So what should you look for when hiring a picture researcher who won't be working in your office?
- Proven (and proveable) research skills. Picture research is a skill and it's not the same thing as designing a beautiful page or writing a great piece of content. Good picture researchers know the best sources to find images and have a wide list of sources that they use. They don't just use a few of the "biggies" or rely on a single image aggregator. On-line sources are great, but the great researchers also even use books and film archives! One good way to check a researcher's skills is to ask them to complete a small set of sample research specs. Don't ask them to research images you need today--that's not fair!--but throw them a few specs from past products. See what they come back with. It's the best way to see someone's skills. Looking at a list of past projects helps, but it never gives the full story.
- They're able to work with your budget. Every project has a different budget. Sometimes you want the best images, regardless of cost or time spent looking. Other times you've got limited time and few dollars to spend on licensing. A good researcher can use different sources, and limit their time spent searching, depending on your budget and time frame.
- Willingness and ability to use your tracking system. Many content creators have their own databases to track image specs, and any good researcher shouldn't balk at using them--even if they have their own solution, too. If they choose to "double track" images in your database and their own, don't let it be an excuse for failing to keep your tracking database up to date. Check on their progress during the project, too. There's nothing worse than getting a "complete" image database at the end of a project with incomplete or incorrect records.
- Ability to report regularly on progress. It's important to know whether your photo researcher is going to meet deadlines or not. If you've assigned them to a complex, large or long-running project, you'll want to have regular reports on how they're doing. Ask them for sample reports, or give them a template and ask whether they'd be able to fill out the reports weekly (or however frequently you require). If your researcher says they won't have time to do reports because they're too busy researching, consider finding another researcher.
- Technological ability--better yet, enthusiasm. Every content creator's tools differ, but it's safe to say that everyone is moving towards using more sophisticated technology. Many photo researchers use online databases for presenting image options (such as Cypress Image Gallery), and are adept at using web-conferencing tools (like webex and LiveMeeting) for screening and status meetings. If you hire these folks, you'll spend a lot less time in meetings with troubleshooting technology--and you'll eliminate one risk for late image delivery. They also won't panic if you ask them to learn new technology for the project.
Seeking these skills in your photo research resources will help to ensure that your project gets done on time, on budget and has the best pictures for your budget.