Beware pitfalls of corporate videos

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 September, 2007, 12:00am

Videos made by private corporations solely to boost morale can sometimes be seen as a last desperate attempt to make up for a lack of 'real' vision and values. But according to a United States telecommunications firm, there is a consensus that authentic stories that involve real employees communicate an effective message.

In a recent report by the Bivings Group, commentators on web-based communication concluded: 'Peers will listen to stories and experiences from the heart of the employee and not from the ivory towers ... however there is a danger that too often they end up as vanity projects for executives.'

To avoid the pitfalls associated with this type of video, Genevieve Hilton, senior vice-president for communications consultant Ketchum Hong Kong, offered some cautionary advice: 'Employees are tougher than any external audience because they can smell insincerity a mile away. This makes music videos particularly difficult to do well.

'For certain companies, they will never work. But for others, the company culture makes them an obvious choice. Companies looking for ways to engage their employees are always thirsty for a new tactic. It's a reality of the internet that any internal communications document or tool has the potential to end up in the public domain. That's why we recommend that any internal approach be taken with an external audience in mind, for better or for worse.'

Still, there seems to be some doubt within the PR industry of the effectiveness of these internal morale-boosting videos, with one industry insider in Hong Kong stating: 'I always thought these videos were a waste of time and money. It's almost impossible to make one that doesn't make people cringe.'

Chris Kyme of Eight Partnerships, a company involved in the creative process for corporate videos, agreed. 'I don't believe in the idea of corporate morale videos to boost morale. If a company needs to do that, then they must be doing something wrong.'

However, he said that they could be a 'valid mechanism for delivering information or to introduce people to a company'. In Hong Kong, examples include pharmaceutical company Pfizer's recently launched Can I corporate video, and the infamous 'Tute in Da House from the Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Public Accountants (HKICPA).

The Pfizer's video entitled Can I (a mnemonic for 'Continuous And Never Ending Improvement') uses an up-tempo Canto-pop beat with original lyrics:

Can I be the best that I can be?

Can I show respect and integrity?

Can I play my part in this winning team?

For this is what we stand for

Associate director for corporate affairs, Geraldine Ip, said: 'The corporate video is a collective production by all our employees instead of our traditional HR and PR-driven activities.

'The video fosters teamwork, value sharing, living our core values and envisions Pfizer's mission statement,' said Ms Ip.

Despite a somewhat corny aspect to the video, it could be argued that the production, in addition to being catchy, achieved its desired objective during filming as the video utilised the talents of all of Pfizer's local employees in the making.

'The video also encouraged colleagues' creativity and empowerment, which can only enhance our employees' collective memories and precious moments at Pfizer,' Ms Ip said.

The primary aim of Pfizer's video was to enhance the contribution of colleagues, and there was never any plan to feature it on the web or the company's internal websites.

However, with the advent of Web 2.0 and the now ubiquitous YouTube internet video service, you can never be sure what will go viral, as HKICPA recently discovered with its 'Tute in Da House video.

'Tute in Da House ('Tute meaning institute), was originally conceived as an in-house video production aimed at existing members of the institute.

Produced to imitate a rap video, it was a low-cost production meant to highlight the lighter and more human side of certified public accountants (CPAs).

Mindee Hansen, director of communications for HKICPA, said 'Tute was never intended as career bait, or even for public viewing. But she was not complaining.

'It's very different for CPAs and Hong Kong,' Ms Hansen said of the video. 'And it's gone viral very quickly, here and in the US and Britain.'

The low-budget video, created by Hong Kong's Eight Partnership communications firm, was originally meant for the 26,000 members of the HKICPA in celebration of CPA Day on September 8.

But on YouTube, it has been a mild hit with various versions reaching 30,000 views in the 11 months since it was made, and it has been forwarded around the globe by e-mail.

Its success has attracted the attention of respected news organisations such as London's The Guardian and the BBC, which have run stories on the sleeper hit video.

As Charles Brain-Boys, managing partner at Eight Partnership, said: 'We wanted to celebrate CPA Day by showing them as flesh and blood human beings who have a sense of humour.'

However, the humour was lost on a small contingent of local CPAs who complained to the institute in a series of e-mails. Comments included: 'This is not our image and pokes fun at the institute'.

Winnie Cheung, the institute's chief executive, explained: 'There were some of our more conservative members who didn't understand and seriously thought it was a recruitment exercise, but it was a piece of in-house fun that found its way on to YouTube, and in the process has reached more than 65,000 views, and in the end garnered us a lot of praise and publicity from the likes of The Guardian and the BBC, as well as associate and provincial bodies worldwide.'

Perhaps partly due to this success, the institute launched a full television advertising campaign in June, featuring four professionally produced commercials.

'Corporate morale videos are just one tactic in the overall discipline of corporate and workplace communications,' said Ms Hilton from Ketchum. 'Its function is not a soft or nice-to-have aspect of a business. It is vital to the welfare of any organisation, particularly in a place as diverse as Asia.

'Although a tactic such as a music video itself might be a bit of fun, the overall context is not something you can take lightly.'

Andrew Brushfield, director of recruitment company Robert Half Hong Kong, agreed: 'In the context of the employment market, we see a company's branding as an extension of its overall image as an employer, as perceived by current and future employees.

'It is a collection of ideas and beliefs that communicate a company's culture and values. In a competitive employment market such as today's, companies with strong brands have a greater chance of obtaining and securing talent than those that don't.

'In the candidate's eyes, initiatives like work life balance, corporate social responsibility and training all make up 'employer branding'. Obviously a corporate video would also contribute to the overall image of a company.'

Corporate morale videos have a function within the overall branding of a company's ethos, and should not be viewed in a singular context. However, they have the potential to backfire or they can go viral.

As Mr Kyme said: 'Viral marketing is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it opens up huge opportunities for generating awareness with little or no media costs. On the other, success is in the hands of the public, and it can go wrong.'

'Tute in Da House lyrics

Well I'm a CPA and that's

what I do,

I know it doesn't sound sexy to you

But I can tell you I'm a person of repute

And it's all because I belong to

the 'Tute

I wear a suit

I belong to the 'Tute

I wear a suit

I belong to the 'Tute