Say “Cheese”…

So I am delighted to have been invited by Rotary District 1010 Governor Mike Halley to speak to their District today (Sunday) In Perth, Scotland about increasing the publicity in the press and media across their many Clubs. The District boss has asked me to make special reference to taking press photos – which as regular readers of this blog will know is one the many ‘bees’ I keep in my bonnet.

Therefore on the basis I have been working on Rotary research this weekend, I thought I’d turn the information I am going to be speaking to into this weekend’s blog.

So in preparation for the presentation to the Regular Rots in the largest District in RotaryGBI I undertook a fairly thorough search of the words ‘Rotary Clubs‘ and ‘Rotary Presentations‘ on Google images and, having trawled through literally thousands of images it appears the message is still not getting to Clubs in terms of how to positively present the organisation in and around the media. So it seems that the leadership in District 1010 is not only proactive but also frankly right to raise the issue once again – and therefore so should many others.


It seems that despite all the information available and the training offered by District Marketing and PR Officers the message is still not getting through in terms of media photos

Flipping through Google images I was effectively tripping over line-up after line-up of besuited men in ties and Rotary pins smiling into the camera as if recreating their primary school photo (obviously – and thankfully minus the shorts).

Then there was the competition to see how many cheque presentations (with regular, standard sized cheques) from Club Presidents Google images was willing to accept. Still so many photos of one man handing another man a piece of paper – with the picture telling you nothing other than the men (again, generally in suits and ties) like to haggle over a little rectangle of paper.

We then have the mandatory plethora of ‘grip and grin‘ photos – where we effectively have two grown men stage-managed to hold hands while they stare down the barrel of the camera pointed at them all in the name of Rotary. The point of which is…hmmm…well, erm to be honest…I don’t actually know?

I understand when Barack Obama stands on the steps of 10 Downing Street and poses in a similar stance with David Cameron – as that reflects the friendship, bond and camaraderie between both countries. But having the Rotary Club El Presidente shaking hands with the local butcher doesn’t quite have the same effect when it happens at the front door of the local hotel.

But the big one – and still the out and out winner – is the number of photos where the President absolutely has to, without question wear his bling! Whether rightly or wrongly in contextual terms of the photo – you’ll generally find one of the men with the big gold and shiny medallion slung around his neck. Every opportunity, there it is swinging there on his chest…I’m sure some Presidents would even insist on wearing it if they were doing a Swimarathon photoshoot in their speedos!

What is it with the necessity to wear ‘bling’ in every photo opportunity?

If you check out some of the Rotary images searches, there’s more jewellery on show than you’d find in a Cartier retailer outlet. Why? Is it because they’re President and they should wear the bling at every opportunity? Or could they just be proud to wear the jewel of office? There are likely to be many answers – but in terms of a press photo shoot – there really needs to be serious consideration as to whether the regalia is required – and my advice would be – in most cases, it’s probably not!

Just as bad as the bling is the fluorescent hi-viz tabards and waistcoats? Yes, I get the fact that they are emblazoned with the Rotary Wheel; but there are so many other ways of getting the brand image into a Club’s publicity. Strangely, when doing the Google news search – loads of images of Rotarians in hi-viz came up, and to be frankly truthful they just looked like a line of local authority workers having their photo taken by the side of the road.

Rotary is more than just hi-vis traffic management operatives – so let’s ditch the fluorescent tops and get a bit more catwalk than Council.

Taking all this into account, it poses a few questions. Surely all the great work by District Marketing and PR Chairs can’t have been for nothing? It cannot be the case that they haven’t actually advised their Clubs that these inane photos are less likely to be used in the press while at the same time are not representing the wonderful organisation that is Rotary particularly well. There is enough information out there from RotaryGBI available to Clubs to ensure their photos are to as high a standard as possible.

It is essential that the quality of photos being published on behalf of Rotary are substantially improved in order to engage the creative minds of various publishers around the country.

