PR: when a picture says a thousand words

When announcing the introduction of a new breeding silverback to the gorilla enclosure at London Zoo, we were provided with a great example of how a picture can transcend a story. The Guardian completely filled a double page spread with this stunning image of Kumbuka, the fifteen-year old twenty-nine stone western lowland gorilla who arrived yesterday. PRs trying to publicise new appointments can only dream of such coverage for their human clients.

A picture speaks a thousand words…or so they say. And while there is no denying the truth of that statement, we at Admiral PR would like to add a proviso: the right picture speaks a thousand words; the wrong picture says something else entirely and none of it complimentary.

When the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death broke on Taiwanese television, the picture shown was of American actress Meryl Streep dressed in her role as the first female British Prime Minister. However many millions of images of the grocer’s daughter from Grantham might have been available on the web, they managed to choose the wrong one.

An American online publication shows us the perils of Google Image search when left in the wrong hands. The summary of the plot of Charles Dickens’ classic of English literature David Copperfield is accompanied by a photograph of the modern-day showman magician of the same name. Apart from the obvious amusement factor, the key point here is that it makes the writers look plain stupid.

A vicar once told me that he regarded it as his duty to point out potential problems with the names at children’s christenings. Sometimes, he said, couples did not realise that they had given their babies initials that would later embarrass them. Well, a good PR professional is in the same position. It is his or her job to look at everything with a forensic attention to detail, utilising their knowledge of all press sectors, to ensure that their client never says or does something that they might later come to regret. To this end, they sometimes have to impart difficult truths and clients need to be able to have enough trust in them to listen.

I suspect there are few brave enough to have a candid word with Kumbuka, but with his good looks and natural flair for PR that probably will not be necessary.