Video cost effective, consistent

One does not have to search hard among users of corporate video for those who are quick to sing its praises as a tool to train and motivate employees, to introduce new products to the marketplace, as speaker support and, more...

One does not have to search hard among users of corporate video for those who are quick to sing its praises as a tool to train and motivate employees, to introduce new products to the marketplace, as speaker support and, more recently, as a direct-to-consumer sales tool.

Take, for example, the TD Bank.

Michael Laderoute, the td’s manager of video communications, says senior management is enthusiastic about corporate video for many reasons, not the least of which is its cost effectiveness.

‘Rather than having teams going across the country delivering the message about new products and services, we can shoot a video and ship it out much more cheaply,’ Laderoute says.

Cheaper

‘I’m almost convinced it’s cheaper than putting a poster in every branch,’ he says.

Laderoute says the bank makes extensive use of corporate video for new product introductions, annual reports and employee orientation, averaging between nine and 12 videos a year.

As well, the company produces, in conjunction with Toronto-based Lawrence Marshall Productions, a quarterly video newsmagazine called What’s Growing On.

Laderoute says that with about 23,000 employees and 850 branches (before the acquisition last month of Central Guaranty Trust), it is crucial that the message to employees be consistent, a task well-suited to video.

‘Rather than have somebody in each division do it, where the delivery may be different, this way everybody gets the same message,’ he says. ‘There is no loss of meaning.’

Consumers

Recently, the bank has started experimenting with videos for the consumer.

Laderoute says although still at the test stage, a take-home video showing consumers how to use the bank’s ‘green machine’ automated tellers has met with favorable response.

The video, produced in English, French, Italian, Chinese and Portuguese, was aimed at elderly and immigrant customers who were reluctant to trust their financial transactions to a machine.

Royal Insurance recently took the plunge into corporate video because it represented a way to speak directly to its end consumers, says Grace Webster, national marketing manager in the personal lines division.

‘We deal through an independent broker force, we don’t sell directly to the public,’ Webster says. ‘We wanted to provide brokers (with) something that would allow them to sell on more than just price.’

The company recently commissioned a video from Toronto-based The Bascombe Group showing homeowners and tenants how to crimeproof their homes.

Each broker was provided one free copy, with an order form for additional copies at $5 each.

Webster says she is confident the video, which was distributed to about 3,500 brokers shortly before Christmas, will pay dividends in new and repeat business.

She says one broker has already ordered an additional 500 copies.

Top-of-mind

Not only does the video keep the Royal Insurance name top-of-mind with brokers and policy owners alike, it has found a secondary audience with members of rotary clubs and homeowner associations, in which police officers use the program (endorsed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police) as video support for their crime prevention talks.

Cara Operations, which operates Swiss Chalet and Harvey’s restaurants, office supply retailer Grand & Toy and institutional caterer Beaver Foods, among others, uses video for staff training, business meetings and more recently, to qualify prospective franchisees in foreign markets, says Martin Peskin, the company’s senior vice-president of corporate development and operations.

Restaurants in action

Last year, the company commissioned a video from Lawrence Marshall Productions to show Russian entrepreneurs the company’s Swiss Chalet restaurants in action.

This year, it will likely produce a Harvey’s video for the Czech market.

‘If you are trying to describe something to somebody, what the inside of a restaurant looks like, or what the kitchen looks like, or what it looks like during the hubbub of a lunch or dinner rush, you can use words to describe it, but the video does it all for you,’ Peskin says.

‘It precludes the necessity of having people fly over for a preliminary visit,’ he says.

‘Eventually you will have to bring them over, but certainly in the initial stages, you don’t have to. From that point of view, it is cost-effective.’

Peskin cautions, however, that video by itself is not a determining factor in the success (or failure) of any project.

‘You can have a great video, but if you haven’t done your numbers or pro forma statement, or you don’t know what you’re looking for from a site selection point of view or a potential partner, the video can be excellent, but it’s not going to do it for you,’ he says.

‘We don’t set out to create videos. We set out to do other things. Videos happen to be a useful tool to reach that objective.

‘It’s usually not a driving force or major component of the strategy. It’s part of the arsenal, part of the tactical solution,’ Peskin says.

Context

Ann Marie Sluga, director of communications at The Prudential, agrees the decision to use video must be considered within the context of the company’s overall objectives.

Sluga says when the insurance company embarked last year on a total quality management program, a video which showed a tiger prowling around the company’s head office became a visual expression of The Prudential’s ‘lean and keen’ strategy.

The tiger motif, for example, came directly out of an employee survey in which the president had asked staff what animal the company reminded them of.

While most staff said they thought of their company as an elephant, they said they wanted it to become a tiger.

