Writing this article brought me to tears. Please read to the end to understand why.
I’ve been quite vocal about replacing stock photo libraries with images of real members and employees. All of my Community articles this year have supported this assertion with as much data and conviction as I can muster.
All of my keynote and breakout sessions this year have included this quote, inspired by the central point of the articles: “If we reduce members and employees to cheap, generic, and disposable abstractions in our narrative, members and employees will do the same to us. And we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Many readers, audience members, and friends have agreed with me. A few, though, have questioned my motives.
A professional photographer telling credit unions to hire a professional photographer to take photos of real members and employees is self-serving, one critic told me privately. You want that pro to be you, the critic opined, even if you don’t come right out and say it.
There is no small amount of enlightened self-interest in this subject for me. I love working with state leagues, trade associations, and individual credit unions as a photographer to help them tell better stories about their work and impact.
These skills help me support my wife Karla as she battles stage 2 breast cancer and the two teenage daughters we cherish above all else. If that’s how my critic defines self-serving, then I’m guilty as charged.
I wanted another perspective on the power of real photos, so I contacted my friend Dave Klavitter, Chief Marketing Officer of Dupaco Credit Union in Iowa. Dupaco (not one of my photography, speaking, or consulting clients) switched from stock to real photos for some of the best reasons and results I’ve ever seen (emphasis mine):
“We wanted to create a stronger Dupaco brand.Dupaco is an authentic and transparent brand. What you see is what you get. Real stories, if told well, can be powerful drivers of brand. Photography, if done well, is a powerful medium to communicate an idea or evoke emotion. A great photograph and well-written caption are priceless.
Real photographs can convey potential vulnerabilities; for a brand to throw it all out there, to be real, conveys a huge amount of trust. Members not only trust Dupaco with their money, but to act in their best interest. I think this is largely responsible for nearly 10% net member growth last year.”
Want 10% net member growth? Trust your members. Tell better stories about them. Use real photos of them. Don’t just believe me. Believe Dave.
At 9:32am on Friday, December 6, 2019, I was halfway through composing this article when I received an email from Jessica Kaiser at CP Federal Credit Union.
Ever since I keynoted their all-employee celebration on President’s Day 2017, the team at CP Federal, led by CEO Chrissy Siders, has held a special place in my heart.
CP Federal learned about Karla’s breast cancer and did something that broke me into tears when I read it, and even now as I write about it. From Jessica’s email:
I am writing you today to share a photo that we took this Wednesday at the Main Office. We had a special ‘dress down’ just for Karla! We wanted you to know we are all praying and thinking about her and your family during this difficult time.
I will treasure this photo for the rest of my life. It came on a day when my heart was heavy from everything breast cancer has taken from my wife, from me, and from our daughters – sleep, peace, health, comfort, financial stability, Karla’s hair now, her fingernails next, more of her soon. She has two final chemo treatments this month, then surgery and radiation early next year. Pain and uncertainty await.
Then this photograph arrives, so sincere in its encouragement and so filled with hope that my mourning has no choice but to surrender to joy.
For it to bless my wife and family at the precise moment I’m writing about the power of real people, real connection, and real emotion in photography proves that nothing in this broken and beautiful world happens by accident.
And the subject line, which will forever serve as the photo’s caption?
“From Your CP Family”