What’s in your thought bubble?

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thought bubble guy 051314If you could employ a cartoon character in your human resources department, what responsibilities would you give him?

I know, I know… you already have a couple of cartoon characters working in HR! But what if you had an honest-to-goodness cartoon mascot – like Tony the Tiger, the Jolly Green Giant or Martin the Geico Gecko?

What messages could that character successfully deliver to your employees?

Ideally, you’d give that critter the tough job of helping employees understand and use their benefits or the importance of participating in wellness activities. After all, cartoon characters are up to the challenge of “selling,” but they shouldn’t be limited to roles in the marketing department.

Let them engage a new audience: your employees.

Wondering what kind of messages these characters can handle? Here are just a few examples from our clients’ benefits cartoons:

Benefits

  • The Employee Assistance Program offers a variety of resources to help you manage and reduce stress.
  • Increase your savings in the 401(k) plan. By setting aside 1% of your merit increase each year, your savings can add up to a significant nest egg for retirement.
  • Participate in the Health Savings Account. It offers many advantages to help you pay for eligible health care expenses.
  • Find network doctors and other health providers for your child who is away at college.

Wellness

  • Know your numbers (cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, BMI, etc.)! Participate in free health screenings and complete the health risk assessment.
  • Walking, jogging or running…get your 10,000 steps in every day. Use the company’s walking route or enjoy a hike in one of the many beautiful parks in the region.
  • Make healthy lunch choices. Pack your lunch. Buy locally-grown produce and fruit from your community’s farmers’ market.
  • Cancer awareness is important. Employees should participate in screenings, do self-examinations and alert their doctor to recent changes or symptoms they’ve noticed.

Other HR Topics

  • Fleet safety: Distracted driving awareness. Drive safely. Reminder of “no electronics” rule.
  • Be a brand ambassador for the company. Live the brand!
  • New dress code. No jeans for employees who work in the office. Highlight other points in the new policy.
  • Core values of the organization: Teamwork, Quality, Responsiveness and Integrity

Those are just a few of fairly routine messages that employees see time and time again, year after year. But they probably haven’t seen them in a cartoon. Take a look at these benefits cartoons based on a couple of those messages.

Living the brand:

The forestry consulting employees at ACRT regularly see HR messages in cartoon panels that feature foresters and a "crew" of woodland critters.

The forestry consulting employees at ACRT regularly see HR messages in cartoon panels that feature foresters and a “crew” of woodland critters.

Walking (10,000 steps):

A therapy pony at Akron Children's Hospital is the star of a wellness cartoon campaign for employees. Petie is recognizable and his participation in wellness activities are comical.

A therapy pony at Akron Children’s Hospital is the star of a wellness cartoon campaign for employees. Petie is recognizable and his “participation” in wellness activities is comical.

Employee Assistance Program:

Employees at the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority look for the antics of Floyd & Friends every month. The characters share benefits, safety and wellness tips.

Employees at the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority look for the antics of Floyd & Friends every month. The characters share benefits, safety and wellness tips.

The characters in these panels aren’t famous commercial icons like the Energizer Bunny or the Keebler Elf. They don’t have to be. The mascots catch the attention of employees and they quickly and effectively deliver their messages. Our clients’ employees recognize the benefits cartoons and are open to hearing messages in a unique and fun way.

Curious about how cartoon characters can be put to work at your organization? Contact us! Call Denise at 216-407-4676 or send an email to denise@otlcreativegroup.com.

Denise Reynolds is the president of Outside the Lines Creative Group LLC.

 

Back to the Drawing Board…with cartoonist Jenny Campbell

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Q&A with Jenny Campbell

In the second of a three-part series, nationally-syndicated cartoonist Jenny Campbell shares the process of developing mascot characters.

Jenny Campbell creates custom cartoon campaigns for clients of Outside the Lines Creative Group, LLC (OTL). The campaigns are fun, innovative and effective – bringing mundane messages about benefits, wellness, safety (and other HR topics) to life with the cartoon characters she develops.

Jenny’s daily and Sunday comic strip, “Flo and Friends”, appears in newspapers across the country, and throughout her career as a cartoonist, she also has illustrated more than 15 children’s books. Through a three-part series of blogs, she responds to questions OTL’s clients have about the cartooning process. This is the second article in the series.

1. If someone wants a concept developed, is it better for you to have the person totally define what they want and give you tight parameters or would you prefer to draw something for the client and then let them suggest tweaks to the character you’ve drawn?

Generally, the way we prefer to work is to work WITH the client. So I guess the answer is somewhere in between. When we’re starting up with a new client, we like to get together with them, throwing around ideas for mascots and what they’d like to see those mascots represent.

