PRs must convey context

At the end of last year, IPSOS Mori released a piece of research claiming the “average” person’s attention span is eight seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. Will Spratt, partner at Pagefield, says this is a massive challenge for communicators and recommends PRs need to provide context around complex corporate issues and cut-through the “information bombardment” to reach modern consumers.

In the Guardian last Saturday (February 6) Will Hutton, in this piece on the current information deluge and what it means, said:

“Instantaneity is the new god – instantaneity of presence, of communication and response….There can’t be challenge, debate and argument because these are time-consuming; at the very least, it will distract you from answering the bombardment of emails.”

Even the platforms that were first thought to be responsible for our decreasing attention spans are adapting to bow further to the new god of instantaneity – tied into Wednesday’s quarterly results was an announcement that Twitter will now put a user’s top Tweets first, rather than their most recent, allowing users to make an instant decision to the question ‘to follow or not to follow’.

Short History of Attention Spans

Source: Ipsos MORI End of Year Review 2015

This problem is not set to ease. Mobiles are getting quicker, as is the production of information. And this has a serious impact on understanding real issues and our decision-making.

It also presents a massive challenge for communicators. Our job – especially in the corporate world – is not just to attract attention, but to hold it. Context – so important in shaping a story, building an argument or navigating a complex issue – must be conveyed.

So how can communicators convey context in this increasingly attention-deficit world?

  • Multi-channel is part of the answer – communicating well and efficiently in various forums, whether it is online, face-to-face or through other marketing disciplines. Donald Trump has mastered this with high-octane 15-second videos that have become a hallmark of his campaign. Although this is focussed on impact, rather than a deeper conversation, this is part of a wider strategy – allowing him to build an online audience.
  • Secondly, the rejuvenation of blogging, through platforms like Medium, are guaranteeing authors the column inches that ‘traditional media’ editors won’t. This excellent piece in Politico illustrates how political leaders and under-fire brands are using the platform, which is run by one of the founders of Twitter, Ev Williams, to convey the bigger picture.
  • Finally, relationships are more important than ever. If you can put two people together, who need to hear each other’s views, you are going a long way to help different audiences understand one another.

Complex issues, such as the upcoming EU referendum, require nuanced thinking and healthy debate. As handheld devices become even quicker and our ability to process complex information less likely, communicators will need to pay more attention to getting the right message onto the right medium.

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