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Mastering Visual Content · Pony Rider

Small Business

The average Australian will view 7,000 visual marketing messages a day (logos, adverts, social media, videos). From this, only 100 will actually stick in our minds. Creating original, quality imagery is consistently listed by small business owners as one of the hardest things to master.

For this month’s Small Business column, Fiona Killackey spoke with Kelly Searl of Pony Rider, who has created a brand renowned for its strong aesthetic and consistently engaging visual content.

28th July, 2017

We join Pony Rider on a shoot for the brand’s visual content. Photo – Chris Searl for Pony Rider.

The homewares brand is inspired by nature and the great outdoors. Photo – Chris Searl for Pony Rider.

Kelly on set, shooting cushions and throws by Pony Rider. Photo – Deanna Gerlach for Pony Rider.

‘Inspiration is a wonderful thing, but to provoke people to make better decisions is the ultimate outcome,’ says Kelly. Photo – Deanna Gerlach for Pony Rider.

The brand has cultivated a tight-knit team of  ‘awesome peeps’/on-set helpers. Photo – Deanna Gerlach for Pony Rider.

Kelly Searl (far right) styling a shoot for her brand. Photo – Deanna Gerlach for Pony Rider.

‘Muck around a bit and create your own look,’ advises Kelly. Photo – Deanna Gerlach for Pony Rider.

Photo – Deanna Gerlach for Pony Rider.

Fiona Killackey
Friday 28th July 2017

‘There’s a lot of mimicking going on these days and the audience is saturated in fodder, so the fresh approach will always win.’ — Kelly Searl

Pony Rider is well recognised for our visuals’, starts Kelly Searl, founder and creative director of the iconic Australian-made homewares brand, ‘We have grown as any brand has, but our genre has stayed in the same arena.’ That arena is one of sylvan scenes, a space inhabited by wood cabins, quiet adventures, salty hair and empty beaches. The visual imagery surrounding Pony Rider portrays an ideal, yet imperfect, rustic existence and it has done so, consistently, since Kelly launched the brand back in 2009.

With a background in fashion (counting Sass & Bide and One Teaspoon among past employers), Kelly is no stranger to the power of engaging visuals. ‘My background has helped me a lot’ she admits, ‘a strong visual presence will help any brand establish their own unique look.’ Yet, when it comes to Pony Rider, Kelly has experienced the same lessons as any other small business owner. ‘There’s a definite awareness of what we [the brand] like and what the audience will respond to. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t. Occasionally a really boring shot will get a tonne of likes, and that can throw us.’

The ‘us’ is Kelly and her husband, photographer and founding partner of Monster Children, Chris Searl, who together execute all visual content for the brand. ‘We plan it out using a few techniques: best sellers, new sellers, what we need to feature. As far as a team goes, it has, and always will be, me and my husband. I come up with the creative and he makes it look good. ‘Keep it simple’ is our motto.’ After almost a decade working together on the visuals, the duo has cultivated a tight-knit team of ‘awesome peeps’ that assist with the shoot. ‘We don’t run with a specific authority over the shots. In fact, Chris tends to run the day. If he’s over it, we move on.’

Starting out originally as a cushion brand, Kelly initially aimed for two shoots per year, which mirrored the two main annual collections. As the brand has grown to feature blankets, beach towels, wall-wares, bags, throws and accessories (many of which are created in collaboration with local artists), Pony Rider required more regular shoots, aiming now for four to five per year. ‘I wish I could be more helpful on our approach [to these] but it changes all the time’ Kelly concedes. ‘I try and stick to stories, but find it too contrived, so we end up running with what comes to top of mind.’ The brand’s popular blog, Journal, forms the basis of their content requirements – ‘we do try to run the journal as the hero, and we feed content from that’ – and shots are then amplified across social, email and online. On the topic of social media, Kelly admits it’s one area she still feels she hasn’t quite nailed. ‘I would say we don’t play the social media game very well. Too much analysing can sometimes take the joy out of the look that you set out to achieve. Go with your gut and always be prepared to step out. There is a lot of mimicking going on these days, and the audience is saturated in fodder, so the fresh approach will always win.’

One brand creating fresh visuals Kelly admires is 1924us. ‘I’m amazed at what some individuals can pull off. 1924us has a stunning style… consistency, visual interest, space and mood.’ For those just starting out or looking to increase the quality of their business’ visuals, Kelly suggests ‘get out and start shooting. Muck around a bit and create your own look. Try some filters as they can help establish a mood for your brand. Any good brand has a consistent style; keep it simple.’

The simple life portrayed in Pony Rider’s visuals has inspired a loyal and global following, with people flocking to secure the locally-made pieces before they (often) sell out. Yet, Kelly’s focus is not to over-hype the brand, but simply to encourage her audience to want to buy something that’s made by artisans, and created to last. ‘What I love most about running my own small business is that you can change, inspire and have the ability to engage people, no matter how big or small. Inspiration is a wonderful thing, but to provoke people to make better decisions is the ultimate outcome. It’s something that’s very close to our hearts.’

An idyllic shot exuding Pony Rider’s ethos of relaxed outdoor living. Photo – Deanna Gerlach for Pony Rider.


1. Understand Your Destination

One of the key things people forget to confirm before a shoot is where images will be used. For example, if used online you may need to shoot wide for a landscape banner (then crop in for social squares) allowing empty space for any text overlay and Call-to-Action text/buttons. Likewise, if your brand advertises in print, confirm if you’re shooting for double-page spreads (in which case the key product should never be near the inner seam) or single pages. Once confirmed, ensure you have provided your photographer with a specs sheet well ahead of time.

2. Let People In

Have you ever stayed in a cinema while the credits are rolling to watch bloopers and outtakes? Just as you’re drawn into what happens behind-the-scenes (BTS) so too are your audience. When planning your next shoot, ensure you capture BTS content at the same time (even on your phone). You can either run this live on social media or utilise it in future marketing materials.

3. Shoot in Bulk

For product-based businesses, shooting items can be one of the most time-consuming and expensive exercises. If you’re not fortunate to have a close relationship with a photographer and need plain, crisp product shots, you may consider investing in a portable light box and 360-degree rotating disk which allows you to shoot small-medium product quickly using your phone’s camera. Try OrangeMonkie for an affordable option.

4. Filenames Matter

It’s so simple but so many don’t do it. Use consistent file names when saving your images, so that you can easily locate them to re-purpose in the future. If you use a Mac you can add keywords or ‘tags’ to your images (here’s how). For example, you may wish to tag images across numerous years/shoots as ‘summer’ ‘streetstyle’ ‘insitu’ ‘winter’ ‘email’ ‘media’ ‘aboutus’ etc. Next time you need the image, just search the keyword rather than search though hundreds of folders.

Fiona Killackey is a business consultant and the founder of My Daily Business Coach, providing information and education for starting and growing a creative small business.

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