Staff were divided into ‘tiger teams’ to evaluate, among other things, how claims were processed. Employees who suggested ways to improve service were rewarded with sweatshirts and little stuffed tigers.

Sluga says the video, produced by Toronto-based Regan Productions, worked because it pulled together all the elements in a way that captured everyone’s attention.

While the applications of video as a training, motivation and sales tool have remained largely the same over the past several years (with the exception of direct-to-consumer videos), the ways in which companies are incorporating video into their marketing and communications strategies are changing.

Ron Moore, president of Toronto-based Ventana Video, says while the number and frequency of videos are on the increase, the length of the average production is becoming shorter.

‘Today, we’re trying to keep things down to about 12 minutes, and if we can get it into the seven-to-10 range, even better,’ says Moore, who adds the growth of video in the future will be limited by the viewer’s inability to watch everything that comes his or her way.

Time factor

‘People have got to do their jobs,’ he says. ‘If you have a large company with four of five divisions, all of which want to do videos that are 15 minutes long, who has got time to watch?

‘The problem with video is that it’s linear. It’s not like a brochure, you can’t browse it. You have to watch the whole thing to get to the point. And that does not bode well.

‘I’m constantly reminding clients that this is not the only thing arriving on the viewer’s desk, whether that viewer is a doctor or a bank teller or a buyer in a grocery chain,’ Moore says.

‘You have to respect the viewer’s time and very few people are willing to do that,’ he says. ‘They become absorbed in the self-interest of their own production, as if they are producing it in a vacuum.

‘But the piece isn’t going to be watched in a vacuum.’

Thing of the past

Michael Taylor, president of Montreal-based Stonehaven Productions, which counts among its clients the Bank of Montreal, CP Rail and Oerlikon Aerospace, agrees the 30-minute corporate video is a thing of the past.

‘The concept of video-as-a-movie has gone by the board, and what we see and encourage is a much greater connection between the presenter of an idea and the video, so people aren’t exposed to long blocks of canned information,’ Taylor says.

In addition to viewers’ time constraints, he speculates that the death of the ‘movie’ concept also has to do with the way audiences watch video in the workplace.

‘The setting is so alien to the way they normally see television, my belief is it changes the way they accept information,’ Taylor says.

Setting

‘If you look at tv, the program takes place on the hour or the half-hour,’ he says. ‘It happens in your home, you don’t have to watch, people talk, the lights tend to be low and the monitor is placed about two feet off the floor.

‘In a workplace setting, whether the factory or the office, the lights are on, there are a number of people sitting around a table on hard chairs watching a tv set that is about six feet off the floor.

‘At home, you know where the program is coming from philosophically. When you watch a video in a corporate setting, you’re never entirely sure.

‘The old idea of suspension of disbelief, which works in sitcoms and movies, very often fails at the corporate level,’ says Taylor, who adds employees are acutely aware that any actors used in the production are being paid by their boss.

‘One has to get away from making small Gone With the Winds for the corporate world,’ he says. ‘We have to move toward a much more transparent method of communication. One where the message or the story contained within the video clearly tells you who it is or what it wants or where it is coming from.’

Sue Anderson, manager of internal communications at Xerox, says the office equipment manufacturer is still using video, but thinking much more carefully about how and when it is used.

The company is incorporating 10-minute video segments into its quarterly live satellite broadcast ‘The Xerox Journey.’

Anderson says the segments do double duty as sales and marketing tools.

As well, the company is starting to get its own employees involved in the production process.

Just before Christmas, Xerox bought two Sony Hi-8 video cameras which Anderson will soon start shipping to employees who want to gather their own ‘news’ stories.

‘We have no idea how it’s going to turn out, but it’s a really good way of getting employees involved in the communication process,’ she says.

‘It also helps to have a few extra arms and legs out there.’

Production companies, too, are adjusting to the cost-consciousness of their clients.

Doug Keeley, president of Toronto-based Multiple Images, says his company now uses Sony Hi-8 non-broadcast quality video cameras for focus groups, research and other applications in which a broadcast quality picture is unnecessary.

‘At first, the people at Multiple squawked at that because they thought I was selling out the quality standards,’ Keeley says.

‘It took a while for them to accept the format and realize it’s irrelevant for a bunch of producers to sit around and debate things the audience don’t know about, don’t care about, and don’t want to pay for,’ he says.

As for the future of corporate video, Keeley says it will most often be used as a component of multi-media presentations.

‘The vhs tape as a communications vehicle will ultimately be unnecessary,’ he says. ‘We are doing more and more presentations on lap-tops and notebook computers.

‘We are hours away from video compression being good enough to dump pieces of video on your hard drive and play them directly off your computer.

‘As that happens, there will be fewer $250,000-, 20-actor, 10-minute videos, and there will be more video in much shorter bites that are much more ubiquitously distributed.’