Embrace visual storytelling with these tips

Use compelling imagery to make your content soar and leave your audience craving more.  

Your title might be PR manager, keeper of the blog, content developer or chief copywriter.

It doesn’t matter.

All of us need to get the visual storytelling religion. Stunning, compelling visuals are our best chance of landing messages in this world of shrinking attention spans and information overload.

No one expects you to be the second coming of Spielberg or Banksy. Still, there are ways to bring a visual element to your storytelling. Using tools such as Canva, there’s no reason you can’t create the images yourself.

Here are 10 examples of original artwork to inspire your creativity:

woman on phone in vintage photo

I call this type of image a “word visual.” The words harmonize with the image to carry the storytelling. One of the easiest ways to do this is to combine a clever speech cloud with an image.

#DontDoDivisive billboard

Here’s another example of a “word visual.” We just took a photo with a billboard, erased the billboard and added our hashtag.

The original photo was already in the public domain. Still, I would characterize this as “original artwork” because of the fresh twist.

I consider this a “word visual” as well. We’ve taken a donut chart with the cutouts driving the story and injecting some levity.

You can think of this as an advanced “word visual,” turning Mr. Trump’s face into a pie chart. The photo and words drive the story, and the image calls for rudimentary design skills.

Here’s one more type of “word visual” to deploy. Again, the words do the heavy lifting, and the simple flowchart design sets the stage for a punchy gag.

Nothing in social media says “watch me” quite like a GIF. Though they require more advanced design skills, you can see how the words drive the action in this piece above.

Original illustrations can delight your audience, pique curiosity and lure in eyeballs. Would you be more likely to click on a PR pitching story featuring a generic stock photo, or one with custom artwork depicting an army of PR people flying their news releases toward distracted journos?

Landing coverage in a top-tier publication is hard work. This illustration demonstrates the point with a memorable metaphor.

Statue of Trump Statue of Liberty illustration The Hoffman Agency

If you’re interested in this form of visual storytelling but have never worked with an illustrator, you might read “The Mechanics of Working with an Illustrator.”

Don’t be afraid to “borrow” concepts from the consumer branding world. When launching our office in Indonesia last year, we riffed on the retro postcard motif.

One of the largest organizations on the planet, IBM, has trained more than 100,000 employees in design guided by this mantra from Phil Gilbert:

Design is everyone’s job. Not everyone is a designer, but everybody has to have the user as their north star.

You could say something similar for communicators:

Everybody has to have the reader/viewer/listener as their north star.

One final piece of guidance

It sounds simplistic, but as you come across imagery you like—it could be an ad in a magazine or a poster at a bus stop—capture it. Tape the images you collect around your desk. Surround yourself with visuals that inspire you.

However or wherever you draw inspiration, make sure to prioritize, nurture and invest in the visual component of your storytelling.

Lou Hoffman is CEO of the Hoffman Agency, a global communications consultancy focused on the tech sector. He blogs on storytelling in business at Ishmael’s Corner, where you can read more of his work.

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