Focus: Corporate Video - Life beyond linear/Technological advances need not signal the end for corporate video, but new methods of delivery mean new challenges in terms of holding audience attention. Mary Cowlett reports

On 9 November last year, the Department of Health brought together government ministers, local councillors and care professionals from around the UK for its ’Quality Protects’ conference. Aimed at transforming the lives of children in care and children in need, the event was launched at Kensington Town Hall in London with a powerful video entitled Listen.

On 9 November last year, the Department of Health brought together

government ministers, local councillors and care professionals from

around the UK for its ’Quality Protects’ conference. Aimed at

transforming the lives of children in care and children in need, the

event was launched at Kensington Town Hall in London with a powerful

video entitled Listen.



’The effect was electrifying,’ says Angela Law, managing director of

Hawkshead, the company which produced the film. ’Rather than looking at

all the official processes and reasoning, we enabled youngsters within

the care system to speak directly through the camera to people they

would never otherwise meet and tell them what they thought was missing

in the current system and what they wanted.’



This is just one example of how a straight-talking video can really hit

home. But, with all the excitement surrounding new methods of delivery

for visual communications, is the future for the corporate video

bleak?



The interactive strengths of CD-ROM and DVD, coupled with their

flexibility and adaptability to other media such as e-mail, the internet

and intranets, makes a 20-minute company sales video seem old hat. This

position appears to be strengthened further by the advances in

webcasting and the potential for training and motivational packages

delivered by digital television.



’While other communication techniques have evolved, what we have come to

call corporate video has stood still. It has not reflected the

technological advances in our industry,’ says Nick Lamb, managing

director of Crown Business Communications.



Lamb believes that a large number of visual communications professionals

are not passing the financial and creative benefits of technological

evolution on to their customers. ’This means that our industry is

offering clients an obsolete product, which not only cannot return its

investment cost, but cannot deliver real instructional or motivational

value to an audience that expects something better,’ he says.



This is an extreme view but it underlines the point that corporate video

has had to go through a huge readjustment since the early-1980s.

Organisations are making shorter, more flexible packages targeted at a

specific audience.



In addition, companies want their footage to work much harder, with

material being edited for external news and promotional purposes, and

recycled for internal training and motivational exercises.



However, the content and style of videos has also had to change to

reflect the shift to a less didactic management ethic. ’In the past

organisations tended to a have a very closed leadership and video was

used in the same ’the oracle has spoken’ kind of way,’ says Beatrice

Hollyer, specialist corporate consultant at Medialink. ’Now to be

effective, video has to reflect that organisations have transparent

channels of communication, so the style is much more dynamic, open and

interactive.’



This is also influenced by the increasing visual literacy of audiences,

used to the changing fashions of TV news presentation, docusoaps, pop

videos and computer games. To create truly emotive programming, video

producers are moving away from voice overs and highly-scripted concepts

to reflect the working culture in more subtle ways.



Technology specialist Lewis PR for instance, produces snappy fun films

as an entertaining way to explain what the company is about to potential

new clients. And recently, Medialink created an innovative video for Hay

Management Consultants’ company-wide end-of-year meeting.



The company chose to have no script, and allowed the story to be told by

staff members and clients to the whole organisation gathered in one

room.



But, while technological advances may mean that delivery on video

cassette may become obsolete, it is highly unlikely that the traditional

concept of the linear film will disappear with it.



’There are other weapons in the armoury such as DVD, CD-ROM and

intranets, but the emotional power and art of telling a linear story is

demonstrated by going to the cinema and watching TV,’ says Philip

Blundell, managing director of The Edge Picture Company, whose internal

customer services video for Tesco won the 1999 PR Week award for best

corporate video.



Indeed, it is easy to get carried away by the technological wonders of

delivering flexible, tailored video to the desktop, and forget that used

appropriately, the linear video has its own particular strengths. It can

take an audience through the sequence of a narrative, explaining actions

and consequences and, equally as important, make the viewing experience

a shared activity.



Entitled Every Customer Offered Help, the Tesco video acted as the

catalyst for discussion at a series of training workshops with checkout

staff at all 700 Tesco stores in the UK and Ireland. The Edge decided to

use the story of a day in the life of a young checkout girl, with a

strong visual concept and a soundtrack by The Corrs.



Such initiatives also highlight that video remains an effective

communications tool for the many organisations whose staff have no

access to hi-tech data delivery. Companies which need to negotiate the

logistics of a large disparate workforce operating around the clock,

still view video as one of the most direct, easy to use media for their

messages.



According to Wayne Drew, chief executive of the International Visual

Communication Association, corporate video remains the production core

of his industry. The sector has a projected turnover for 1999 in excess

of pounds 595 million, with future growth predicted at 11 per cent.



