Be caught off-guard…by cartooning.

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by Denise Reynolds

Cartoonists have a tough job. They have to surprise us every day.  We want them to catch us off-guard 365 days a year.

“Things that make us laugh grab us much more than the mundane.” says nationally-syndicated cartoonist Jenny Campbell (“Flo and Friends”). It might explain why we can’t remember what we had for dinner last night, but we can rattle off the punch line from a “Pearls Before Swine”, “Dilbert”, “Get Fuzzy” or “Non Sequitur” comic from earlier in the week.

“We move through this life wanting to be happily and unexpectedly surprised. When it actually happens, it’s such a joy,” Campbell says. We look forward to it happening again and again – and we turn to our favorite comic strips every day wanting to be caught off-guard. And we’re so happy when it happens that we often share the comic with a family member, friend or colleague.

What if organizations used that same approach in their employee communications? They’d get similar results – an employee audience caught off-guard by a cartoon campaign that features light-hearted humor, engaging cartoon characters delivering the company’s key messages.

Custom cartoon campaigns are innovative, fun and effective. They’re so different – so quick and easy to read – that employees notice them. No, I don’t recommend using cartoons to announce an upcoming acquisition or changes to your pension plan, but eye-catching characters are ideal for delivering those messages employees don’t want to read. You know the ones: health care benefits, retirement planning, wellness initiatives, safety programs, and policies and procedures.

I’ve spent nearly 20 years helping companies communicate with their employees. Sure, there were some great campaigns and a few communication awards along the way, but this thought was always in the back of my head, “If we’d put these messages into cartoons, I know people would really WANT to read them.”

One of my clients, a director of human resources at a manufacturing company, tried all types of communications to help employees understand the valuable benefits and wellness programs the company offered. It didn’t matter if it was a colorful brochure with photos, a brief email, or a detailed PowerPoint presentation, most employees wouldn’t read the materials. She wasn’t throwing in the towel, though. She wanted employees to understand their benefits, use them correctly, and take advantage of wellness activities. This HR director was willing to give cartoon mascots a shot at communicating with her employees.

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These weren’t just ordinary “off the shelf” cartoon characters. Through Jenny Campbell’s creative cartooning, several of the company’s products were “brought to life” for a 12-month cartoon campaign. While salaried employees received the panel via email, hourly employees paused for a few seconds to read the cartoon that appeared on the flat screen monitors throughout the plant. The cartoons have been successful and the campaign is in its third year – continuing to capture the attention of employees.

In fact, the cartoon characters have engaged employees to the point that:

  • They recognize that communication materials featuring one or more mascots gives them a “head’s up” that the contents are about benefits or wellness.
  • More employees are participating in wellness activities and the lunch-and-learn sessions that cover benefits.
  • Several employees thanked the HR director for providing information about the Employee Assistance Program. Some said that before they saw the cartoon panel explaining the services available through the EAP, they never knew they had this benefit.
  • Requests were made by employees to add an additional character to the team of mascots.
  • A group of employees printed out and laminated the mascot images – transforming them into Christmas ornaments that were used to decorate a Christmas tree at the plant.
  • A request was made to company executives to have cartoonist Jenny Campbell paint one of the cartoon mascots onto the side of a new machine that was being installed.

Our goal is to create cartoon characters who catch employees off-guard and engage them. It looks like the mascots are doing their job!

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