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PR under utilizes illustration as a form of visual storytelling.

Yet, one could make an argument that no visual form better suits PR. After all, anything is possible with illustration (literally).

Still, the idea of engaging with an illustrator can seem daunting — if not downright scary — for those steeped in the world of words.

As our campaigns increasingly emphasize social media, owned media and blogs, we’ve developed relationships with several illustrators to create original artwork. It turns out that common sense more than any technical element underpins success:

  • Don’t assume the illustrator shares your vision for style and composition. Take the time to explain what you’re after, ideally on the phone or in person so the information flows both ways.
  • Before the initial conversation, share examples of visuals and explain why each is relevant.
  • Recognize that each illustrator has a unique style. Some illustrators have multiple styles. If the desired artwork deviates from the illustrator’s style/styles, this should be explained. Some illustrators are chameleons, able to recreate whatever you have in mind. Others focus on one and only one style.

Here’s an example of the give-and-take between our team and PaperSky, a design shop with illustration capabilities.

Step #1

We explain that we’re updating an infographic that compares the shipping rates of UPS, FedEx and the United States Post Office (USPS). Instead of the “Thinking Man” used as the image in 2015 …Rethink shipping carrier - PR illustration… we envision an illustration of a detective looking down at UPS, FedEx and USPS shipping boxes with a magnifying glass. We also explain the riff on the verb “investigate” with the headline, “Investigate Your Shipping Mix.”

Step #2

PaperSky creates the following illustration for review:investigate shipping mix - PR illustrationIt’s not quite right.

We envision the protagonist as a detective — à la Sherlock Holmes minus the pipe — not a business person who brushes his teeth at hour intervals.

At this juncture, our thinking evolves to using a shipping warehouse as background. We also conclude that the entire image should be an illustration including the shipping boxes from UPS, FedEx and USPS.

Last, we talk through a more playful approach to the image.

Step #3

PaperSky creates the revised version that nails it.

We have a few minor edits, writing directly on the illustration:Second Attempt - Second Try Final Investigate Image 02-161) Four inspectors are too many, so we ask to remove inspector #1 and the table behind him.

2) Inspector #2 needs to be made larger and with some sort of colored/shadowed outline so he’s more prominent in the image. And let’s remove the two boxes behind inspector #2, again so that he stands out.

Step #4

Voilà!

The final illustration arrives to top the infographic on shipping rates recently published.Final Investigate Image 02-16In the course of simplifying the process, I don’t want to lose sight that the best illustrations come from a collaborative process.

We bounce ideas off PaperSky.

PaperSky lobs ideas our way.

With this in mind, the composition might change from the original idea to the final artwork. Some illustrators prefer to provide rough sketches for this very reason, saving time if the composition changes.

For inspiration, The New Yorker is famous for its cover illustrations. The New York Times, particularly the Sunday edition, makes ample use of illustrations. I also find Twitter serves as a curation tool for illustrations with feeds ranging from @FiftyThree to @BetterCallSaul.Better Call Saul - PR IllustrationDon’t call.


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