Beyond PR

May 30, 2013

Chicago Sun-Times Lays Off Photographers &amp Underscoring Need for Newsworthy Third Party Content

Summary:  As media outlets continue to cut newsroom resources, new opportunities for brands emerge to fill content voids.  But is the visual content your brand creates newsworthy enough to make it into your favorite digital news sites?  Here are four questions you can ask to guide development of effective visual content. 

The Chicago Sun-Times’ decision to lay off of its entire photography staff opens the door for PR professionals to garner visibility using visuals for the brands they represent, as long as they keep the audience’s interests firmly in mind.

As resources become more and more dear for mainstream media, brands have the opportunity to fill voids with newsworthy content.  However, before we get too excited and start thinking about opportunities to promote our products within the venerable pages of the Sun-Times and other media outlets, it’s important to keep objectivity, transparency and newsworthiness in mind.  Purely promotional content will not fill the bill.

Keep branding and promotion in check

“Brands should avoid overtly branding their content,” advises Jill Ulicney, PR Newswire’s manager of photo products.  “For example, if you add a logo to an image of a product, a journalist would be less likely to use an image than just the plain product shot.”

According to reports today, the Sun-Times plans on asking reporters to provide pictures and videos to accompany the stories.   Including a newsworthy visual with the PR pitch or press release just became more important.   To sharpen your organizations’ news nose when it comes to visual content development, spend a little time looking carefully at the media outlets you most admire and are valued by your key audiences.

Adopt the audience point of view in content planning

“When producing or conceptualizing a video, brands should take off their marketing and PR hats and ask themselves instead what grabs their attention when they’re NOT working,” suggests Brett Simon, a senior media relations manager with PR Newswire, and a former television reporter. “What do you stop and watch on a weeknight after work or when you’re surfing the web?”

4 questions that should shape your visual content strategy

Additionally, there are four important questions you can ask that will help inform your visual content strategy:

  1. What sort of stories do your target media outlets run?   Framing your brand’s content within the context of the media outlet’s stories will increase your chances at success. 
  2. What are the top stories on their web sites?  Many web sites feature their most popular content.  Look for what stories are most-read, most-emailed and most-shared.  Notice how they’re illustrated, and inform your visual planning accordingly. 
  3. What sort of visuals to the user will illustrate the stories?   Don’t limit yourself to pictures. Does the outlet use video?  Do they use charts and graphs to illustrate trends?   Developing content in the same vein as what you see on the media site will help you not only improve the likelihood that your visuals will be useful to media.  You’ll also increase the utility of the content to your audiences across the board.   
  4. What digital platforms do they publish upon, and what content do they share on those platforms?  Outlets that are active socially often curate third party content, which creates an opportunity for a different type of earned media – when an influencer shares your content on social networks; it acquires more credibility and exposure.   Additionally, many organizations are publishing mobile and tablet editions of their content.  Take into account whether or not the outlet publishes shorter video segments on mobile platforms, for example, or which images from a larger gallery they decide to embed in the mobile content.  You’ll pick up clues about what works you can use in planning your own content strategy.

Using these questions and considerations as a guide for creating content, an organization can start to incorporate a more journalistic approach.  In many cases this will mean telling the story from the customer and or audience perspective and developing the ability to frame elements of the brand story with in these larger contextual frameworks.  The good news – whether or not your content actually makes its way into the outlets published work, you’ll end up with content that is more attractive to your own audiences and more effective in conveying your organization’s message.

The ongoing importance of visuals to communications

Visual content is rapidly becoming the cornerstone of digital media.  Almost all of the new developments in content sharing, digital media consumption and social media are centered on visuals.  Entire social networks like Pinterest, Instagram and Vine are built on visual content.  YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine. Facebook and Twitter have put digital content front and center for their users. The algorithms that search engines and social networks used to determine what we see all give visuals more weight.

These are just a few of the reasons why it is difficult to overstate the importance of visuals in today’s information environment and communications arenas.  Humans are visual animals, and if you want to attract a human audience, you need visual content, period.

“Visual means just that,” notes Ken Dowell, executive vice president of audience development and social media for PR Newswire. “You want content that is interesting, unique and catches the eye.  It should attractive and of good quality in terms of clarity and focus.”

Most news organizations are actively trying to build digital audiences and keep those audiences on their sites for longer periods of time in order to expose them to more advertising.  In many cases, they are also attempting to increase the number of paying digital subscriptions.  In order to achieve these objectives, the media outlets need to produce more rich media and compelling content.  Observing how successful media outlets are using visuals can give your communications a competitive edge, whether you’re pitching a story our publishing content on branded channels.

Related reading:

Effective & Unexpected Content: Experimenting with Multiple Content Formats

Tips for using photos for PR

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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