Photography in Public Relations: Meghan & Harry’s Approach is Black and White

The world is waking up today (15/2/21) to newspaper front pages filled with….. wait for it……a PR shot. Whoah!

The Duke & Duchess of Sussex announced yesterday they were expecting a baby and, alongside their announcement, they released a single, black and white image taken by photographer Misan Harriman.

The chat shows are immediately on the case. The narrative: they are controlling the message (like that’s a bad thing), they are avoiding the paparazzi (like that’s a bad thing), they are sending a mixed message about privacy (like they have a choice).

Newsflash: you can’t hide a baby bump, lockdown or no lockdown. This news was bound to come out at some point, pardon the pun, and almost certainly within the next 9 months.

So what have the Sussexes done wrong? Or have they done anything wrong at all?

From a public relations standpoint, I’d argue their announcement is (almost) by the book. They’ve issued a statement, they’ve provided the press with the photo they would need to cover the story, they released it on the most romantic day of the year so we could all make a collective “Awwwwww” while feeling all warm and cuddly, and the photograph is stunningly simple in understated black and white.

So why all the hullabaloo?

Maybe it’s the black and white image that’s got the media’s backs up. You see, this story is front page news. And front pages are traditionally in COLOUR. To only have a black and white image to work with will feel a tad limiting, even to the most creative of editors.

Or maybe it’s the fact they’ve been given one image, and one alone. That means every front page today (pretty much) is fundamentally the same. Ouch.

For what it’s worth, I think the supply of the single black and white image is likely not a naive move on the part of the Sussexes, no-one’s that bad at PR. They know what the press want, but they’ve given it to them on their own terms. There’s managing the message, and there’s managing the message. And this message has been managed to the highest degree.

Which brings me to the real point of this blog: when it comes to PR, photography really matters.

More than 50% of a newspaper is given up to imagery. Yet, there’s a myth that seems to perpetuate that generating publicity is just about finding a good writer with some contacts and, hey presto, you’ve got a story. But almost every story has a visual element to it and, if you are looking for coverage, you are more likely to get it if you supply a picture.

But not just any picture will do. The grainy pictures taken on your smartphone are only of use in a serious crisis – by which I mean you were the only person who managed to capture that moment in time of that breaking news story because you were there and happened to have your phone with you. On occasions like this, the press will happily make use of your hazy, poorly framed images, no matter what state they are in. However if you are trying to announce something important that you want them to pay attention to, nipping out the back to take a quick selfie on the latest iPhone is simply not going to cut the mustard. In fact, it clearly outlines that you can’t be bothered giving them what they need to cover the story professionally.

So the next time you are thinking of engaging with the press to raise your brand’s profile, take a leaf out of the Sussexes book and invest in quality photography. Just, perhaps, give the media a few more pictures to choose from and include some colour options if you want to maximise your chances of success. You’re only like to make the front page by offering up a single black and white image if you are the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.