’You always have to start by considering the audience and what you
are trying to achieve,’ says Stuart Maister, managing director of
production company The London Bureau, laying down what might be
considered the first rule of corporate video production.
’When we get a new client we like to spend a couple of days going round
and talking to staff and communications leaders,’ says Mark Dalgleish,
managing director of production company Creation Communications.
In an ideal world, giving a production company time to really understand
an audience should result in a more appropriate and impactful
Unfortunately in the real world there’s not always the time and budget,
and it’s often up to the person commissioning the video to know his
audience and brief the production company thoroughly.
A noticeable trend in corporate video, which has almost certainly come
about because of greater understanding of audience needs and desires, is
to feature employees saying what they feel rather than management
spouting company messages. It’s a change which reflects the increasing
importance being placed on internal communications.
’We learnt that people in our business felt ill-informed and not
involved in what was going on,’ says Angela Paterson, internal
communications manager at BA World Cargo.
The company is now undergoing the most fundamental change programme in
its history as it gears up to compete with newer players such as DHL and
UPS. It commissioned Creation, working in partnership with IC
specialists Smythe Dorward Lambert, to produce six video modules to
introduce its new company vision in 165 countries.
’Video enabled us to bring the whole world together by bringing in the
views of employees and customers,’ says Paterson.
’The programme was presented by an investigative journalist to give it
an independent feel, rather than giving employees the impression that
this was management telling them what they wanted them to know.’
The warts and all approach was felt to be more appropriate than a glossy
upbeat approach at a time when the company was giving out difficult
messages which would inevitably involve redundancies.
The TUC has gone for a similar approach in its new video designed to
support its Partners for Progress initiative which encourages
partnership between employers, unions and Government.
’We felt the best way to illustrate the initiative would be to use the
experience and words of people involved in it,’ says Janet Williamson,
policy officer at the TUC.
The video, produced by CTN, is aimed at both an internal audience, to
show them the new union movement, and external audiences to encourage
them to join the movement.
’We wanted the video to engage the audience by portraying people they
could identify with, and to make them think about their own situation,’
Internal communications videos may be used most often to introduce new
initiatives and convey pertinent information, but there is another
’Internal marketing is now very important,’ says David Davis, senior
vice president, international at Medialink Worldwide.
Davis gives as an example a series of videos Medialink has produced for
sports company Adidas aimed at sales and marketing staff. The videos
look at the making of various Adidas commercials and feature sports
stars such as Steffi Graf and basketball player Antoine Walker.
’People are interested in what goes on behind the scenes and the
fly-on-the-wall treatment,’ believes Davis. ’The essence of videos of
this type is to excite the audience by the quality of the editorial
content without over-emphasis on commercialism. The final effect is to
interest, inform and motivate.’
Medialink also produces Video News Releases (VNRs) aimed at a broadcast
television audience and often uses the same footage for a corporate
An example is videos the company produced for Hewlett-Packard to launch
multiple and colour copiers.
’Some corporate videos lend themselves to television broadcast. We shoot
them with that in mind so the VNR can be edited easily with minimal
additional cost,’ says Davis.
Other VNR producers also favour a straight news or documentary approach
to corporate video, often because it lends an air of credibility.
’Many corporate video briefs ask us to get across a lot of information
in a short amount of time. The news and current affairs style is very
good because it gets across a lot of information very succinctly,’ says
Anthony Hayward, chief executive of Bulletin International.
But the straight news/documentary approach commonly used in videos aimed
at internal audiences does not always work best with external
Bulletin was commissioned by the British Tourist Authority last year to
produce VNRs and a promotional video in support of its British by Design
campaign, promoting the UK as a centre of excellence for style and
’A straight news style ensured the pictures were appropriate for
distribution to news broadcasters but, given the theme, we also filmed a
selection of creative and stylised footage which would appeal to
lifestyle programmes,’ says Hayward.
’This footage was used in a four-minute promotional video shown to the
travel trade at the launch of the campaign and still being used in BTA’s
overseas offices today. Not only did the video have high visual impact,
but up-tempo modern music was used rather than voice-over to create a
highly energised and stimulating feel.’
Intercargo, which represents the worldwide dry bulk fleet, also went for
a glossy approach when it commissioned CTN to produce a video aimed at
generating interest and support from various audiences, including the
media, schools and politicians.
’We were trying to capture the essence of an industry that had never had
any pro-active external communications,’ says CTN managing director
Stephen Watson. ’The video is produced very beautifully, with wonderful
helicopter shots and specially composed music, and it’s quite
heart-string pulling stuff.’
