Visual Storytelling and the Surround Sound PR Plan
I’ve been what one might call a “PR Pro” for the better part of the past two decades, yet my extended family still doesn’t understand what I do for a living.
I used to attempt to get into the weeds with a detailed explanation of how earned media works, the role public relations folk play in shaping news, the differences between earned and paid media, etc. The response is always, “Oh, you are in advertising.”

I’d sometimes go as far as to suggest that, “I insert my clients into the news when they want to be, and keep them out when they want a lower profile.” That, of course, lends more power to my profession that any real world model, but I’d happily trade factual basis for a better understanding of my trade. Only, the response then was “oh, you are a marketing guy.”

I suppose I am a marketing guy, but I’m rooted in earned media and harnessing the power of news to tell my client’s story. Yet, the role PR plays in the larger marcom plan is a more complex story to tell today than it ever has been.

Who’d have suggested a decade ago that traditional print media would be nearly as reliant on video as the TV news media are? And who could’ve possibly estimated YouTube would be the second-largest search engine on the planet?

Clearly, visual storytelling is playing a larger role than it ever has in disseminating news, building buzz, developing a consensus opinion, etc. And it’s not just the methods that have changed, but the vehicles that deliver our messages have converged so that earned, owned, paid and shared (social) media overlap to the degree that it is often hard to distinguish one from the other.

This convergence is an opportunity for the PR pro that willingly accepts this new converged media landscape, and works to understand the ever changing tactics that yield results.

When evaluating your current PR/earned media plans and the role converged media and visual storytelling play, consider these facts:

  • YouTube is a larger search engine than Bing, Yahoo and AOL combined
  • 79% of communicators plan to increase visual story telling in 2015
  • Among PR Newswire’s top 100 performing press releases in 2014; 50% included visual storytelling
  • Converged media forces new realities—Huff Post won’t publish without a multimedia asset, a search headline, a tweet & FB post
  • 26% of consumers globally have watched a branded video in the past month
  • We remember 30% of what we read; 80% of what we see
  • Converged media provides opportunity — improved campaign/impressions results, greater content retention, new revenue streams, etc.

We recently applied some visual storytelling and converged media tactics to a client introducing a new product to a national audience.

The challenge:
What makes this product different than the competition? “Nothing really,” says the client, “but we want people to be aware and buy it up in bunches.” Okay. “A viral video,” is offered as a solution. “No problem,” we say as we check the viral box while uploading to YouTube…

The real solution:
Instead of spending untold budget on development of a funny video featuring cats that may or may not ever find a following, we developed a platform that offers consumer engagement with the new product—in this case a video contest—via mobile, web and social. We used traditional and blog media outreach to generate earned media coverage, and amplified that coverage with paid media. Finally, we used owned spaces (social, email, website) to push to our opt-in audience. Ultimately, we tie into the seasonal theme to engage with a new, but familiar product, in a conversant manner.


  • Contest: Offer compelling prizes (two, $2,500 grand prize winners); one winner from the top vote-getter, the other from a juried panel of product experts. In doing so, we create a mechanism for viral shares (vote for my video) as well as selection (and future distribution) of a video that may merit mention.
  • App dev: Our app pulls traditional video contest barriers down by allowing direct upload from mobile devices as well as from user’s own video channels. It integrates into our client’s Facebook page but also lives as a microsite page to allow mobile access (and non FB users can participate).
  • Video: The use of video as it provides many more channels to share our story while offering a great vehicle for paid integration that directs engagement to the app/brand (YouTube pre-roll ads, for example).
  • Multimedia news release: Our press release, video, images, social/web links, related links, etc. all live in one place, and more importantly we provide active distribution of all elements. Ultimately, the MNR provides a huge tail end to press release distribution—we’ll see 10x the discoverability vs. a traditional press release simply by integrating a variety of media.
  • Blog media outreach: Offer free product, coupons and other prizes bloggers can use with their own audiences to encourage reviews of the product and contest.
  • Traditional media outreach: Traditional media coverage plays a smaller role, but it does have a place. All we need is one story; once secured, we use that story (in a paid media format) to amplify our earned placement.
  • Ads: We consumer PR folk might get grief from PR traditionalists for integrating advertising into PR campaigns, but it’s really about maximizing earned efforts. And what is a Mat release but paid media, really? So yes, we build out a program that maximizes our earned results with paid programs via Facebook, YouTube (pre-roll video), Twitter, Web (Outbrain) and others.
  • E-blast, website integration: Perhaps goes without saying, but owned media such as websites and opt-in databases are vehicles that require minimal cost and effort to integrate, and they should be for any campaign of value.

In the end, the increasing use of visual storytelling and converged media tactics allow us to develop “surround sound” PR plans that provide incremental results that our clients see great value in. Traditional earned media still plays a big role in what we do, but we can’t tell today’s consumer clients that we’ll deliver ROI armed only with a release, a pitch and a list. Instead, we utilize a wide range of tactics across earned, owned and paid spaces to tell the story in a manner that yields real results.

Matt Jackson is a senior director at Lambert