Is video the best way to communicate flexible benefits?

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• Only use video if it is the best medium for your message and your staff.
• It typically costs £2,500 to £20,000 to make a video, but it can be done for free or cost as much as £50,000.
• Most videos used to communicate flexible benefits schemes use employees talking about how they use their benefits, but animation is becoming popular.

Case study: Moneyway gives flexible benefits character

To promote its 2010 flexible benefits scheme, call centre-based bank Moneyway made an 80-second video featuring FlexiBen, the little plastic figure that represents its benefits package.

Anne McKenning, group head of HR of Secure Trust Bank, of which Moneyway is a subsidiary, says: “We decided to bring Ben to life and build on the brand.”

Ben had acquired a girlfriend, Betsy, with whom he did a world tour, so the next step was to give him a personality. This was done by making a video. Using the skills of the marketing and IT departments, the video was made at no cost.

A week before the benefits elections, a note was sent out asking staff to watch the main call centre screens at 11am for an announcement. “At 11am, FlexiBen popped up talking about what staff could elect,” says McKenning.

A link to the video on the intranet was also emailed to staff. “It was just a bit of fun,” she adds. “It is important for everyone to know what flexible benefits are on offer.”

Video might seem a good way to communicate flex, but there is a lot to consider first, says Debi O’Donovan

When it comes to videos promoting flexible benefits, the new kids on the block are quirky, fast-paced animated online clips lasting less than a minute, although self-made vox pops are cropping up on social media sites. At the fore, however, is the traditional employee-lifestyle conversational video. Whatever its format, video has impact, so it is no wonder employers might think it is the best way to get messages out.

But before rushing off to buy that director’s chair, benefits managers must consider whether video is the best medium for their message. Tobin Coles, director of flexible benefits at Lorica Consulting, says: “Video is a very good place to start if they want to communicate a simple message.”

But is it a bad place to start for complex concepts? Chris Hopkins, director of Caburn Hope, says: “If employers are trying to increase understanding, then I would hesitate to say use video.”

Video does not explain details, provide at-a-glance information or answer “what does this mean for me?” queries. Booklets, online modelling tools and total reward statements perform these functions better.

But for every golden video rule, there is also a time to throw out the rulebook. For example, conventional wisdom says: restrict videos to less than five minutes, keep messages simple and have a call for action at the end sending staff to a website or telephone hotline. But what if a workforce does not have English as its first language, is widely dispersed and not desk-based?

DVD broken into chapters

Suddenly a 25-minute DVD broken into chapters seems a clever idea. This is the case for a client of Thomsons Online Benefits, where Judith Groves is director of proposition development. “English was not their first language, so giving them the written word to read was not an option. They understood video much more easily,” she says.

But she agrees this was an exception. “Most videos are short and crunchy with an underlying message directing staff to other media.”

Budget also needs to be taken into account. Videos can cost from nothing right up to a hefty £50,000 (although most fall into the £2,500 to £20,000 range). Guy Woodward, senior communications consultant at Mercer, says: “If recording to camera plus slides, then expect to pay £2,500. But for a multi-location shoot, with several camera crews and lots of editing, the figure would be closer to £30,000.”

Nick Throp, director of Like Minds, which produces videos for Vebnet, says: “We use a director, cameraman and sound recordist, which costs £5,000 for one day’s filming plus editing. The top level costs £25,000.”

Because of these costs, employers need to box clever, says Hopkins. “If they are doing a video, try to make it timeless. If they make it a campaign, then it has a very limited shelf life and can be expensive.”

Meanwhile, Mark Carman, director of communication services at Edenred, says: “When you produce a video, a lot of filming lands on the cutting room floor. So keep some back and use it throughout the year.”

But what about that zero-cost option? “Employers can use a cheap flip camera set up on the desk with a talking head and have it on YouTube in five minutes,” says Carman, but he agrees that using this method depends on employer brand and the story being told.

Homemade feel can add edge

Groves adds: “That homemade feel can add an edge of humour. In the current climate, there is an advantage in not putting out high-end video.”

But most benefits managers still turn to the professionals. “For something more polished with a definite storyline, then they need some help, especially for editing,” says Throp.

Long before the first shout of “Action!” there needs to be a production plan. This includes, most importantly, the messages employees need to hear. From this, the storyboard will be developed and then the script. Employers must beware of giving financial advice on camera, so should either refrain from referring to regulated financial products or get their copy checked out by an independent financial adviser. “Make it entertaining – you need people to be talking about it in the canteen or on the shopfloor,” says Hopkins. “Otherwise, don’t do it.”

By this point, the format should be clear, whether animation, real people or, as is the latest fashion, people interacting with animation. There are many freelance animators who can put together a short clip fairly inexpensively. Ant Bird, communications consultant at Towers Watson, says: “To make things interesting, we use animation: we go for quirky, fast-paced and eye-catching.”

But be sure to remember your audience, says Carman. “At Moneyway [see case study], animation goes down a storm, but we find older audiences prefer talking heads.”

Glenn Elliott, managing director of Asperity Employee Benefits, adds: “Animating is good to explain concepts, but if you want to get across feelings, then use people.” Using real staff is the most common approach, although all agree there are times to opt for actors and, occasionally, the chief executive, HR director or even benefits manager might be wheeled out. “But don’t use people who will bore viewers, even if they seem like the right people,” says Hopkins.

Playing out a scenario

Lorica’s Coles swears by using actors to play out a scenario staff can identify with, while others bring them in for voiceovers or to explain more complex issues. Although actors charge fees, they can save time and money because of their professionalism.

When using employees, it is important they reflect the demographics of the workforce – by age, gender, ethnicity and region, as well as job role – so all staff can identify with at least one of them. The key is to get people talking about their lives and what choices would they make. Groves suggests videos are scripted in a conversational way, and use a question-and-answer format as well as humour. “If there is a company in-joke, or if there is something everyone in the organisation is talking about, weave it in.”

Once the video has been made, it has to get out to its potential viewers. This is usually done by emailing a link to staff or embedding the video on the flexible benefits website. “Staff tend to watch videos between 8am and 9am, and between 5pm and 6pm, as well as at lunchtime,” says Towers Watson’s Bird. “Most will watch at lunchtime, but for a shorter timespan of four minutes 20 seconds. This helps inform when we send out emails.”

Bandwidth is another consideration. “This is a problem if 10,000 people are trying to access a video at the same time,” says Carman. If the content is not confidential, employers can use YouTube, but few feel comfortable about this. Elliott says: “If it is confidential, use websites such as or You can invite people to view and not worry about hosting the video.”

Ultimately, video is simply one strand of a multi-media approach. “It is primarily seasoning, rather than huge amounts of information,” says Throp. “Employees’ attention span is too short.”

Questions to ask when considering using video

• Who is your audience?
• What is/are the prime message(s) you are trying to communicate?
• What do you see as the advantages and benefits of using video?
• Will a video really be better than print or a web page?
• Is this part of a larger communication strategy?
• How will the video be distributed or shown?
• What is your organisation’s policy on accessing social media?
• Are there any video streaming bandwidth constraints?
• Who will host the video?
• How will your audience view the video?
• Are there opportunities to use video throughout the year?
• What is your budget?
Source: Edenred

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