No phrase in the media world has provoked as much derision in the past couple years as the words “pivot to video.”  With cruel regularity we have seen major publishing machines lay off scores of writers and editorial staff in favor of video producers. Websites like MTV News, Huffington Post, Vice and countless others have fallen victim to siren song that is video. This shift has had a knock-on effect in many industries, with the public relations field seeing some of the most immediate effects.

Editorial lay offs have put public relation firms that have long depended on symbiotic relationships with journalists in an awkward spot. It has caused many in this field to reconsider the hierarchy of the publishing world, as the thirst for clickable video content disrupts a well-established order of relationships. At the very least, professionals in this industry have had to quickly adapt to the changing times and re-assess how to package content when pitching stories.

While some have begun to suggest the momentum of the “pivot to video” movement has slowed down at the beginning of 2018, there is no doubt that the importance of video is here to stay. Whether or not we will see more major publishers pivoting to video remains to be seen, but a clear understanding of the appeal of video and an analysis of what works best with video is necessary for public relations firms that wish to adapt to the media landscape.

Why Video?

At a conference in 2016 Nicola Mendelsohn, a VP at Facebook, predicted that in 5 years time Facebook would be all video. Said Mendelsohn, “The best way to tell stories in this world— where so much information is coming at us—actually is video. It commands so much information in a much quicker period so actually the trend helps us digest more of the information in a quicker way.” This may seem an ominous prediction for writers and journalists, and, in fact, trends have shown a shift away from text-based communication.

The fact that video is so immersive explains why it is valuable for advertisers. Video has been proven to be the most effective way to grab an audience’s attention.  Developments in social media in the last couple years have backed up Mendelsohn’s prediction, with the rapid growth of the video-based social media channel Snapchat and the introduction of both Facebook Live and Instagram stories. Further, video has also been shown to simply be more “sharable” than other forms of communication, and what publishers are ultimately looking for is viral content.

What works?

One of the biggest questions for a public relations professional in the age of video has been: how can I best utilize video in my pitches? In order to understand how to best use video, first it helps to understand what kind of video content is most engaging, most likely to be viewed and, ultimately, most likely to be shared.  The good news is that studies have shown some of the standards and ideals that determine what is considered the “best” video content for publishers.

In 2015, a team from Buzzfeed set out to make the perfect viral video. They poured through lots of data and studies on audience habits in digital media to determine what makes the most engaging video content. What they came up with was a how-to-cook video series called Tasty. The Tasty video series is comprised of short, cleverly composed DIY cooking videos, and they have become some of the most addictive videos on the web with billions of views every month. The videos are the most popular content on the Internet. If you’ve ever logged into Facebook, you’ve undoubtedly seen a Tasty video.

One of the first things you learn from observing the success of viral videos is that brevity is key in making sure viewers maintain interest in content. Studies show that videos over one minute in length do not share well across social media platforms, so the shorter the better. Take note that most people are viewing digital content on their mobile devices and may not always have the ability to listen to your content with the volume on. In fact, studies have shown that 85% of Facebook videos are watched without the sound on. This means that the most effective videos are often the ones that depend the least on the sound being on, so compelling captions are of utmost importance. In terms of a theme, the most sharable videos are funny videos, DIY tips, unboxing videos, product promotions and heart-warming cause videos.

Now, most of us in the public relations world are not able to work with content that could go viral. But an understanding of what makes the most successful video content can be very helpful when packaging content to share with journalists. Videos should be readymade so that journalists can quickly use the material and will have to do minimal editing.

The Future of Video

There is no doubt that video is a useful tool in the toolkit of any PR professional, but now that we have seen a bunch of publishers pivot to video, it’s interesting to note that the numbers have not always supported that this is a wise move. In fact, a September 2017 article in the Columbia Journalism Review that explores the “secret cost of pivoting to video” explains that many publishers that have gone entirely to video have experienced a declining readership.

There are many factors that may show why video has not caught on quite as much as the news cycle would have you believe. One of the key factors, and the one that we should keep in mind in the PR world, is that it takes a lot of time and resources to produce good video. Getting video pitches out for the sake of following trends is not a wise move. If you keep in mind some of the metrics and standards that determine good video content while noting what factors are behind the most sharable videos on the web, you will be well positioned to best take advantage of the video craze.