"Every building has an architect"

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada has a campaign to encourage its members to send this postcard to editors and to urge the editors to identify the name of architects in photo credits. Several American Institute of Architect components have also endorsed the program.
This is a usually good advice for building product manufacturers to follow when using building photos in marketing literature. It makes the manufacturer seem more connected to the culture of architects. The architect will generally like the public exposure. And it may encourage other architects to think, "Well, if XYZ Architects used it, I guess I can too."

Criticism: The campaign may make members of the association feel good about themselves, but I  doubt the campaign will have much impact on editors already pressed for time.

  • Many buildings do not have architects.
  • For many buildings, the names of the architects is lost or would require extensive research.
  • Other buildings have been remodeled and enlarged; is the editor to list them all?
  • The developer, builder, engineer, and others contributed to the vision for the building. Shouldn't they be credited too. 
  • Photos of buildings are printed for all sorts of reasons not related to the architecture, making the name of the architect irrelevant to the article. And,
Finally, there are many times an architect would prefer to not have his or her name in the press:
Even if the architect is found to be not liable for the collapse of this balcony in Berkeley, would the firm want's its name here?

Photo Contest - Take Your Best Shot

Many building product manufacturers have a difficult time getting photos of their products in use.   Koroseal, a leading producer of wall covering, is holding a contest to entice people to submit photos of their products. The contest also builds customer engagement with the brand.

A spot on Koroseal's home page links to the entry form:

Contest Rules:
  • Clarify that this is a random drawing, say it is open to anyone over 18 except as prohibited by law, excluded employees, limits the number of submittals an individual can make, define which products are applicable, prohibit resubmission of previous submittals and state a deadline for submission.
  • Include instructions for submittal, state minimum dimension (in pixels), and requires (highlighted) that submitted images are property of entrant.
  • Copyright remains with the submitter, but the company is given a non-exclusive right to use and publish any of the images submitted in advertising, promotional materials, publications, and other purposes without compensation.
  • Has legal boilerplate about submittal being full and unconditional agreement with rules and decision of company, and says that the company has right to suspend contest due to technical or other problems. It also states that "photos", "photography", and "images" are used interchangeably, and includes a limitation of liability.
If you do a similar competition, note that your use of images may be limited by other factors such as the rights of a property owner.

Sika also is running a photo contest. Theirs is on Facebook and asks customers to tell a “'Sika® Story' – whether it is an interesting anecdote from on the job, creative use of our products or snapshots of the Sika Triangle logo, or photos from projects featuring our products". The winner is determined by "likes," so there is the potential of more widespread engagement with the public.

Koroseal's approach seems more appropriate for the design professionals they want to reach, Sika's for the broader world of installers.

I am sure few entrants read the contest's rules, however. To bad, because they place an onerous burden on the contestant including, for example:
All Entrants agree to release, discharge, indemnify and hold harmless Sponsor, Facebook, and their affiliates, parent, subsidiaries, advertising agencies, directors, officers, employees, representatives and agents (the “Released Parties”) from any and all claims, losses, damages, liabilities or causes of action of any kind resulting, in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, from participation in the Contest or any Contest-related activity or acceptance, possession, use or misuse of any Prize, including claims based on publicity rights, defamation, invasion of privacy or injury to person (including death) or property.
The risks associated with this claim far outweigh the odds and value of the prize.

Update 2015-03-20

Hey Photographer! How Dumb Are You?

This manufacturer makes a big deal about their competition, mentioning it on several pages in their website.  A big deal for them maybe, but not such a good deal for the entrant:
We encourage all aspiring photographers to enter the XXXXXX Photography Competition.  A first place award in our competition may be the beginning of a lucrative and legendary career in architectural photography. And, as a design-awarded company, XXXXXX will do it's best to promote your work-not as exceptional, but as the best.
That's it; all the fame and glory you can muster, your chance to enter the lucrative field of starving artist/photographer. And, of course, the disclaimer:
...all submissions to the XXXXXX Photography Competition, whether award winners or not, become the artistic property of XXXXXX.  We retain all rights of usage, and are under no legal obligation to attribute the work to the photographer. Third, there is no financial compensation for submissions, award-winning or not.
So while they say they will promote your work, they are under no "legal obligation" to attribute the work.  Maybe we should rely on their "moral obligation." They would be a lot more legitimate if they just said, "please send us your photos."

Taking good snapshots

When I told a client to take high-quality photos when he visits job sites, he asked, "How would you describe a quality image?"  Here is my answer:

I recommend you get a "real" camera as it will have a better lens than does a mobile phone. It need not be a big through the lens reflex (SLR) camera; there are many adequate pocket size camera for about $300 that are easy to carry with you when you visit a jobsite or travel. 

Look for one that can shot "RAW" format so it captures all the light present; jpeg format compresses the image and reduces the ability to color correct the photo.  RAW files tend to be big, so look for a camera that simultaneously records a RAW and a jpeg that can be used for email. 

Shoot at the highest resolution (most pixels) the camera allows. The more pixels we have, the more useful the picture will be: we can crop it, blow it up, retouch it, etc.  The files may be too big for easy attachment to a phone or text message, but can be shared via an online file transfer program.

Optical zoom is fine, but do not use digital zoom as it reduces the quality of the image.

The auto focus / auto exposure setting on modern cameras are pretty good. If you are inclined, take some time to get to know the camera and its manual settings. 

My secret for taking good photos is to shoot LOTS of them, and throw away the bad ones.  Take shots from a variety of angles, close-up and distant, horizontal and vertical, with and without people, with and without flash, and so forth.

If light is low, use a tripod (there are small ones that fit in a briefcase) or find something stable on which you can brace the camera. Use a soft, lint-free cloth or tissue to make sure your lens is clean.

Remember that, once the project is finished, we can always send someone to the site to photograph it, but the in-progress shots can't be taken after construction.

When you file the pictures, make sure to record the project names and other data that will be useful when you need the images in years to come. Most of the photo management software projects have tools for storing this "metadata".

It's worth the effort to take photos. In addition to using them in advertising, PR, and on the website, they will be useful for training, continuing education, project documentation, and to share with customers.

Baby Photos

As this blog has repeatedly pointed out, a library of high-quality photographs of your products, installation techniques, and projects is an invaluable asset for a building product company.

One of my clients, the general manager of a new start-up, was having a hard time understanding this. Finally, I said,
Your company is like an infant.
Parents take photos of everything their babies do;
you should, too.
 Photo by D Sharon Pruitt,

Architectural Photographers

Association of Independent Architectural Photographers has two resources for anyone looking for an architectural photographer:
Members are vetted through a review of a portfolio and check of references. The directory can be searched by state or country in which photographer typically works. Links to photographer's website and email addresses alloy you to quickly view portfolios and contact the photographers that interest you.

You may prefer to post a description of your project and let interested photographers contact you. This could be especially useful if you are looking for a vendor that can provide specific requirements.

Some building product manufacturers form a relationship with a single photographer and send the vendor around the country or world.  The benefit of this is that you get a consistent look throughout your portfolio. In addition, you save the time (and the expense of unusable images) required to educate new photographers about what is important about your product and your image.

Alternatively, you may want to hire photographers that are based near the building you need photographed. This, obviously reduces travel costs. It also makes it more convenient for the photographer to be on-call for specific events -- like the day your product is installed -- and to dash off to the job site when the weather and lighting is just right.  In many instances, I have found that a local photographer has already shot a building and I could license images without paying for shooting and prep time.

Pictures First

Most of my clients do not realize how important it is to have good photos of their products.  They should take note of a recent blog post by Nadav Malin president of, describes how the editorial process at architectural magazines is often driven by images. He writes:
This visually interesting project went on the magazine cover (over Malin's objection) even though it has questionable sustainability.
For me, the creative tension between beauty and green performance came to a head in 2006, when I began working with the staff of Architectural Record on their new magazine: GreenSource...

As GreenSource’s executive editor, I was the “technical guy” who could help make sure that we’re talking about sustainability topics in a meaningful and defensible way. I learned a tremendous amount from that team, beginning with the power of using images to tell a story. I had always been a words-and-data kind of guy, so when I saw how they developed a story by leading with the visuals, it really blew my mind. That was quite a shift from the early years of Environmental Building News, when we tended to write an article first, and illustrating it was sometimes just an afterthought.

At GreenSource it went more like this: Here’s the topic, here are the images, here’s how they’ll flow, and, oh, ok, looks like we can fit in about 800 words of copy, so that’s what you get to write.
This thermographic picture of the same project shows how the fins on the building act as radiators to leak energy to exterior. (Image:
Bottom line: get good photos, organize them so they are retrievable, and use them in your marketing.

