Visual Dos and Don’ts: A Guide to Optimizing Images for PR Success

A guide to optimizing images for PR successWe, in general, are drawn to what is visually appealing. Take a look at your Facebook or Twitter feed, and I will bet that nine times out of 10 as you’re scrolling down, skimming the content and taking in the highlights, your attention will be captured by a captivating image.

With this in mind, it’s more important than ever for us as PR pros to develop eye-catching and memorable visuals for the clients we represent on social media. Here are some dos and don’ts to consider for your integrated marketing communications plan.

Visual Dos

  • Do add an image to every blog post. This goes back to what we we’ve already said; images and visuals capture our attention. Leverage this to draw viewers in and engage.
  • Do include multiple images in blog posts when possible. This will help break up the content, especially if your content tends to be a bit lengthy. But don’t go overboard. Be sure to complement your content with the visual assets – not destroy it.
  • Do use photographs when available; avoid a static one-color background. This might be self-explanatory – but consider the two visuals below. Which one is more likely to grab your attention?

Visual Dos and Don'ts2

Visual Dos and Don'ts

  • Do sign up for free stock photo services (and attribute when and where necessary). There is a plethora of services out there to take advantage of including Unsplash, Death to the Stock Photo, Gratisography and more.
  • Bonus: Do consider placing the company or brand’s logo in the visual, when applicable. You can also take this a step further and place it in the same location e.g., the bottom left-hand corner of the visual, so viewers can easily distinguish your content as they scroll through their feeds.


  • Don’t use images that include 20 percent more text on Facebook. Use the platform’s useful text overlay tool as guidance.
  • Don’t use copyrighted photos – ever. Just like you were taught to never steal as a young child or to plagiarize in your college courses, don’t use or rather “steal” a photo when you don’t own the rights.
  • Don’t make your design too busy. As the old adage goes: KISS, Keep it simple, stupid. You want to avoid overwhelming your viewers with clutter and too much noise.
  • Don’t forget to adapt image sizes based on social media channel dimensions. Cut-off text in the preview image is not a good look for anyone, let alone your client. Reference this infographic from Constant Contact for sizes of various visual components on the top platforms.

Do you have helpful tips or tools that you to create attention-grabbing images to leverage your content? I’d love to hear from you! Please share with me on Twitter using @shandihuber, and #NPPRSA.


Shandi HuberShandi Huber is a senior account executive at Wordsworth Communications, a public relations agency in Cincinnati, Ohio. An enthusiast for all social media platforms, you can often find her pinning her dream closet on Pinterest or posting photos of her new puppy on Instagram. Connect with Shandi on LinkedIn and Twitter (@shandihuber).  

#ThrowbackThursday with Christopher Penn

Editor’s note: This is the second post in our monthly #ThrowbackThursday series, which features a prominent, successful PR pro taking a look back and sharing tips from his/her days as a new pro. 

Earlier this week, we shared five skills young pros need to excel in the PR world, and as many noticed, digital knowledge was at the top of that list.

Christopher S PennToday’s #ThrowbackThursday guest, Christopher Penn, pretty much wrote the book on digital PR. (And by “wrote the book,” we mean authored three best sellers.)

He’s the vice president of marketing technology at SHIFT Communications, co-founder of PodCamp New Media Community Conference and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee podcast. Christopher has been named one of the top 50 most influential people in social media and digital marketing by Forbes multiple times, and he was named the PR News 2014 Agency Professional of the Year.

So, yeah. When it comes to integrated marketing communications, Christopher Penn is kind of a big deal. Now, let’s take a walk through his PR memory lane on this #ThrowbackThursday!

Question 1: You didn’t start off in PR right out of school. How did you get started in the industry?

It’s funny you mention that. I’ve been a marketer for years and years. The middle of the funnel – lead generation – was really my area of expertise. I could squeeze leads out of nearly any audience with tried and true marketing tactics.

But I ran into a problem: where does the audience come from?

As a marketer, you usually just buy it, with ads or list buys. That gets expensive. In 2012, I was talking to a good friend and agency owner, Mitch Joel, and he said that I needed to understand the agency world.