By contrast, projected turnover for internet-based business-to-business

visual communication activities is around pounds 140 million, with a 55

per cent projected growth figure for 2000. And for other interactive

media - software, hardware and multimedia production - the 1999 figure

is just under pounds 270 million with a ten per cent projected increase

for 2000.



However, Jacaranda managing director Katy Eyre believes that focusing on

the platforms for delivery is not the issue. ’It’s important to remember

that the internet, and all the new interactive media are just tools

within the communications armoury,’ she says. ’What we are really

looking at is a knowledge and asset management issue, and different

solutions suit different organisations.’



Although the company has its roots in providing video communications for

clients, it has recently completed CD-ROM and web-based projects for

clients ranging from the Arcadia Group to the Kingfisher Group. For over

a decade, Jacaranda has also produced linear business TV programmes for

The Body Shop on a monthly basis. Sent out to all the different

franchises worldwide in their local language, these were originally

delivered on video cassette. ’Now we have set up an on-line database

system where using a password-protected intranet site, all staff can

access and use the 12 years’ worth of company footage,’ says Eyre.



But while many remain loyal to concept of the linear video, others can

hardly wait for the new opportunities that digital media promise. Jeremy

Redhouse, director of Redhouse Lane Communications predicts that in six

months to a year, the technical problems of producing broadcast-quality

moving pictures on the internet will be ironed out. ’The prospect of

videostreaming on company intranets and extranets means we are on the

verge of a revolution for using video in business,’ he says.



While the timescale may be optimistic, it is true that the potential for

real-time communications is enormous. Company meetings and announcements

can be broadcast live to staff at their desks, along with financial

results to investors and suppliers. Shareholders may no longer have to

travel to attend AGMs, participating on-line instead.



While desktop media users will in essence become their own programme

editors, deciding which chunks of video and information serve their

purpose best, this brings its own challenges. ’It is going to be

difficult and we need to start thinking and planning for different

demands,’ says Jim Wilson managing director of Creation

Communications.



Integrating data with video will involve engaging viewer’s intellects as

well as their emotions, but there are also issues of viewing habit.



For example, programmes for VHS are generally shown in special

circumstances and given an introduction and a context.



’With desktop delivery, we will need to think about how we set up and

present programmes, so that they can stand alone,’ says Wilson. ’Also

the only interactivity will be with the machine, so there needs to be

some capacity for bouncing around ideas.’



But perhaps the greatest challenge is that video to the desktop will

almost certainly test most PC users’ attention spans. This means that

with a more modular approach, video segments will need to be concise,

inspiring and punchy enough to stop users clicking off and missing the

message.



But it seems safe to assume that corporate video will survive for the

foreseeable future. Using the desktop will provide huge opportunities

for personalised communication with audiences, but there will still be a

role for the emotive power of the cinematic video experience.





KINGFISHER KEEPS EMPLOYEES ON MESSAGE



The Kingfisher Group, which owns Superdrug, B&Q, Comet and Woolworth’s

in the UK, and Darty and Castorama in France, has experienced a number

of internal and external changes. A year ago, to catch up with Dixons

and Currys in the electronic retail stakes, Comet introduced a new

pricing policy, and last June Kingfisher made a bid for Asda.



As part of the communications package for explaining such challenges to

internal and external audiences, Kingfisher turned to Jacaranda to

provide a range of video solutions. ’With the increasing globalisation

of the retail business, visual communication is playing a vital role in

conveying a consistent and powerful message across the organisation,’

says Kingfisher corporate communications manager David Baird.



In December 1998, Jacaranda produced a number of videos covering

internal communication, including an historical review of the company

for a senior managers’ conference. Although commissioned for a specific

event, this video has since been used for internal and external

presentations throughout the company.



Further film projects have included a video package to support

Kingfisher’s bid for Asda, and a company profile, which was shown on a

loop at the three main party political conferences last autumn.

Jacaranda has also created two internal training videos and a series of

conference openers.



Kingfisher’s most recent senior managers’ conference kicked off with an

insight into the future of retailing, featuring changes in shopping

experiences around the globe and interviews with international

analysts.



A second film followed this up with vox-pop interviews with customers

around the world giving their reactions to the shopping revolution.



Jacaranda has helped Comet motivate its staff into helping change the

company’s cuture. Comet now has a monthly business TV programme and a

video showing staff and customer perceptions of the business, developed

as part of the training for implementing its new pricing policy.



Kingfisher and Jacaranda have extended this programme of activities, by

introducing a recruitment film for the retailer’s management development

scheme and developing a complementary web site. Here, interested

graduates can experience a taster of the video and request brochures and

further information on building a career within the group.



Jacaranda is also pulling all Kingfisher’s corporate videos into one

on-line database system.



’This means all the communications staff at head office can use the

linear video programming they have generated in a more creative way, as

a living archive,’ says Jacaranda managing director Katy Eyre.



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