Chusid is "Innovator of Century"

I am posting this from World of Concrete trade show in Las Vegas.

BASF has a gimmick in their booth that actually makes sense from a promotional standpoint.  I stood in-front of a greenscreen while my portrait was photographed. Then I was offered my choice of Las Vegas-themed backgrounds, each of which had a BASF branding message. By the time I got back to my hotel, I was able to download the image.

By putting the prospect into the frame, BASF created a piece of promotional literature the prospect will keep forever. I bet I am not the only booth visitor that posted the photo to Facebook or sent it home to the family, helping to spread the BASF brand. 

To see site in action, go to Photographic mosaics may have other applications in your business. To learn more, visit the developer,
The promotion was so much fun, I visited booth a second time.

Photos - Unsullied by Humans?

As a general rule (and with notable exceptions), people have not been shown in architectural photos. It now appears we may be on the cusp of a new paradigm where it is becoming fashionable to include humans.
The editor-in-chief of Architectural Record, Cathleen McGuigan, seems to be calling for this in her "Editor's Letter" in the January 2012 issue. Referring to the "giants of post-World War II architectural photography," she says,
"The drama in their photos came from the brilliant use of light and shadow in images of sweeping grandeur or of minute details.... Their photos glorified majestic exteriors and serene interiors, unsullied by human use.

"Yet in keeping with a shift in 21st-century architectural values, where buildings are seen not so much as idealized sculptural objects* but as part of the fabric of places, photography, too, is changing. Documenting architecture is often less pristine these days... photos are alive with the pulse of real places." 
Indeed, the cover photo of the issue, of a school, not only shows students in front of the building, it also shows them reflected in the facade of the building -- becoming part of the architecture. (See photo above.)

While the issue's five articles about museums show few people and then only for visual scale, its several articles about schools are full of students actively using their facilities.

More, some advertisers seem to feel that populating photos in their ads can increase viewer empathy or interest. 

If you are purchasing photographs or photographic services, hedge your bets by getting images with and without people whenever appropriate.

* Who is she fooling about architecture not being about "idealized sculptural objects"? Her magazine is full of architectural sculpture and frequently champions the latest style without regard for practicality or function. But this is not a blog of architectural criticism, so I refrain from further comment.

Commissioning Architectural Photography

The American Institute of Architects and American Society of Media Photographers have jointly developed recommended practices for acquiring photography of architectural subjects.  They offer two publications that will be useful if you are trying to hire a photography to capture images of your products used in building projects.

Commissioning Architectural Photography: Best Practices in Working with a professional Photographer, is on the ASMP website or as a PDF brochure.

Sharing the Photographic Assignment: A Case Study, discusses the common practice of sharing the cost of hiring a photographer.

Chusid Associates recently shared the cost of photography. In our situation, it wasn't so much a matter of cost reduction, as access to the site -- a private office -- where the owner did not want to be bothered by multiple photo shoots.

Digital Asset Management

Chusid Associates has recently entered the field of Digital Assets Management (DAM). We have invested in a new piece of DAM software to help us do our DAM job. This is a DAM-useful piece of software that simplifies many DAM projects. Its Graphics On Demand (GOD) capabilities allow us to quickly and easily produce a ### DAM slideshow, webpage, or presentation. If you would like us to help organize your DAM assets, let me know. Chusid Associates – We give a DAM!

Panoramic Photo Stitching for Dramatic Online Content

Digital photos make it easy to "stitch" together several images to create a wide-angle panorama of a scenic vacation spot. Now, software enables the stitching together and online viewing of super-high resolution photos with gigabytes of visual information. I believe these images have great potential for building product marketing. They allow customers to see detailed views of your product, then to zoom out to see them in context.
Create this, in super-high definition...
...from ordinary photos like this.
Check out the examples at

How NOT to label images

As connection speeds and hard drives have improved, the type of media people look for online has changed. The early 'net was all about text (hypertext), but now people can access, and want, more images. It is neither coincidence or accident that every successful social medium incorporates some form of image sharing. Images are especially important in construction, whether project photos or technical drawings. They illustrate, showcase, and explain products in ways difficult to achieve using just pages full of text and data. This means it is now as important for search engines to find your pictures as your website.

So why do I keep seeing pages that use images like this:

This came from an email newsletter; my email client only downloads images with manual approval, so when I opened the message this is what I saw. The problem is all the images had generic alt text - "Placeholder image" - instead of useful names. 