Sometimes in the project kickoff meetings, I’ll sketch out ideas as we go, so they can take a look right there on the spot and make suggestions. Once we have the mascots pretty well-formed in our heads we’ll come up with a topics calendar and strategy, identifying from the client down which messages they’d like to convey at which times throughout the year. Then we go back to our respective drawing boards. And using the ideas and suggestions we’ve all come up with together, Denise Reynolds (OTL president) works up a complete strategy and the topics calendar, and I start sketching potential characters. Then we submit the drafts back to the client, and continue the collaboration until everyone’s happy.

Initial sketches of "Floyd" -- one of the main characters in an employee communication cartoon campaign at the Greater Cleveland RTA.

Initial sketches of “Floyd” — one of the main characters in an employee communication cartoon campaign at the Greater Cleveland RTA.

2. What features of a character give away or demonstrate its personality best? Facial expressions, posture, words?

The mother of my partner once said that it always amazed her how I could convey a distinctive expression with just a dot for an eye and an eyebrow cocked in just the right way. And, I have to admit, that IS the most fun I have in cartooning. For me, it’s all about body language and the expressions in the eyes and the mouth.

In college, I took a couple of years of art and then changed my major to journalism. But during those two years of art, by far, my favorite classes were the life drawing classes. I LOVE the way bodies move: animals and people both. And even in my wackiest cartoon characters, I love conveying a mood or a feeling, merely by how my characters are standing, what they’re doing with their limbs and the expressions in their eyes and on their mouths.

Jenny Campbell is the artist behind the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park's mascot -- a river otter named "Ollie."

Jenny Campbell is the artist behind the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s mascot — a river otter named “Ollie.”


3. Do you use the computer to draw your cartoons?

Nope. I don’t actually do any drawing on the computer. All of the artwork is produced the old fashioned way, with a pencil and ink. For OTL clients, I mostly colorize on the computer, but only after the artwork has been sketched in pencil, then scanned and emailed to the client for approval. Once it’s approved, I ink it, erase the pencil, scan it again and then colorize it in layers in Photoshop. Then I send it to the client usually as a jpeg or a tiff.

4. Which medium do you like best? Pencils, pastels, ink, watercolor?

As far as which I LIKE using the best, I’d have to say that I love drawing in pencil, but I also love drawing in ink. And for adding color, watercolor or acrylics are my favorite, although I’ve had some fun with colored pencils, too. But when it comes to my syndicated cartoon strip and the artwork I do for our OTL clients, most of that color is rendered on the computer, in Photoshop, on a graphics tablet. The color is clean and crisp, you can play with patterns and gradations, and it often reproduces much better than traditional media.

Have a question for the cartoonist? Post your questions here or send them to denise@otlcreativegroup.com.

Curious about how cartoons and cartoon characters can work in your organization? Contact us at denise@otlcreativegroup.com or 216-407-4676. Visit our website at otlcreativegroup.com. Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/otlcreativegroup.

Cartoonist draws attention to HR messages

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Q&A with Jenny Campbell

Through eye-catching and humorous cartoon campaigns, nationally-syndicated cartoonist Jenny Campbell shares her unique artistic talents with a variety of companies and non-profit organizations. The cartoons that she creates for clients of Outside the Lines Creative Group, LLC (OTL) are fun, innovative and effective as she brings HR messages to life with the cartoon characters she develops.

Jenny’s daily and Sunday comic strip, “Flo and Friends”, appears in newspapers across the country, and throughout her career as a cartoonist, she also has illustrated more than 15 children’s books. Through a three-part series of blogs, she responds to questions OTL’s clients have about the cartooning process. This is the first article in the series.
1. When you’re meeting with a client, do you usually hope that they choose an animal, object or person as their mascot character? Are some characters more fun to draw?
Well, that’s easy… I’m ALWAYS hoping they’ll choose an animal. My human characters seem to be popular with clients, and I love drawing them. But I definitely have a bit more fun with animals. Animals are just so much easier to exaggerate, and to put in ridiculous positions, and to create wonderful moments that make people laugh out loud. For example, one of our clients – Akron Children’s Hospital – lets us use their real-life therapy pony, Petie, as a cartoon mascot to convey health and wellness messages to their employees, and the campaign has been really fun.

Petie, a therapy pony at Akron Children's Hospital, is the star of a wellness cartoon series for hospital employees.

Petie, a therapy pony at Akron Children’s Hospital, is the star of a wellness cartoon series for hospital employees.

Horses are fun to draw, but ponies are the best! Chubbier, shorter and just more cartoony by nature. And let’s face it, putting a chubby little pony in a leotard, in a Zumba class, is just innately funny, and might not have had quite the appeal if he’d been a human character. It’s cool drawing people, too. But in our client meetings, I’m always secretly rooting for an animal, or even a widget that I can bring to life!

2. Do you draw wildlife using pictures or do you draw what you envision the animal to look like?
No, I definitely need some reference. If I’m drawing an armadillo, for example, it’s a little hard to just make that up. But cartooning, I think, is like any other kind of art… you’ve got to study what you’re drawing and sketch it out before you can exaggerate it and make it funny. So I can research my armadillo, study his features, his limbs, the patterns on his armor… And once I’ve done that, I can make him as ridiculous as I want.

