How to use cartoons to engage employees and convey critical messages

Denise Reynolds, Senior Communications Consultant

Between blogs, e-mails, tweets and text messages, experts estimate the average person is bombarded by a staggering 100 kilobytes of textual information each day. The resulting overload can cause employees to ignore vital messages that have a direct impact on their well-being as well as the bottom line. Instead of using read receipts or daily reminders to chide employees into reading critical communications, innovative leaders are finding that a picture is worth a thousand words.

“Cartoons are effective because they evoke emotions and people remember them,” says Denise Reynolds, senior communications consultant. “It’s a simple, cost-effective way to grab someone’s attention in a crowded digital world.”

Smart Business spoke with Reynolds about the benefits of using cartoons to convey critical messages.

Why are cartoons an effective way to communicate key messages?

Cartoons not only stand out from traditional communications — they’re concise. It can take hundreds of words to convey the ideas contained in a single image. For example, getting employees to read wellness and benefits literature was a constant struggle at Jergens. So we suggested that the small manufacturing company create mascots and use cartoons to encourage health screenings and educate employees about preventative care. Within days of e-mailing the cartoons and projecting them on the Jumbotron in the manufacturing plant, everyone in the company was talking about Chip and Scrap. Employees said they were previously unaware of many stress-reducing benefit programs like EAPs (employee assistance programs). The company is even considering using them in an upcoming sales and marketing campaign.

Are some topics better suited to cartoons than others?

Consider using cartoons to simplify complex messages or to lighten up drab, but important topics. Retirement planning, pension vesting and safety are good examples, because it’s easier to understand a complex vesting process if it’s broken down into steps in a cartoon panel. The key to garnering interest is creating characters that will resonate with employees. For instance, Jergens’ employees can relate to Chip and Scrap, because they’re based on real products that are part of the company’s manufacturing process.

What are the best practices for incorporating cartoons into a communications campaign?

  • Let the characters do the talking. Let the characters convey your messages and display their unique personalities. For example, Chip is usually on his game while Scrap frequently makes mistakes and could use coaching.
  • Inject the characters into various media. Inject your mascots into brochures, training videos and blogs so employees become familiar with them and learn to pay attention to their messages. You can even use them on your Facebook page or ask your employees to follow them on Twitter.
  • Be patient and persistent. Tailor your messages toward your employee population and repeat them for several months, because any type of marketing campaign is more effective over time.
  • Measure ROI. Compare the cost and effectiveness of brochures, letters and memos to cartoons and, most importantly, measure the impact of various media on employee behaviors and the bottom line.
  • Make them interactive. Include pop-up messages and links to external videos, Web sites or brochures in each cartoon so employees can source additional information.
  • Have fun. It’s OK to have fun and laugh at ourselves, especially in today’s difficult climate. You may find cartoons lift the mood of the company and even inspire creativity.

How can executives and HR leaders measure the effectiveness of creative campaigns?

Initially, you can judge campaign effectiveness by measuring the growth in hits, click-throughs and the amount of time employees spend viewing each cartoon, but, over time, you should see improvements in tangible measures like adoption rates, lower health care costs and changes in employee behaviors. Campaigns can be built to match each company’s budget and you can test pilot a few cartoons without making a big financial commitment. One company saw an immediate jump in health screenings after sending out just one cartoon. Another saw half of its employee population participated in open enrollment during the first five days of the period. It’s also important to gather feedback through employee surveys and focus groups to make sure they’re getting the message and fine tune your campaign.

For more information, contact Susan Riffle, the marketing manager with Findley Davies. Reach her at [email protected] or at (216) 875-1908.