Usually alt text only comes up when you hover the mouse cursor over an image, but it will also display if, for some reason, the image does not load. This means that if there is no alt text, or bad alt text, and the image is broken or missing, viewers have no way to know what was there. This email would work better if the alt text said, "Rotary hammer in action" or "Vacuum excavator close-up". That text is interesting, and makes me want to click through.

This example comes from an email, not a website, but the basic principal remains the same: Alt text is another way to get readers, and search engines, interested in your images. Adding alt text is fairly easy; most content management systems should provide a space for alt text when you upload an image. If not, it requires a small addition to the HTML that defines the image. Either way, if your webmaster doesn't know how to do this, get a new webmaster.

Signs of Change: Our changing cameras

Two articles came out this week that underscore how much camera use is changing in the smartphone era.

First, Cisco announced they were discontinuing their Flip line of camcorders. Flip had emerged as the dominant brand name for ultra-portable consumer grade camcorders; the video equivalent of point-and-shoot digital cameras. For about a hundred bucks you could get a camcorder that fit in your pocket and took YouTube-ready video. Most models even have USB adapters for easy charging and one-button uploads to your website of choice.

I got one last summer, and my experience foreshadows Cisco's decision to end the line. It was a great piece of technology - worked well, easy to use, and took high enough quality video for what I needed - but I could not get in the habit of carrying another dedicated piece of technology at all times. If I need a quick spur-of-the-moment video, I use my iPhone. If I need something more sophisticated, I usually have enough advance notice to bring a full camcorder along. Apparently this was the general consensus, and the Flip is joining the list of useful-but-obsolete gadgets.

The second article shows how design firm Artefact is moving in the opposite direction; their goal is to create the first "smart camera".

Working on the "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" philosophy, Artefact's plan is to make digital cameras more like smartphones. This would introduce such features as wireless handheld viewfinders (that look suspiciously like a smartphone), touchscreen controls, accelerometers, and dedicated apps.

The idea of integrating apps is potentially the most revolutionary. The primary reason most people use their phone instead of a stand-alone camera is the phone makes it easier to edit, organize, and share photos without having to transfer files to a computer first. If my camera had a direct connection to Facebook (or Picasa, or Flicker, or my company's website) and native photo editing software, the smartphone loses that advantage. Now the decision comes down to the photo quality I need; for most consumers the smartphone will be enough, but for professionals and hobbyists the full camera - complete with interchangeable lenses! - wins hands down.

What is notable about both these articles is that the changes they describe were motivated or inspired by smartphone adoption. We are evolving towards increasingly multi-functional, omnipresent, always connected devices. As marketers this should influence whether you create your sales tools as stand alone resources or dedicated smartphone apps.

Present infographics using real objects

Infographics (short for Information Graphics) have gained popularity online as simple, clear (when done well), and often amusing ways of communicating what could otherwise be very bland or difficult-to-grasp information. Peter Ørntoft has a new set of infographics up using physical objects in the place of the usual bar charts, pie graphs, and other common means of comparing sets of data.

Headscarf used as an infographic
His work is inspirational and exciting, and worth checking out if you are looking for new ways to communicate your story. Plus, it works very well for manufacturers of such concrete materials as, well, concrete.
You may already be doing this type of infographic without realizing it. Showing a picture of your product side-by-side with the competitors to highlight size or weight differences, for example. But consider what other parts of your message could be conveyed this way. One of our clients, for example, has a product aimed at DIY homeowners; they explain the time savings they offer as "enough time to redo your basement and still watch a football game". Imagine illustrating that this way:

Better yet, consider what you could do using your actual products. Show off what they can do while giving the data. Tell the story at the same time you demonstrate the story.

[h/t PSFK]

Who's posting pictures on Facebook?

According to data released by Pixable, age is no longer a strong indicator of who posts pictures to Facebook. The difference between 26-year-olds (most photos) and 46-year-olds was only 30%. Still a significant gap, but that's still over 400 photos per user in the over-40 demographic.

As notable, it is estimated there will be over 100 billion photos on Facebook by Summer 2011.

Most building product manufacturers will likely never have or need substantial galleries on Facebook or similar social networks, but this new data points to two important conclusions:

1. The people making purchasing decisions about your product are on Facebook, and are accustomed to viewing and commenting on photos there.