So having listened to many newspaper Editors and Photo Editors here is a quick rundown of some of the pointers I will be offering in my presentation today:

  • Think about the story you are trying to tell – and try to let the photo help you to do that;
  • Use a decent resolution image – do not send photos that are blurred or in low resolution;
  • You don’t need a professional photographer just someone who knows what they are doing;
  • You no longer need an expensive camera – modern phones take amazingly high quality images;
  • Think about your location – does it help the story? Make sure the surroundings are not untidy and your subjects don’t have things growing out their head;
  • Do not use grip and grin photos – try to animate the photo using your subjects;
  • No cheque presentations – and if you insist on doing them – use proper large presentation cheques in the photo, but still try and have other things going on in the photo;
  • Understand that grip and grins and cheque presentations will not be printed by some newspapers (as a rule);
  • Use people who are good for the camera and want to be photographed – there’s no use in dragging someone in front of a camera who doesn’t want to be there;
  • Don’t have massive groups of people – in general up to five maximum, unless a large group is essential to tell the story – but still have key individual at the front of the photo (the people in the photo should relate to your text);
  • Think whether the ‘bling’ is absolutely necessary in the photo?
  • Think whether hi-viz tabards are absolutely necessary in the photo? Take them off wherever possible;
  • Have a chat with your local Editor and find out what kind of photos they would like from you – and make sure you do not send the ones that they will not print.

Ultimately the message needs to get out there. Some of the images being used for the organisation leave a great deal to be desired and an awful lot to the imagination of the reader.

Remember if in doubt, just ask – your local editor will be more than happy to have a chat with you about what they need. Remember your photos help promote and sell their paper – so they want good images in it – and if you can supply them to their specification – then all the better.

Images by Michael Broad by CC

35 thoughts on “Say “Cheese”…

    1. Unfortunately I won’t as I don’t hold the rights to many of the photos I will be using. However some somewhat unimaginative Rotart-related searches on Google images will quickly let you see many of the images I’ve referred to in the blog.

  1. says:

    A note as to how this applies, perhaps, in social media? Please, Clubs, do not post a photo without a caption that explains (in positive terms!) what you are showing in terms that your *community* can understand, not just fellow Rotarians. If I see one more photo of one person handing a blue packet or similar to another person and the FB post says “Joe gets his third Paul Harris,” I will scream. What is a Paul Harris (well, yes, I know, but my community visitors do not!), and why does Joe “get” him, and isn’t owning another person frowned upon? No inside jokes, no perpetuating the myth that we are a secret society. Rotary is active…show photos of us *doing* things in service…and with captions!

  2. Jim Thomson says:

    Mel, good points. It’s sometimes difficult in a rushed and crowded meeting to separate out the protagonists and get a photo that’s NOT grip and grin. One that sometimes works is to get the three or four or five sitting at a table looking at something, not at the camera, in the ‘tonight we bomb Berlin’ pose.

    We gave one local charity money for urgent replacements to its IT system and got a shot of them dropping the old CRT monitor into the dustbin.

    However, you committed one of my pet hates – not giving precise factual information so leaving the reader wondering what you are talking about. If you are going to say District 1010 the PLEASE say where it is. I have no idea; it would be good for the mental images to locate you in some part of the country but bu**ered if I’m going to waste MY time looking it up. The key point is efficiency: it is far better for the author to spend five minutes getting precise info than forcing tens of thousands of readers to do it individually.

    Rant over! And thanks for these initiatives.

    1. Thanks for your comments Jim.

      And you are right to raise the issue [school-boy error] of my reference to District 1010 Scotland North. The beauty of an online blog is I have now amended my version to include an exact location reference as to where I will be speaking this afternoon.

  3. says:

    I was so glad to see this – you’re totally right. I’m in a small club and we’re working very hard to present a positive image in Facebook and Twitter with the ultimate aim of attracting new members. One of our members is cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats in June to raise funds for End Polio Now, and I’m working on press releases for local papers of the areas he’s passing through. This is totally new and exciting for us – the latest picture is him in a field of purple crocuses. There wasn’t a camera around when he fell off his bike, unfortunately, but maybe that wouldn’t really present the image we needed!

    1. Great that you are working proactively on this Jenny. As you say, the key thing is about getting photos in different areas and doing different things. Yours is a good example where people would very easily get bored of seeing your member ‘on his bike’ just in different areas. Get him doing things to tell the story about that local area – what is the local food speciality? What is the area well known for? That way it bring the story back to being local as well – and isn’t just about another guy on a bike to the editor that your press release would be sent to. (Not that I could or would be able to do the amazing journey he is doing.)

      PS – Maybe a photo for the Blog when he gets to the North of Scotland haha!!

