Two groups of students were given an identical text to read, the only difference being that one group read the text on a computer screen. The results – anecdotal as they were – showed that those who read online remembered far less than their book-bound counterparts.
Of course, the written word is a fundamental cornerstone of the PR and communications industry. Arguably, it always will be.
In the last decade however, content has become increasingly diversified. From videos and webinars to infographics and presentations, the PR industry has more tools at its disposal now than ever before. How this new wave of content can be used to its optimal potential is cause for much industry debate.
But while a picture may paint a thousand words, the actual message is often clearer in print. This is of particular relevance in the financial services industry, where the messages we’re communicating comprise complex concepts that must be disseminated to an (albeit highly-sophisticated) audience.
Written content – at least in the financial world – isn’t going anywhere. Yet the radical changes in its form are changing the ways in which writers work.
Think back to the turn of the century. Older heads can still remember when press packs were distributed by post and coverage was tracked by going out and buying the newspaper with your fingers crossed. Fast forward to today and those practices are almost impossible to relate to – the world of PR is moving much, much faster.
This speed is accompanied by increased volume. The amount of material distributed and the number of outlets through which that distribution takes place has risen – and continues to rise – at an astronomical rate. The advent of Twitter is a case in point, as is the development of speed-reading technologies such as Spritz. With the increased speed and volume, the nature of written content has also changed dramatically. Tweeting forces the user into unbending, 140-character concision, while Spritz, which prioritises efficiency over all else, could reduce reading to a rapid download of information – and as such make writers forget their stylistic verve.
The experiment outlined in The New Yorker shows that how we read – and the way in which we digest what we read – changes dramatically from print to online.
As the divide between book and screen is examined more closely, certain trends will emerge – trends that PR can use to get its message across more effectively. Eventually, it will come down – in part – to science. We’ll know what size print to use, which font is the most appealing statistically, and how long lines should be to keep the reader reading.
But – and writers can breathe a sigh of relief – the development won’t all be scientific. What will matter in equal measure, as indeed it matters today, are the ideas behind the words and the skill with which they’re harnessed. As more media channels emerge, so the volume of written content will increase. Part of the writer’s – and the PR team’s – skill is getting their content to stand out. And it’s only going to get more difficult.