The food shoot day starts early. By 9 am the PR account manager of Sweet Eve Strawberries, Sofie Boddy of Pam Lloyd PR in Bristol, is at my house with Jason Ingram, the food photographer, ready to start the day. The cameras, lights, equipment, timetable and computer are all out and ready, coffee and breakfast is served and we go through the day’s timetable in detail.
Many months ago Sofie contacted me to tell me that, owing to the success of last year’s advertising campaign for the brand, the owners had decided to use the same team again for the 2012 campaign. So I corresponded backwards and forwards with her to ensure that we had nine different winning recipes featuring Sweet Eve Strawberries: from fluffy Victoria sponge cake, to creamy pavlova, crispy shortbreads, exotic Hawaiian slush, crunchy Eton mess, soft ricotta cheesecake, fresh fruit salad and fizzy cocktails, no stone was left unturned to make sure we celebrated the best of the summer season’s strawberry treats.
Sofie told me how a PR campaign for fresh fruit produce begins. “First of all we examine the sales of a producer and analyse with the client which of the already established markets they want to increase sales in and which new markets they want to expand into,” she tells me. The aim of the PR campaign is to raise a greater awareness of the fresh product and how it can be used, increase the household penetration and enhance the frequency of purchase to deliver tangible, measurable results. It is very difficult for a PR account manager to quantify the exact financial effect that a campaign has on sales, to then calculate Return on Investment, because in a recessionary climate the normal advertising rates fall dramatically and so the Advertising Value Equivalent of free editorial in magazines and newspapers, both online and in print, is skewed in terms of monetary worth. Listening to Sofie explain just how important it is to position a food brand in the most important and influential media makes me realise how difficult it must be, for very small, artisanal growers and producers of food to stand any chance at all.
“We help the client by developing recipes, organising food photo shoots, sending marketing information to specifically tagetted printed and online media and following up throughout the campaign to ensure that consumers, the media and trade audiences are all exposed to the campaign and react favourably. We use social media a great deal, and through managing Twitter and Facebook profiles every day we are able to reach and engange with a far wider audience than ever before. We take journalists and food writers to meet the producers and walk around the farms, so they understand the provenance of the product and the versatility of the recipes. This is how we get coverage in all the major food and lifestyle magazines, newspapers and periodicals,” Sofie explains.
Pam Lloyd PR is one of Britain’s leading fresh produce public relations companies. From shallots, to asparagus, radishes, runner beans and brassicas, they have a team of 5 people solely dedicated to this niche market and have won many industry awards for their media campaigns.
For this photo shoot the shopping for the ingredients, the recipes, preparation of all accessories and work schedule have all been done days in advance, so that we do not waste any daylight hours. It takes Jason around 45 minutes to shoot each photograph as every tiny detail in the frame needs to be perfect. He explains how, for advertising shots, he does not use natural light, as the light levels need to be absolutely consistent throughout all the photographs, and as a result he needs to use artificial lights and white boards. His camera is plugged into his computer, where we are all able to analyse the shot, decide which changes need to be made and retake the photo, sometimes several times.
I always need to work one photo ahead of Jason, and as soon as he has finished with one dish I need to have the next dish ready. We discuss what will need to go in the shot, and Sofie has the ultimate veto as she will need to take the final results back to the client for their verdict and in this “one chance land” scenario every detail needs to be perfect.
In the composition of the shoot we decide whether to accessorise the shot with an individual portion or a larger serving platter; whether a bouquet of flowers should be added, and if so, what height, colour and what hybrid of plant (all within the correct season); whether a glass of wine, juice or water needs to be added; whether cutlery, napkins or salt and pepper cruets are appropriate; whether a vintage flowery tablecloth, a plain background, a wooden board or a kitchen work top should be featured as the base of the shoot; whether serving accompaniments like fresh cream, sauces or decorations should be included. The permutations are endless.
Luckily we have all worked together before and we understand the visual language of a successful food photo shoot. In this instance we need to convey to magazine editors, food writers, consumers and retailers the brightness, sweetness, juiciness and versatility of this, the English summer’s most prized fruit, and in particular, the specific qualities of Sweet Eve Strawberries as a hybrid.
We use beautiful old textiles, vintage crockery, silver cutlery, crystal cut glass, embroidered napkins and delicate china teacups. Throughout the year I scour endless antique shops, charity shops, shabby chic dealers and car boot sales across the land and as I lift a teacup, saucer, plate or spoon in my mind I always think “Would this be right for the strawberry campaign?”
Jason has over two decades of experience in managing very high profile food, gardening and lifestyle clients and breaks down every single part of the composition into segments: from left to right, top to bottom he examines on his computer screen whether one side of the frame is too “busy” and one side too “sparse”, whether the lighting is adequate and whether ingredients and accessories need tilting, rotating, lifting, turning or removing all together. We use brushes, tweezers and kitchen paper as our tools of manipulation.
Sofie always bring each composition back to the recipe: we need to show the readers of the recipes total authenticity, which means we should capture, showcase and highlight the important ingredients, so that they are easy to understand and interpret. Above all, each strawberry needs to be the best of its kind. The producer has sent 24 punnets of their finest strawberries and we hull and slice our way through hundreds to ensure that only the very best are showcased. There is quite a bit of jam making that goes on after the photo shoot is finished, and the jam can then be used in next year’s campaign. Nothing is wasted.
At the end of the photo shoot Jason and Sofie analyse the entire portfolio across the campaign: all of the shots need to “gel” together and each needs to be complementary to and consistent with the sum of the images we are trying to convey in terms of theme, colouring, texture, composition, light and mood. Other than a short break for lunch, food shoot days can last anywhere from 8 to 10 hours, after which there is all the washing up, tidying, sorting and putting away.
So, have we accomplished the brief? Have we managed to produce a really professional, beautiful set of photographs with recipes for Sweet Eve Strawberries which will be featured in all the mainstream media and beyond? Tune into the launch of the campaign in May 2012 to find out!
Sweet Eve Strawberry website: www.sweetevestrawberry.co.uk
Follow Sweet Eve Strawberries on Twitter: @SweetEveStrawb
Pam Lloyd PR: www.pamlloyd.com
Follow Sofie Boddy on Twitter: @sofieboddy
Follow Pam Lloyd on Twitter: @fruitandveggirl
Jason Ingram’s website: www.jasoningram.com
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jasonphotos