After that conversation, I reached out to longtime acquaintance Todd Defren, co-founder of SHIFT Communications, and said hey, let’s trade. You teach me about the top of the funnel and how PR works, and I’ll bring the middle of the funnel expertise to your clients. That started a beautiful relationship!

Question 2: Right out of college, what would you say are the most important skills new PR pros should possess?

The Ability to Write

Writing is at the heart of modern marketing and PR. Everything begins with writing, from sticky notes on your desk to 90,000 word books to screenplays for YouTube videos. Even great speaking leverages your ability to skillfully choose words. The problem is, most people aren’t great writers. Most people are average or slightly below average writers who can’t communicate with clarity.

I recommend that every student – and every PR pro – become familiar with tools like SlickWrite and Hemingway. While these tools cannot fix problems with structure, logical flow, or facts, they can identify basic flaws in writing. See this post on up-cycling content for a bit more on these tools.

The Ability to Do Deep Analysis

Statistics and mathematics are core skills for today’s PR pro. I know, I know, you got into PR to avoid math. Bad news: everything has math now. You must have the ability to take data, visualize it, analyze it, and turn it into insights and strategies.

Many students take courses with tools like SPSS and R; when they leave university life, those skills quickly atrophy. Don’t permit that to happen. Download data sets from public sources like to keep your data analysis skills strong. Practice, improve, and expand your data analysis toolkit.

If you’re facing data analysis challenges, I also recommend my latest book, Marketing Blue Belt.

The Ability to Be Creative

Creativity is one skill area that gets systematically beaten out of you by school and work. The ability to be creative hinges on your inputs, on how much useful stuff is in your brain that you can draw on at any given time. If all you’ve got in your head is junk, then all you’ll produce is junk. (Click to Tweet!) Feed your brain, especially after leaving an academic environment!

The more useful, usable information your mind has to work with, the more creative you can be. (this is also the basis for my previous book, Marketing Red Belt).

Question 3: Many new pros know they need to learn digital marketing skills, but they don’t know where to start. Can you share some tips on how new pros can learn on their own?

Learn by reading. There are great books out there like the Portable MBA on Marketing that can give you a solid foundation. If you’re in a hurry, I wrote a Cliffs Notes style book on marketing called Marketing White Belt.

Question 4: What were some of the pivotal teachings or experiences from your past that helped you become the PR pro you are today?

The biggest lessons come from the martial arts. One of the tenets of the art I practice is “keep going!”. It’s an admonition to never get comfortable, to never believe that you’ve won, and to keep learning.

One of my teachers, Ken Savage, has a great expression, “Teacher for now, student for life”. As we rise up in the ranks of our organizations, we tend to forget to keep learning. We get entrenched. We don’t budget time for learning – and we fall behind. Our organizations fall behind. Don’t let that happen – keep going!

Question 5: If you could go back in time and give advice to yourself during your first year in PR, what would you say?

I would advise myself to buy Apple stock before the 7-1 split last summer. Investing 100 shares in Apple when I joined SHIFT would have cost $12,400. Today that same investment would be worth $87,493.

More about Christopher:

Christopher S. Penn has been featured as a recognized authority in many books, publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, BusinessWeek and US News & World Report, and television networks such as PBS, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and ABC News for his leadership in new media and marketing. In 2012 and 2013, Forbes Magazine recognized him as one of the top 50 most influential people in social media and digital marketing. MediaPost renewed this honor in 2015. Marketo Corporation named him a Marketing Illuminator, and PR News nominated him as both Social Media Person of the Year and Social Media Icon MVP in 2014. PR News also named him Agency Professional of the Year.

Mr. Penn is the Vice President of Marketing Technology at SHIFT Communications, a public relations firm, as well as co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp New Media Community Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. He is a Google Analytics Certified Professional and a Google AdWords Certified Professional. He’s the author of the best-selling books Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital MarketerMarketing Red Belt: Connecting With Your Creative Mind, and Marketing Blue Belt: From Data Zero to Marketing Hero.

Intro to Digital PR

What does a day in the life of the digital public relations professional look like? Today, your practice can be described in two simple words: you are “always on.” When the Internet became our stomping ground for public communications, reaction time had to be much more immediate. Of course, social media continued to fuel the “always on” feeling even more because networks don’t rest and brands have to be prepared. When you accept a position in PR, you quickly learn the nature of the job requires attention at all times of the day or night, and new skills and practices are constantly in development.

