Typically, good communication means choosing the right words and phrases so your message is easy to understand. However, the most memorable examples of good communication may not be what we read or hear. An image can be a more powerful – and effective – means for getting a message across and invoking an emotional or behavioural response from your audience.
I’m going to refer to this as visual PR. But I’m not talking about a photo opportunity with an oversized cheque and a beaming CEO. Rather, it’s using innovative visual ideas to get into the hearts and minds of your audience. In turn, it helps to educate, inform, persuade or challenge their views, beliefs or behaviour.
This is important because visual communication is more memorable. According to developmental molecular biologist and author of Brain Rules, Dr John Medina:
“We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%. Pictures beat text as well, in part because reading is so inefficient for us. Our brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them. That takes time. ”
So a picture is worth a thousand words. However, not only pictures but any visual event or display we witness either first hand or via print, television or the internet can be interesting or moving enough to stake a claim in our memory banks. Obviously, just remembering an event or image doesn’t necessarily count as a successful campaign in PR terms. However, it is the first step in the process and one from which your campaign can be built.
The Victorian Transport Accident Commission’s A Place to Remember display was an effective example of this visual approach. The campaign centred on a 67 metre long table surrounded by 262 empty chairs placed in a busy thoroughfare in central Melbourne in December 2012. Each place at the table represented a person who lost their life on Victorian roads that year. (Unfortunately, a further six chairs were added to the table during the course of the campaign.) As an added touch, passers-by could leave messages of hope and safety at the table which were then posted shared on social media, enabling the message to be spread even further afield.
The first Sea of Hands campaign used the idea of a petition but made it much more interesting and impressive. In October 1997, thousands of plastic hands in the colours of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags were placed in front of Australia’s Parliament House in Canberra. Each hand was signed by people who supported native title rights and reconciliation. The power of the campaign was the sheer enormity of the installation and its placement in front of Parliament House. The campaign, created by the group Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation, clearly targeted Australian politicians. Not a single Federal politician of the time could have missed seeing the display.
A fascinating or thought-provoking photo can also offer opportunities for good visual PR. Among the first politicians to recognise the power of an image was John F Kennedy. Soon after becoming US president, Kennedy installed Cecil Stoughton as a photographer within the White House. Stoughton had unprecedented access to Kennedy and his family and many of his photos are now among the most iconic images of the time. Among the most memorable is that of the president in the oval office with his two young children playing in front of him. Stoughton took the photo on October 10, 1962 and, in a 2004 interview with National Geographic highlighted its media reach:
“One day I was just sitting outside the President’s office and I heard all this noise and he waved me in. The children were dancing in the Oval Office and the President was clapping—he was doing fatherly things and the children [were] cavorting and competing for his attention. I snapped 12 frames. That afternoon the President flipped through the pictures and chose one to send to the press—it showed up in every metropolitan daily in the U.S. and around the world.”
Of course, the examples I’ve discussed here are neither the only nor necessarily the most innovative. However, they are the images that have stuck in my memory. I am sure there are many more good examples of visual PR that you can recall and share with us.