Data, disruption and narrative – the PR infographic

Our good friend and former PR Diploma student Bob Watling is back to talk some more about infographics. Bob, over to you…..

“Can you do me an infographic?” is a question PR people are being asked much more often as we move away from the traditional press release to embrace content marketing and brand journalism. Infographics are interesting, shareable visual content that busy audiences can take in at a glance – so what’s not to like?

Absolutely nothing, so long as it meets with a specific PR objective is the answer. PR has clear aims as a discipline. At its most strategic it’s about reputation and dialogue. In day-to-day practice PROs also need to advocate a company’s position, influence audience attitudes and engage with stakeholders. Can infographics help them to achieve this? Is there a ‘PR infographic’?

I’ve previously written about the different infographic genres that we see. A lot of corporate infographics simply provide public information about a topic to an audience. They use a neutral tone and simple visual style to tell a corporate story and their aim is to educate rather than to persuade. In contrast there’s a host of content marketing infographics pushed out by companies looking for views, shares and brand engagement from an audience. Often quirky and visually very interesting, they’re all about getting cut-through and clicks in a crowded marketplace.

These are both valid uses of the infographic format (though some design purists would strongly disagree!), but neither of them touches directly on PR’s specific needs: reputation, advocacy, attitude change.

Many advocacy and pressure groups have therefore gone a different route. They try to use infographics to reveal the ‘hidden’ story behind data, in much the same way that data journalists do. They carefully select data that makes a surprising point, particularly data that shows an unacceptable truth about a subject. Their aim is to turn a latent audience into an aware audience by visually presenting a ‘proof point’ – i.e. information that disrupts how an audience sees a subject and leads to a different narrative about it. A good example is the infographic around rape conviction statistics that became the front page of The Independent in January 2013 – proof that infographics can have real campaigning power.

The aim of these PR infographics is to frame how you think about a subject in future by giving you a powerful visual fact that you remember. These infographics are used in the knowledge that people can process images more quickly than they can words and that good imagery can have an emotional effect on the audience that reinforces the data. This can often make them seem more like advertising or social marketing than traditional data visualisation.

But PR infographics shouldn’t go too far with this by using upsetting imagery or metaphors to try and force a mood of concern or worry on the audience. Infographics have ethics, and if an audience feels you are manipulating their emotions they will not trust the data you put across.

So effective PR infographics need to get the balance right between information, emotion and imagery. If the data is disruptive and the imagery is clever the effects can be significant and long-lasting in the audience’s mind, without the need for ‘shock and awe’ visuals.

They also need to be the right size. Big, expansive infographics often try to communicate too many points and can fail to leave a single memorable message with the audience. In contrast a small infographic that amplifies a simple but disruptive data set through a great visual metaphor can land a powerful blow. Mobile audiences need smaller, smartphone-friendly content they can view without scrolling, so a less-is-more approach is probably a smart move for PR infographics.

A clear PR outcome is essential for a PR infographic. Your success (or otherwise) isn’t measured by shares or likes, it’s measured by attitude or sentiment change. Good infographics can get a visual proof point to stick in the memory and frame an issue for an audience. For PROs looking to influence debate or create audience awareness and action, this should be part of the toolkit that includes data, disruption and narrative all in one simple package.

Thanks Bob for sharing your thoughts on this – what do you think? Do you agree? Have you got some great examples to share?

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