As a professional photo blogger, I have been frequently asked what it is I do and more importantly, how. I too have asked similar questions of professionals in the same space and have received no answers. It is as if this is a space bereft of best practices, disclosure and guidelines. Essentially anything that makes it “professional” in the first place. This is my attempt to start that conversation.

What I do

As a photographer and photo blogger, I have covered several brand / product launches / events. Some of the brands that I have done this for in the past include Adobe, Nikon, Levi’s, Tarun Tahiliani, Nokia, Myntra, Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2012, Hewlett Packard, MANGO & Marie Claire, Miller, Micromax, Samsung, Armani, Dewarists, Pantene, etc.

How I do it : The process.

I receive an invite, attend the event, photograph the event in my personal style, come back to my desk, edit those images, write about the event and share those images in a blog post on this blog. Sometimes I go without an invite to events that are open to the public. I introduce the brand if it’s new or do a short introduction of the event / launch. The number of images is unlike a typical press-release. I use at least 20 to 50 images showing an overview of the entire event.

Once blogged, I share the links on Twitter @naina and Facebook [ personal page & business page ] and sometimes even LinkedIn [ when relevant ]. I also create an album on my Facebook business page with the images from the launch / event.

Why I do it : my agenda

Usually it is for a brand whose products I actually use in daily life. There is an existing personal connection and I like furthering that relationship with the brand. But increasingly, I am receiving more and more invites for such events and launches. I have had to evaluate how covering these events is advantageous to me apart from a vague sense of having a better relationship with the brand and the people who represent it.

Image & Reputation : if the brand I am engaging with has a good reputation, and I cover their launch / event on my blog, my peers will have higher regard for me and my work.
Networking : if I attend an event, I might meet someone who might be a prospective client for me. Sometimes from the brand team itself.
Monetary : some of the events I have covered in the past have been paid because the brand specifically asked me to come and photograph the event and then blog about it. Wherever that has happened, I have disclosed the same. But mostly, these are unpaid where no monetary compensation is available.
Promoting Change : I also cover such events to help change the industry and introduce the idea that bloggers aren’t like traditional media. We don’t just want a blurb. We don’t publish mass market newspapers and magazines. I might be delusional but I do think I bring about change in thought when I discuss this with the brand teams.

What do I get : numbers / physical objects / money

I ask for a cab pick up and drop that the brand pays for. If they are inviting me to a launch without explicitly asking me to photograph / blog about it, I do not ask them to pay me but neither do I commit to photographing / blogging. The cab is a minimum must though.

At the reception where I sign up / register at the venue, sometimes they might have a “goodie bag”. I usually hate those. But sometimes when they contents are thoughtful, I even take photographs of those and include them on the blog.

Food & drinks : Most launches have this covered but for me personally, this is not why I attend. I have heard and experienced multiple times from people who work in traditional media “Hum toh bas daaru peeney aur khaana khaaney aaye hain. Akhbaar mein story toh press release sey hee likhni hai waise bhi.” [ We’re here only to drink alcohol and eat. The newspaper story will be written from the press release anyway ]. How very professional. I don’t care how terrible a traditional media job is but this is unacceptable behaviour. But I digress.

Sometimes after the blog post has been published and the brand has measured the conversation my individual blog post has generated, they have gotten back in touch with me and have either hired me for a professional photography assignment or have compensated me in kind [ for example Adobe – they gave me the entire Master Collection of CS6 and also asked for a review of the same. That software suit retails of Rs. 1,50,000. ]

What does the brand get : why do they want me?

Measurable eyeballs.

This blog has monthly pageviews of ~13,500 each month. And growing, in case it isn’t obvious. Click below for larger view.

On Twitter, there are currently ~11,000 people who follow my updates.
On Facebook [ personal and business page ], there are currently ~3,600 + ~4,400 people who follow my updates.

That is a total population of ~32,500 people with some overlap. And this is a discerning audience. This blog is not a newspaper or a magazine that is sent out to thousands of people who might not even see the tiny story that traditional press has covered. The people who I interact with on online platforms are people who hold brands accountable and want to create relationships with those brands.

