Curate, License or Create? A Guide to Sourcing the Ideal Images and Video for Your Marketing Strategy.

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Content is king, it’s unlikely to be dethroned any time soon. It’s simply too effective to reach new audiences and engage with potential clients. While no one questions content’s power as a marketing tool, creating, finding or curating material can pose unique challenges. Sourcing the images and video needed to support all that content marketing and advertising brings its own costs and potential risks.

Take it from a content creator: It’s both expensive and time-consuming to produce your own pieces. Curating the right type of content for your business initiatives can take nearly as much time — and, if you’re not careful, end up being just as expensive. If you’re not sure what you need or where to to look, you’re virtually guaranteed to expend too many resources in the pursuit.

To be clear, I’m not referring to content that’s readily sharable on Facebook, Instagram or other social-media platforms. I’m focused on the imagery and video needed for company emails, websites, brochures and other collateral materials. How can you source the right type of content that’s cohesive with your brand and your initiatives? Do you need to create your own, or should you license stock imagery? These all are valid questions to consider as you craft campaign pieces with a purpose.

Related: 7 Ways to Improve Online Engagement With Visual Content

Think of the overview that follows as a primer to help demystify the options. I’ve outlined three tiers of content, organized by price. Each includes a list of pros and cons to assist in your decision-making. Remember: You don’t have to adhere to just one tier. You can combine categories to suit your specific needs and market your brand in the most effective way.

Free — Curating content created by others.

If you need to produce content regularly, you might try simply aggregating the best materials you can find online and curating those selections. It’s one of the best, most straightforward ways to increase engagement with the part of the message you’re creating.

Let me be explicit: You must use content legally. Many successful social-media pages get great results by sharing content from other sites. However, that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to repurpose the same content as paid advertising for your business.

Jeep, for example, has been known to distribute its clients’ photos and videos via its own Facebook page by using the “Share” option. Broadcasting those experiences gives Jeep a way to sell the “lifestyle” behind its brand. But you won’t see Jeep using those images on its website. Why? The content isn’t Jeep’s to use commercially.

Related: Content Marketing Isn’t Really About Your Content

Rear Adm. Grace Murray Hopper — also a computing pioneer who earned a Ph.D in mathematics from Yale University — was famous for saying, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” That usually works if it’s a good idea in the first place. There’s a fine line between curating content and stealing content, and that line is called “permission.” Rather than write a lengthy article on curating versus stealing, I’ll instead note the top three best practices on sharing:

  1. Follow and operate within the law. Use the “Share” option — it was created for a reason.
  2. Give credit and attribute the work to its original author. Summarize the article in your post, but don’t lift entire passages of text.
  3. Create honest work that represents your own ideas. Prominently identify the source in your post.

Pros

  • It won’t cost you a penny if you’re ethical.
  • It’s an easy way to publish content regularly.

Cons

  • It’s difficult to remain compliant.
  • It’s not yours. You don’t own it.
  • You have no control over quality.
  • You can’t manage the content creator (in the event of bad publicity).

$ to $$$ — Licensing content.

Creating consistent content on your own is expensive. Hiring a photographer, for example, can cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars for a single day. And that doesn’t include expenses or licensing the images for your brand. As a photographer, I’ve always considered myself the “bespoke” option because I provide custom content for each brand. The truth is, it’s unlikely you need a bespoke option, at least at the outset. A store-bought solution such as stock licensing often fits the bill (and the limited budget).

The online marketplace includes plenty of stock photography and videography libraries. Content creators upload their work to websites such as Shutterstock, Getty Images or Adobe Stock, and you can pay per image or via subscription, at a fraction of the price charged for custom content. You’ll gain access to a large inventory of imagery with easy-to-understand licensing terms. Most stock sites also have an option for indemnification coverage, should you violate those terms and be sued by the content creator.

Related: The Complete Guide to Using Stock Photos in Your Marketing

In my opinion, stock imagery offers the least complicated method. Unfortunately, it can take forever to find the right image. Most stock websites use fairly rudimentary search algorithms, so prepare to feel as if you’re hunting through your local TJ Maxx on Christmas Eve, looking for that last-minute festive outfit.

A few services set themselves apart in this regard. Getty Images and Adobe Stock allow users to locate content with an aesthetic search. Upload an image, and the site will return results that look more less like your input. Adobe Stock takes it one step further. You can enter keywords in conjunction with that aesthetic search. Adobe’s service also has the ability to filter images based on horizontal or vertical orientation, depth of field and color. If you’re like most business owners, the time saved with a stellar stock-image search function could free you up to hold a new-client meeting or simply take care of some internal housekeeping.

Stock images are undoubtedly less expensive creating custom content, but by definition, the visuals won’t be unique to your brand. Other companies — including your competitors — might also have subscribed to the same service. That can result in duplicative marketing efforts. If you’re looking to license images exclusively, be prepared to pay the same rates you would for a bespoke option.

Related: 5 Ways Stock Art Might Be Killing Your Small-Business Brand

Pros

  • It’s fast and cheap.
  • It offers a large selection of images and video content.
  • It’s good for making pitches and concept presentations.
  • It features simple, easy-to-understand licensing agreements.

Cons

  • You’ll need to weed through lots of images to find the right content.
  • It’s not always the best quality, and you’ll start to recognize a very “stocky” look and feel.
  • If multiple users will access a single file, you’ll need to obtain an extended license.

$$$ — Producing your own content.

Creating and producing your own content is one of the best ways to bring your vision to life, but it’s also one of the most expensive. To put things in perspective, the top 20 photographers in the world are rumored to charge six figures per day, and up-and-coming talent can charge hundreds to thousands of dollars a day. It’s like a tattoo: Good work isn’t cheap, and cheap work usually isn’t all that good. You get what you pay for.

You should understand that even the bespoke option isn’t without its hiccups. To get the most of out of a video or photography production, you’ll need to invest yourself in the creation process itself. A professional who insists on a hands-off approach will put you at the mercy of deliverables over which you have no direct control. I encourage you to be as vocal as possible while on set. If you love what’s being produced, great! Artists appreciate positive feedback. Unhappy? Speak up. We’re not mind readers. It’s easier to fix things on set, while they’re happening, than to make large corrections or direction changes in post-production.

Related: 3 Steps to Master Visual Storytelling

Being part of the assignment also ensures you’re vested in the final output. I require a key stakeholder from my client’s team to be on set at all times. It gives me a sounding board and assures each party’s expectations are fulfilled. I can ask questions such as, “Are you happy with this shot? Does it fit your vision?” If the answer is yes, then we can move on.

Pros

  • You get content created to match your business initiatives.
  • You’re hiring an experienced professional who can bring your vision to life.
  • You know your content will be unique, not off the rack.

Cons

  • It’s expensive.
  • It can be risky if you’ve never hired this type of professional before. (Here are some issues to consider.)
  • You’ll need to plan for a time-consuming production and delivery schedule.