Visual Storytelling Lessons from ...


Since Businessweek retooled its “look and feel” under Richard Turley, visual storytelling has gained greater prominence.

It’s revealing to revisit a comment Turley made to BusinessInsider a couple years ago:

“One of the things I wanted to do was to have a magazine which you could graze.”

Before going further, it’s worth stepping back to look at the crush of information that each of us navigates on a daily basis. Communicating with visuals, not words, makes it easier for the audience to absorb. It’s the old “a picture is worth a 943 words” idea (save my math for another post).

That’s why social platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram are taking off.

Tumblr Pinterest Instagram Unique Visitors

More than just increased usage, it’s the velocity of the change that defies the norm.

Back to Businessweek –

The property’s push toward a more visual product means that in some cases, the words take a backseat to the photos.

Such was the case with a story that ran last week on a refugee camp in Jordan.

Businessweek - refugee camp in Jordan 1


Businessweek - refugee camp in Jordan 2

Here’s a story reflecting geopolitical and economic dimensions, not to mention the core question: How the heck do you conjure out of thin air a portable city for 120,000 people?

Rather than assign a journalist to write a 500+ word narrative, Businessweek melts the complexity into a picture story that can be understood by anyone, not just those with Ph.D.s in Middle Eastern studies. Yet, the tenets of classic storytelling still pull the reader through the piece – like the vignette on Abu Ali who has managed to corner the black market on electricity. Between the pictures and words, the reader can sense that Mr. Ali believes in the “quid pro quo” business model.

And look at the headline.

The “500,000 loaves of Flatbread a Day” anecdote brings out the humanity of the story.

As communicators increasingly play a broader role in content development, the same techniques in the Businessweek photo essay can be applied to other forms of media.

One thing for sure. The creation of visual assets should be standard practice for any communications campaign.

Note: For more on this topic, I wrote “Why the PR Profession Must Embrace Visual Storytelling.”




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