Audiences are consuming visual content like never before, but the communications industry has been reluctant to embrace the medium. That must change.
It is difficult to predict the future given how rapidly technology is evolving, but a few years from now, there is a strong possibility that you could be watching this article instead of reading it. This may have seemed preposterous not so long ago, but the likely shift is an ode to the raging popularity of video and the way we consume content in the modern age.
Shrinking attention spans, coupled with easy and cheap access to digital technology, have fueled the growth of video in recent years, a trend that was further accelerated by the pandemic. As of January 2023, India had the largest YouTube audience in the world, with 467 million people engaging with the social media platform. The United States was a far second with 246 million viewers. In terms of internet usage, India, with over 900 million users, was only behind China, according to data from Statista.. There are many reasons for this surge: videos are engaging and offer an emotional quotient unlike any other medium. People are drawn to a good story and video is a powerful tool to achieve that, having shown to be more effective in generating leads for future business.
Yet, even as the power of video dominates, it has surprisingly yet to acquire mainstream status in the world of communications. It should have taken center stage by now, but the industry has been slow to adapt. An overreliance on the written word, still the norm at PR firms, needs altering as reading habits across geographies undergo substantial change.
While written content has its merits – it is easier to produce and offers space for detail and nuance – its impact pales in comparison to the video format. Moreover, video is a versatile communication tool: it helps improve SEO, enhance media pitches, and boost overall audience engagement.
That is not to say that all brands have not leveraged video. In India, Cadbury has effectively utilized the video medium through videos that have been high on emotional value. Elsewhere, Nike – with their massively successful “Dream Crazy” initiative – Coca-Cola and Reebok have reaped the benefits of deploying powerful messaging through video.
Even as video has been an integral part of the brand function at companies, with superbly crafted videos being employed as television advertisements, video messaging from the PR side over the years has largely been drab or preachy. That has partly been down to budget constraints, a perennial challenge that must be overcome with innovative strategies.
The advent of generative AI offers some hope. Recent months have seen programs such as DALL-E, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion conjure up realistic and striking images with the help of a few simple prompts. Some creators are naturally worried but there is little doubt that the technology is transformational: it can produce fast and customized content with limited resources. Video is the next evolution in the world of AI, with AI startup Runway coming up with the first publicly available text-to-video generator that can “realistically and consistently” synthesize new videos. Behemoths like Google and Meta have also come up with similar tools, underscoring the huge relevance of video. The format garnering mainstream popularity – much like ChatGPT – could just be a matter of time.
It could be used for product demonstrations, consumer testimonials, promotion of corporate social responsibility as well as handling crisis communications.
And while there is understandable fear over AI tools making some jobs obsolete, it is vital to understand that they can greatly aid the content creation process as PR professionals seek to deliver more value while dealing with shorter turnarounds.
At the same time, even with generative AI, the challenge will be to strive for unique content, something that separates you from the rest. The problem with generative AI at this embryonic stage is that since it follows patterns, the content can be repetitive and lack originality. It could also raise ethical concerns if companies and agencies hide their use of AI in campaigns, especially given that PR revolves around preserving precious relationships with stakeholders.
Despite the challenges, there is little doubt that video for PR is no longer a recommendation but a necessity. The need of the hour is to shed old-school thinking and embrace change. The onus must also be on companies to set aside 20 percent of their PR budgets for video and dedicate a healthy chunk of their time to find ways to ace the medium. After all, delivering versatile content at a fast clip will play a significant role in determining the future of the PR industry.
Hisham Kabir is a marketing consultant based in Dubai.