Apr 23, 2013

Effective & Unexpected Content: Experimenting with Multiple Formats

The Times  created a short animation illustrating how airbags can help a skier in an avalanche.  Click the image to see the animation.

The Times created a short animation illustrating how airbags can help a skier in an avalanche. Click the image to see the animation.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the lessons we can glean from this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Journalism winners.  In that post, I noted the winning entry from the New York Times for feature writing, and I’ve decided that I didn’t do this particular winner justice in my original post.

Titled “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” the story weaves a variety of different types of content and treatments into one immersive experience.   In my mind, the experiential nature of the story sets it apart from the many different digital articles and other content I’ve consumed over the years.

We all know that traditional media establishments have been struggling with developing digital models and new ways to present content to us.  With this piece – which absolutely would not translate fully to print – the Times has created something truly different.

Illustrative elements, such as the blowing snow imagery at the beginning of the piece and richly detailed animations, such as the one illustrating the underlying mechanics of snow accumulation that can lead to avalanche, are blended with start video interviews and fantastic writing to produce what I can only describe as an experience, not a read.

I’m not a skier, and am generally not terribly interested in survival stories.  But after writing the blog about the Pulitzer winners, I was drawn back to “Snow Fall.”  I read everything, watched everything and clicked on all of the links served up in the piece.

Then I sat back and asked myself, “What just happened here? Why did I just spend almost a half hour on a subject in which I have little interest?”

The answer was the multimedia presentation.   The appearance of the piece got my attention, and drew me in.  The rich content, buoyed by dynamic storytelling, carried me along and held my attention.

Take risks & experiment with your content

“Snow Fall” represents the application of the Times’ core competency – telling a great story – to digital media.  In the process, they are moving away from their traditional format – print.

There is a lesson here for communicators, and it’s this – take risks and start experimenting with new formats.  Don’t make the number of times something was “read” your goal.  Instead, develop content that immerses, and offers readers a pathway that unfolds before them as they travel through your story.  Track the amount of time they spend on the pages of the story, and the number of times they watch the videos you imbed or click on the links you suggest to them.

With a little help from your web analytics team and inventive use of the content your organization is likely to have already produced, you can put together a multimedia experience that will engage your existing audience in an entirely new way, and is likely to generate new interest in your organization’s story, too.

Want to explore new ways to tell your brand’s story?  We’d be happy to chat with you about creating a video or a designing multimedia distribution strategy that will increase discovery of your brand’s messages.  We’d love to hear your ideas, and help turn them into reality. Contact us for more information.

 Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of the e-book “Unlocking Social Media for PR.”  Follow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik .

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