PR needs more visual thinking

Are words dead to us in public relations? I hope not, or this blog post will make the average Twitter entry read like War and Peace.

Are words dead to us in public relations? I hope not, or this blog post will make the average Twitter entry read like War and Peace.

But we are entering an era that my friend Sam Whitmore calls “the decline of the word.” Sam knows words. Formerly editor-in-chief of PC Week and a columnist for Forbes.com, he now provides tech media analysis to PR pros through Sam Whitmore's Media Survey. His premise is simple: the PR industry has to stop thinking in words if it's going to keep up with the media and deliver the highest value to our clients.

The reason: all media is shifting to the visual, even the old-line, ink-stain wretches in the print world. Reporters are being pressured for coverage that builds engagement and “time on site.” News and the ah-ha factor remain essential. But don't forget the video, the entertainment value, and the viral echo. Lou Grant no longer cries “Stop the Presses!” He now asks, “Is it re-tweetable?”

Consider, for example, last week's keynote interview of Twitter CEO Evan Williams at SXSWi. Media called it flat and passive. The live Twitter feed was hardly so kind. The SRO audience peeled out midway through the session. Follow-up coverage focused on how bland the session was, rather than the actual content. Surely the PR team did its job in prepping for that opportunity. But if the briefings and rehearsals focused on message and down-played performance, it was an opportunity lost.

Visual infotainment is becoming coin of the media relations realm. Clients are performers, not spokespeople. As a result, PR pros must adjust their game plans to provide different – and potentially more valuable – preparation and counsel to their clients.

Bob Silver is SVP at MWW.

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