The London Bureau used slick editing and emotive music in a video for
the Sports Council which aimed to get industrialists to sponsor sports
initiatives in South Africa. But such an approach would have been
entirely inappropriate for another video it produced aimed at an
external audience for the National Lottery Charities Board.
’This was the last of the lottery good causes to announce who it would
be giving money to, and it had come in for a lot of criticism for being
so late,’ says Maister. ’We made a short video for the press
announcement which sought to get people on side by showing the good work
money from the NLCB would be doing. It was a fairly newsy video and not
done in an emotional way but when you see people being given help in it
you can’t help but be moved.’
Maister has strong views about the best way to communicate with an
audience of journalists. ’You need to be informative and give a neutral
report. Journalists can be cynical if you try to sell them an idea.’ The
approach at the NLCB press launch seems to have been just right. ’There
was a palpable change in the atmosphere of the press conference after
the video was shown and it clearly had a good effect on the
journalists,’ says Maister.
Video has obvious strengths - when done well it can be inspiring, highly
memorable and perceived as objective - but production companies and PR
people agree it does not usually offer the complete solution.
’Most of our films are mood pieces and we try to avoid information-heavy
programmes. We are a multi-discipline company and we don’t have to make
film do all the work,’ says Perry Westwood, creative director in
Imagination’s film department.
Westwood mentions a film produced for Ericsson’s stand at the CeBit
trade show in Hanover. ’To make a product information film would merely
have doubled up on information more effectively dealt with elsewhere in
print applications,’ he says. ’We felt the most effective approach was
to create a film which put visitors in a questioning frame of mind and
made them think a little more laterally.’
The resulting film juxtaposes philosophical statements with product
imagery and invites viewers to come to their own conclusions about its
Sarah Portway, director of corporate communications at paper tissue
manufacturer Kimberly Clark is keen to stress: ’We see video as just one
tool in a menu of potential tools.’ In Europe the company uses a
bi-annual video produced by Medialink to set out its objectives for the
year and report on how various initiatives are progressing.
’Video provides an opportunity for line management to create an event
and is used as the basis for discussion. It is generally accompanied
with briefing notes,’ says Portway.
But as well as video the company uses a bi-annual magazine for Europe
called Focus. ’This provides an opportunity to do more in-depth articles
on the company and has more of a news feature emphasis,’ says
While video does not do all the work in pan-European internal
communications, Portway has no doubt about its value: ’We have a
widely-dispersed workforce and video is a positive way of showing the
leadership to people in Europe who have not seen them before and who
need more than just a piece of paper to get a sense of what the company
is all about.’
BA World Cargo is using the six videos produced by Creation as a key
element in four-hour long seminars. ’Video is used as a tool to
stimulate discussion and, because it is such a powerful visual medium,
as a way of letting 3,000 people get a real feel and understanding of
what colleagues in other parts of the world are doing,’ says
It is this ability to stimulate that is perhaps video’s most potent
In BA World Cargo’s case video is supported by workbooks which include
summary information about each of the modules, and posters describing
the vision for the future, plus the all important face-to-face
’I wouldn’t want video to replace two-way communication, but always as a
support,’ concludes Paterson.
STAR TURNS: MONEY WELL SPENT ON THE RECOGNITION FACTOR
Nick Canner, a producer in the corporate division of TalkBack
Productions, the company founded by celebrities Mel Smith and Griff
Rhys-Jones, admits: ’We have not really been using celebrities much
recently. Budgets are a bit tighter than they used to be in the late
1980s and clients are less inclined to spend pounds 10,000 on a
Mark Dalgleish, managing director of Creation Communications,
’Now people are a lot more cynical and ask ’why are we listening to a
celebrity telling us about the company vision and how much is he being
paid?’. I don’t think there’s much place for celebrities in internal
But there are special occasions when celebrities are appropriate for
corporate video. The London Bureau used Jet from Gladiators to front a
video for the Department of Transport to promote Pass Plus, a scheme
encouraging new drivers to take further instruction after their
’The classic target was the boy racer who had just passed his test and
we felt Jet would reach this audience. It’s times like this when you’re
trying to reach a particular audience in an interesting way when a
celebrity can help. One benefit of using a well-chosen celebrity is that
you get instant interest,’ says The London Bureau managing director
Without revealing how much he paid for Jet, Maister says: ’Costs start
at around pounds 1,500 a day for a celebrity who would mean something to
large numbers of people. We had Jet for one day on location and edited
the programme around her.’
The video has proved a success, with more than 10,000 sent to driving
schools for them to sell or lend to pupils.
Doctors are notoriously difficult to reach, so when Glaxo Wellcome
launched a new ulcer drug it knew it had to do something remarkable. ’We
needed to grab attention in a busy market,’ says Glaxo Wellcome’s
marketing manager, gastroenterology, Jason Humphries.
