Public relations rely on persuasion. During my internship at Bravo Group I have learned that effective communication occurs when the public accepts the argument we make on behalf of our client. The messages created by public relations specialists must go beyond the transmission of information. In addition to being informative, these messages must also be persuasive. They must transform client information into a representation of their communication goals. This conversion can be accomplished through rhetorical strategies. When people usually think about effective argument techniques their minds are drawn to forms of verbal and written communication. Persuasion, however, can also be accomplished through forms of visual rhetoric.
Visual rhetoric refers to any image that makes an argument. This term applies not just to photographs, but to physical symbols as well, such as road signs. For example, even before the print on a stop sign is legible, drivers are persuaded to slow down their vehicles in anticipation of braking. The mere image of a red octagon makes one clear argument: STOP. The symbol of the sign itself represents the law. This appeal to authority enhances the credibility of the symbol and further strengthens the argument.
Iconic images provide, perhaps, the best examples of visual rhetoric. Many of them are representations of political or cultural arguments. Rosie the Riveter is a famous piece of political propaganda from World War II. This image of a young woman flexing her muscles has an obvious agenda. With a substantial portion of the workforce deployed in the war, this picture aimed at motivating young women to replace men in the factories. While not all images are as pronounced in their persuasive efforts, this propaganda was circulated with the clear intention of getting women to contribute to the thriving economy.
In addition to political propaganda, renowned photographs are also often iconic images that make apparent arguments. These pictures, however, normally cater to a crowd that is cultural in addition to political. Below is a picture of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky that graced the cover of Time magazine. This photograph was originally taken at a fundraiser in 1996. It did not surface, however, until after their affair went public. Regardless, this image irrefutably contributes to the argument that the President of the United States had an extramarital affair. With the Lewinsky Scandal came many verbal accusations, declarations, and testimonies. This instance of visual rhetoric, however, illustrated the affair and consequently, forced the American people to see the reality of the situation.
In conjunction with verbal and written techniques, visual rhetoric can help strategists achieve a greater goal through public relations. It is important to highlight that images are not just supplementary to communication, but integral. Photo ops and press conferences help prominent figures appear in the paper, however, these are just two visual tactics that contribute to a larger objective. In order to have comprehensive public relations strategies, firms must employ diverse methods of persuasion.