    2. says:

      Basic rule: Stop thinking Rotarians are the centre of the universe! Just gives us a reputation of being smug. Happy snaps of cheque presentations and chains are best kept for the club album. Its what Rotary does that really matters. A well taken shot (from an interesting angle) of what the money enabled is far more effective. BTW, ‘professional photographers’ include practitioners trained and experienced in various genres. Well worth investing in quality training from someone who specialises in reportage or social documentary. It needn’t cost a fortune if you follow the object of Rotary that includes ‘the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations; and the dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity to serve society.’

      1. Great points Liz – you’re right about the photographer; even just getting someone to show you what to do and how to set up a decent press shot can be an amazing investment (whether that costs or not).

  4. Simon Sherwin says:

    Cannot agree more with the comment about “Bling”. In house events or when representing the Club in an official capacity is fine when amongst “like minded” people but for public events – no. Most of us stopped collecting badges when we left the scouts – 52 years ago in my case. Prospective members and the public are not impressed. Paul Harris badges and jewels (not the most impressive pieces of jewellery) should never be seen outside of a Rotary event. All personal opinions

    1. Good points Simon. Interesting I was having a conversation about a workplace that for equality and diversity reasons have instructed that no badges/pins of any kind are worn by their staff – which I guess is an interesting position to take, and in reality actually probably thoroughly sensible and reasonable. The only comment I would make is in terms of the Rotary pin – sometimes it does offer an opportunity for people to strike up a “What is that?” conversation. Although like you I tend only to wear my pin when at Rotary functions.

  5. David Ellis says:

    During the three years as the Rotary GBI Chairman of Marketing, PR & Communications my team constantly gave the information contained n this current blog ( well done RB). I remember being a judge for the District Magazine Award and D1010 was, by far, the best laid out and produced publication, however, almost every photo was static and portrayed the movement in a poor light. That year another district won the award as their magazine was full of action shots, young people at an activity centre, cyclists and many more. To their credit the following year they had listened and won outright. Whenever a picture is taken, before posting ask yourself the question. ” Does this image enhance the story we are trying to tell?”

    1. Thanks for your input David. I concur with everything you say – it pays to listen to advice and reap the rewards by making [often just slight] changes to what would normally be done. Great point about the image ‘enhancing’ the story – and even stronger position!

    1. Thanks Mark – Hmmmmmm, let me think about the blog on the business session at this year’s Conference…??? Pretty sure wouldn’t be doing it’s subscribers and readers justice if there wasn’t at least a small piece uploaded 😉

  6. says:

    I agree with pretty well everything said, with a couple of provisos. We discussed this at a Regional Assembly last week and one member, from 1010 as it happens, commented that his local newspaper actually *wanted* the grip-and-grin shot. He was a good photographer and took photos the way we are talking about, but they weren’t the ones that got printed. Hopefully he is in a minority, but it’s a reminder that we have to pay attention to the house style of whatever publication we are submitting items to (even if we think it’s bad journalism!).

    And you’re right about the bling, but again in context. (Off topic, I have a pocket full of Rotary annual theme badges, never opened because I only wear the Rotary pin, it should be all we need. A lapel full of badges just looks silly). Back to the topic. As you say, on most occasions it’s not necessary, but sometimes it is. Primary schools like to get presentations from someone who looks important because it makes them feel important. A DG gave a district youth competition winner their award in a jumper and open-neck shirt, which in the photo I actually thought was quite disrespectful to the amount of work the winner had put in. So again, pay attention to the context.

    And there’s something quite ironic about *describing* how to take a good photograph! We should use the power of the image and *show* people instead. It’s all very well telling people about grip and grin, but what makes it stick is seeing a poor one, and alongside it a better framed/posed one (with appropriately placed banners) so that they say “Ah, right, now I see,,,”. Maybe we can get something like that for RIBI, I know we’re talking about it for my district.

    Great points though.

    1. Thanks for taking time to comment Callan. You make equally great points – and I think the key word you have used is ‘context’ – if it is appropriate to wear the chain of office then do so, but the key thing is that some thought has gone into whether or not it is needed.

      I would have loved to present some examples of good and not-so-good photos – but I only use images I am licensed and authorised to use on the blog. As I outlined in a previous comment, a quick search of Google images will certainly give you some great examples of what NOT to do.