’Glaxo wanted a video that was entertaining and funny to make it stand
out and were looking for somebody who would appeal particularly to
younger doctors,’ says Canner. Steve Coogan in his guise as Alan
Partridge was nominated. ’He was seen as a good image to be associated
with because he was trendy and the best comedy on television,’ says
’We took a leap of faith, but I’m very happy with the money I spent,’
says Humphries. ’It’s difficult for our reps to get groups of doctors
together to present to, and this video gave them the confidence to do
So how was Coogan received? ’He didn’t go down so well with older
doctors, but with younger doctors he went down very well indeed. Of all
the videos we’ve done in recent years this was the highlight,’ says
SHELL: DROPPING THE SUITS IN FAVOUR OF THE WORKERS
Last summer the Shell Business Framework was launched as part of an
organisational and cultural change programme at Shell International
designed to increase the focus on customers, enhance accountability, and
make the best use of employees.
A major part of the culture change initiative is Breakthrough
’We decided to produce a video to provide guidance about what
Breakthrough Performance means to individual teams,’ says David Blair,
strategy analyst at Shell International.
CTN was commissioned to make the video illustrating best practice and
worked with Blair to identify the most innovative and efficient projects
around the world.
’Video was felt to be the most effective way of sharing information and
showing how the initiative was working,’ says CTN managing director
’We wanted to produce a video that was slightly different from previous
Shell programmes which had concentrated on senior people and what they
felt. We wanted to talk to people right the way down the line in their
natural working environment,’ explains Blair.
In March Shell began communicating Breakthrough Performance to its
100,000 employees in 130 countries. ’Shell is extremely de-centralised
and we can’t ordain how we want our operations internationally to use
We’re sending the video out with detailed guidelines on how an event
might be run around it,’ says Blair.
While the video is the focal point, Blair is adamant that it is seen as
part of a package. An article on Breakthrough Performance will run in
in-house magazines and a Web site gives more detail about the examples
used in the video.
After attending video screenings and discussions employees are being
invited to complete a questionnaire and give impressions of the video
and what they believe Breakthrough Performance is about. This
information will be used to determine the next phase of the
ABBEY NATIONAL: DELIVERING THE COMIC TIMING
’To us it was fairly obvious that with such a dry subject matter we
needed to come up with something memorable and which didn’t put the
audience to sleep,’ says Mark Dalgleish of Creation Communications,
referring to the video his company produced to launch Abbey National’s
new Business Excellence Model last summer.
So he hired actor Tim McInnerny (Lord Percy and Captain Darling in the
BBC comedyBlackadder) to play a character who wanders round Abbey
offices and bank vaults taking an irreverent look at the company. At one
point McInnerny puts on rubber gloves to examine Abbey’s director of
retail banking, Keith Richbell. At another a corpulent gentleman has a
heart attack as he rushes to catch a plane and McInnerny intones: ’You
need to face the facts before it’s too late’. All this to encourage
employees to buy into the Business Excellence Model and look at how they
go about things to see where there’s room for improvement.
’This was quite a satirical programme for Abbey. Our audience’s outlook
is fairly conservative, but they are receptive to different treatments
and we’ve used drama and humour quite a lot,’ says Abbey National video
manager Julia Cornelius. ’We didn’t want staff to see this as just
another award like ISO 9000, and we knew it would be disastrous if we
tried to cover the subject in too much detail.’
But what about getting management to take an off-the-wall approach? ’The
inclination for most directors is to go for a talking head,’ admits
’But Keith Richbell gave us 100 per cent support, and in fact it was him
pushing for the more witty things in the script.’
However, Cornelius admits: ’We wouldn’t do something like that unless we
knew the production team. We had a detailed production meeting with the
writer and saw the elements we liked and pushed him in the right
direction in terms of content and tone. We knew there was not much
danger because we were there throughout the production process.’ There
was also an extra safeguard - a video panel made up of staff which gave
feedback at various stages during production.
Cornelius and Dalgleish both acknowledge that the success of the
programme was heavily dependent on McInnerny’s performance. ’If he
hadn’t been convincing or funny the whole thing would have fallen down.
If this sort of thing is not done well it looks cheap and embarrassing,
and if the tone is not right it can be condescending,’ says
On the other hand, if it is done well the off-the-wall, humorous
approach can result in a memorable programme. ’More than six months
after it was shown, more than two-thirds of staff still recognise the
Business Excellence Model as a priority. It’s pretty good if a video can
do that,’ says Cornelius.
Because of the video’s impact, a monthly publication highlighting
service issues and supporting the Business Excellence Model has been
named after it.