PR Beyond the Page

Posted on May 21, 2011 by Toby Brown

For the last few years the PR industry has been embroiled in a seemingly interminable argument with other marketing disciplines over who ‘owns’ social media. But debates over ownership are not helpful - the industry should refocus its attentions on what good PR brings to the party.

Whilst the media landscape is irrevocably changing, big ideas and great content still dominate. Mass interaction, especially via twitter, is based on and fueled by, the sharing of useful and compelling content. And quality content is, of course, the basis of good PR.

At the same time the increase in the volume of information vying for our attention and the burden this places on individuals, is fueling the need for bite-size, and increasingly, non-text based content. People simply can't cope with the sea of business, career and life-critical information they need to digest, so communicators need to make it easy for them.

But, while ideas are still making the world go round, PR needs to catch-up with the new (and newly accessible) tools and formats for bringing their clients’ ideas to life and making them easily digestible and shareable with the widest possible audience.

hierarchy of distractions infographic

This clearly presents a huge opportunity for PR to create rich content in the form of videos, images, infographics and audio that help convey client ideas easily and rapidly. By doing so they can increase the opportunities to engage audiences, both by working with the media in new ways, and by encouraging content sharing through blogging and social media.

It's easy for B2B brands to feel left behind with such comms innovations, but this trend actually holds more promise for engaging B2B decision-makers than consumers. The often dry approach taken by some in disseminating B2B content will benefit greatly from a fresh approach. Professional services companies, for example, have a sizeable opportunity to demonstrate its expertise – the only thing it really sells – in many more engaging and compelling ways.

Media brands have also recognised the ‘bite-size’ opportunity and are rapidly experimenting with short-form and multimedia content. The Guardian with its mass of podcasts and evolving data journalism can scarcely be called just a newspaper anymore.

To seize this opportunity however, communicators need to up-skill rapidly. The necessary transferable skills are well-established in areas of PR such as broadcast and radio specialists, but they need to become part of any PR’s toolkit.

PRs now need to be as au fait recording and editing a quick talking-head video or audio snippet as they are writing a press release. Likewise, they must consider how research can escape the comforting walls of the PDF whitepaper, via data mashups and visualisation and how they can work with media outlets to bring their data to life.

The above trends present some important considerations for professional communicators:

  • The skim reader - Think about how you can earn and keep audience attention using different channels and new, text-light, ways of presenting ideas.
  • Visualising data - Think about how data and client messages can be conveyed in more engaging and visually appealing ways via infographics and visualisation.
  • The changing media - Consider how newspapers and other media outlets use data and work with them in the most appropriate manner. The Times, for example, has its own data team for its business dashboard whilst The Guardian uses open APIs to create and encourage data mashups.
  • Escaping the page - Think about how accompanying multimedia content can support PR activity. Also, explore the opportunities presented by evolving media outlets, such as podcast interviews.
  • Good to share - People don’t want to share everything but it should be made easy for them wherever possible. Explore open copyright such as Creative Commons for data and images and make videos and audio easily ‘embeddable’ using YouTube or Vimeo.

Essential viewing/reading on this topic:

Man Bites Dog’s favourite infographic sites:

The Guardian and FT’s dedicated data and visualisation pages:

The Guardian’s podcasting operation:

The Telegraph and FT’s nascent video operations:

Examples of combining data, graphics and video:
The cost of the Iraq war to the US by Good Magazine

Apple iPhone stats in an infographic video


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