Sick of Crappy Infographics? Blame the First Press Release

Ivy-Lee-New-York-Times.jpgIn 2013, “Can you create an infographic?” became the new “Can you make a viral video?”

The craptastic nature of so many of them has inspired pinboards and even entire websites. I could dedicate an entire blog post to all the elements of awful infographics, but that’s well-trodden ground.

Instead I’d like to focus on a small insight I had while putting together a client memo on an infographic concept shortly after finishing up writing the final exam for my PR and social media class at BU.

In class we talk about what is commonly accepted as the first press release, written by Ivy Lee in 1906, which was no doubt the first and last time that a press release appeared in toto in the New York Times. It represents the the unmet dream of every PR person: verbatim editorial pick up of your messaging.

Infographics are the last gasp attempt of PR and marketing professionals everywhere to control the message.

Image via (but not by) New Breed Markeing

Image via (but not by) New Breed Marketing

We’ve completely lost control of the written text, but infographics represent something that’s a little harder to muck with. This theory nicely explains why it’s so tempting to cram as much text as is humanly possible into an infographic.

But it may not be the only reason.

Google may be as much to blame as Ivy Lee. PR pros’ goal of verbatim or near-verbatim adoption of a messaging platform might actually be seen as “content farming” and be penalized by Google for repeat content.

While at first blush the idea of hiding SEO-rich copy behind the “bit screen” of a JPEG, GIF or PNG image format (and thus rendering the text invisible to search engines) might seem detrimental, or even moronic (my first take on the phenomenon of text-heavy, mile-high infographics), the tactic may actually benefit marketers and messengers by preventing it from being penalized in the search engine results pages.

I still think there are much better ways to communicate your key messages than an infographic. Despite their name, infographics should be used to illustrate and create new insights, rather than to inform. Text is still the best medium for that — at least for the time being. But maybe I’m being old-fashioned. If so, call me on it!

Update (February 5, 2014): BONUS VIDEO
I stopped by the offices of Critical Mention during my last visit to New York, and they threw me on camera to talk about this post a little more. Here’s what I said:

Craptastic Infographics (Todd Van Hoosear Video) from Critical Mention on Vimeo.

Todd Van Hoosear

About Todd Van Hoosear

Todd’s love of technology started as a child, when his dad would bring home chips and switches from his work in the electronics industry that would feed his imagination for years. Combining a stint as an IT guy with his education in PR and communication, Todd has helped clients in the engineering, mobile, cloud, networking, consumer technology and consulting spaces bring new ideas – and new takes on old ideas – to the market.

Learn more about Todd


  1. Todd,

    Thanks for the Pinboard link (I think) and for the thoughts on infographics. I’ll define the main takeaway by cribbing from your conclusion; infographics are illustrative. Too many try to cram the whole study into an image. It can’t be done without creating something unwieldy, and that’s what happens too often.

    And in fairness, I also have a Pinboard called “Infographics I like.” So there.

Speak Your Mind