The digital era has transformed how PR pros must tell their stories.
In 2012, Coca-Cola declared that it was on a mission to “kill the press release” by 2015 and launched an ambitious brand journalism project to tell its own story. The result was Coca-Cola Journey, which transformed the company’s corporate website into a dynamic digital magazine and owned media channel that “makes (and sometimes breaks) Coca-Cola news.” While cutting down on press releases and corporate speak, Coca-Cola has managed to significantly boost its media coverage—and more importantly its audience engagement.
This example highlights how PR professionals need to fundamentally rethink the way they tell their stories. What methods can communicators use to ensure that their stories are not only heard, but also felt?
1. Get radical with video.
By 2021, video is expected to account for an astonishing 80 percent of consumer internet traffic; every second almost 17,000 hours of video content will cross the network. With this in mind, PR professionals must go beyond simply sharing videos on social media channels.
In the future breaking news, client announcements and pitches will be shared with the media via video rather than text, and agencies will have dedicated YouTube channels. Quality video content, including engaging news vignettes, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, is in high demand in newsrooms across the world. PR pros must be there to supply this demand.
2. Move beyond photos.
The human brain processes images 60 times faster than words and visuals can increase readership by 80 percent, so visual media is not just preferable but critical to telling your story effectively. PR professionals have been integrating images into their content for decades, but it’s time to go beyond photos and start thinking about how to bring content to life in a wholly visual way. While infographics can replace text altogether, and charts and graphs can bring stats and figures to life and make them more easily shareable, you should also bring memes, GIFs and even emojis into your communication vocabulary. Every visual you create is a branding opportunity.
3. Harness the power of the hashtag.
Today, a tweet or an Instagram post can serve as an effective news pitch, but without the all-powerful hashtag there is little chance that it will break through the white noise to find your target audience. PR professionals frequently use hashtags as transparent promotional tools rather than what they should be: conversation-makers. Instead of simply jumping on the keyword band wagon by sharing trending hashtags, PR professionals need to think about how those hashtags relate to their clients, how they can bring a fresh angle to a trending topic and how they can encourage followers to join the conversation.
4. Rethink the traditional press release.
While your content distribution mix is undergoing drastic transformation, press releases may still need to be used from time to time for news that requires text. However, they will look entirely different from traditional press releases. PR pros must refuse to draft long-form walls of text littered with jargon and complicated words that prevent comprehension.
Instead, champion concise, brief, shareable content that tells a story quickly. Break up text with bullet points and accompany it with engaging visuals that enhance the content’s newsworthiness.
5. Make it human.
No matter what format you are using, readers demand authenticity; writing well isn’t enough to tell a client’s story. Prioritizing empathy and consumer understanding will allow PR pros to communicate key messages in a way that resonates with their target audiences.
PR professionals have always focused on telling their stories from the client’s point of view, and while it is still important to convey brand messages, they must shift their focus to their audience and how we can add value for them with our content. With shortening attention spans, engagement is the aim of the game; think about what makes your readers tick, humanise your clients and find fresh ways to tell their stories.
Ahmad Itani is the Founder and CEO of Cicero & Bernay Public Relations. An independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai and offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the MENA region.