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.

 

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Now, that’s using your doodle!

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By Denise Reynolds

I’ve been caught so many times doodling at work. Not just when I was at my desk suffering from writer’s block. I’d doodle in weekly team sessions, during conference calls, and sometimes in client meetings.

Some of my colleagues smiled at the odd critters and characters I’d scribble along the left margin of my notes. Others would silently express their disdain by arching their eyebrows and shaking their heads, wordlessly willing me to stop goofing off. (This was especially the case if my little cast of characters meandered across the red double-lined border of that left margin, traipsing into the notes I was taking.)

One of the great things about doodles is that they don't have to be great!

One of the great things about doodles is that they don’t have to look great!

It turns out I wasn’t goofing off; I was being inspired!

In her Ted Talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/sunni_brown.html), international speaker, author and creative consultant, Sunni Brown said this about doodling: “People who doodle when they’re exposed to verbal information retain more of that information than their non-doodling counterparts. We think doodling is something you do when you lose focus, but in reality, it is a preemptive measure to stop you from losing focus.”

“Additionally, it has a profound effect on creative problem-solving and deep information processing,” Brown explains.
As a benefits communication consultant, the doodles did more than keep me focused during meetings and conference calls. They eventually became the inspiration for the benefits and HR cartoon communication work I do today.

For more than 15 years, I’ve helped organizations of all kinds communicate human resources messages to their employees. Benefits, retirement planning, wellness, organizational change, policies – you know, all the things most employees don’t want to spend time reading. It’s often a challenge to make this information easy-to-read and understand, let alone appealing.

I became very fond of the strange turtles, large flightless birds, dogs, squirrels, bugs and tiny tornadoes that populated the yellow lined pads of paper I used every day. At one point I looked at one of the characters and thought: What if we have some fun with benefits messages?

What if cartoon characters delivered the messages about changes to a health plan, or a new safety policy, or the importance of saving in the company’s 401(k) plan?

Maybe internal communications and HR messages don’t have to be so dry!

What if I found an actual cartoonist who has artistic talent and we partner with organizations that want to do something innovative with their employee communications?

A few years have passed and my cartoonist cohorts and I are working to get those questions answered – directly from our clients.

“I found a way to reach employees in the field who are rarely seen by supervisors! Yeah!” said Mary McCahon Shaffer, Public Relations Manager at Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA). Shaffer said the monthly cartoon series helps her reach bus drivers and rail operators.

Bob Chess, vice president of human resources at ACRT, Inc., has been putting cartoon mascots to work delivering messages about safety, training, wellness, and retirement planning since early 2012.

A cartoon crew of foresters help deliver safety, wellness and benefits messages to employees at ACRT, Inc.

A cartoon crew of foresters help deliver safety, wellness and benefits messages to employees at ACRT, Inc.

“The characters are an important component of our overall communication strategy,” Chess said. “We are using them to assist in communicating our total rewards statement, employee engagement survey, wellness initiatives, benefit plan and enrollment.”

Are your internal communications dry and boring? Do they make you want to doodle in the margins? Do they make your employees want to doodle in the margins?

Sometimes our doodles are just that; they’re geometric patterns, squiggles, letters, numbers, plants and animals keeping us alert to the messages we’re receiving.

But every once in a while, a doodle can be so much more. Sometimes a doodle is the message we’re receiving.

It's definitely not art, folks!

It’s definitely not art, folks!

Have a doodle you’d like to share? We’d love to see it!

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.

Benefits and HR messages: It’s time for some serious LOL

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by Jenny Campbell

In the last of a three-part series, nationally-syndicated cartoonist Jenny Campbell (“Flo and Friends”) explains gag writing for the employee benefits cartoon campaigns she develops with Outside the Lines Creative Group.

What is the biggest challenge, artistically, to doing cartoons for business of HR messages? How do you keep things light when the topic is serious?

The challenge isn’t actually an artistic one, so much as it’s in the gag writing. The whole idea of using cartoons to get HR messages across is to grab employees’ attention using humor. The mere bright and colorful look of a cartoon message is going to do that initially, but the message can fall flat if there’s not SOMETHING humorous in the text. There ARE times when visual humor alone can do the trick, usually to convey messages of wellness, like eating right and getting enough exercise. Even with cartoon mascots, there’s often a fall-guy: the guy who piles his plate with donuts while the other, “wiser” mascots are eating healthy snacks.

But the real challenge is in conveying messages that don’t lend themselves so easily to humor, like smoking cessation; investment issues; health screenings, etc. Ideally we like to come up with a funny scenario that’s got a strong punch line and also a funny drawing.

