One of my pet hates when it comes to internal communication is stock photographs representing employees. Why? Because rarely do these bland, unimaginative images convey the reality of working in your company.

iStock_000059219712LargeThey’re out of touch, false, dated and need to be banned. Immediately.

How do you think employees feel when they see pictures of people in suits shaking hands or holding seedlings on your intranet or in your employee publication?

Why aren’t you using photographs they can identify with?

I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw someone carrying a pile of compost and sapling around an office… Can you?*

*If you work in a garden centre that question doesn’t apply!

It doesn’t have to be this way

Here’s a bright idea: why not use photographs of your actual employees? I’m sure pictures of your people doing their jobs conveys exactly the right image you spent time hunting through stock photo websites for – the reality of your workplace.

I’d far rather see someone I know represented and recognised in this way, than a staged, staid and stilted photograph that has little to do with the organisation or how you work.

Be honest. Look at the images being used to represent your company internally and externally. Are they your employees in the recruitment campaign or magazine?

If not, why not?

A word to the wise as someone who has championed this – you need to keep on top of it. If you use photographs of employees on your external website for example, see my mini checklist below.

Ensure you know the answers to the following questions, and review regularly:

  • Has anyone in the photos left the company?
  • Is anyone in the photos under investigation for something? E.g. bringing disrepute to your company
  • Has anyone in the photos since died?
  • Do you have their permission to use their image for this purpose? (It’s worth considering advising employees when photos are taken what you intend to use them for. You could have a release form, but I’ve found advising them at the time is sufficient. It’s easier (and cheaper!) to take one without a person or two than edit it later to remove them.
  • Is the uniform correct? E.g. Is personal protective equipment (PPE) demonstrated correctly? Or if you’ve updated your company logo or uniform, do all of your photos comply?
  • Are they balanced? E.g. are you showing male and female employees and are the images culturally diverse?

The PPE point is an important consideration for many organisations. When I worked in-house for the railway I lost count of the number of photographs I had to have edited in order to do up high-vis vests correctly. That opens up the conversation re: employees should know exactly how to wear their PPE, but that’s a whole other blog post about safety communications…

Keep it real
It hopefully goes without saying that you need to include frontline employees in your internal comms, but make sure it’s real. That means not always using the same person or small group of people in employee photos (I’ve seen this done numerous times! – If this is you, I encourage you to stop doing so. Today.)

Why not be transparent and appeal to employees? They could take their own photos and submit them as part of a campaign, or you could start a conversation on your enterprise social network to find the faces of your organisation – who do your employees think embody your company? The answer may surprise you. Go on, give it a go.

The reason this is all springing to mind is due to a PR campaign currently underway to publicise a new film. I think it’s genius. I certainly wouldn’t have been writing about it if the usual publicity shots were created.

The unfinished business of stock photographs

Unfinished BusinessVince Vaughn stars in Unfinished Business, which has just hit the cinema screens here in the UK. The synopsis? “What began as a routine business trip goes off the rails in every imaginable—and unimaginable—way.”

According to AdWeek, Twentieth Century Fox has teamed up with iStock by Getty Images to create a set of stock photos featuring Vaughn along with co-stars Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco and others.

There are 12 available in the series and I’ve downloaded the first four. They’re available for free to use for Editorial purposes. You can see one above and the others below. They recreate some of the most iconic stock photographs and are sure to raise a smile – the actors have been photoshopped over the originals.

Further reading: Read AdWeek to see the original stock photos and their photoshopped counterparts featuring the actors.

Who uses real photos well in their comms?

SainsburysBack in March last year I wrote about Sainsbury’s and how they were sharing their story using employees.

Sainsbury’s is one of the UK largest retailers, it was founded in 1869 and today operates 1,106 supermarkets and convenience stores and employs around 157,000 colleagues.

They were running a campaign called Little Stories, Big Difference, featuring colleagues starring in the communication around how the little things they do as a company have a positive impact on the environment, communities, products they sell and how they work with suppliers.

Thomas Knorpp, @thomasknorpp, Digital Media Manager for Sainsbury’s told me at the time:

“Rather than use actors, we scouted the country for colleagues who’d be up for a bit of fun. We provided scripts, storyboards and a professional crew, the colleagues gave things their personal angle and style and had a great time doing it.”

Read the whole article to find out more.

Do you have a story to share? What do you do to ensure you’re featuring employees in your internal comms?

If you’d like to write and tell my blog readers what you’ve been up to, please check out my guest article guidelines and get in touch with your idea.

Here are the photos from Unfinished Business…

Thank you as ever for stopping by,


Want to learn about internal communication?

Sign up for an All Things IC Masterclass in 2018.

My face-to-face courses help boost your skills, confidence and network. Come and learn with me, I’d love to help you succeed.

In contact with my clients Mature business male conducting a meeting iStock_000059219506Large


Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on All Things IC blog 11 March 2015.

Picture credits: iStock by Getty Images.

Further reading and your feedback:

First published on the All Things IC blog March 2015. Updated November 2017.

I've put together this free guide to help you build your personal brand and increase your influence at work.

Enter your details below to receive your copy.
I've put together this free planner to help you plan your 
time more effectively

Enter your details below to receive your copy.
Enter your email address below to get my monthly newsletter The Water Cooler, plus the latest IC news and updates.
Download my Channels Matrix to help you get organised.

You'll also receive my monthly The Water Cooler newsletter and IC updates direct to your inbox.

We collect, use and protect your data in line with our privacy policy

Enter your details below to receive your copy.
Sign up for The Water Cooler to get the latest IC news direct to your inbox
Sign me up



Enter your details below to receive your copy.
Yes Please