FOCUS: CORPORATE VIDEO - Pausing for a screen break/Corporate video can be used by multinational companies to communicate with employees on a worldwide basis or take a more parochial view. Nick Purdom reports

’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.

’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,’

says Williamson.

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.


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

Stuart Maister.

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



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

Stephen Watson.

’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



’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.

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