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The Next Era of Storytelling: Using VR to Get Results

I recently attended PRSSA National Conference in Austin, Texas. During the conference, I attended a presentation given by Rachel Henderson, vice president of Warschawski, a public relations firm. In her speech, Henderson discussed the contemporary climate of healthcare communications, and the need for PR practitioners to adapt to an ever-changing consumer base. Henderson shared problems that have emerged as a result of factors such as declining attention spans and the increasingly prevalent presence of misinformation. The VP shared powerful examples for both, mentioning the average human’s inferior attention span to that of a gold fish (eight seconds), and the staggering figure of nearly 28,000 children who went unvaccinated in 2013 due to parental refusal.


Henderson went on to demonstrate how she has used technological advancements in mixed reality (XR) to craft her “Under the Net” virtual reality video for the United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign; the world’s largest grassroots campaign dedicated to saving lives though malaria prevention. She explained how the video’s impact extended beyond the awards, views and media impressions it received. By leveraging virtual reality, Henderson was able to help generate bipartisan support and increased spending on global malaria prevention, effecting change around the world.


Following her inspiring presentation, I sat down with the executive to learn more about her XR experience.


How did you originally discover the technology?

I remember the first time I saw VR. It was actually a film called “Growing up Girl” and it was really incredible. It was an immersive experience where you follow a girl in Africa and see what her life was like. It really spoke to me because it was similar in that it was trying to build empathy for someone else’s life and their experience. And when I was at the UN Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign I felt like that was a new technology that we should think about for our communications as well. So it really was an exciting discovery.

How was VR introduced to your team?

After we produced the VR film that was about a year and a half process from ideation to production to launching and promoting the film. So when I left Nothing But Nets and went to Warschawski, part of my work at the agency is leading our VR/AR offering for clients. I am really excited to be able to take on a lot of different clients and their issues and look through the lens of VR to see if there is something that could be beneficial to their business goals and helping them to achieve them.

As someone who is a proponent of VR, you frequently discuss the benefits of using VR. What are some indications of a time when it may not be useful?

There are so many applications of VR and they are ever evolving and ever expanding, that I can’t say that there isn’t something that couldn’t make sense. I would say that it’s more unlikely that if your audience is someone over the age of 65 the chances that they are consuming content in VR is a little less likely. So again I think it always comes down to who is the audience that a client or organization is trying to reach and what are they trying to get them to think or to feel. And ultimately what are they trying to drive them to do and we try answer those questions first before deciding if VR is right for them.

Have you ever found VR to not be successful?

It’s always case by case in the industry. I would say that I have personally always found it to be successful for clients. Again because we are really intentional about asking what is the goal that they are trying to achieve and building a campaign that makes sense to fit those goals. VR might be one aspect of it. It might not be the only solution it might not be the solution at all. Really, we want to make sure that every communications campaign can drive to meet those goals and making sure that ultimately we can measure the impact. So when I have used VR we have found it to be successful. But again every client is different every organization or company is different. I always encourage everyone to be intentional and to be deliberate about what are the goals and how do you plan to measure that ROI at the end of the day to go back and say that was a success or a failure and why.

How have you noticed VR pairing with your reporting on ROI?

One metric to keep in mind of course is straight awareness. How many people do you intend to reach with the film to see the film, or the AR or VR experience? So again that’s a very easy metric to measure is how many people have seen it. And then it also comes back to what are you driving the viewer to do once they have seen it. So are you asking them to buy a product or to donate funds to a nonprofit or to sign a petition? There’s a lot of different actions somebody can take after they have seen a film or an experience so building in some sort of prompt or call to action and making sure that someone feels an emotion and feels compelled to take that action. Ultimately you want someone to feel good about where their funds are going.

What is the role of a PR professional in the field today? Communicators now more than ever have a huge role to play in this evolving world of media and content and we are consuming more content than ever before. It’s becoming more and more difficult to discern between fact and opinion. So I think it is incumbent on all PR professionals to take the time to adapt and evolve and to consistently and continuously educate ourselves on all the ways that the industry is changing and to make sure that we are on top of it and ahead of it and that that just really requires us as professionals to embrace change and to be able to adapt. This isn’t an industry where once it’s done it’s done and that’s the way you always do it. That’s just never going to be the case. Things are always changing. Ten years ago I remember the day that Twitter started and everyone said, “what is this? Do we need to take this on?” Of course you always want to take some time to evaluate it and make sure that it’s going to make sense. You have to be open to those changes.

What is your experience with using VR? Share your story with Bluestone Communications today!

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