One of my least favourite things about public relations is the dreaded “photo opp.” Even professional photographers know how difficult it is to make someone look comfortably attractive under studio conditions. Imagine how much more challenging it is in poor lighting and with a moving target, tons of distractions, a whole zoo of characters and unpredictable situations.

So, I have sympathy for political campaign strategists who have to manage the photo opportunities for their candidate.

That being said, the Progressive Conservatives have the biggest budget of any campaign and yet, inexplicably, they have done a terrible job of getting good quality images of Alison Redford out there on social media. They appear to not understand how to make their candidate look her best and how to share images on Twitter. Strange, given how successful the Naheed Nenshi mayoralty campaign was at doing this and knowing that one of their chief strategists, Stephen Carter, is now working on Redford’s campaign. Their use of images has fallen terribly flat.

A “Smith-fest” of cuddly animals and beer

Early in the campaign, I started collecting images from the campaign as they were being shared on the #abvote hashtag on Twitter. It become obvious very quickly that my Alberta Election pinboard was awkwardly missing good images of Redford. So, I began making an extra effort to try and find those images to balance the “Smith-fest” and kept coming up blank.

The photos being posted to Twitter by PC’s were mostly poor quality, out-of-focus and to be blunt–boring. It seems like someone was deliberately trying to portray this exceptionally bright woman, as dour and all-business. There were a couple of attempts, one of her teetering on a skateboard (that was just taking things a bit too far!) but I couldn’t find anything on Twitter that made her look natural, friendly and someone you might want to sit down with over a glass of wine.

By contrast, we see Smith smiling mostly, wearing bright colours, serving donuts, horsebacking riding, petting lambs, walking her dogs, pouring beer–I could go on and on. I should also mention that the Alberta Liberals have done a good job of getting their photos out on Twitter and Raj Sherman is a natural in front of the camera. He has been photographed in his suit, in his scrubs, with a bull-horn standing in the back of his pick-up truck (the Sherman tank). Even New Democrat Brian Mason, who can come across as stern and stiff, can be found relaxing over a beer with people, sitting at a picnic table and touring a brewery. The Alberta Party has also put out some good quality photos also, but I haven’t seen many of their leader, Glen Taylor. See the pinboard here.

Where’s Alison?

So, I did some checking and discovered the “Alison4Premier” Facebook page and the website both have a large number of good quality photos–better than any of the photos I’ve seen shared on Twitter. I came to the conclusion the PC’s are expecting you to come to them and look for the photos. This is typical of a party used to being in first place and not having to work to get their photos out there. When you are the ruling party for 40 years, you are pretty confident that people will make that effort to come and find your photos, because you are, after all, in first place. Oh, wait…

Or maybe I’m reading too much into this. Things have been a little busy, I’m sure, over at the PC campaign headquarters.

So, I have been promoting my pinboard quite a bit on Twitter and am on social media every day since the beginning of the campaign pulling photos from the Twitter election hashtag and reposting them. I’ve even sent out a tweet to the #pcaa hashtag telling them we’d all like to see a few more photos from their camp and no response. It’s surprising–the PC’s unresponsive?

Last chance saloon

Anyway, this is my last attempt to try and give them a chance to correct this. We are now entering the second half of the campaign and time is running out.

A good social media manager understands that large numbers of photos in albums posted en masse without any sorting and curating of the best images, is a photographic fail. Research has shown that people are way too busy to scroll through dozens of images. You have to select the best and highlight them. Not only that, but you have to push them out using Twitter to have them shared widely.

Otherwise, I guess, you are relying on the images of your leader in the mainstream media, which may or may not cast her in the best light (see recent photo capture of Redford on CBC website).

Now, ask me why I even care. I’m a Liberal, after all. And I’m supporting Raj Sherman. But, I hate to see any worthy candidate being unnecessarily sidelined in the photo wars when it doesn’t have to be this way. This is political campaigning 101. We may not agree with this rather shallow aspect of politics, but it’s a reality.

Oh, and go Raj!

6 thoughts on “Photographic fail: How Danielle Smith is winning the image war

  1. Good post. I had noticed the onslaught of excellent images of Ms. Smith on twitter, too. I’d wondered if this was due to my heavily #WRP-weighed follow list, but you’ve confirmed my suspicions – that Wildrose are just doing a better job of social media optics generally.

    1. I agree. There are some decent images of Redford on her Facebook, but they’ve just uploaded the entire roll of photos, with no critical evaluation or selection of the best images for sharing on social media. A real waste.

  2. Jody, a most interesting post! As a fellow photographer, I was also paying close attention to the images coming out of the Alberta campaign (even though I live in Vancouver). Truth be told, many earlier ones of Danielle Smith didn’t have her precisely in focus and weren’t using “bokeh” very effectively. I mentioned this to an acquaintance of mine who is well connected within Wildrose. Things seem to have improved greatly!

    1. Yes, they’ve done a good job on that front. I had to stop posting some of them because my pin board was being overrun (and looking very unbalanced). I’m not a professional photographer myself–just a photo hobbyist and a PR person by day. But, I find it hard to believe they couldn’t have done a better job with Redford’s imagery.

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