GUEST POST: The photo call has evolved into the live opportunity

The photo call was once the mainstay of the communications’ repertoire. Arrange a time and a place and tell the local paper’s photographer to come along. Job done. Now, as photographers are far scarcer Alan Woods says this should evolve to a live streaming opportunity. It’s a great idea that is delivering results.

The ‘photo call’ in its tried and tested format is dead.

But the concept remains relevant, and it is a concept that can be used by any organisation wishing to reach a local digital audience, particularly through social media.

After all, that is the niche that all local media outlets have an army of local or at least locally interested followers on the most popular social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

This audience is, naturally, of value to any organisation whose target audience is geographical.   I cannot emphasise enough how important a solid understanding of your local media title or titles is.

You should read as much of the content they publish as possible, follow their brand accounts on all social media platforms, and watch the videos they post or broadcast. The more you know, the easier you will find it to tailor your content to their style and objectives.  

You should endeavour to understand what metrics are driving the newsroom – and why not just ask? Is it page views? Is it social media engagement? Is it newsletter sign ups? Or do they still prioritise print?   You should also know how many ‘local’ – on patch – journalists are working for that title. If the answer is zero, you’re in a difficult position. If there’s a handful of reporters working on the ground you’re in with a good shot and need to figure out what is likely to get them out of their offices, bedrooms, kitchens and creating content that will benefit you.  

A quick look through the title’s social channels will give you a good steer as to whether the title is digitally driven. Many titles rightly understand that a healthy engagement rate on Facebook will offer their link posts greater prominence in the Facebook algorithm (and subsequently on their followers’ feeds), so social engagement is a key metric in many newsrooms.  

So now back to the ‘photo call’ concept – what can you offer journalists who are encouraged to find and generate digital content that drives engagement?  

If you have a local title with a Facebook page posting regularly, could you create an opportunity for a journalist to broadcast via Facebook Live? This would secure you direct access to the local audience the brand has established on Facebook, and Facebook naturally prioritises live video on its own platform in its algorithm.

Of course there is risk when broadcasting live video – and please, please encourage the journalist to come along with a proper mic to avoid a lack of sound disaster – but you prepare your speakers for broadcast interviews, so why is this any different?

Good local examples of live streaming

Here are a few examples I have seen of this done well recently:  

The Bristol Light Festival was broadcast live by Bristol Live for nearly 35 minutes, attracting 108 ‘likes’ and over 40 comments. I’m sure the picture spread of stills looked awesome in print, but it wouldn’t have been delivered the same level of engagement as the Facebook Live online.  

Greggs invited a LeedsLive journalist to broadcast at the opening of its store inside Primark in the city. This video has been watched over 19,000 times.  

The Isle of Wight County Press broadcast live from ‘hidden treasure’ Longshoreman’s Museum in Ventnor. This one is short and sweet, but was still watched over 2,000 times.  

An EssexLive journalist joined Essex Police for the latest Passing Out Parade and broadcast this video, which has been watched 4,400 times. What a great way of telling more than 4,000 people that there are more officers on the beat to keep them safe.  

Similarly if your local brand tells stories through short-form video on social media such as Facebook Stories or Instagram Reels, how can you match your content to this format?

You can tell from a quick look at a brand’s Facebook page how seriously they take video content in their newsroom.

At Bristol Live, as just one example, all videos are even categorised by content theme – a sure fire sign that a video pitch is likely to be of interest.  

The agency working for NQ64 in Manchester certainly did their research, inviting the Manchester Evening News along to film inside. Just look at the numbers – over 1,000 likes in two days.  

The same can be said for Tingley Garden Centre near Leeds, who invited The Yorkshire Post along to film inside.   Was it a free advert that should have been paid for content? Maybe. That’s one for another day.  

Merseyside Police nailed this video with the Liverpool Echo, offering up Inspector Katie Wilkinson from the dog unit to launch their ‘Take The Lead’ campaign this summer. It has been watched over 4,000 times.  

Check your local landscape

I could go on, as there are hundreds of examples out there across local media titles. Take a look at your local titles and you will see for yourself. Developing a concept that will work for your organisation may take some time, but the impact you can have when you get it right makes it worthwhile.

What’s more, if you ask the journalist how the video performed on their Facebook page, I’m sure they’ll tell you – some stats ideal for your evaluation. 

Depleted news teams make it harder than ever for any organisation to encourage a journalist out for a ‘call’ of any type. If you pull it off, make the most of the opportunity. Find out all that you can about the newsroom and what drives it, and make a note so you can feed this into future pitches. And use the opportunity to tell the journalist more about what your organisation is doing and trying to achieve.

You would be silly to not try and land the next pitch whilst you’re with the journalist in person too – it is so much harder for them to say no when you’re face to face.

Alan Woods is the head of media and public affairs at the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

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