A winning combination for creativity: a gutsy communicator, a brave boss and the right content in the right channel add up to a successful communication campaign

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Author: Steve Crescenzo
Date: July-August 2011
From: Communication World(Vol. 28, Issue 4)
Publisher: International Association of Business Communicators
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,216 words
Content Level: (Level 3)
Lexile Measure: 990L

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When trying to do creative communication in an organization, you face a lot of hurdles. Stifling approval processes, managers who are scared to death of trying anything new, lawyers who won't let you do anything new, lack of time--the list is endless.

Smart, creative communicators can, and do, overcome those hurdles, However, even the smartest, most creative communicators have m deal with one major issue: the imperative to write about the same topics over and over again. You've probably covered at least half of these topics in the past year alone: wellness, new products, benefits, organizational changes, new hires, new initiatives, safety, global growth, the supply chain, sales wins, employee awards, earnings, IT updates, It's the same everywhere you go!

Some communicators manage to spin even those boring straw stories into gold. They put in the extra time and work it takes to find and interview real people, which always makes a story more interesting. They get great quotes that someone actually said.

But, that said, there is one topic that I rarely, if ever, see anyone tackle in a creative fashion. It's probably the most boring story in all of corporate communication. I'm sure you've written it at least once.

It's the "We Had a Meeting" story.

You know the drill: A bunch of people get together for a big meeting. As the editor of the company intranet, you need to cover it somehow, but you have a couple of problems.

Problem No. 1: You weren't at the meeting--either because you weren't invited or because you didn't want to be. So you have to cover it secondhand, after the fact. Which leads to...

Problem No. a: It's almost impossible to cover a meeting in a creative way if you weren't there. Which is why most communicators just bail out and use the standard "We Had a Meeting" formula. It goes like this:

Step 1: Announce in the headline that a meeting was held. Example: XYZ Corp. Executives Gather in Las Vegas for Annual Strategy Meeting.

Step 2: Try to disguise the article by writing a "news lead," even though the news is completely stale by the time you're writing it. Example: "On 12 March, more than 50 of XYZ's top executives gathered at the Mirage Hotel in sunny Las Vegas to discuss the organization's strategic direction."

Step 3: Collect a bunch of boring quotes, after the fact, from people who barely remember being at the meeting. Example: "I believe we shifted more than a couple of paradigms at this meeting, and going forward are more than pre pared to meet the constant change and challenges competing in a global, diverse marketplace," said John Thompson, who spent most of the week drunk, in strip dubs.

OK, I made that last thing up. But I was getting so bored writing about this stupid fake meeting, I had to do something.

But it doesn't have to be this way!. Just ask Kelsey Flynn.

Flynn is a communicator at MassMutual, a large insurance company based in Massachusetts. She works in the Field Communications office, meaning her team is responsible for communicating to the company's sprawling network of agents.

Every year MassMutual holds its annual Leaders Conference, where it brings together its topperforming agents. This year, Flynn was assigned to cover it, and she decided to do something a little different: She actually attended the conference and shot a series of five videos about it.

Now, it should be noted that Flynn is new to corporate communication. Her background, in fact, is in comedy. And she was determined to bring some of that personality to her work at MassMutual.

"Given my background in improv comedy, humor will always be a part of what I'm producing--within reason," says Flynn. "I mean, the Leaders Conference video series wasn't a laugh riot, but it also wasn't something you'd typically see on the company's intranet site either."

It certainly wasn't. Flynn created five videos, each less than three minutes long. Each one featured her as the host, and it's her personality that draws you in and makes you want m watch. That, and the fact that each video is loaded with real people saying real things.

Video No. 1 opens with Flynn on a plane to Orlando, Florida, talking to a high-level executive about what the Leaders Conference is all about. But just when you start to think she's only going to talk to big shots, Flynn shifts gears and takes us "behind the scenes," where she interviews the "advance team" that has been at the hotel for a week already, getting ready for the big event. Nice angle.

Video No. 2 opens to an alarm clock going off, and we see Flynn struggling to wake up and shut it off. Then, bleary-eyed and tired, she says to the camera: "It's 5:45 a.m., Sunday. First day of Leaders." Then, after a huge sigh and a yawn: "OK. I'm ready." She goes on to interview a bunch of "newcomers" who are at their first Leaders Conference.

The theme of Video No. 3 is "veterans"--people who have been coming to the Leaders Conference for years. In one awesome segment, Flynn interviews a couple who met at MassMutual, got married and have been coming to the conference together as a family for 30 years. It should remind you of the opening scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally... as a couple talks about how they met and, in this case, what Leaders means to them.

The fourth video is focused mostly on award winners, but again, Flynn doesn't just shoot them getting the awards. She actually talks to them, in the process revealing their human side, their passion for what they do.

For the wrap-up, Flynn promises viewers a "ringside seat" at the dosing ceremonies, a block party at Universal Studios. But after showing the party, she gets back down to business and recaps why the conference is so important: mentoring, networking and learning. And for each of those things, she interviews someone who gives very specific examples.

The whole thing is absolutely brilliant. And it worked. Flynn has heard from people who told her: "I couldn't wait for the next day's video to come out."

Of course, to do this kind of communication, you need a couple of things:

1. An adventurous enough spirit to try something new and stick your neck out. Flynn has that in spades.

2. A supportive boss. "What allowed me to do this at MassMutual was the very smart, trusting and supportive VP, Diana Ruddick," says Flynn.

3. A willingness to embrace new channels. Flynn is no video expert, by any means. But she was willing to grab a Flip camera and get 'er done. She says it took her about a half hour in her hotel room at night to edit each video using iMovie.

So there you have it. A great recipe for how to turn that same old boring story into something people might pay attention to: Try something new, take advantage of new tools and channels, focus on people, and have some fun!

crescenzo in cyberspace

Steve Crescenzo blogs at www.corporatehallucinat ions.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @crescenzo.

Steve Crescenzo is the leader of the popular "Creative Communications" seminar. His website is www.crescenzocomm.com.

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