2. Facebook photos have become part of the new default landscape, and should be considered part of your baseline marketing mix.

What does this mean for you? If you do not already have a Facebook page for your company and/or products, consider this further evidence that you need one (even if it's minimalist and rarely updated). If you do have a Facebook page, be sure you have at least a small collection of good photos. I recommend a mix of product and project shots, with a couple installation pics if available.

There continues to be some debate about who owns photos posted to Facebook. Err on the side of caution; post good pictures, but not your best, indispensable ones. Assume that you will loose control of, and possibly ownership to, whatever pictures you post, and select accordingly.

(Pixable is a new online company with services that give Facebook users more options for accessing and cataloging their friends' pictures, and the study sample size was only 100,000, so take these findings with an appropriate grain of salt. You can see the full infographic here.)

Gigabyte-Sized Photos add interest to website

A new digital photographic technique has exciting potential for building product presentations, websites, and social media.

Back in the days of film photography, I would take a dozen or more overlapping photos of a scenic panorama, then cut and paste individual snapshots together to show the entire vista. Software like Photoshop made the job easier as one could "stitch" images together digitally, even automatically. Recent advances take this a step further, making it simple to stitch together dozens of images. The composite files, which can contain gigabytes of information, capture an awesome amount of detail.

For example, this image of the most recent presidential inauguration is made up of 220 separate exposures. The composite image size is 59,783 X 24,658 pixels or 1,474 megapixels.

While an ordinary camera with a wide angle lens could capture the same view, it would not allow the viewer to zoom in to see details like the following:
When viewed online, one can see an amazing amount of visual information. In addition to the president, one can pan and zoom in to see thousands of individuals and details of Washington. For example, these architectural details are just below the dome of the Capitol:
If you have ever used Google Earth or the satellite or street views on Google Maps, you already know how powerful composite images can be. What is new is that an inexpensive device from Gigapan Systems now makes it possible for almost anybody with a digital camera to create gigabyte images that are easy to display and manipulate online. While the "pro" model costs $900, for only $300,
"the GigaPan Epic robotic camera mount makes it fun and easy to capture gigapixel panoramas with most compact digital cameras and works seamlessly with GigaPan Stitch software and Compact and lightweight, yet powerful and durable - the GigaPan EPIC is ideal for travel and adventure."

Scale: One of the challenges of architecture and engineering is to be able to move between scales. The architect needs to see an entire space or even an entire building within the context of its environment, but also has to understand how a doorknob or window detail fits into the the project. The structural engineer must understand how forces get distributed throughout an entire structure, but must also pay attention to individual joint and anchorage details.

GigaPan allows you to present your products in context. Beneath the overall composite, you can show thumbnails of interesting close-ups. When a thumbnail is clicked, the software zooms from the macro image to the indicated item.

A typical photograph will capture a viewer's attention for a fraction of a second. But a GigaPan invites a viewer to explore, increasing his or her time on your website page where other product-related messages can also be displayed.

Games and Contests:
This may be the ultimate "Where's Waldo" puzzle. A contest can encourage viewers to search an image to find your treasure or clues. Information about your product can be embedded throughout the image. Games like these can be especially attractive to a younger audience that grew up playing online games.

Technical and Quality Control Issues:
The stitching works not only with vast vistas, but also with micro photography. This opens many opportunities for use in technical presentations or for offering evidence of quality control.  Click here for micro images of insects.

Training and Presentations:
Complex products, machines, and systems can be made easier to understand when the viewer can move around and get in close to see parts of interest.

Social Media and Mobile Media:
These giga images can be inserted into websites or e-mail and used in other social media applications. They offer a way to display large images on a small mobile platform like an iPad or smart phone.

Search Engine Optimization:
Images can be posted at the GigaPan website and linked into Google Earth. Undoubtedly, other platforms will embrace the format and they will become integrated into video and photo sharing sites. These sites allow the use of tags and keywords that can help search engines and potential customers find you.

New Advertising and Publishing Format:
I can imagine giga photos as a type of online banner ad that allows one to zoom in or out to get more information. An entire catalog or magazine could be captured in a single giga image.

Final Thoughts:
I am sure I have just touched the surface what will emerge from this technology. Eventually you will be able to use systems like this to transmit real time images, and photos like this will be integrated into building information models (BIM) and virtual reality worlds.