The brand also gets professional quality photographs. Unmatched when compared with what they receive from traditional media. [ And before I’m told that traditional media has it’s place, sure. I am not denying that. But relevance? Who is your audience? ]

Also, we are not talking about ads and sales here – we are talking about engagement. Brand / product launches and events do not have sales goals – the people invited to those events are not expected to make a direct purchase. Such events and launches seek engagement, awareness and interest. ] If we are not sure what advantages professional grade photographs offer to a brand’s image and reputation, we have other problems.

All this is measurable. There is a plethora of tools available online – some even for free. And yet, there are SO many events that don’t even have a Twitter #hashtag. Think of all the lost opportunities – for engagement & measurement. Having a #hashtag also helps @storify tweets related to launches / events and find out who said what. See what @myntra did here

And this is just ONE blog.

Further discussion

I don’t understand the confusion that is generated about “paid media” [ with respect to blogging and features covered by bloggers ]. Yes, I want to be paid for my time and when I am, I give full disclosure. Same for events where I am not paid. I believe the online audience can tell, even without disclosure, what stories were paid for and what were not. And we might snicker and bitch about those bloggers behind their backs, but we always know. Even when I am being paid to tweet, I include a #ad or #spon hashtag in my tweets.

Offline, we buy a newspaper or a magazine and pay to read those stories. We pay for television subscriptions and watch advertisements. With blogging, there’s nothing being forced down the audience’s throat. Readers and viewers visit blogs because they want to find out more, of their own volition. This is such a HUGE opportunity for a brand.

There is still some confusion about being paid to blog. The blogger is being paid to carry the story and to cover it, not to form a favorable opinion. Find out who those bloggers are who are trusted by their audience. Unless you have a brand / product that is hosting an event / launch that everyone will make a beeline for, why should bloggers cover your events? I respect a brand more when it deals with me as a professional instead of making me feel like I’m someone wasting my time online. If a blogger is offering value to your brand, what value are you offering to them in return? It’s an ecosystem.

Example / Real life case

I have covered an event for this brand / organization previously. Unpaid and of my own volition. I like what the brand is associated with and want to do more such work professionally.

They have events all year round and after my first coverage of their event, the person managing the brand and organization told me and I quote, “Naina this is the best coverage my organization has ever received from any media. I loved how you captured the entire experience.” I was naturally encouraged to ask them to appoint me as their paid official photographer for the next event. I offered to send a proposal of what all I would deliver : licensing & usage of images, coverage on blog, Twitter updates, Facebook updates, etc. I asked for what magazines usually pay their photographers to cover such events, for a cab pick up and drop and for an announcement on their organization’s official blog that I would be the official photographer for the event.

Their reply to my email was essentially “Ok” to everything I offered and “Not possible” to everything that I asked for. Furthermore I was told, “I told the boss you would be happy to do this for free. It will look good in your portfolio.” I couldn’t fathom how anyone could even suggest such a thing.

I am a professional and not a fan of generating hate. Unfortunately, at least in this part of the world, the majority perceives “being professional” as “being an asshole”. I don’t know what this person’s motivations or constraints are but it is publicly known that this organization generates revenues.

Another event where I signed up as a blogger – I was told, “Yes, you can go, but you will need to seek permission for photography at the venue.” If you want me to do something for you, at the very least, make it possible.

In closing

That this is a new industry space is a weak excuse. Brands should be looking at innovation but there isn’t even formulation of what directly benefits profits and reputation?

If you are a brand / PR person reading this, and have questions, please ask. Let’s discuss. I could be wrong but if there isn’t even conversation about how to make this a win-win for all parties, this isn’t going to happen. Bloggers might be hated for the noise they make and the new media space that blogging has created but there needs to be an understanding that this new space / industry is not going to disappear unless the World Wide Web does. How are you planning to make it work for your brand / product / company?