Joanna Cannon – Account Director at Spreckley
A new language has evolved in journalism, and it’s ok with not really saying very much. And that says a lot about PR’s current relation to journalism.
Tautology, or, naming something twice without adding anything of value the second time round, has always been a core part of advertising, especially in its use of visual cues, however, it feels distinctly uncomfortable when it’s used as a PR technique.
Then why is it that journalism, PR’s lifeblood, has taken on ‘advertising chat’? Online news sites such as Buzzfeed or Mashable are comfortable repeating the same thing, that same thing, or that same thing that just totally happened to the internet, to the end of time.
This language hasn’t arrived here through PR, ‘winning’ an empty jargon to flog its wares, but has instead arrived through a general embrace of advertising’s mad compulsivity. And this is heavily reliant on the dominance in journalism of images, which words can loosely prop up. Try reading a Buzzfeed article without the .gifs.
Can you believe this? Here’s another. I know, right? This is it. And this. Oh sure, how about that? This guy hasn’t even heard of it. And that. LOL. Haven’t we all? This. This. WOOOOOOOOO! Okay, that’s almost it. This.
When I was young, it was acceptable to use an MTV-like montage approach to filmmaking, which doesn’t draw attention to seemingly irrelevant images, and instead uses a flurry of visual objects to excite a vague sense of fun. Apparently we’re now doing the same thing with words.
So by completely bypassing PR, digital journalism has adopted the voice of advertising, and become its own mongrel self-marketing force impervious to the sensible drone of the press release. Where does the poor PR stand when sound-minded journalists are using words like amazeballs and chillax? Go to the Winchester, have a pint and wait for all this to blow over?
Sadly not. Even when it’s difficult, the PR has always tried his very hardest to deliver news, and there isn’t much room for the narcotic recreation offered by viral news sites. And that’s fine. Keep the news release, newspapers will always exist. But corporate comms should listen in.
Image-focused stylistics and humour can be used to put across the brand’s distinct message, which needs to be consistent. Viral news sites are doing the same thing: they’re selling advertisement space, and they’re using a central vocabulary to appeal to people in a consistent, but surprising way.
Pictures, logos and all the trimmings are simply a reiteration of that core company message. This is something Andy Warhol was getting at with his repetitive prints of Elvis (probably). They’re visually appealing because it’s, well, Elvis, but there’s also structure there, and with it the comfortable familiarity of a symbolic language.
But companies should be careful they don’t lean too much on a visual language, or they’ll look like they have zero interest in reaching out to the public, and sometimes, zero interest in what it is they actually do.
Now it’s for the PR to keep marketing’s fluffy animals on their leashes when it matters [Fenton!], tame the media [Fenton!] and reflect customer’s genuine interest in all communications. This is a tricky thing to master, and will differ, but it proves to be an exciting task for any PR that has problems sitting still [Fenton!]