‘We used to say seeing is believing. Now we have to say experiencing is believing.’
(Head of Sony Worldwide Studios as cited in McGee, 2016)
Yushida is referring to the virtual reality (VR) experience, which according to McGee (2016), will transform the way we consume media. For those not familiar with VR, the following video explains what it is and how it works.
Up to now, virtual reality has been commonly associated with gaming (McGee, 2016), but there is growing recognition that it has vast mainstream applications. Tim Hughes from Hughes PR, a communications and public relations consultancy, says that virtual reality is one of the next big things in PR, and believes it will become a mainstream device similar to mobiles (PRIA, 2016). Kara Alaimo, a global PR consultant says that virtual reality will alter PR in a number of ways. It will:
- Provide PR practitioners with an opportunity to enhance their relationship with stakeholders by engaging them in a greater sensory experience of their brand. For example, a travel agent will be able to take potential clients on a virtual tour of holiday destinations; a person looking to buy a new car will be able to use VR to inspect a vehicle from a 3D perspective – like Volkswagen did with its Golf Cabriolet – and also simulate the driving experience before visiting the vehicle showroom; people will be able to take a virtual tour to inspect a house – if you’re looking to buy or rent, imagine being able to a take a virtual tour without having to physically be at the inspection (which can often be at a time that doesn’t suit) or needing to arrange a time with the agent. Start VR, a Sydney based company, created a VR experience for a property development called Edge 28 in St Leonards, Sydney.
- Put audiences in other people’s shoes – this would be a useful tool for non-profit charity organisations who could use VR to relate human stories. VR can be used to ‘elicit greater empathy and spur people to action’ (Alaimo, 2016). The New York Times launched the following 10-minute virtual reality film called ‘The Displaced’ which gives viewers an insight into the life of three children who are war refugees (Alaimo,2016).
- Deliver captive audiences, because while wearing a headset, people cannot be distracted by anything else.
- Change the way stories are pitched to journalists – traditional methods off photos and videos may well be superseded by VR footage.
- Change the dynamics of physical meetings – while skype has been used to connect people situated at different locations, VR can allow them to feel as though they are in the same room.
- Position brands as innovative, and connect with tech-savvy audiences -PR practitioners can use virtual reality as a way to make their brand standout to a younger and more tech-oriented audience.
Describing it as a powerful tool, public relations firm, MSL Group say VR ‘…can transcend space and time. It can transport people to a different world with a level of realness never before seen. Adding VR engagement to a campaign will help it to be more immersive, more intergrated and a more complete experience’ (PRweek, 2016).
Devereaux & Pierson-Smith (2009, p.217) say that PR professionals will need an understand how they can use the communication technology to be best achieve their goals. They say that virtual reality will offer an alternative to traditional PR communication activities such as launch events and product giveaways.
Despite all of the digital communication tools, Devereaux and Pierson-Smith (2009, p.217) point out that the traditional skills of writing listening and speaking are still crucial to PR efforts to ‘devise and implement effective Public Relations efforts and nurture relationships’.
Devereaux, M & Pierson-Smith, A 2009, Public relations in Asia Pacific : communicating effectively across cultures, John Wiley & Sons (Asia) Pte. Ltd. Singapore.