PR Training

Visual Storytelling Tips for PR Pros

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Editor’s Note: Interested in learning more about this topic from Malayna Evans Williams, Ph.D.? Join her for a full day seminar “Visual Content and Media Relations” on September 25 in New York City. Find out more.

Once upon a time, a man met a woman. They fell in love and got married. The end.

Are you still with me? Really? Because we both know that was pretty boring stuff. Let me put on my traditional-Hollywood-romantic-comedy-story-arc hat and try again…

Once upon a time, a man met a sassy woman with a crazy fashion sense—they were both walking their bulldogs in the park when Cupid struck. They quickly fell in love but he had commitment issues so he messed everything up by dumping her. Unlike the girls he’d dumped in the past, this one haunted him. He was miserable. Even his dog was mad at him. So after crying over beers for a few months, he begged her to forgive him, proving in various crazy, romantic ways that he had truly changed. In the end, she accepted his proposal and they lived happily ever after.

Better? Great! So… are you wondering what that has to do with PR?

In today’s digital world, communications professionals are constantly confronted by terms like “branded content,” “visual storytelling,” and “amplification.” You’re increasingly tasked with crafting brand messages and stories that drive engagement and exposure.

This is actually pretty fabulous. That storyteller hat looks good on you. And when you get right down to it, we humans don’t live our lives in jargon or bullet points. Jargon and bullet points don’t engage audiences, promote social sharing, or forge emotional connections. We do, however, live our lives in color and narrative. So well told, visually engaging stories do evoke engagement and emotions.

Brand stories are simply more effective if they follow a few basic rules. Here are six tips for crafting stories that connect:

Make it collaborative

With a clear understanding of the experiences and emotions of the audience you’re writing for, you can more effectively create stories that align with their journey. Consider using crowdsourcing, listening exercises, and audience-centric brainstorming sessions to gather input as you craft your story so story elements resonate and feel familiar to your audience.

Make it human

Stuff is super cool. But ultimately, people are really into people (and stuff that changes peoples’ lives). We’re fascinated by human challenges, joy, pain and triumph. So regardless of the product or service you’re promoting, consider using human protagonists—real or imagined—that your audience can identify with to tell your tale.

Make it structured

We understand stories that have a beginning, middle, and an end. Narrative story structure, traditional story arcs, and familiar metaphors all help convey meaning and make it easier for your audience to empathize with your tale. (And, a traditional story structures enables you to cast your product or service in the role of superhero for a brand-friendly ending.)

Make it real(ish)

Whether your organizational stories feature real stakeholders (customers, patients, employees) or fictive actors (assuming you’re transparent about that, of course), real(ish) stories drive credibility and authenticity. One good way to convey real-ish is by peppering your story with small details (so don’t forget to add the bulldog!).

Make it visual and engaging

My little narrative above would have been more compelling if paired with images or video of your favorite actor and actress: maybe George and Julia, Denzel and Kerry, or Rob and Kristin. Why? Because visuals strengthen any message. The medium can make or break the message, but a “show, don’t tell” approach is the best way to trigger an emotional response and promote sharing, conversation and engagement by appealing to our hard-wired visual senses.

Make it tangible and performative

People like stuff they can see and touch. Consider interactive presentations that enable an audience to experience a story in a self-guided fashion. And performative stories don’t just speak or write the words; they bring a story to life by levering dramatic techniques such as body language, tone, voice, and timing. Matching technique to platform is a must so, for example, focus on body language when working in video and voice when writing a whitepaper.

Visually evocative stories that truly tug heartstrings can move organizational goals forward, so put on your fashion-forward storyteller hat and tell the tale of your superhero brand.

About the author

Malanya Evans, Ph.D.

Malayna Evans, Ph.D. is VP, Marketing & Biz Dev at PWR New Media, experts in interactive digital communications. She has worked in the digital communications field for seven years, focused primarily on the execution of electronic press kits. She can be found on Twitter at @malayna and other social channels.


  • Is this what is meant by “sticky” content? I’m starting to get confused. One minute, 300 words with bullet points and info graphic, the next 1,500 word narrative. What catches, engages readers, moves them to action? What is the perfect blend of words and art (graphics/video)? Does any answer/trend last more than 5 minutes? HELP!

  • So true, Charlotte. It is hard to keep up. But i do believe if you focus on people–your audience and stories about people your brand helps–that is one way to engage an audience. Creating branded content that is visually appealing (unexpected, entertaining, very human) also helps. Asking yourself how the content is useful for audience (usually entertaining or educational) is a nice litmus test.

    Re length, there is a handy infographic, the Internet is a Zoo, that gives some useful tips on ideal content length (characters, words and minutes as applicable) that might be helpful for you. You can check it out here:

    Hope that helps.

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