A therapy pony at Akron Children's Hospital is the cartoon mascot for an employee wellness campaign. Colorful cartoons with light-hearted humor get attention and help employees remember important messages.

A therapy pony at Akron Children’s Hospital is the cartoon mascot for an employee wellness campaign. Colorful cartoons with light-hearted humor get attention and help employees remember important messages.

That’s not always possible, but that’s the challenge. Often we’ll come up with two or three different gag ideas and run them past the client, even before I start sketching. That gives us an idea of where the client’s focus is, and it’s not unusual to have the client go for the less funny option because the message is clearer. As a cartoonist, I love going for the laugh. But in working with HR professionals, that’s not necessarily the highest priority. Still, it’s a perfect mix when we can come up with an idea that makes everyone laugh but also drives home the point.

Brief tips and advice are added to the cartoons.

Brief tips and advice are added to the cartoons.

Cartoons take people off-guard and allow them to absorb serious messages more easily.

Cartoons take employees off-guard and allow them to absorb serious messages more easily.

 

How do you get feedback when you’re not there to see the reactions of your readers?

It’s true that getting feedback from the true recipients of our humor – the employees – is tough. So that’s where I rely heavily on the HR folks with whom we’re working. For example, in working with the whole HR/marketing team at Akron Children’s Hospital, it’s VERY gratifying because our main contact, a communication/marketing specialist, is wonderful about sending all the comments from all the members of the team. And, if I’ve made my team really happy, then I feel pretty confident that the employee reactions will be the same.

In other areas of cartooning, outside of my work with OTL, I also rely on the reactions of the art directors, editors and other clients I’m working with directly. Once my work has gone out into the world, I just have to hope it’s well-received. And, the fact that I’ve been able to make a living doing this for more than 25 years, leads me to suspect that, for the most part, folks are liking what I do.

Here’s a quick story from yesterday that doesn’t involve my work with OTL, but was a perfect example of how to answer this question. One of the many things I do is the occasional school visit with an author friend, Sandy Philipson, whose children’s books I illustrate. We were at a school all day yesterday, presenting our dog-and-pony show to four sessions of kids, from kindergarten through fourth grade. In the last session, with three classes of third graders in attendance, I was in the midst of an interactive exercise where the kids help me “create” a crazy character from scratch, and I was wildly drawing this character based on their ideas, and really getting into it. And I noticed a boy in the second row, right in front of me, who was really laughing and enjoying it. He looked like a boy who might not normally fit in, so I was aware of him. After the exercise, he even raised his hand and asked a good question.

After the class ended and the kids were filing out, the principal came up to us and told us that that boy hadn’t cracked a smile or responded to ANYTHING since the beginning of school, and they were at their wits’ end. She’d just been talking to the boy’s mother the night before and discussing the possibility of calling in special counselors for him. While she was telling me this, she choked up and had to turn away for a minute. Now, she said, she couldn’t wait to call his mom and tell her, and now they had some ideas on how to reach him – with humor and art.

If using humor and cartooning can, even occasionally, result in THAT kind of reaction, then I know that what I do is important. And that’s pretty darn good feedback.

Who is your favorite cartoonist and why?

That’s a tough question, and it really depends on what era we’re talking about. When I was a kid, there WAS no other cartoonist but Charles Schulz, and I was glued to his little “Peanuts” paperbacks day and night. I loved his poignancy as much as I loved the simplicity of his drawings. He was the first cartoonist who made me laugh out loud on a regular basis, and also made me THINK. Not easy for a 9-year-old.

A little later, my mom bought me a book called, “A Leg At Each Corner”, a series of hilarious equestrian cartoons of kids riding belligerent, WONDERFULLY drawn ponies, by a British cartoonist, Norman Thelwell. I’ve remained a passionate Thelwell fan into adulthood and fell in love with eBay when I realized I could collect Thelwell books I never knew existed.

In college, I learned to appreciate and love Walt Kelly and “Pogo”, which had been my dad’s favorite cartoon (and he LOVED cartoons and cartoonists). Even though it was no longer around by then, I went through a serious “Pogo” stage, where I soaked in as much as I could of Kelly’s backwater critters. I loved their language, their politics and I was totally envious of how beautifully they were drawn. The WAY some cartoons are drawn is still the most important part to me. I just LOVE well-drawn cartoons.

So, those are just a few, but I have many contemporary cartoons I follow religiously. I was an avid “Calvin and Hobbes” fan; who wasn’t? And I have a handful of contemporary strips I also follow daily. But as cartoonists who inspired me, I’m STILL enamored with Schulz, Thelwell and Kelly, and I’ve also become an avid acolyte of Edward Gorey. NO one is as hilariously dark as Gorey.

Jenny Campbell is one of the artists creating 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 last article in the series.

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