  7. David Simpson says:

    I have enjoyed a great number of very apt comments. Yes photos of what donation used for is the real description of how Rotary works in the community. Yes dress appropriate to the occasion is ideal but chains of office have no place on a modern society.
    The Rotary pin I believe is an exception as it denotes our membership of a practical community based supporting group of workers.

  8. Representing Rotary PR in my small district in New Jersey. I hold the utmost importance of framing the scenery. It always helps to focus on the action you are trying to portray. There may be people in the background that are caught in the glimpse of the lens. They are so excited and share the photos on their personal pages,

    About the Bling… The Brits can be very formal. Lighten it up. I you want a profile picture in full regalia by all means. Use it for your Facebook picture, No problem. I personally wear my pins at all District and RI Functions, I am working on my son’s legacy, Besides there are so many people with titles because of their political connections.

    Rotarians are Friends without Titles and We are Family

    1. Friends without Titles – I love that comment Marilyn. Interesting that the RI President Office doesn’t actually have a chain of office – only seems to be in the RotaryGBI.

  9. Tony Quinn says:

    I don’t understand the comments about not wearing a pin except at Rotary meetings. I am proud to wear mine on almost all occasions and I wear the large one because I want people to ask me about it. Sadly many Rotarians don’t get it and frequently make derisory comments about it.
    Equally I am proud to wear Rotary branded shirts, etc . If we believe in our organisation then let’s say so.
    As regards grip and grin, sound advice has existed on the RIBI Moodle for at least 3 years regarding photographs. Fully agree about the bling too.

    1. Appreciate your comments Tony. I am totally with you about branded clothing – as long as that branded clothing isn’t fluorescent tabards and waistcoats. Nicely branded items of clothing is amazingly effective – and far more effectively than the bling that some individual insist on wearing in every photo they appear.

    2. says:

      Completely agree Tony. I recently sold a printer and the buyer asked about the Rotary logo on my pullover. I explained and invited him to a couple of meetings. We are welcoming him as our newest member this week!

  10. Stephen Lay says:

    In my PR presentations I use a slide “The impotance of PR” (sic). It always gets the response of “you have spelled importance wrong”. Wrong, I have spelled “impotence” wrong, I then use examples of how too often our PR does more harm than good.

  11. Jim Thomson says:

    To reinforce that we should go for photos illustrating our impact our local paper this week published a half page piece on my club’s donation to the Phnom Penh RC for its (medical) MEC project (look it up). It used three photos I took showing the Children’s Surgical Centre and a couple of the recovering patients, but NOT the grip and grin pictures of us saying hello either in UK or in Cambodia.

    And there’s internal PR as well. We’re recruiting quite well, about 3 or 4 a year joining. However they are in the 50 to 65 age range. I’m happy with seeing the President wearing his chain of office; it makes for easy identification of where to pass the buck, rather like finding a policeman to sort out trouble. 50+ prospective members seem happy to accept it as a tradition, but what about the impact on 30 or 40 year olds the first time they walk into the room?

  12. Lindsay Pearson says:

    Rotary really does have to move with the times.

    I’m a self-employed Electronics Engineer. Almost without exception, my business meetings involve other professionals, none of whom wear suits and ties. So why should I turn up at a Rotary meeting in a suit and tie ? The answer is simple, I don’t. Ever. And when I visit other Clubs, I am happy to wear our Club embroidered-logo sweatshirt or polo shirt. A formal dinner is a different matter, out comes the DJ and bow-tie.

    I find the simple Rotary pin a good signal, occasionally prompting discussion about Rotary, sometimes easing an approach to/from another Rotarian in other towns/places/countries. The other badges are an embarrassment best left in their wrapper.

    The President’s Jewel/sash is for Club meetings only, and during the meeting at that – not in the bar preceding or following the meeting. Frankly I’d prefer not to use it at all except for formal meetings like Charter Night, but I’m prepared to go with the flow. But I don’t think my colleagues need to see a sash to know who to blame!

    I don’t have a problem with the “fines” – in our Club these are the subject of genuine hilarity resulting from the witty reasons for the fines and the banter that follows.

    But the image of Rotary is dreadful – suited grey heads pompously handing out largesse to the proleteriat. Show the fun we have (well, we do!) as well as what we do. Show the results of what we do, not just be seen as those guys shaking tins.

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