Visual storytelling was a hot topic at this year’s PRSA International Conference, with a multitude of sessions revolving around the subject. While there were a lot of great examples shown, many stats shared and more than a few tips for creating visual content, the most beneficial piece of advice for PR professionals was to think about the imagery of your campaign first.

How often do we, as communicators, scramble to find a visual for our story after-the-fact? How often are these visuals actually newsworthy?

Impactful Visual Storytelling Puts Imagery at the Heart of the Message

Think about what brand content has really taken stake in your memory. I’ll be you dollars to donuts that an image or video was at the heart of the campaign. For me, two memorable campaigns immediately come to mind:

First, there’s Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign, which simply wouldn’t be a brand story without the video. Their powerful video helps women empathize with the universal feeling of self-doubt and inner beauty. It’s obvious that Dove didn’t simply look for visual after the fact. They had to first think about the brand image and feeling they wanted women to take away.

And more recently, the GE “Enhance Your Lighting” web video had me LOL’ing. More than just a pitch for their new smartphone-enabled LED bulbs, this tongue-in-cheek infomercial features cheeseball “famous guy” Jeff Goldblum attributing great lighting as the key to his success. GE surprised, entertained and informed me. Not only did I feel compelled to share their video on Facebook, I also purchased their fancy light bulbs. Mission accomplished.

Reverse Your Process: Visuals First, then Brand Message

In order to craft high-quality messages, we need to think about the visual hook first. Instead of finding visuals to fit our messages, we need to fit our messages to surprising, delightful and/or newsworthy images.

It’s time to get visually creative with your campaigns. Here are some questions to bring up in your next brainstorming meeting:

  • What emotion do we want to convey? Happiness, empathy, fear, anger, sadness, love… what will drive the response you’re looking for?
  • If we weren’t able to use words to convey our message, how would we share it?
  • How is our story different from all others? What makes this angle unique?
  • What does the next step of this idea look like? Is there a way to make it more surprising or unique?
  • If we didn’t work for this organization, would this draw our attention while browsing online? Would we share this in our own social channels?

Promote Your Extra Effort

Creating quality visual content takes extra effort, time and resources. Make sure you’re getting the most ROI on your creative investment.

Dove used a multimedia news release to promote their video campaign, simultaneously exposing it directly to the media and seeding it online and in social. As a result, it quickly went viral and was all over the media and my social channels. In comparison, GE did not issue a release featuring their spectacular video, missing out on the opportunity to attract and influence the conversation around their content.

For more on visual storytelling, follow the link view the free on-demand webinar “PR Trends for 2015: Focus on Visual Storytelling”: