Although infographics have been leveraged by the PR industry for decades, their use in the last 10 years has increased exponentially. This 2-part series covers the growing relevance, purposes and future of infographics in PR along with best practices in the context of PR strategy.
Love songs, epitaphs and infographics
You may never hear them uttered in the same breath again, but they do have something in common. All three are essential modes of communication that won’t leave modern culture anytime soon.
No one would challenge the first two: music provides sensory escape while managing human emotions and epitaphs give assurances that our lives have meaning. So what basic human need makes us so dependent on infographics? Making complex information easier to understand.
The one-minute history of infographics
By our modern definition, infographics have been evolving with us since the beginning. Cave paintings from 30,000 BC and the hieroglyphics that followed served to communicate facts about data, objects and their relationships. William Playfair created pie and bar charts in 1786 to synthesize complex information about the English economy. In the face of public health crises, Florence Nightingale introduced “coxcomb” charts in 1857 as a visual display of statistical data related to disease and prevention. The “pictograms” that Otl Aicher created for the 1972 Munich Olympics became the basis for a large percentage of the stick figure signs we see in public today. Our minute’s up but you get the point.
PR’s infographic fascination
Today, some in the PR industry see the rapid rise of infographics as a bubble waiting to burst. It’s understandable. With the degree of technical change happening around us, how could a communications tool that became so popular so fast–thanks to the digital age–not be replaced by a next greatest thing?
The truth is that while the world and industry continue to change, we do not. At least not in the way that we learn, categorize and recall information. Among other things, our short-term memories are still subject to the Rule of 3. And for all its heroic conveniences, technology has also reallocated a greater percentage of our fields of vision to ad space. The wallpaper effect and added clutter only escalate the primary problem that infographics solve: simplification.
The PR industry has identified this convergence and turned to infographics as a friendly meeting place for brands and otherwise wary target groups. Humans welcome a means to ingest information faster and brands want them to ingest their information faster.
Think of the growing list of new products that come with downloads, dashboards and nine things you can do to a cloud. Do we really feel like we know enough to know why we need them or which one is best? We need evidence and validation to make the leap.
We humans also prefer to be entertained, rather than spoken to. Information about a complex product can be well-articulated in a press release, but a good infographic to go along with it can be the difference between saying “sit down. I have something to tell you” and “grab a drink, have a seat. You’re going to like what I have to say.”
Evolution, not extinction
Infographics aren’t going away but, instead, will continue to evolve in terms of their style, tone and forms of delivery. Like many communications tools, the digital age opened the PR and Marketing doors for infographics. In the same way, new technology and the evolution of social platforms will dictate how they are dispatched in the future. It is reasonable to expect that more animated infographics will be modeled after those created for film documentaries now that the major social channels have made room for video content. Ones that are created for responsive web templates will logically take on a more modular feel so information can be reordered without losing its meaning.
The future of infographics in PR will also be guided by evolving communications needs. For example, we recently created a static infographic for a client who also wanted to present the same content to an in-person audience before it became available to the public. To meet that need we created an animated “infographic slider” as a visual aid, with the content divided into separate sections so the presenter could address them individually.
These are only short-term indicators, but the evolution of technology and communication dynamics will obviously continue to determine how the visual simplification of information is conceived and presented in the long term as well.
Most brands wage war every day behind the stability of a visual identity, assets and core messaging. They often think about communications tools like infographics in the context of going viral and staying top of mind. Getting large-scale viral traction from a branded infographic is seldom possible unless the strategy calls for creating a level of entertainment so high that it eclipses the brand itself. Even then there is no guarantee.
But within the realm of PR and marketing, there are objectives that are completely attainable, which is why we categorize infographics by their “type” when developing a strategy.
Thought Leadership: Provides industry facts or insights backed by data related to trends, history and behavior.
Achievement: Touts a brand’s business accomplishment(s), milestone(s) or corporate responsibility initiative(s).
How it works: Explains and simplifies the unique value or process of a product or service.
Pure marketing: Reinforces a brand, product or service with brand messaging instead of impartial facts.
Pure entertainment: Well, not exactly “pure.” Think of the most shareable idea in history, but we still recommend keeping your logo at the bottom.
Next: best practices for creating infographics
Thanks for reading and please join us again next week as we cover best practices for infographic layout and design.