FEATURE: Seeing the bigger picture

Getting the best out of internal comms requires sharp and direct material. Suzy Bashford looks at the providers with the most punch.

The phrase corporate video used to conjure up nightmarish images of badly-shot, amateur footage of a bumbling company exec­utive delivering a serious, lengthy message to his troops. Not any more. This stereotype is fast being shrugged off, and companies from T-Mobile to Barclays and Rio Tinto are taking the medium very seriously.

As technological improvements make access to video cheaper and easier, broadcast looks set to continue growing as an internal communications channel of choice.

The Body Shop founder Dame Anita Roddick recognised the power of broadcast in internal communications over 20 years ago, and even co-founded corporate production company Jacaranda (see case study, below).

She explains that moving media are always more powerful than print.


Roddick

‘Broadcast is so effective because it’s visual,’ says Roddick. ‘Stories stick to the brain; pages of a financial report don’t. Hundreds of staff cheered at the end of some of our videos because they were motivated by the human spirit.’

Many other companies are trying to get their staff to ‘live the brand’ through inspirational films.

Indeed, Jacaranda boasts a wide range of clients (including Barclays and O2) keen to convey a socially responsible message to their staff.

Seen on screen
Annabel Donaldson, director of corporate communications at Comet parent company Kesa Electricals, is another Jacaranda client. She says the extra expense of using broadcast is not hard to justify.

‘The broadcast medium requires higher investment than print, but a service firm’s staff are its most important asset and worthy of the investment,’ explains Donaldson.

‘Our programmes more than justify the extra costs over alternative media because they show best practice in action, which is engaging and believable.’

Experts agree broadcast messages are most effectively used to inform staff about, and get them behind, a major change rather than to convey detailed, technical information. It is also particularly good when it comes to explaining how to do a certain task. Visual demonstrations overcome literacy barriers and reduce the scope for misinterpretation.

T-Mobile enlisted the help of production company Cheerful Scout when undergoing a rebrand in February 2006, briefing the agency to produce a film that would explain to frontline staff why changes were occurring. To make it entertaining for the 18 to 25-year-old audience, Cheerful Scout advised the brand to hire E4 presenter Caroline Flack.

‘If it had been the CEO presenting, it wouldn’t have had much impact on this audience, but Caroline made it like watching TV,’ says Cheerful Scout business development manager Rob King.

However, some companies mistakenly think that because they are making a corporate film, the quality of production does not need to be as high as that of TV. Production companies such as Speakeasy Productions, which works with clients such as the Metropolitan Police and Rothschild bank, argue that corporate videos need to be top-notch to hold an audience. This is particularly true when videos target employees lower down the ladder, says Speakeasy’s managing director Jim Adamson.

‘The work has got to be as good or better than what employees would see on TV. If you make an inferior quality internal communications piece, they just won’t believe it. One client I worked with wanted to do a film on the cheap. He argued that the target audience was the type that “only read The Sun”. I explained to him that they – more than any politician or judge – would recognise crap because they were an audience of dedicated TV watchers.’

A popular trend lately is for production companies to create spoofs of hit TV show or film formats, such as Mastermind, Dragons’ Den, and Newsnight. Speakeasy once created a pastiche of film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels to make a dull message engaging. ‘A bank wanted to talk to employees about the procurement function. So we filmed with beating music and a voiceover saying things like, ‘This geezer goes here and there. He’s called Trevor and he’s a real dude”. We then told their story. It engaged people because they understood the genre,’ says Adamson.

Clearly, a sophisticated treatment like this, which aims to realistically mimic a hit programme or film, will be more expensive to produce than a ‘cheap and cheerful’ style programme, as preferred by brands like Asda on its TV channel 24/7 (see case study, below).

A simple brief
Asda films executive briefings from a room in Asda House, or from outside the headquarters. It also uses Asda staff as presenters rather than hiring talent. One of the reasons for this approach is that the brand, which is built on a value proposition, does not want to give its employees the impression it is spending too much on slick marketing. ‘Flashy just wouldn’t fit with Asda,’ explains Asda communications manager Sally Wright. The aptitude of employees in front of the camera varies, so presenters are trained before filming.

However, broadcast advocates, such as Markettiers4DC’s digital media director Russell Goldsmith, believe that internal communications managers perceive the channel to be more expensive than it actually is. While a quality Jacaranda programme made over six weeks might typically cost around £30,000 to £40,000, the internet and soaring broadband access mean newer, cheaper broadcast production methods are emerging fast. For example, Markettiers4DC run live web TV chat shows for the PRCA’s member base. In these online programmes, a panel of experts answer questions posed by a presenter. Members can view the broadcast live, or download it later at their leisure. Goldsmith estimates that around 50 web users tune into the programme live, while a further 200 to 300 view it on demand after being prompted by email reminders.

