Strategies & Tactics

Communicators on the Value of Design

August 1, 2018


This is a conversation that scarcely existed in PR agencies five to 10 years ago: how design is impacting our industry.

As technology continues to evolve, creating communications platforms that crowd visual images before people’s eyeballs and shorten their attention spans for reading, we need strong design to communicate our clients’ messages.

About five years ago, I paid for a junior employee to take classes at a local community college so that our agency could better meet a handful of client requests for creative services. Today, our creative team includes two full-time employees who provide graphic designs for nearly all of our clients, in a variety of capacities.

As design becomes increasingly integrated into public relations and expected by clients, the trend poses a competitive threat to our industry by creating an opportunity for advertising agencies and consulting firms to sell PR services as one-stop shops. To remain competitive, PR agencies must provide creative services such as art direction and design.

I asked other members of the Counselors Academy to share their viewpoints on how design is changing the PR profession.

Kate Snyder, APR, principal strategist at Piper & Gold Public Relations, Lansing, Mich.

“In 2016, we added a creative-strategist position and hired our first designer at the agency. Since then, we’ve added an assistant creative strategist. We’re a boutique agency, which I think shows the level and nature of integration between PR and design.

“Storytelling has always been a core part of public relations. But as the way people consume stories becomes more visual, we must learn to communicate in the language of visual storytelling. Public relations is about changing hearts, minds and lives. Strategic visual storytelling can have a positive impact on our ability to shift attitudes, perceptions and behaviors.”

Catriona Harris, CEO of Uproar PR, Orlando, Fla.

“The world of public relations as we have traditionally known it is changing. With the rise of social media and the changing behaviors of consumers, I believe it is imperative that we utilize graphic design for our needs.

“As an agency, we brought design in-house in 2017 as we saw these changes coming full force. Our design department now works hand-in-hand with our media relations and social media teams to look at how we can strategically impact our overall client campaigns by adding visual elements. Sometimes it’s as simple as a graphic to accompany a pitch to reporters that helps visualize the story. Other times, it’s much more complex, with an overall design campaign that complements the entire work we’re doing for a client.”

Alice Pearson Chapman, partner of MP&F Strategic Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

“Design has become a critical element of the work we do for clients. More often than not, we’re telling client stories through digital media, and it’s no longer enough to just post a stock image. My company is fortunate to have an eight-person design shop. A change we made this year is to include a designer in team meetings from the outset of a project. This small change has helped our staff, the majority of whom are not designers, to visualize messages and think about new ways to communicate with the audiences we’re trying to reach.”

To meet the needs of clients and remain competitive in the integrated marketing world, design is a must-have service. If your agency has not yet begun offering design services, start small with a part-time person or a junior employee, and then watch it build as design becomes a growth area for your agency.

Brenda Jones Barwick, APR

Brenda Jones Barwick, APR, is president and CEO of Jones PR, and serves on the Counselors Academy executive committee.


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