I invite you to contact Chusid Associates to discuss how giga photos can be most useful in your marketing mix.
Here are links to a few architectural or construction images from the GigaPan website:
Burj Khalifa Tower
Burning Man Waffle Structure
Frank Gehry's Fred and Ginger Building
Leonardo Dialogo (nanotechnology art) - Interior
Union Station, Washington DC - Interior
Building after gutting by fire - forensic record

Another publisher of panoramic giga photos is at

Fill product lit with photos

This is an encore of an article first published 20 years ago. In some ways, it is more difficult to organize and track photography now than it was then. In the past, at least we had a physical negative or transparency that we could hold onto. Now, digital images have a way of vanishing if they are not rigorously backed-up and cataloged. Fortunately, digital asset management software can be used to make the task easier.

I am revising my company's product literature. So far, I have not been able to locate any of the photos used in our previous catalogs, and we have only a few new pictures showing our products or projects on which they were used. How can I keep better track of our photos, and how can I get the most from my limited photography budget?-A.S.J., assistant marketing director

While a catalog is being designed and printed, the marketing staff, photographer, ad agency, graphic designer, and printer diligently keep track of the artwork. But afterward, everyone quickly moves on to the next project and forgets about the photos until the next deadline. By then the trail is often cold and the photos lost. Photography can be expensive, so before you start hiring photographers, set up procedures to create and manage a photo library.

Good photography is an investment that will yield a return for years to come. Photos can help sell your product; many designers and builders are visual thinkers and will learn more horn the illustrations in your product literature than from the text. And project photographs often are interpreted as testimonials, showing the confidence other builders have in your product. Catalog photography can be reused in publicity features, advertisements, and audiovisual presentations.

Set up a library
Make one person responsible for your photo library. Collect all the existing slides, negatives, transparencies, and prints you can locate and store them in plastic sheet protectors organized in three-ring binders. Firms with larger libraries might want to consider special media cabinets with illuminated racks for viewing transparencies.

Make an index identifying each image and the product options shown. Identify the photographer and note who owns the negatives or reproduction rights. For project photos, identify the designer, contractor, owner, and representative or distributor who serviced the job. Include phone numbers and addresses. It is a good practice to obtain signed release forms from building owners before publishing pictures of their property in your literature. These releases should be filed in the photo library.

Instead of letting original photography leave the library, send duplicates or color photocopies whenever possible. If the original is required, use a traffic log to record where and when the photo was sent. Check the log frequently to make sure originals are returned in a timely manner.

Save costs on photography
When buying photography, plan each shot carefully to minimize the cost for sets, models, travel, and other expenses. Photographers often are willing to negotiate fees, but don't sacrifice talent for price. The best photographers may be more expensive, but they save costs because of their skill in planning and capturing just the right image.

Another cost-saving option is to find existing pictures of buildings where your product has been used. Most buildings are professionally photographed for an architect's portfolio or an owner's corporate communication program. Ask your rep or distributor to identify recent good-looking or interesting jobs. Call the architects or developers to find out if they are satisfied with your product. If they aren't, take care of your customer relations problems. But if they are, they may be willing to send you photos or refer you to the photographer they used. Photographers will usually sell copies of pictures in stock for a fraction of what they initially charged to take the picture.

Construction managers take pictures to document their work and are often a good source for installation photographs. I once requested pictures of one client's product being installed on a curtain wall, and 1 received a11 entire roll of film shot by a construction manager from a swing scaffold, 59 stories above the ground.

You can also give your salespeople and field service reps good-quality lightweight 35mm cameras arid a supply or slide film. Encourage them to take the cameras whenever they visit projects. They may not shoot the award-winning cover photo that sets your product against a perfect sky, but their snapshots will provide valuable illustrations of installation and special conditions. 'They also can help you identify projects that deserve professional photography.

As an incentive, display the best snapshots on a bulletin board at the home office or in an employee newsletter. This also helps office staff understand what happens in the field.

Patterned Concrete Industries Inc., maker of tools for imprinting decorative patterns into concrete, holds a photo competition at its annual sales meeting. Each attending contractor is encouraged to bring photographs from a recent project. The photos are displayed and the contractors vote on the best picture and project of the year. Prizes are awarded at the closing banquet. The contest generates a fresh supply of pictures for the firm's marketing materials and enables contractors to learn new techniques and applications from their peers. Win or lose, participating contractors have high-quality pictures of their work to enhance their own sales presentations.

