The #1 Digital Media Trend in PR

June 15, 2010

Recently, I served as a panelist at  PRSA’s Digital Impact conference. The topic was “Where the PR Industry is Headed,” and we were asked to gaze into our crystal balls to name the top digital trends impacting the future of PR.
It was tempting to talk about current tech obsessions — from the iPad to the social media explosion to location-based apps, like  Foursquare and Gowalla, or early experiments in  augmented reality, like  Layar and what GE’s done with Ecomagination.
But I ranked the surge in web video as the #1 trend that will cause a sea change in how we do our jobs. Whereas PR people used to be prized for their writing, it is visual storytelling in the interactive, multimedia environment that will make or break the careers of future flacks. 
A recent eMarketer report shows the public’s rapidly accelerating embrace of long-form web videos – including TV shows and feature films – across screens of all sizes, from computers to mobile devices to web-enabled flat-screen TVs. Whereas web video used to mean one-offs on  YouTube, Revver and Vimeo, broadband Internet access, combined with video platforms like Hulu,  Boxee and FreeTV, among many others, are expanding the definition and improving the user experience for enjoying video everywhere. An indication of where we’re headed: Retrevo reports that  29% of the under-25 set already watch TV exclusively or mostly online (compared with 8% of the video viewing population as a whole) instead of via cable or broadcast TV.
Consistent with this trend, the multimedia release (a.k.a. MMR or social media release) is continuing to push the PR industry toward more images and video along with fewer words, so bloggers and online journalists can easily grab high-resolution and high-definition content to enliven their reporting and make it rise in the ranks of photo and video search engines, like blinkx. The MMR replaces both press kits and b-roll with one efficient microsite that serves the demand of modern reporters.

Ketchum and other leading PR firms are going further, hiring creative talent and investing in infrastructure to produce webisodes, from  talk shows about pain for pharmaceutical clients to animated shorts about  complex and  sensitive issues.
If video is the killer app, a PR pro’s ability to conceive and produce a visual story will soon separate the sheep from the goats.