‘Of course, it does depend on each individual project, but as a general guide, it would cost about £5,000 to produce your own show in this way. Broadcast over the web is not expensive.

It’s only expensive when you build your own studios and set up your own servers, which is unnecessary. For a global corporation, £5,000 to enable a CEO to talk to all his or her staff globally is not a lot of money,’ says Goldsmith.

He continues: ‘The next level, however, where broadcast can really add value, is getting opinions and feedback directly from the viewers, which you can do with the latest technology.

The CEO can then ask his employees questions during a webcast and instantly show them the responses to these questions, with opinions broken down by department or role. Therefore it becomes a quantitative and qualitative dialogue, and that is where you really start to get the benefit in internal communications.’

But rather than mass communication from the CEO to a sea of employees, experts agree that the most effective broadcast programmes are those that tailor their message to a particular audience.

Another golden rule of broadcast internal communications is that they must be integrated with the overall communications strategy. Jacaranda managing director Katy Eyre says that before a client briefs any agency, they have got to be clear about what they’re trying to achieve.

‘It’s no good thinking “wouldn’t it be nice to do some internal communications around broadcast media”,’ Eyre cautions. ‘You should think about how you can get the maximum value. The only way you can do this is by bringing all departments together to set a cross-department strategy.

If you do, broadcast media can gain incredible results and be cost effective.’


Sharp eyes: Jacaranda co-founder and
MD Katy Eyre with creative director Gus
Culquhoun

THE BODY SHOP

Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, once said that she couldn’t stand ‘bloody corporate videos’. So, in 1987 she co-founded Jacaranda with Katy Eyre, now MD, and creative director Gus Colquhoun. Nine years later, Eyre and Colquhoun bought her out.

‘Anita was a visionary when corporate videos were just being born 20 years ago. She realised the potential of sending undiluted messages out to her franchi­sees around the world,’ says Eyre.


Documenting: The Body Shop’s
briefs encompass socially
responsible films

Since 1987, Roddick has commiss­ioned Jacaranda to produce hundreds of films on a range of topics from ethical trade, to saving the rainforests, to human rights, to new product information.

At one point Jacaranda was producing a bi-monthly programme to employees translated into 11 different languages. Roddick herself often presented the films.

These were broadcast via small TV screens in the retail outlets. ‘Anita gave us carte blanche.

She was against the first Iraq War, so one day she just said “go and make an anti-war video”.

The brief was so open it allowed us to do some of our most best work. She didn’t nitpick over budgets, she just wanted to invest as much as it cost to do the programme well,’ adds Eyre.

The Body Shop corporate video style is the polar opposite of Asda’s purposely low-budget approach and would sit com­for­tably on the Discovery Channel. Most footage was filmed on location. ‘We wanted the image to live and breath what the company was about, and we couldn’t do that from a small studio,’ says Eyre.

ASDA NEWS & 24/7

In 2004, Asda commissioned Mezzo Films to produce a TV channel, called 24/7, that could be watched at work and would help employees do their jobs better. Before this, it had worked with Asda for 15 years, producing a monthly magazine style programme called Asda News. However, the move to 24/7 marked a major series of investments and the creation of a system so staff could watch content on demand.

Programmes usually target a specific audience. A piece might be made to target specific groups of workers, like bakery managers unveiling new product lines, and the piece would show to merchandise them and what sales are expected.

‘Broadcast works particularly well if it’s about something staff need to be physically shown because it ensures consistency,’ says Mezzo executive producer Mark Platts.


Asda News: real
staff present

Regular programme slots include a quarterly update on pay rises and a Mon­day morning trading briefing from the board for general store managers. ‘Broad­cast replaces some expensive ways of communicating, like roadshows with our senior management,’ says Asda commun­ications manager Sally Wright.

‘It also adds value to existing communi­cations channels. If we send a briefing out to store managers informing them of a new event, we can follow the briefing with a soft programme of what a good job looks like.’

Mezzo in action...

Week 1 Mezzo contacts the Asda departmental area, such as health and beauty, frozen foods or fresh produce. The production company then talks through the script ahead of filming.

Week 2 Production meeting takes place at the beginning of this week to discuss and choose presenters, props and set location. Client produces a script, which Mezzo then edits and advises on how it could be improved

Week 3 Filming and editing footage. Within three weeks the film goes out on 24/7 TV Post production Mezzo gathers feed­back on the programme via the channel’s two-way satellite technology and meas­ures how many people have watched the film.

 

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