3. Do some characters lend themselves more to being happy, grumpy, confident, or inquisitive? In other words, do you have a personality of the character in mind while you’re drawing it or does it get a personality as you are drawing it?
Oh, there’s no question… the characters DEFINITELY have their own personalities… creatures, people and inanimate objects alike! And giving those characters a distinct personality when I draw them is all part of the fun. I probably wouldn’t draw a raven looking coy and innocent… he would absolutely be up to something. By the same token I’d probably draw a fat little groundhog with a goofy, befuddled personality.

Of course, it depends on the character, too. For example, one of the characters I draw for Jergens, Inc. is a flange named Scrap. So, does a flange – a round, flat piece of metal – have an innate personality like a raven or a fat groundhog? Not so much. So Scrap’s character had to be developed, and he became the comic character among the Jergens’ mascots: the doofus who, in spite of all his good intentions, just NEVER gets it right. Who’d have guessed it of a flange? But, that’s the fun in creating these guys and giving them personalities!

"Scrap" is a character based on a flange made by Jergens, Inc. He appears twice each month in an HR/benefits cartoon series for Jergens employees.

“Scrap” is a character based on a flange made by Jergens, Inc. He appears twice each month in an HR/benefits cartoon series for Jergens employees.

4. Can characters age over time? With an aging workforce, is it more effective to age characters that we currently have or should we introduce new characters that look like they’ve been in the workforce a while?
Except in the syndicated cartoon strips, “For Better Or For Worse” and “Funky Winkerbean”, cartoon characters generally don’t age (look at Charlie Brown!). And I like to hold to that rule. If an aging issue needs to be addressed, it’s easy enough to introduce an older character and use that character to deliver the message.

But as for the mascots we develop for clients which become more and more well-known to their employees as time goes on, I think aging them just could become confusing.

Have a question for the cartoonist? Post your questions here or send them to denise@otlcreativegroup.com.

Curious about how cartoons and cartoon characters can work in your organization? Contact us at denise@otlcreativegroup.com or 216-407-4676. Visit our website at otlcreativegroup.com. Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/otlcreativegroup.

Stay Tooned: In the next two weeks we’ll cover:
• Q&A Session with Cartoonist Jenny Campbell (second in the series)
• Create a cartoon character that fits your organization

Custom cartoons will engage your employees

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by Denise Reynolds

Approaching many human resource topics armed only with words isn’t much fun. But arm yourself with a cast of cartoon characters and you’ll look forward to delivering key messages about benefits, wellness and just about any HR topic.

I work with all kinds of organizations, developing innovative and engaging cartoon campaigns that cover a broad spectrum of topics:
• Health and welfare benefits
• Retirement plans
• Wellness
• Retirement/financial planning
• Safety
• Policies and procedures
• General HR messages

It’s routine for us to work on benefits or wellness campaigns for several organizations at a time. While many of our clients may address similar topics, the characters and scenarios we create in our cartoons are customized. That’s one of the best things about the work we do: nothing is “off the shelf.”

Every client gets cartoon characters and cartoon campaigns that match their organization. So, cartoon panels about retirement programs, medical benefits, safety initiatives, or heart-healthy exercise will vary by organization – from the characters, scenario, style of humor, to the tips/advice that are offered along with the cartoon panel.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples that focus on Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services. While both organizations – ACRT, Inc. and the Greater Cleveland RTA – want employees to take advantage of the company-sponsored program, each had a different key message.

For ACRT, the EAP-themed cartoon appeared in January – when employees typically fret about the bills that follow holiday spending. They wanted employees to understand financial planning and budgeting services are available.

ACRT, Inc's cartoon characters promote the Employee Assistance Program in this January 2013 panel.

ACRT, Inc’s cartoon characters promote the Employee Assistance Program in this January 2013 panel.

At RTA, the cartoon promotes the EAP’s counseling services that help employees work through stressful situations at home or work.

RTA's characters, Floyd and Harley, promote the EAP's counseling services.

RTA’s characters, Floyd and Harley, promote the EAP’s counseling services.

Each cartoon is accompanied with a brief summary or several bullet points to provide tips or additional details.

It’s fun to conjure up cartoon concepts for each client. My team of cartoonists and designers keep these objectives in mind as we develop our cartoon solutions:
• Keep the messages light-hearted and simple – the fewer the words, the better;
• Get the attention of the employees;
• Make them smile; and
• Be effective: deliver messages that raise awareness and understanding.

Curious about how cartoons and cartoon characters can work in your organization? Contact us at denise@otlcreativegroup.com or 216-407-4676. Visit our website at otlcreativegroup.com. Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/otlcreativegroup.

Stay Tooned: In the next two weeks we’ll cover:
• Q&A Session with Cartoonist Jenny Campbell (Part 1)
• Q&A Session with Cartoonist Jenny Campbell (Part 2)
• Create an engaging cartoon character that fits your organization

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!