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

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!