Top 5 Reasons to Use Cartoons in Your Communications

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Cartoons sell.  We know they do.  We’ve seen cartoon characters sell breakfast cereal, life insurance, even insulation.  But why are they so successful?  Here’s why, condensed into our  Top 5 Reasons to use cartoons in your communications:

#1 Cartoons are a fun way to deliver important – and often boring or complex – messages.

Looking for an interesting way to explain a new medical plan or a health savings account? Or maybe you’re trying to enhance your company’s wellness initiative or help employees understand how excellent customer service ties to your organization’s success.

Or maybe you need to convince the residents of your town to plant thousands of shade trees. That’s the goal of the city of Lakewood, Ohio. This suburb of Cleveland wants to increase its tree canopy by 10% by 2035. That means 9,000 trees must be planted in the next 20 years. It’s not necessarily an exciting message, but it’s an important one.

A whiteboard video starring a cartoon dog really helps a city deliver messages to residents. This video encourages residents to plant shade trees.

A whiteboard video starring a cartoon dog really helps a city deliver messages to residents. This video encourages residents to plant shade trees.

Here’s a fun whiteboard video that we created for Lakewood’s community outreach campaign: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uim6Yo6gC_0

The video – with its quick, eye-catching drawings and easy-to-understand narration – appeals to all ages. As a result, the city’s urban forester and tree task force include the video during presentations to civic groups, business owners, and schools.

#2 Cartoons improve engagement; increase understanding and participation

At First Solar Inc., cartoons were introduced to help spur employee participation in company-sponsored community events. The company proudly supports a variety of local and national non-profit organizations and they’d like employees to actively participate in events that take place throughout the year.

The cartoon series features a cast of characters that fit the solar panel manufacturer: an engineer, an associate at the solar panel plant, a sun (based on the company’s logo) and a Canada goose. (The goose serves up comic relief as employees are greeted daily by a gaggle of geese that make the First Solar campus their year-round home.) The cartoons are delivered to employees via email and on flat screens.

The series debuted with a cartoon promoting a canned food drive benefitting the local food bank. Participation in previous years was very low, so First Solar wanted to emphasize the importance of helping neighbors in need by donating non-perishable foods and other items. The human resources manager reported that employees printed out the cartoon panel – hanging it up in their cubicles as reminders of the items needed and the deadline for donations.

When the week-long drive wrapped up, more than 40,000 pounds of canned food and other items were donated by about 1,000 First Solar employees. That was exactly the enthusiastic participation the company wanted to see.

#3 Cartoons can improve morale and collaboration

Work doesn’t seem like work when you’re able to share ideas, successfully complete tasks, and laugh a bit with your colleagues. Recent research (“A meta-analysis of positive humor in the workplace” by J. Mesmer-Magnus, D. Glew and C. Viswesvaran; www.emeraldinsight.com/0268-3946.htm) shows that positive employee humor is linked to improved performance, collaboration, health, coping effectiveness, as well as decreased burnout and less stress.

When management uses and encourages positive humor, the study indicates employees are more productive, satisfied with their jobs, and have an improved perception of their supervisor’s performance. Being able to share positive laughter can ease tension and build trust in teams.

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) uses a monthly cartoon to reach bus drivers and rail operators. For managers who rarely get to spend time with their employees who are out on the road, the cartoons are a fun way to deliver messages about safety, benefits and wellness.

Cartoons reach Cleveland RTA employees every month -- reminding them of safety policies, benefit programs and wellness initiatives.

Cartoons reach Cleveland RTA employees every month — reminding them of safety policies, benefit programs and wellness initiatives.

#4 Cartoons entertain, amuse and create anticipation of a message

Comic strips, cartoons and animation are appreciated by all generations and all cultures. Enhancing your communications with cartoons allows you to share your sense of humor and disarm your audience.

At Rural/Metro Ambulance, the company used a series of cartoons to train employees about the new core values. In addition to being eye-catching, the cartoons quickly deliver a key message. Putting a bit of humor with the message makes the message more memorable.

The online training was set up in a series of four sessions that featured a cartoon panel about a core value and an accompanying training video. The initial session had a typical participation rate – about 450 on the first day of training. By the second session, though, more than one-third of the company’s 9,000 employees had logged in on the first day and completed the unit. The expectation was set that this training would be a bit more fun than usual.

While the reader or viewer is being entertained by the cartoon, they’re also absorbing a key message. Many of our cartoons rely on visual humor, puns, witty remarks and wry comments. The success of the cartoon depends on your audience’s sense of humor. One of the keys is to keep the message brief and clever. If a reader has to pause too long – or re-read the captions – the cartoon isn’t successful.

A training program that featured cartoons helped employees at Rural/Metro understand the company's new core values.

An online training program that featured cartoons helped employees at Rural/Metro understand the company’s new core values.

#5 Cartoon characters give your department or organization a friendly, recognizable face.

Tony the Tiger, the Keebler Elf, Smokey the Bear and the Poppin’ Fresh Doughboy. Even the Pink Panther – who doesn’t speak in any commercials – are appealing icons that are consistently effective in delivering a message.

You know those famous cartoon faces and the products they sell!

It’s really no different for the cartoons developed for your internal or marketing communications. The characters and their messages become recognizable to your employees. And when you combine the friendly face with light-hearted humor, your message will stick.

It’s critical to create a mascot that’s appropriate for your department or organization. The best character may be based on a product, a slogan, or attributes of the company, and it should have a “personality” and “traits” that connect with your audience.

A 1950's police car is the mascot for the Greater Cleveland Peace Officers Memorial Society.

A 1950’s police car is the mascot for the Greater Cleveland Peace Officers Memorial Society.

Curious about how cartoon characters can be put to work at your organization? Contact us! Call Denise at 216-407-4676216-407-4676 or send an email to denise@otlcreativegroup.com.

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

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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.

 

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.