My book, “Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the PR Professional,” presents many new practices that demonstrate this notion of “always on.” As a matter of fact, if you break down the average day of the digital PR professional, you will quickly see why you need to incorporate this idea of “always on” into your everyday activities and your daily regimen.

As a digital PR professional, you’re “always on” because you are:

Technology Savvy: PR people don’t have to code databases, unless it’s something you want to learn. However, you do need to know how to create a WordPress blog and build profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other major social channels. Understanding where and how your audiences participate on different platforms, with a good working knowledge of strategic use, is also critical. If you can’t answer questions about Pinterest vs. Instagram or Facebook vs. Tumblr, then you need to roll up your sleeves and learn those differences quickly. Ask yourself a simple question: How will you guide your executives’ brand communication if you can’t answer these questions for them?

Proactive: There is no sitting back (ever) and feeling complacent that your stakeholders have what they need. You must be proactively “listening” or monitoring their conversations, feelings, ideas and ways they want to interact with you. Being proactive means that you are using the latest technology to fully understand these conversations and the consumer perceptions they expose. You’re learning how to engage as a better partner, employer, resource and problem solver. Of course, actively listening and being connected through social media will also prevent negative dialogue from escalating into unexpected crisis situations.

Flexible: Thinking your day will be the same every day is almost asking for the impossible. Are you really able to predict what your day looks like? As a best practice, you can plan your initiatives, but in the age of public communications, your daily interactions may change drastically from hour to hour or even minute to minute. Having the flexibility to respond to your stakeholders in real time is where digital PR professionals can truly serve their brands. You also have to be open and willing to explore new ways of communication as technology continues to advance and platforms improve their functionality.

Strategic/Critical Thinker: PR professionals use tactics to support their communications programs. However, we are not just tactical doers. On the contrary, brands are looking for strategists who focus on a planned approach with goals and objectives in place, show a deep understanding of their audience, develop messages that resonate with stakeholders, reach people where they congregate and use measurement that will capture the desired actions. Sending out news releases, tweeting and posting to Facebook are the tactical elements of a communications program. Why, when and how we participate, through specific channels, is the strategic thinking required for communications success.

Accountable: PR professionals have to take accountability to a higher level. Accountability tied directly to the bottom line is the accountability that executives love to see. However, that’s not always possible. The good news is they also want to see communications impact in the form of customer satisfaction tied to positive sentiment and testimonials, editorial coverage across different media (including social media), reputation maintenance and greater awareness of the brand, which is often a part of the ROI puzzle. PR doesn’t always have a direct tie to the bottom line, but when our results are a part of a larger marketing and sales picture, the accountability becomes more visible. Another key takeaway here is that you can’t work in a vacuum and your accountability should be a part of a larger team effort.

Of course, these are only a few of the skills and practices that should be on your digital PR checklist. Call it a part of the job description of the future, or what you might see in a job posting for a PR position. Either way, it’s your opportunity to blend great PR skills with new media communications. To truly embrace the “always on” mindset, you must commit yourself to newer skills and practices on a daily basis and as a part of your professional development.


Deirdre BreakenridgeDeirdre Breakenridge is CEO of Pure Performance Communications. A 25-year veteran in public relations, she teaches at NYU and speaks nationally and internationally on the topics of PR, marketing and social media. She is the author of five business books, with her most recent book, “Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the PR Professional,” published by Financial Times Press in May 2012.

April Twitter Chat Highlights: SEO and Digital PR

We’d like to thank everyone who participated in the April #NPPRSA Twitter chat.

Specifically, we’d like to thank our special guest for the month Carrie Morgan, author of the upcoming book, “Digital Haystack: Essential Digital PR Tactics to Get Found Online.”

Join us again on May 9 at 9 p.m. EST for the next #NPPRSA Twitter chat.

Review highlights of the chat below. What did you learn from the April chat? What strategies do you believe are vital to digital PR success? How do you optimize your content for search?


Amy BishopAmy Bishop is the digital marketing manager for Cru Global, a faith-based nonprofit. Bishop helps align Cru’s global marketing, branding and digital strategies with new technology systems. She is the social media chair for the PRSA New Professionals Section. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.