The Huffington Post shows the dramatic before/after pictures from fashion shoots, an acceptable practice in the industry.

Content strategy has gained a lot of attention in recent years. Not very long ago, a brand’s major concerns were hiring the right agency to get the their message to consumers and then punching out press releases to try to hook some “free press.” The strategy for getting that content to the customer had few other options.

Those options have now exploded making it easier to publish, but more difficult to control that message. That control comes with the responsibility of representing your message in an intelligent and truthful way throughout your editorial process. It’s a process that requires a strict set of guidelines — or governance as it’s being referred to in many operations — that ultimately provides your quality, your message, and establishes the trust your audience has with your product.

AP severs ties with photographer who altered work

The Associated Press severed ties with Pulitzer Press winning photographer for removing the image in the lower left corner of this picture.

We read often about glamour magazines Photoshopping images of their models to make everything as perfect as possible. It has come to the point when it’s bigger news if a “raw” image sees that light of day. There are now regular features that make comparisons of before and after they were “shopped.”

Recently a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist was fired from the Associated Press (AP) for digitally removing what he believed was a small but distracting image in the corner of his picture. Compared to what you see from fashion shoots, it was a speck, a fly on the windshield. But for the AP, that manipulation was absolutely unacceptable. So much so, that after firing him, they even removed more than 500 of his previously published images (that they say were never in any question of manipulation) from their database.

[update 2/4/2014 – Yet another example: That Picture Of That Guy Holding Nissan’s New Engine Is Photoshopped]

So where do you draw the line of “tweaking” or “massaging” an image, or even story, to represent your brand in the best possible light? The answer ultimately is up to you, the owner, the brand manager. But the only way to be prepared for any outcome is to put in the work upfront, set your governance standards in concrete.

At a recent MeetUp for Content Strategy professionals in Chicago there was a lot of discussion and a lot of things to consider:

  • Having a governance plan early in the process allows you to build in excellence upstream, instead of expecting it later.
  • Make sure that your governance planning is part of any content creation budget.
  • Do you need to have a governance plan for each division or project?
  • Ask those in charge of the budget:
    • How much does governance cost you if you don’t put it in the process?
    • How many hours are you spending editing and re-editing your content due to errors or non-standard language?

The bottom line is that at some point you’ll need to decide how you’re going to represent your product to the world, and how much that quality is really worth.