m often surprised by how often I’m paid off. Shutterstock, for example, has more than 500 images related to “chromatography.” Don’t ask me what that is; it’s some kind of science thingy. The point is, don’t assume that just because you’re subject matter is niche-y that a good stock-image site won’t have plenty of relevant images. Of course, plenty of those 500+ images are not very good. See bullet point 2.
- Let the right person do the hunting. Finding the right image often requires someone with a “good eye,” so if possible, assign the task to your most visually talented staffer. If you have a graphic designer on staff, let that person use his or her creative talents and training to source images — you’ll find that somehow those shots will always be more interesting than what you choose on your own.
- Get your own original images. Good professional photographers are expensive, but usually worth it. A client of mine recently spent the money for professional photography to accompany an important brochure we created for them. We got more than 1,000 images from that shoot, and in addition to vastly improving the look of the brochure, the photos have been used in several other contexts, as well. A big database of high-quality images of your own people is a gift that that can keep on giving for years.
We have mentioned before that content needs to be remarkable to stand out in today’s crowded marketplace. An eye-catching image to complement well-written content will help you do that. Image-sourcing can be tedious, but doing it can pay big dividends.