Corporate Case Study:Foxwoods uses TV to get staff to tune into comms

Foxwoods Resort Casino's staff television network, FNN, provides management with an effective channel for communicating with its 12,000 employees, who also play a role in programming.

Foxwoods Resort Casino's staff television network, FNN, provides management with an effective channel for communicating with its 12,000 employees, who also play a role in programming.

Employee communications can be a problematic undertaking for companies with staff counts that rival a small city. But the people at Foxwoods Resort Casino - which claims to be the world's largest casino and the third largest employer in Connecticut - believe they have discovered a solution. Located in the countryside of Mashantucket, visitors have compared the massive Foxwoods site to the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz. This real-life Emerald City of gambling, resorts, and late-night entertainment employs a whopping 12,000 people, ranging from staff that work the 354 table games or clean the 1,400 guest rooms. But there isn't a little man hidden behind a curtain helping the employees keep Foxwoods running like a well-oiled metropolis. Something cleverer is hidden in the back hallways of the casino, visible only to employees - televisions tuned to their own network. Foxwoods News Network (FNN) is "the baby" of Tom Cantone, Foxwoods' VP of marketing. Five years ago, Intercom - a committee of about 12 employees from key areas of communications within the casino - were brainstorming ideas to better communicate with its ballooning staff. "Employees breeze by bulletin boards, they look at memos, but they don't retain the information," says Cantone. "The question was how does senior management effectively communicate?" Cantone had an intriguing answer never before attempted by a casino. "We thought we could come up with our own TV network since the medium rules modern culture today," he says. By leveraging the casino's in-house production studio, Creative Arts, the investment proved minimal because the network used existing staff and broadcast equipment. Described today as a cross between CNN and Entertainment Tonight, FNN produces 20-minute shows twice a month that run 24 hours a day. To ensure that the quality of the broadcast would not be amateurish, Foxwoods hired Dan Weaver, an Emmy-award-winning talk-show producer whose credits include working with Phil Donahue and Good Morning America. He oversees a staff of about 20 people, who select topics and film segments. "We hired Dan because of his extensive TV credentials," says Cantone. "He has turned FNN into a first-class production, something you would find on mainstream television." The content features light and humorous segments, such as "A Day in the Life of a Slot Machine," as well as profiles of Foxwoods founders, who are Mashantucket Pequot tribe members. More newsy fare includes live broadcasts of quarterly meetings and updates to changes affecting health benefits. A roving camera segment invites feedback from Foxwoods employees on company issues, such as its ongoing, multimillion-dollar expansion. "Foxwoods is such a big place that employees can be provided with all the information on TV screens - located throughout employee areas - as they walk from point A to point B," explains Cantone, who compares it to travelers watching CNN as they walk to their airport gate. "By the time the program run is finished, staff have viewed it three or four times." Getting employees involved Just as important as the information being delivered is how the information is disseminated, says Cantone. Foxwoods' own employees produce FNN, so anyone can attend story meetings, and a rotating group of anchors can come from any department, whether it's housekeeping or finance. In fact, playing anchor led to one former employee launching a broadcast career, says Cantone. Foxwoods' staff even wrote FNN's upbeat theme song. "This way, our employees take pride and ownership in the network," he explains. "What I wanted to achieve was not having management talk down to employees, but employees talking to employees because that is more believable. When you hear your co-worker say something, and they say it in a fun and entertaining way, you remember it. It is a genius way to communicate information because it is not a memo that comes from upper management." That point is especially important when Foxwoods has to deliver information that might otherwise be perceived in a false, and sometimes negative, light. "Change is never perceived as good. When we changed our benefit plan, for instance, employees were talking about it in a way that was inaccurate. So we went on FNN, and once we did, it took away the rumor, gossip, and misinformation," Cantone says. "But without a TV show, how do you explain that to 12,000 people? No one is going to read about it. But they will watch and listen." Cantone says FNN humanizes a big machine like Foxwoods. When senior management appear on FNN, "they will be doing a fun activity like playing basketball or attending the company picnic. They are not sitting behind the desk. It's not a facade between management and employee." Similarly, FNN often profiles employees who hold unglamorous positions, such as a coin-machine technician, who have interesting lives outside of work. "Human-interest stories resonate, such as those who may have saved lives or raised money for cancer. It is a creative way for our people to get to know their fellow employees," says Cantone. "Those who never get credit get credit. It's a way to show we are human first." Employees have embraced FNN. Shortly after its launch, the broadcast ranked as the second most important way to receive information, behind only Flash, a pocket reference guide of the week's events. Joann Frank, Foxwoods' SVP of human resources, says the annual turnover rate has dropped to 19%, an impressive figure considering the industry average hovers around 35%. "FNN is unique, and I think it is part of the reason why people like and stay working here," says Frank. Good communication between staff and management is also credited for helping Foxwoods score a slew of first-place finishes in the recent "Best of" issue of Casino Player, especially in categories grading customer service. Producing a company TV network benefits other areas of company relations, including media outreach. The network can enhance media relations efforts by providing relevant footage from FNN to broadcast outlets, says PR manager Sandra Rios. Foxwoods recently hosted a Guinness world record set for the longest poker game - lasting 72 hours. An FNN crew filmed the game and the footage was subsequently distributed to broadcast stations. "We are always exchanging b-roll," says Rios. "Television stations love it. It enhances their coverage, too." Inspiring other networks Other large employers, as well as government agencies, have visited Foxwoods with the aim of replicating FNN's success for their employee-relations programs. One visitor, Canada's Casino Windsor, last year debuted its in-house TV station, Casino Vision. "This is a great medium for big companies," says Holly Ward, corporate communications manager for Casino Windsor in Windsor, Ontario. In fact, Casino Vision recently played a role in informing parents about a hostage situation at a school. "It is easy with a population of 4,000 employees to feel lost and not care. But if you make an effort and reach out to staff, they will care." The success of FNN has led Foxwoods to explore other areas of TV programming. Late last year, the casino launched its second network, a guest channel called WIN-TV (Wampum Insider Network), which promotes the casino's customer rewards card, Wampum. The card gives customers points toward casino merchandise, hotels, and restaurants each time they gamble. Thanks to WIN-TV, Foxwoods has been signing up about 50 new members a day, in turn helping Foxwoods collect important customer information. As for FNN, Cantone says the popularity is so strong Foxwoods has thought of selling ads or sponsorship space on the network, turning the employee communication tool into a revenue generator. But Cantone doesn't want to lose sight of its primary purpose. "We want our employees to receive their messages uninterrupted," he says. "In other words, we want to keep it pure and simple." PR contacts VP of marketing Tom Cantone PR manager Sandra Rios Media relations manager Bruce MacDonald Tribal PR directors Arthur Henick, Toni Parker-Johnson

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