How Bad Infographics “Bury” PR Campaigns

McCafferty: “The majority of infographics are either incomplete, unreadable or a confusing mishmash of overproduced designs which alienates the target audience instead of engaging it.”

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When I’m in a charitable mood, I like to say that I have a “love/hate” relationship with the infographic.

When I’m being less than charitable, I describe the infographic as the “Emperor’s New Clothes” of the 21st Century, a frustratingly contrived and counter-utilitarian device which has muddled far too many PR/marketing campaigns. The majority of infographics are either incomplete, unreadable and/or a confusing mishmash of overproduced designs which alienates the target audience instead of engaging it. A simple display of traditional charts – while not nearly as exciting or ambitious – does a better job of doing what good communications efforts are supposed to do: Present compelling information in a clear, direct manner.

I’m first to admit that mine is a contrarian perspective. We live in an age in which we’re supposed to appease the apparent wealth of “visual learners” out there who vastly favor infographics. (“Visual learner,” of course, being another charitable term.) Scarcely any brand-sponsored surveys, studies or reports are issued now without an accompanying infographic. And, too often, infographics are released to represent new research without a traditional alternative format to review the information, such as a tidy PDF doc or even a press release.

Which leaves the intended user at the mercy of the emboldened infographic designer, who inevitable breaks the cardinal rule of communications by attempting to “impress” (via imagery overload) as opposed to “express” concrete, comprehensible – and useful – content.

Fortunately, contrarian viewpoints are still welcome with organizations such as the esteemed and widely followed Content Marketing Institute. And I’m grateful that the institute still asks me to contribute to their popular Thought Leadership page for industry practitioners. The page’s editor, Jodi Harris, and I were batting around ideas for future posts, and I realized that I had spent some time bashing infographics in various industry forums lately. So why not take advantage of the institute’s content page to generate my own discussion?

With this in mind, here’s my latest contribution to the institute page, taking on the infographic. As with most of these pieces, I include commentary from other content marketers, in addition to best practices, to lend guidance on restoring some sense of clarity – if not sanity – to the infographic.

I hope the article generates some lively discussion (on both sides of the debate) and helps provide an alternative option to the “Let’s cram as many visuals as possible into one screen view” mindset of over-empowered designers. After all, we’re united by the same sense of purpose: presenting content that distinguishes our clients’ value from competitors. Which means we need infographics which enhance the message, as opposed to burying it. If you agree and would like to find out more about what we do here at W2 Communications, then contact us.


Dennis McCafferty is Vice President of Content at W2 Communications.