Have a question you'd like us to answer?

By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1992

Art Direction for a Photo Shoot

Getting good architectural photography showing our clients' products is always a challenge. Budget constraints frequently make it necessary for us to use images that were originally shot by or for the building's architect or owner; the photos may showcase the beauty of a building or room, but seldom provide the accent on our client's product.

Even when we get to hire a photographer to shoot a project, our clients can seldom afford to send someone from our project team to the jobsite. We have to try to communicate with a freelance photographer in words and sketches so he or she understands the "spirit" of the client's products and the types of details to emphasize.

On the other hand, we occasionally get to provide art direction for a photo shoot. For example, we recently
hired a talented architectural photographer, Doug Hill, to photograph an interior space for which our client had supplied finishes. The images were destined for use in advertising and new product literature, and had to capture the excitement of the space and our client's system.

After making arrangements with the building owner, a member of our design team, the client's sales representative, and the photographer went on a scouting expedition to the project. The information we got was invaluable. An understanding of the daylighting conditions, for example, helped us to determine the time of day that offered the greatest potential for what we wanted to capture. Understanding the room layout enabled the photographer to decide what equipment, lenses, and supplemental lighting to bring. Seeing the furnishings and artwork enabled us to arrange for props to better dress the set. Plus, the client's representative was able to point out important features that were important to capture (and a few to avoid).

On the day of the photo shoot, our creative director, Steve Miller, joined Doug at the shoot. Digital photography enabled Steve to preview each shot on a computer monitor so that adjustments could be made in the photo composition, lighting, and room setup to optimize the results. Steve could also indicate additional photos, not required for the initial ad, that would be useful for future marketing communication needs.

The resulting pictures became a true collaboration between art director and photographer. Doug says, "Steve was very good at keeping the shoot focused on what needed to be accomplished, and I feel the results were improved considerably as a result."

I know we will not always be afforded the luxury of this type of planning and art direction. But the added expense of the scouting trip and sending the art director to the shoot is only a small fraction of the total ad budget including purchasing media space. If it results in even a slight increase in visual impact and sales inquiries, the expense will be worth the investment.

Social Media and the Paradox of Choice

On the way to work this morning I was listening to a 2008 episode of Radio Lab about choice. The lead story had Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, discussing that for most people decision-making capability drops sharply when they are confronted by more than seven options. Listening to him as I walked, I realized this could also explain one of the major obstacles to social media adoption: there are too many channels for businesses to make effective decisions about which to use. And if there are too many options for businesses, what is that doing to our customers?

The answer is not to limit choice, but to sharpen focus.
A new client recently asked me what I considered "essential social media" for a B2B company. Off the top of my head, I listed (in no particular order):
  • Blog
  • Twitter stream
  • Facebook fan page
  • LinkedIn profile for key executives and company
  • Email newsletter
  • YouTube channel
  • Online photo gallery
  • Website optimization
  • Wikipedia editing
  • Mobile landing page
...and then I paused to take a breath. Is it any wonder my client felt overwhelmed? Seeing the panic on his face, I considered the list and refocused. The first thing we did was narrow the list down by combining similar items:
  1. Website overhaul (which includes blog, mobile page, and SEO review)
  2. Online media gallery
  3. Social networking
  4. Email marketing
  5. Online brand monitoring
Suddenly we had a manageable list.  Sure, creating an "online media gallery strategy" takes more work than starting a YouTube channel, but it made it easier to see the full picture and start our next step: prioritizing.

We began with goal setting; what was the purpose of this online campaign? The client's experience showed that their existing sales network was very effective; the major needs were brand awareness, education, and maintaining customer loyalty. That suggested a single technology to me: email newsletters.

E-newsletters can be very effective at keeping your brand top-of-mind for both new prospects, who need education and awareness, and existing customers, who are reminded of past positive experiences. With the right set-up it is even easy to send multiple versions of your newsletter at once, each customized for a particular audience. Better yet, all of the other online options we discussed suddenly became part of a single project by contributing content to the newsletter, building awareness of it, and building a subscriber base.

It is also important to remember that no company can be successful in every social media venue, so it is always acceptable - encouraged even - to pick the few you want to focus on and ignore the rest. Redesigning the social media mix is fairly simple, so there is little opportunity cost involved. Still, this experience with my client was a good example of how asking the right questions and focusing on goals can change a seemingly impossible list of options into a single manageable project.