Employee Photography: Making Your People an Effective Part of Your Visual Brand

“Your employees can either be a significant contributor to brand success, or a major detractor.”

We share this advice with clients all the time. In the relationship-driven world of B2B, employees need to understand, embrace, and then embody your brand promise in order for it to be the most effective it can be.

But what about making employees the face of your brand? It can be a very effective path when it comes to the visual expression of a brand but it’s one that is not one that’s frequently deployed. We’ve helped many clients, large and small, incorporate into their communications the personalities that make the brand live and breathe. Whether part of a corporate marketing campaign or a major element of an employer brand’s visual identity, there are good reasons to consider making employee photography a differentiating factor.

At First American Financial Corporation, an organization featured on Fortune’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For® seven years running, its “People First” employer brand brings the diversity of its staff to the forefront via an ever-expanding library of employee photography.

There are several factors to consider before heading down this path. Let’s look at just a few of them.

  • It gets you away from the sameness of stock photography. By conducting a custom photoshoot of your own people, you generate a set of images proprietary to you and you alone. Not only will this help you avoid the generic feel so commonly associated with stock imagery, it will result in something that exudes authenticity in the process—putting you in the position to capture imagery in the way you feel is most appropriate for your business and goals.
  • Involving your employees and making them a living part of the brand experience generates a strong sense of pride. This is a powerful way to get stakeholders at all levels to take notice of the brand’s trajectory. Whether they or their colleagues are featured, the brand becomes personal, and in turn you take a large step forward on the journey of creating internal brand champions.
  • Casting and talent fees are not a part of the picture. While the cost of a professional photographer and post-production are certainly factors, a lot of organizations look at using their own people as a way to save money with a custom shoot.
  • It communicates care. People do business with people, so why not use the real people that make up the business? In doing so, you show that you care for and stand behind your employees.
Emtek, a manufacturer of premium door hardware and member of the ASSA ABLOY Group, uses its “Better Together” mindset and brand to recruit and retain talent in a competitive industry environment.

Before moving ahead with an employee photoshoot of your own, I’ll leave you with three pieces of advice to ensure you’re effective in your pursuit and end up with a library of meaningful, usable images.

1. Create photography that reinforces your brand and reflects your unique culture.
In the two examples shared above, from First American and Emtek, the objectives for employee photography may be the same, but the outcomes are distinctly different. Both companies utilize their own employees in imagery as a component of their employer brands. In the case of First American, the employee experience is focused on putting its “People First.” To emphasize this, its style of photography is engineered to allow the personalities and interests of each individual to shine through. For Emtek, their culture is all about nurturing a collaborative work environment, clear channels of communication, and personal and professional growth. Therefore, its “Better Together” employer brand benefits greatly from imagery showcasing teams coming together and working together.

In the end, smiling faces only get you so far. Photograph with intent and make the imagery you capture authentic to what you’d like to communicate about the culture, employee experience, and brand.

2. Consider diversity and represent the organization authentically.
When staffing for an employee photoshoot, carefully consider the make up of the organization. Think about the demographics that best represent the breadth of your employee base—everything from age, gender, race, and even the distribution of the population amongst divisions, business units, or levels of seniority. Ultimately, the resulting library of images should align well with these demographics.

Two more considerations that can directly reinforce authenticity are location and wardrobe. Clients are often eager to get employees out of their workspaces and into environments that they feel are more “appropriate” for a photoshoot. The same goes for what employees wear during the shoots. Taking someone off the assembly line and putting them in a button-down shirt may exude a feeling of professionalism, but it doesn’t feel authentic—especially for those critiquing from within. Don’t defeat the greater objective of empowering your people by making them something they’re not.

3. Selecting the right participants is key.
Being comfortable in front of the camera is a talent often gained over time, and that level of experience is rare amongst the general population. But perhaps more important than familiarity is a genuine willingness to participate. When selecting candidates for an employee photoshoot, look for people who are eager to take part and will not hesitate to let their personalities show.

Finally, you don’t want to get into a situation where a large portion of the employees photographed leave the organization in the short-term. This is a difficult one to balance, but err on the side of selecting people who have staying power—those who will shepherd the brand into the future. During the process of candidate selection for First American, for example, the company seeks to identify people who “bleed blue.” These are employees who embody the First American brand and have a clear role in its ongoing success. Search for the brand champions and those well respected within the ranks. They’ll understand what you’re hoping to achieve and help you get there.